VR experiences and games are constantly advancing and improving. But what about older “game” style themed entertainment experiences that may have just been ahead of their time?

By Lance HartScreamscape

gaming attractions disneyquestMention gaming attractions and DisneyQuest may be the first thing that comes to mind. However, long before DisneyQuest, there was another interesting LBE concept called Virtual World. This started in 1990 in Chicago, where it called itself the first Battletech Center.

Themed around the FASA giant robot wargame from the 80s, players would climb inside fully enclosed cockpits, connected to a computer network. Here, they would select which style of Mech they were going to pilot and then battle it out for supremacy.

A handful of other Battletech Centers opened in Japan a couple of years later. Then Tim Disney and Shamrock Holdings bought a controlling interest in the company and transformed it into Virtual World Entertainment.

Early gaming attractions

From there the Battletech concept became part of a new overall theme for the Chicago site, where players became members of a multi-dimensional exploration society. A second game was also added to the mix, Red Planet. This allowed pilots to race in hovercrafts across a mining complex on the surface of Mars.

Further gaming attractions in other worlds were planned. Unfortunately, however, other than some teaser footage of an underwater Atlantis expedition game, nothing ever materialized.

The concept grew and the game-hardware advanced and become more complex. The graphics improved, and before long there were a reported 26 sites built between North America and Japan. These became linked, so site vs site tournaments were possible as well.

Making multi-player online gaming mainstream

Keep in mind that all this was taking place during a time when most American’s experience with the internet was through dial-up modems – that is, those in possession of a computer and modem at all. So for the era, Virtual World really was helping to launch the concept of multi-player online gaming to the masses.

In my eyes, they were ahead of their time with the concept from a technology standpoint. As as well as in the creation of an immersive storyline and environment. One in which guests could stay, play, have a beverage and relax in a highly themed lounge to watch replays of their battles on screens afterwards.

DisneyQuest

Around the time that Virtual World Entertainment began to wind down, Disney began to ramp up their own video game inspired entertainment megaplex concept, DisneyQuest. While, sadly, DisneyQuest has now gone the way of Virtual World, I can’t help but believe that they too were ahead of the curve. Especially when you look at today’s mobile gaming culture.

While Disney planned several sites for DisneyQuest, they only ever opened two. The first one was in Orlando, on-site at Walt Disney World. This opened in 1998. With a bit of irony, the second site opened in Chicago in 1999 – the former home base of Virtual World Entertainment. While the Chicago site didn’t last long, the original DisneyQuest remained open through to mid-2017.

Much like Virtual World, the inside of the five-story DisneyQuest centre transported guests to another world after taking a brief ride on the ‘Cyberlator’. This moved guests from the outside world up to the third floor and into the centre complex.

DisneyQuest had regular video games to play as well as a number of themed custom-made experiences. This included fun multi-player adventure games on motion platforms like Virtual Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold. There was also the always popular CyberSpace Mountain. Here, guests could build their own roller coaster and then climb into a simulator to take it for a spin.

VR gaming attractions

DisneyQuest was probably also responsible for introducing most people to their very first true VR experience. It offered two VR adventures: Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride and Ride the Comix. Long before Beat Saber, players would put on VR headgear and hold a laser sword in Ride the Comix to battle against comic book style villains.

Over at Aladdin, players would climb onto a stationary seat and put on VR headgear. They would grasp a themed steering device as if they were holding onto the edge of their own flying carpet. Then they would go off on an adventure through the world of Agrabah.

DisneyQuest shut down not that long ago in order for Disney to build the new NBA Experience attraction at Disney Springs. But I can’t help but think of that as being a very short-sighted action. Through the aid of ever-present mobile devices, gaming in all forms has never been more popular than it is today. From puzzle games to action games and multi-player social games.

Add in the rise of VR games as well as the new crop of highly themed VR experiences to be found at locations like The Void (bringing Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Avengers and Jumanji to life) or Sandbox’s Star Trek: Discovery Away Mission and I find myself scratching my head to wonder why Disney chose to close DisneyQuest rather than reboot it as DisneyQuest 2.0.

They could have embraced all the current and modern technology as part of a new gaming attractions experience to be offered. As well as brainstorming some next-gen concepts of their own.