“NOT AN AMUSEMENT PARK” The Challenge of Interactive Entertainment

            Before it opened Six Flags Power Plant had a huge banner on it that said in big bold letters “NOT AN AMUSEMENT PARK”. To be fair there were also no rides in the power plant.  This was an interesting choice coming from Six Flags a company known for their rides.1 So if not an amusement park, what was Six Flags Power Plant? It was an indoor theme “park” opening in 1985 on Pier 4 in Baltimore. It later closed in 1990 after losing a lot of money for Six Flags.2

            Six Flags Power Plant did have an interesting theme based on the Baltimore Power Plant it was located in. Taking the industrial nature of the building the overall theme was Victorian/Jules Verne. From what I can tell it seems to be very close to if not entirely steampunk. Without rides Six Flags Power Plant instead relied on four different attractions for its guests. First, The Laboratory of Wonders which showcased different technology demonstrations. Next, The Magic Lantern Theater which had 80 animatronic characters showing a Victorian toy theater come to life. After that, The Circus of the Mysterious, this showcased some “magical” objects which demonstrated different illusions. Finally, there was The Sensorium the world’s first 4D theater. A 4D theater being a 3D film with in-theatre effects like vibrating chairs, mist, scents, etc. 4D theaters have now become a popular attraction at amusement parks including Universal Studio’s Terminator 2: 3D and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.3

Lighting Effects at Six Flags Power Plant4

            A lot of the water, lighting and visual effects at the Six Flags Power Plant were done by a company called Technifex.4 The company also worked on doing a lot of the special effects in one of my all-time favorite Disney World attractions, the Adventurers Club.5 Trapped in New Year’s Eve of 1937 the Adventure’s Club was an immersive experience that had guests essentially role play with Disney cast members and each other. Giving the club’s battle cry of “Kungaloosh!” you would go through a new member initiation and join in the fun. It originally opened in 1989 and closed in 2008.6 As previously mentioned the club also had special effects. One example was a mask room with puppets with moving eyes, mouth, and eyebrows. Another was a head in a box which gave a floating illusion using a mirror.5

The Mask Room at The Adventure’s Club7

            The Adventurers Club wasn’t Disney’s only foray into immersive entertainment outside the theme parks. For something a little higher tech, we go to 1998 and the opening of the original DisneyQuest at Walt Disney World. An interactive indoor theme park DisneyQuest was focused on providing virtual attractions particularly with VR. With a home VR set now being a bit pricey but ultimately obtainable, it is easy to forget that 20 years ago VR was fairly cutting edge and very expensive. I am fairly certain my first experience with VR was at DisneyQuest many years ago. DisneyQuest had many different both VR and non-VR experiences, including Buzz Lightyear’s AstroBlaster which was basically bumper cars with cannons which would shoot foam balls at other cars. My favorite attraction at DisneyQuest was always CyberSpace Mountain. With it you could design your own rollercoaster and ride it. Even now it is still one of the coolest simulator experiences I have done.8

Buzz Lightyear’s AstroBlaster at DisneyQuest8

            Interestingly, DisneyQuest was originally designed to be a chain of location-based entertainment centers. By using VR they could implement rides with a lot less square footage. Disney even got to launch a second DisneyQuest in Chicago in 1999. However, it was not a roaring success closing in 2001. In general, it appeared to not make enough money to cover the high cost of making it. Disney never made another DisneyQuest. DisneyQuest in Orlando did a good amount better, but it ultimately closed too in 2017.8

            One thing you may start to notice is that ambitious interactive entertainment venues tend to close. I think in general; this space is quite the challenge particularly in terms of repeat visits. In a lot of ways all three attractions suffer from losing some appeal once visited once. Unlike larger theme parks there is only so much to do in a more limited space. Even the Adventure’s club could lose some appeal on the third visit. Also, unlike more traditional theme parks due to entropy or simply budget concerns, these spaces don’t tend to get updated. DisneyQuest was about the same in 2017 as it was in 1999. This is particularly troubling if a large appeal of your venue is based on cutting edge technology.

