A Thought on Steve Jobs

7 10 2011

On Wednesday night the world lost one of its greatest visionaries, innovators, and advocates of the unknown with the passing of Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple. He was truly a titan in the world of technology, and that is what everyone knows him for. He introduced the world to a user-friendly personal computer in the 1980s, and after being ousted from Apple, returned in 1997 to bring the company from the brink of death into its greatest – and his greatest – period of accomplishment, innovation, and design. He introduced the iMac, and then convinced the world of having digital music in your pocket with the iPod. As a result of the iPod, he began to revolutionize the music industry and how we buy music with the iTunes music store. Then came the MacBook Air, the iPhone, and finally the iPad. And while these were great achievements and milestones in technology design and popular culture, I write today to recognize not his success with Apple, but his slightly quieter, yet equally impressive and important achievements in the entertainment industry.

While his tenure with Apple is his claim to fame, he pushed boundaries in a quieter and less public manner at the pioneer animation studio Pixar. He believed in what then-former Disney animator John Lasseter had in mind; revolutionary computer generated animation and a feature length CG film. He funded and headed Pixar, pushing Lasseter and his team of animators to new heights and ever-better ideas. Eventually Jobs, Lasseter and the team at Pixar convinced Disney of a feature length CG film based on a young boy’s toys. Yes, Jobs was involved in the movie that sparked the popularization of computer generated animation in the feature format.

Toy Story was a hit, as we all know, and the rest, as they say, is history. A Bugs Life was next in a long line of Disney/Pixar partnerships for films. This culminated in Disney buying Pixar, which made Jobs the largest private shareholder in the Walt Disney Company.

Steve has since become a bit of an icon in the world of Disney in an unexpected if not odd way; he is seen by some as a true contemporary of Walt’s. He pushed people to create things they weren’t sure they could, and in the process revolutionized not only animation and entertainment, but also the technology behind it. Maybe even less recognized is the impact his Apple developments have had on how we consume the very content he pushed others to create, which is nothing short of historic and profound. If not for the insistence of Steve, we might not yet have arrived at the idea of carrying around a digital copy of a movie on our iPod, iPad, or laptop, at least, with the blessing of the studios.

Indeed, his impact on the entertainment industry is deep and multifaceted, and will be felt for many years to come. So today we have not just lost a technology titan, but also an entertainment titan; someone who many saw as a contemporary of Walt Disney, and in the same company as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, and even Jim Henson. The world today is already a little less fantastical without him, and we eagerly await to see who the next great visionary will be that steps up to fill a pair of shoes that are quite large.

Oh, and one more thing…”Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Have a great weekend everyone, and enjoy the Halloween events at the parks!


Theme Park Change

5 04 2011

One thing that I really enjoy doing with a platform like this blog is letting people know about charities directly related to the amusement industry, because I think it is worth doing even if I only end up with one person learning about a given charitable cause. If you have followed me elsewhere around the Internet, you know that I especially enjoy trying to push out the word about Give Kids the World, and if you don’t know who they are and what they do, I highly recommend taking a moment to check them out and consider giving to that amazing cause. This post is for pretty new cause, though, so let’s move on to that.

Just today, I ran across a new cause that is taking place during the month of April, called Theme Park Change. If you also happen to be a Gleek you may have already heard about this, as Neil Patrick Harris, everyone’s favorite choir teacher, is championing it.* The simple explanation on the idea behind this cause is that you give up getting a food item, souvenir, or even visiting one park or one chain’s season pass this month and donate that corresponding amount to Theme Park Change. All of the proceeds generated will be going to Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, California.

While it is a regional charity in its finality, this is a great thing to push across the industry, as most major entertainment chains have locations in Southern California. Oh, and I almost forgot, you are eligible to win some pretty nice prizes if you donate $10 or more. So stop reading this and click on over to Theme Park Change and think about what you could give up from your next trip to the park and donate the money to Theme Park Change and Project Angel Food!

