Dark Rides, The Next Generation (Part 1)

Dark rides have been an important and popular attraction in theme parks for generations, but now experiential technology is taking them in exciting new directions — and the new generation of rides are proving to be great crowd pullers.

In leading theme parks and attractions worldwide, we see dark rides that use advanced technologies to enhance the guest experience. Some great examples are trackless rides and 4-dimensional flying theatres at Warner Bros World, Abu Dhabi or gamification techniques featured in rides like 'Webslingers' at Disney's' Avengers Campus. 

Technology innovation is enabling change

So, what's driving these developments? Ryan Poe, Director of Technology Solutions at Electrosonic, explains that dark rides usually followed a linear timeline in the past. However, real-time rendering from companies like Pixera makes it possible for new types of storytelling where each experience is slightly different from the last.

Content is also changing; dark rides have traditionally relied heavily on projection, but with advancements in LED, we are now seeing a mix of projection and LED – sometimes within the same ride.

I believe there are three key trends shaping the evolution of dark rides – gamification, personalization and datafication. 

  • Gamification introduces game design elements and mechanics in dark rides to engage and motivate visitors. For example, the ride can feature competitive activities that generate points, levels and rewards to make an experience more fun, engaging and inspiring. Simple transmitters and sensors allow riders to interact with their environment. With the right theming, onboard devices in the ride cars can become blasters, wands or grabbers that eliminate enemies, cast spells on objects and capture prizes.
  • Personalization tailors the dark ride experience to the visitor's individual preferences, needs and behaviour. One great emerging example is the use of augmented reality to enable personalization. Standard content can be viewed in the physical environment while personalized content can be delivered as an additional layer. This allows for shared personalized experiences on the same ride.
  • Datafication is the process of turning data into actionable insights that can be used to inform decision-making, playing a critical role in creating memorable dark ride experiences. For example, data can be used to track visitor behavior via sensors to measure the impact of experiences. This information can then form a platform for improving and testing new experiences and making them more engaging and impactful through personalization and gamification. 

[Discover Electrosonic's work at Snorri Touren, Europa Park]

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Elevating the dark ride experience  

Personalization and gamification, underpinned by datafication, are already proving popular in major theme parks.

At 'Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts' at Universal Studios Florida, the ride takes riders through the Gringotts Bank using technologies including voice recognition and 3D projection technology to personalize the dark ride experience for each rider.

'Smugglers Run' Star Wars ride in Disney World allows passengers to fly the ship within a specific framework and score accordingly, affecting your time and reputation spent in Star Wars: Galaxy Edge land. And even before your adventure begins, you can download the Play Disney Park app and get some advanced training piloting the Millennium Falcon.

The 'Spiderman' dark ride at Universal's Islands of Adventure takes visitors on a mission with the Marvel superhero using 3D projection technology, physical effects and ride vehicle motion to create an immersive experience.

The 'Webslingers' ride at Disney's Avengers Campus features onboard sensors that integrate with gesture recognition technology to track visitors' arm movements as they mimic Spiderman's signature web-shooting action. The system then creates 'virtual webs' that emerge from their hands in the exact direction they are aiming. Visitors aim to hit as many Spider-Bots as possible. 3D video, LED imagery, onboard audio and sound effects from hundreds of speakers create an immersive environment for this thrilling interactive gameplay.

Alongside these three game-changing trends, we're seeing increased adoption of immersive, interactive and polysensory experiences featuring trackless rides, motion-based vehicles, RFID and motion sensing technologies, 3D spatial audio, 3D projection or video mapping – projected reality, or 4D FX such as environmental effects, smell, smoke, snow, bubbles or water sprits or puffs of air. Just as important, the latest control platforms that enable the rides can support the increasingly complex integrations that make the experience a reality.

Masha and The Bear Land of Laughter Turkey

Elevate your dark ride experience with experiential technology

Transforming your dark ride experience

These developments point to an exciting and expanding future for dark rides — and the operators who adopt them. So how can you adopt innovative technologies and integrate them with your existing rides? 

Electrosonic Consultants draw on 55+ years of experience developing award-winning solutions for theme parks bringing together the expertise of leading technology partners like Barco, Pixera and Smart Monkeys who provide the latest innovative technologies driving highly integrated dark ride solutions.

To help you plan your upgrade, it's essential to work with specialists who understand how these technologies come together to create the technology roadmap for the dark ride environment. Electrosonic's Executive Design Consultancy Service brings together technology, innovation and experiential solutions experts to help you identify opportunities and plan and implement your transformation initiatives.

Electrosonic's Executive Design Consultancy Service provide a free complementary Charrette discussion at the initial conceptual stage to help you reimagine your dark ride.

Look out for the next blog in the series, where we'll look in more detail at the enabling technologies and explain how you can plan the evolution of your dark rides working with expert guidance, insight and project support from an Electrosonic Executive Design Consultant.


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