            While I have been mentioning some potentially enticing attractions that are all closed, I would like to switch to more modern examples that you can visit. Although, I need to get one more closure out of the way. I had originally planned on The Void being one of the visitable locations. The Void operated VR centers where you would put on VR with a special backpack that allowed you to go around a space with physical props like doors and levers. They had a partnership with Disney, and I got to do a super cool Star Wars experience near where DisneyQuest used to be a few years ago. However, I used the past tense on the partnership since Disney recently ended their agreement with The Void. A combination of financial troubles pre pandemic and the pandemic seems to indicate The Void might be closed for good.9

The Void headsets with backpacks9

            For VR you can use we can swap to Two Bit Circus, a futuristic “micro amusement park”. Located in Los Angeles this park includes VR experiences, a 100 person trivia game, digital amusement park games and even a “robot” bartender. One of the ideas is to have a kind of movie theater offering rotating attractions. Hopefully, this can help keep Two Bit Circus fresh for new guests over time.10

Interior of Two Bit Circus10

            To end let’s talk about Meow Wolf. Starting originally as an art collective Meow Wolf is now also a business working on attractions.11 Meow Wolf’s work is somewhat hard to describe, but they create narrative driven immersive art installations.10 Their 1st exhibit opened in March of 2016 and is called the House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe. In the 1st year it drew 400,000 guests taking in nearly $7 million. It also was made in a defunct bowling alley and was largely funded by George R.R. Martin.11 They have a documentary called “Meow Wolf: Origin Story” available that I highly recommend if you want a deep dive into how they came to be.12 It will be interesting to see if they can go the distance expansion wise. The House of Eternal Return just recently reopened after being closed due to the pandemic.13 Omega Mart their Las Vegas installation just opened, and it looks amazing.14 Their Denver exhibition is scheduled for later this year.15

Omega Mart Exterior14

Featured image is from The House of Eternal Return10

1 Young, J. (2014, December 12). Six Flags Power Plant 3: Why It Closed. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://themeparkuniversity.com/extinct-attractions/six-flags-power-plant-3-closed/

2 Young, J. (2014, December 10). Six Flags Power Plant Part 1: An Experiment In Baltimore. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://themeparkuniversity.com/extinct-attractions/six-flags-power-plant-part-1-experiment-baltimore/

3 Young, J. (2014, December 11). Six Flags Power Plant 2: Not An Amusement Park. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://themeparkuniversity.com/extinct-attractions/six-flags-power-plant-2-not-amusement-park/

4 Six flags power plant. (2019, August 21). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://technifex.com/portfolio/baltimore-power-plant/

5 Young, J. (2019, May 28). Take a rare behind the scenes look at the now closed disney adventurers club. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://themeparkuniversity.com/extinct-attractions/take-a-rare-behind-the-scenes-look-at-the-now-closed-disney-adventurers-club/

6 Schmidt, N. (2020, September 30). A look back at Walt Disney world’s ADVENTURERS CLUB. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://allears.net/2020/10/05/a-look-back-at-walt-disney-worlds-adventurers-club/

7 “Kungaloosh!” inside DOWNTOWN Disney’s Legendary Lost ADVENTURERS CLUB. (2019, December 20). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.themeparktourist.com/features/20180120/33620/lost-legends-adventurers-club-downtown-disney-pleasure-island?page=3

8 Bishop, R. (2018, October 18). The dream of DISNEYQUEST is dead. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.polygon.com/features/2018/10/18/17888722/disneyquest-disney-vr-closed

9 Roettgers, J. (2020, November 17). After loan default and asset transfer, The Void’s future looks uncertain. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.protocol.com/the-void-vr-startup-uncertainty

10 Kamping-Carder, L. (2018, August 22). The new retail tenant: A high-tech amusement park. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-retail-tenant-a-high-tech-amusement-park-1534946400

11 NewsHour, P. (2018, February 15). How this artist fantasyland became a New MEXICO MONEYMAKER. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-this-artist-fantasyland-became-a-new-mexico-moneymaker

12 Meow Wolf: Origin STORY Documentary. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://meowwolf.com/explore/origin-story

13 Meow wolf’s house of eternal return is now open. (2021, March 25). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://apnews.com/article/business-north-america-diseases-and-conditions-visual-arts-santa-fe-c38524a016491f0341a227516b553ecd#:~:text=Meow%20Wolf%27s%20reopening%20and%20reduced,announced%20on%20March%2024%2C%202021.