Theme Park Change
Project Angel Food
Give Kids the World

*Update: I have been informed by a Gleek (I am not one) rather close to me, that NPH is not the teacher, however she does not seem to remember his exact role. Regardless, one of the main stars of Glee is pushing this, so…yeah, that doesn’t really change anything.

Segway Madness Resolved

5 04 2011

There is one specific issue that can cause a lot of headaches for any business, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA from here on), which lays out ground rules for making businesses handicap accessible for both their employees and consumers. Now, I say headache not because of the sensible things that the ADA lays out, but because of some of the absolutely ridiculous things that have involved the ADA; such as lawsuits and rather interesting, if not concerning, rule revisions. One such revision was recently made to the ADA’s rules regarding what can be considered a wheelchair/assistive device, specifically about Segways and their use in theme parks.

For a quick bit of background on all of this and to save you from the tiresomely long essay that would be sure to follow on all the legal mumbo-jumbo involved, I will simply refer you to an excellent article on the DIS Unplugged Blog, which contains links to relevant cases and facts as well as a link to the ADA revision (which will also be directly linked at the end of this post). If you have not yet guessed how I feel about the revision and the idea of using Segways in parks such as Disney or Universal from the tone of the writing so far, I find the idea of using a Segway as an assistive device in crowded theme parks rather untenable. To explain a bit better why I feel that way, here is a post I have made elsewhere on the issue.

“From personal experience, I can tell you that properly controlling a Segway requires both very good driving skill-sets (alertness, quick reactions, good sight, etc.), and understanding of your body’s balance and solid control of your muscle movements. While controlling a Segway is not necessarily physically demanding (you won’t be sweating like you were doing a workout), it does require very good muscle control and some balance. The Segway does not do all the work for you, you have to understand how your movements affect its reactions. Also, just like a vehicle, it will not stop immediately. It can stop in a very short distance, but you will not stop in time to avoid someone not watching where they are walking that would step out less than 5ft. in front of you unless you are moving slower than you would walk on the Segway.

Simply put, these things are not intended for use, and should absolutely not be used by anyone, regardless of training and familiarity with it, in any kind of significant crowd. In addition, I find it very hard to believe that in all but a few very special cases, a Segway would be a suitable transportation option for a disabled person. That view comes from operational experience with Segways, not simply a general opinion based on what I’ve heard. Regardless, use of a Segway in any significant crowd is, in my view, a safety issue waiting to happen and irresponsible.*

*I have heard and partially recognize the validity of the whole psychological aspect of being forced to be at a lower height than everyone else as a disabled person. However, I consider the safety of many to be of greater concern than elevating someone so they can feel good about themselves. I will not accept that argument in the Segway discussion, or similar device discussions.”

Just yesterday there was some progress made on the issue, and thankfully it seems that someone in the courts actually understands the issue. As this new article on the DIS Unplugged Blog states:

“The Justice Department also had argued that Walt Disney World could not adhere to a “blanket ban on Segways at all Disney properties” because Disney’s safety concerns were “bland and unsupported.” Judge Presnell disagreed, saying: “Disney would likely be able to maintain its ban on Segways in light of its legitimate safety concerns. Specifically, the evidence at the fairness hearing supports Disney’s position that unrestricted Segway use poses significant safety risks because Segways cannot be operated in accordance with Disney’s legitimate safety requirements.”

So it seems that, at least for now, common sense and safety have prevailed in the consideration of this issue. For everyone’s safety, hopefully that continues to be the case, as I’m sure this will be brought up again/appealed and make its way up the court ladder.

Articles and Links:
ADA Revision
Initial DIS article
Followup DIS article

Remember the Virtual Magic Kingdom?

4 04 2011

Does anyone else remember the Virtual Magic Kingdom game that Disney had from 2005-2008? I don’t really know what prompted me to look it up, but I headed over to Wikipedia a bit ago and typed in “Virtual Magic Kingdom” to see what would pop up. After reading through the Wiki article, I clicked on a link that caught my eye and found myself on a VMK fan site, VMKRevisited. This is a really cool website if only for the fact that you can (almost) roam around the VMK again and relive any memories that you may have relating to this once-popular Disney MMOG.

