Calif. — With the help of some deft karate chops, a
well-placed fireball hurled at ferocious villains and a
set of 3-D glasses, Legoland is hoping to upend the
hypercompetitive world of theme park attractions — for
Ninjago, the Carlsbad park’s latest Lego-inspired
attraction, opens Thursday, its 4-D dark ride will be the
first in North America to use hand gestures in place of
physical devices to control the outcome of the action —
in this case an epic ninja warrior battle. Sensory effects
like heat, smoke and wind will enhance the 3-1/2-minute
virtual journey through skeleton-filled caves and lava
Toy Story Midway Mania may have its pie- and egg-throwing
cannons and Knott’s Berry Farm’s Journey to the Iron
Reef its freeze ray guns. But Legoland now has what some
say is an even more powerful marketing boast.
a page from controller-free video gaming — think Xbox
Kinect — Legoland California and its parent company,
Merlin Entertainments, are trying to wow a whole
generation of youngsters already hooked on mobile devices
and high-tech games. Legoland’s sister park in Denmark
debuted the same ride in March. The strategy also squares
well with theme parks’ growing enthusiasm for
inevitable we’d see this type of technology in the theme
park world, so Legoland is now ahead of this," said
Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider. "This
allows them to say we’re the first on this one and gives
them a good connection with the younger kids who are being
targeted by the video game companies.
now, this is the new thing, but at some point it becomes
the old thing, and you’ll want to do more with this than
waving your hand above the lap bar."
Ninjago ride, inspired by the popular Lego line of Ninjago
toys and a related TV series, owes its hand-gesture
feature to Triotech, a Montreal company that pioneered
what it’s dubbed the Maestro technology. While not
exclusive to Legoland, it will be incorporated into rides
at all of the Legoland parks.
and their parents, seated in four-person vehicles and
wearing 3-D glasses, will be instantly immersed in the
Ninjago story line as motion-sensing technology embedded
in the lap bars detects hand movement above it.
to be warriors in training under the watchful eye of
Ninjago character Master Wu, riders are challenged to
vanquish a legion of enemies, from snake tribes, ghosts
and skeletons to the menacing Great Devourer. Using hand
movements, guests hurl virtual, color-coded projectiles
— fire and ice balls, spheres of lightning, and shock
waves — at animated creatures that appear to jump out of
the way, special effects like dangling spiders, skeletons
popping out of a barrel and bees emerging from a hive
(when blasted) enliven the action.
Ninjago adventure culminates with the reappearance of the
Great Devourer, a monstrous snake who ultimately explodes
in a huge flash of green after a barrage of all of the
virtual artillery fired by hand-waving, karate-chopping
along the way, a dashboard in the vehicles track the
players’ scores, as they compete with friends and family
members, a feature that Legoland is hoping will ensure
Marketing Vice President Christian Martin explained that
as lap-bar sensors detect hand motions, the company’s
proprietary software is able to calculate where the guests
are aiming their hands. That calculation, in turn, helps
direct the virtual projectiles toward the right spot on
is all in 3-D, so the guest really has the impression that
the projectile comes out of his hands," Martin said.
"Secondly, everything happens in real time. Nothing
is pre-rendered, so this (makes) the guest an integral
part of the adventure and not a passive observer."
ride is part of a new 1-acre attraction called Ninjago
World, which re-creates an Asian-style temple housing the
ride and a shop selling licensed merchandise. A large
courtyard is an interactive playground of sorts, with a
rock-climbing wall, spinners to test youngsters’ agility
and a monastery fashioned from 850,000 Lego bricks, which
kids can embellish with their own Lego creations.
new Lego models, including guardian dragons, shields and
Ninja warriors, also populate the new area.
Legoland caters to a very specific age group, generally
children 12 and under, it still has to compete with other
Southern California parks for families’ discretionary
dollars. With the recent debut of Universal Studios
Hollywood’s enormously popular Wizarding World of Harry
Potter and Disneyland’s ambitious plans for a Star Wars
land, the competition will grow even fiercer.
California General Manager Peter Ronchetti acknowledges
that the park, if it wants to remain competitive, needs to
keep pace with rapidly changing innovations in the theme
park and home entertainment arenas. He won’t reveal
Ninjago’s price tag but says it represents the park’s
biggest investment yet in a ride.
is really the start of a new journey for us as a business
in (connecting) the physical bricks with the new
technology," said Ronchetti. "I think there will
be quite a few more steps to take, and it’s a technology
that’s developing very fast. We’ve broken into that
world very early. Ten years ago, this technology wouldn’t
have been available at any cost."
interactive attractions have become de rigueur for theme
parks, it’s only in the last year or two that the
technology has measurably improved, said Daryl White,
president of Cavu Designwerks, a year-old attractions
company whose employees have worked on a number of
high-profile attractions, including Harry Potter.
interactivity doesn’t have to be limited to highly
sophisticated rides. Universal’s Harry Potter
attractions and Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove, for
example, feature interactive wands with special powers to
cast spells or unlock clues in a mystery-filled treasure
us, we are developing many more gesture-based interactive
attractions and are in the middle of doing one right now
that we can’t talk about publicly," he said.
"We’re seeing huge changes in the gesture
technology where you’re able to set up cameras and
create an infrared picture of the person and then break
that down to see what their hand gestures are aiming at.
a very big issue with theme parks now to provide an
experience guests can’t have at home. If you have all
these people playing Halo for hours in their basement,
what is going to draw them off their couch and into a
latest, greatest thrill-inducing roller coaster still
holds a hallowed spot in today’s theme parks, said
industry consultant Dennis Speigel, but they, too, are
being retrofitted to become more interactive.
an example, he pointed to the nine Six Flags parks where
riders will be able to strap on virtual reality headsets
offering 360-degree views and action synchronized to the
movement of the coaster.
CEO Ernest Yale agrees that the new technology won’t
necessarily displace the traditional amusement park ride
but elevate it to a new, immersive experience.
you look at rides that are not interactive, you’re
transported to a virtual world, but now you can be part of
the story, you can have a score, succeed or fail, and
there’s a competitive aspect where kids can try to have
a higher score than their friends," said Yale, whose
company has 225 attractions in more than 50 countries.
the next few years, there will be a lot of new things that
come out, and we’ll find out what kids like. It’s like
a new paradigm for amusement parks."