14 Omega MART: Now OPEN: Meow WOLF Las Vegas. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://meowwolf.com/visit/las-vegas

15 Meow wolf Denver: Opening in 2021. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://meowwolf.com/visit/denver

9 comments

  1. conoreiremba · ·

    Great post Will and thanks again for diving into a topic this semester and shedding light on things that I probably would have never heard of otherwise. I was familiar with 6 flags but the power plant is certainly news to me. There is so much entertainment you mentioned that I don’t know where to begin but honestly, the one that caught my eye was the Adventures club. It sounds fantastic, and I’m voting for “Kungaloosh!” to become the class battle cry and Twitter hashtag for our last few weeks together.
    You make a great point about repeat visits and I think it goes for a lot of experiences, not just VR. It’s like re-watching a movie you have already seen, the wow factor and surprise element just isn’t the same the second time (except for Toy Story of course, which you mentioned, what a classic!!). My fear with VR is that if it becomes so easily accessible in our everyday lives then people will become over-reliant and addicted to virtual experiences, with real-life thrills not providing enough of a “high” anymore. So I am glad to hear that there are still one-off experiences for people to try out, and so I might have to put Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return on the bucket list. Thanks for sharing Will, #Kungaloosh

  2. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    Another great blog post, William!! I agree with your opinion that after the user experiences the ride once, the novelty and appeal of the experience is lost, making repeat visits challenging. I definitely experiences some of the examples you mentioned in your post. A few years ago I went to the Six Flags in MA and they were testing the VR systems in the Superman ride, it was an interesting experience as you wore it while riding the ride and felt that you were inside a comic book.. I didn’t really enjoy it much, but was a good to experience it one. I just checked and the VR experience was only available for 1 season before it was removed.

  3. Very interesting post William. I did not realize that there have been so many immersive VR centers. Additionally, I did not realize how far back they go. As you mentioned, it is very expensive so it does make sense. It will be interesting to see as VR technology gets more affordable to see if we will have more VR centers.

  4. changliu0601 · ·

    Great Post!!I always wanted to go to the Six Flag to go on the roller coaster.And I know now a lot of VR technology applied in games. My friends bought one, played hours and felt exhausted and dizzy.I have the experience of having a ride, which has VR. Super cool.

  5. Wow. Deep Dive! I think interactive entertainment like this will always be challenging. Since its tech based, by the time you can have big experiences up and running, the tech is already far more advanced and people can start to do the same thing in their home.

  6. shaneriley88 · ·

    Home run, Will. Another analytic plunge into a neat topic. To be honest, you had me at steampunk. I think it will be interesting to see if way off in the future (or maybe near term) VR/AR experiences can develop the je ne sais quoi that Disney, Universal, and even StoryLand traditional interactions and experiences in NH can produce. I think that a key here is nostalgia. I’m interested in seeing if VR/AR can develop this sort of emotion or if it will be more of a stimulating experience. What triggers a child more? Meeting Mickey or Elsa in person? Ridding a log flume, or strapping the latest high-tech gizmo to an 8-year-olds head? Also, I would love to tour an old powerplant theme park. Well done! #Kungaloosh

  7. lisahersh · ·

    Awesome post, William!!! I’m not a big amusement park goer – never could get over the standing in line bit (but it seems like technology might be making that less of an issue) – so thanks for doing a deep dive into all these attractions I would have never known about! I am a BIG fan of immersive art though and Meow Wolf definitely sounds like it’s right up my alley. One thing that came to mind in reading your post is Disney’s Haunted Mansion and how immersive that attraction is with a combination of holograms/projections, live actors, and more traditional props/carts. I think there’s a lot of potential to incorporate more cutting-edge technology into existing attractions, like Haunted Mansion, and be more subtle about it. Given that attractions entirely based on tech can go out of fashion so quickly, updating existing attractions or strategically placing it in newer attractions so they can test /refine it, as well as keep costs down.

  8. Awesome post. I think it’s interesting how Six Flags is taking rides out of the equation and offering a way for tourists to experience the park in a while new way. I wonder if other theme parks will follow suit and copy there ideas of a more localized experience.

  9. Great posts! I haven’t been to Six-flags after staying in the US for almost 8 years. When I was living in California, Disney and Universal are the two theme parks I often went to, and I never got bored about taking the rides over and over again. I really believe the technology is as crucial as the IP/culture of theme parks. Both together would provide customers a unique experience, and AR would enhance the experience even more.

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