After almost four years of not having played the game, I was kind of surprised that I still had a general idea of where each exit led, as long as I was in one of the rooms that existed prior to mid-2007 (when I stopped playing for good)…or maybe that’s pathetic. I’ll let you decide.
Some of the games are actually functional, although the only two I really played are not, which was a slight bummer. The games that you can actually play are the Tomorrowland Arcade games as well as the games on Main Street. You can see the levels in the Haunted Mansion game, but you can’t really play it, and the same goes for the Pirates game (at least for me in Safari, maybe I’ll see if Pirates will work in Firefox). The game that I got absolutely addicted to and became the only reason I cared about VMK once it exploded in popularity was the fireworks game; and I was pretty darn good at it if I do say so. Unfortunately, it is not a playable game in the “museum” version, but you can at least see the game lobby.

This is pretty cool, and I could easily spend an hour or more wandering around and seeing everything again. If you enjoyed VMK at all during its three year run, you will definitely want to do at least a little clicking around and exploring with VMKRevisited. Now, if you’ll excuse me while I go do some VMK exploring…

Edutainment vs. Entertainment: An extended rambling

1 04 2011

For those of us that feel like we’re getting old (20-somethings that look back on the 1990s like they’re the 30s and 50s, like I do), and those that are actually older, what are some of the moments, activities, and places that make you feel like a kid again? I know that for me, almost every single instance has happened during some form of “edutainment.” In case you haven’t heard that word before, it is a combination of “education” and “entertainment,” something meant to stimulate our thought process while entertaining us at the same time.

There are many places that attempt to pull off “edutainment,” some more successfully than others. Within the amusement industry, it seems to me that edutainment is now often overloaded on the entertainment aspect with a very minimal amount of what might be considered “education” which is thrown in really as a dog bone to get it into that classification. Instead of trying to make learning fun and interesting – which can take a lot of work for some subjects – we have moved to making it fun first, and then trying to make sure the information doesn’t ruin the fun. If it sounds like I am describing a particular park, I am…but not completely, because the issue goes beyond the park itself, to you and I, the people asking for the entertainment.

As I said above, I am describing one particular park, EPCOT at Disney World, which also happens to be my favorite park that I have ever visited. I’ll tell you why it is my favorite park, because of the fantastic edutainment aspect of it. Now, you might be a bit puzzled as to how EPCOT can be my favorite park because of the edutainment aspect while I criticize the loss of that very aspect to pure entertainment, and I can certainly understand your confusion. Even though EPCOT is starting to seemingly be overrun by entertainment, it has still managed to retain a few key edutainment aspects that are some of the best out there. The biggest of these is the World Showcase, which allows you to experience a world of cultural experiences in one day. Another part of the park that has managed to keep its strong educational aspect is the iconic Spaceship Earth. Unfortunately, the rest of Future World has largely been lost to entertainment with the exception of three holdout attractions; Living with the Land, Universe of Energy, and the Circle of Life (formerly Symbiosis in the Land Pavilion).

For those that may not be familiar with EPCOT’s Future World before it became what it is today, the Future World name fit the nature of the area, and it was one of the highest forms of edutainment around. Communicore was a showcase of new and developing communications technologies, many of which we now use without a second thought. Instead of Communicore we now have Innoventions, which is an unseemly collection of partner attractions consisting of educational games that don’t really create a cohesive environment. Around the edges, one pavilion has been completely replaced, and two have received large-scale interior changes that have resulted in a much more entertainment focused experience; The Living Seas is now The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and World of Motion has become the GM showroom and ride Test Track. Thankfully the transformation of Living Seas into the Nemo-themed pavilion did not affect much more than the Omnimover ride, but Test Track created a virtual sales floor for GM while providing a marginally educational experience.

As you can see here (and have experienced if you have visited recently), the focus has appeared to start shifting much more strongly towards an entertainment experience with education becoming more of an afterthought. Here is where I let loose and start bashing EPCOT and Disney, right? Actually, that would be wrong, and here is why.

Disney is reacting to a change in its consumers, a change that has shown that, by and large, instant gratification and mindless entertainment is what most of us desire. The result at EPCOT in Future World is exactly what we have asked for, and while I still find the experience immensely enjoyable, I cannot experience the attractions without the thought of how the technologies that were showcased and explained in those very buildings has resulted in the mind-numbing entertainment that has become so popular. It really is ironic when you think about it. What made the park so cool, fun, and interesting in its beginnings has started turning it into entertainment with an afterthought of education, a complete 180 from what it was originally; education that was entertaining.

You have probably heard similar rants before, certainly about how our society has become an instant gratification society, filled with mindless entertainment thanks to the Internet. Considering that, if you have gotten this far, thank you for staying with me, and I would be very surprised if anyone reached this point. If you have, please continue to stay with me for just a touch longer.

As much as I have experienced that feeling of being a kid again at Disney and EPCOT in particular, I always find myself having much stronger experiences at places like SeaWorld, the Columbus Zoo, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. As my girlfriend can confirm, I turn into a little kid the moment I walk into SeaWorld and see the animals. She has to practically drag me away from the dolphins and orcas. I’ll crouch down in front of the glass wall of the tiger exhibit at the Columbus Zoo and stay there watching the tiger pace back and forth right in front of me for a half hour or more. When I visited the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry I was interested in everything, even if I had fallen asleep in classes attempting to learn about them. Education is fun at these places; they immerse you in the environment and experience in such a way that makes you want to learn. This is what is starting to disappear from Future World, but thankfully remains in the World Showcase.

If I have a point I want to make in writing this; I wish we could find a way to pull back from the ledge of instant gratification and mindless entertainment, and I hope we will. I have contributed and continue to contribute to the mess (and future articles will likely prove as much), but every time I have one of those “kid moments,” I realize how entertaining education can really be. I’ve had a few “figments of imagination” about a re-imagined Future World, and more than most, I think one particular Figment would be the “spark of imagination” to really push it along. The only way that will happen, though, is through a demonstration that we no longer seek the mindless entertainment as the majority of the experience.

Thank you for tolerating my overly long ramblings, and hopefully a little spark of inspiration will inspire a figment of your own.


31 03 2011

Welcome to Theme Park Critic, or rather, welcome back to Theme Park Critic! After being inactive for just over two years, The Critic is back (for now, but more on that later), and I am actually really excited being back. Since I last blogged here, a lot have changed in the industry as well as personally, so for some topics, you might see me approaching them differently than I used to. What has not changed is my passion for the topic at hand and (unfortunately for you), cheesy sense of humor.

So why Theme Park Critic, you ask? Well, the short answer is “because I feel like it.” That probably isn’t enough for many of you, though, so here’s a little more detail on why I do what I do. The amusement industry has been a personal passion and area of career interest for many years, and I often enjoy writing about things that I feel passionate about. This is not just a passive career interest, either. I have worked for Cedar Fair, Disney, have been involved with several different industry fan sites, and had the pleasure of meeting executives from several parks and companies.

In addition to writing about the industry, I also love to document it through photography. I had a large collection of several thousand pictures…I say “had” because unfortunately the external hard drive that held the majority of them died before I got to transfer everything over to my newer drive. Recovery is expensive and may not even be possible with this drive, so I’ll cross my fingers and hope. This blog may occasionally serve as a showcase for a few of my favorite pictures as well, and you will be able to find those and a few more on my Flikr page.

Up there at the top of the post I mentioned that Theme Park Critic is back “for now,” and that has to do with at least one idea I am currently kicking around in the ever-changing room of ideas called my mind. I am considering starting a new, more general blog to allow me to write about a much wider selection of topics beyond the amusement industry (despite what some may say, I am not a one-trick pony). Depending upon that project, I may decide to roll this blog into the new one and cover everything in one blog. It is, however, just an idea at this point and nothing will be happening until well after I set up the other blog. And then there is always that pesky little thing called “life” that tends to get in the way of things. I make no promises for a regular schedule of posts, but do have every intention of trying to get something new up every week.

There you are, everything that you need to know about Theme Park Critic and myself. Some real news and stuff about what is happening in the industry should be popping up before too long, so please, stay tuned and see what happens next!

Launched Wooden Coaster FTW!

19 11 2008

Okay, now I really think I’ve seen it all in the world of roller coasters. Coming soon to a park near you, a launched wooden roller coaster! Okay, so maybe not next year, and I’m going to guess not even in 2010, but thanks to the Gravity Groups new Timberliner trains we could very well see launched wooden coasters in the future. Is anyone else skeptical? I sure am! I’ll come back to that point in a little bit though, as there is a lot to talk about when it comes to the new Timberliner trains which the Gravity Group announced yesterday.

The Timberliners have a lot of new and/or interesting features to take a look at, and one that I’m sure is going to have a lot of enthusiasts riding these new trains is the shock absorption that the trains are said to feature. While wooden coasters are traditionally a little on the rough side, Intamin’s prefab wooden coasters are said to have butter-smooth rides in comparison to most other wooden coasters, and even compared to Intamin’s steel coasters. That kind of smooth ride is almost scary to even think about, since I think the roughness adds to the ride experience of a ride that is supposed to be of an older style and not as refined. There are many out there, though, that will not ride wooden roller coasters because of how rough they are. Beyond the rider experience these new trains and the shock absorption should also decrease maintenance costs for the train and track. It would make sense that a smoother ride means less play and more consistent wear, instead of spots of increased wear, which could conceivably help with maintenance.

The idea of integrating sound into a wooden roller coaster train is something that is completely new to the best of my knowledge. It has been done on steel rides for at least 10 years or more now, but as far as I am aware, has not been done with a wooden coaster. More than likely this was because of how much noise wooden coasters usually produce, along with the trains not generally being design friendly to having speakers near to the riders’ head. I would guess that the smoother ride discussed above is a contributing factor to making these trains ready for on-board audio, as the new trains probably result in a quieter ride, allowing the audio to be heard at manageable levels for everyone.

There are evidently some new restraints on these trains as well, though you can’t really see anything in the “postcard” and press release from the Gravity Group. I’m hoping to get some images from the firm, but in the worst case scenario I’ll get them from a website that has a representative down at IAAPA. Apart from that, there isn’t much else in the release to talk about, but I did say I would return to the “launch capable” bit of the trains. Part of the new trains that in my mind goes hand in hand with launch capabilities is magnetic braking, which is also capable on the Timberliners. If you really think about it, both of these could be said about most PTC and Gerstlauer trains, though it would presumably take some heavy modification to pull off. The Timberliners, however, seem to be built with both launching and magnetic braking in mind. After having the chance to stare up at the underbody of Blue Streak’s trains as they rolled into the brake run when I was sitting at entrance, I am curious as to how high above the track the benches would be compared to traditional PTC trains, and how magnetic and launching hardware would affect the underbody construction. There are a whole lot of questions that are raised in my mind by the “launch capable” line in the announcement, but a few are reigned in by the thought of magnetic braking. After thinking about it some, I would guess that the “launch” we may see on future wooden coasters would be more like the LSM lift that is used on Maverick at Cedar Point, rather than a full out speed launch like on Intamin Impulse and hydraulic launch roller coasters. Still though, my mind is still balking at the idea of a launched wooden coaster, and for the time being I am lumping it in there with the looping wooden roller coaster idea.

Press Release PDF


If you read the title and expected an announcement about a wooden coaster finally featuring a launch, sorry. You’ll probably be just as disappointed when I put up the headline that Cedar Point breaks 500 feet. Until some equally interesting news pops up, or I get a response from Gravity Group, happy reading. Remember, the cake (and title) is a lie.