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Disney debuts its new video game technology at sea

The Magic Play Floor is made up of 32 high-definition displays that lets gamers interact by using their feet or hands.
The Magic Play Floor is made up of 32 high-definition displays that lets gamers interact by using their feet or hands.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Each ship has two interactive floors on board for kids and tweens
  • Imagineers blend motion sensor technology and storytelling to create experiences
  • All of the games have been designed for multiplayer experiences up to four players

Editor's note: John Gaudiosi is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Gamerlive.tv video syndication network. He's covered video games for hundreds of outlets over the past 20 years and specializes in the convergence of Hollywood and games.

(CNN) -- These days, people don't want to take a vacation from gaming. And it's changing the way companies like Disney Cruise Line are building their $900 million floating cities.

Disney launches its newest ship, the Disney Fantasy, out of Port Canaveral, Florida, this week. On the sister ship to the Disney Dream, Walt Disney Imagineers have created interactive experiences that can't be played anywhere else -- including Disney theme parks.

"Because technology has become more progressive in the home, it challenges us as Imagineers to design experiences for guests that they can't do at home," said Bob Zalk, a senior show producer for Walt Disney Imagineering. "With the Magic Play Floor, you take a piece of video wall technology, put it on the floor, and you make it an interactive experience that's very physical in nature."

The Magic Play Floor, which is available on both the Dream and the Fantasy, is made up of 32 high-definition displays that push 14 million pixels, which isn't something that's going to be replicated on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.

This massive floor puts arcade games like "Dance Dance Revolution" to shame and allows up to 32 kids (16 adults) to gather around the edges and interact with the video games that unfold on the screens by using their feet or hands.

Around the border of these displays are light pad controllers. There are 48 sensors in each controller that detect the location, the motion and the proximity of each player.

Of course, these games are based on hit Disney movies like "TRON: Legacy," "Lilo & Stitch" and "The Princess and the Frog." Each ship has two of these interactive floors on board in the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Club for kids and tweens.

"We have magical appearances through our living character program, where Stitch from 'Lilo and Stitch' and Crush from 'Finding Nemo' appear in the spaces on screen and interact and talk live with the kids," said David Duffy, creative director for Disney Cruise Line Entertainment and Port Adventures. "It really is an amazing experience for the little ones to see them make a pizza with the Magic Play Floor while Stitch talks to them in real-time."

In those same play areas, kids can also interact with Magic Play Tables, which are roughly the size of a foosball table.

What separates this video game machine from anything else is that it offers full touch-screen interaction and exclusive games developed by Disney Imagineers based on films like "Bolt" and "Cars." All of the games have been designed for up to four players.

"We've designed these experiences to empower kids to go in and just do fun stuff," Zalk said.

With more passengers now accustomed to playing games on Facebook, including the new "Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers," Disney Imagineers are creating experiences that blend motion sensor technology and storytelling. The Fantasy introduces a Muppets game as part of the Midship Detective Agency catalog of experiences.

Karen Leung, interactive show producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, headed the team that developed the new Muppets game, which features original video of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang.

She said that many members of her team have a game design and software development background and they keep abreast of new technology like Kinect for Xbox 360.

The Midship Detective Agency, which also includes two additional games (also available on the Dream) featuring Mickey Mouse and his pals, was developed using facial capture technology and motion capture technology similar to Kinect.

"A key part of the interactive experience is the detective badge, which has a specific agent number and a special bar code," explained Leung. "Each person has a unique bar code, so when you go up to a piece of art, it senses the bar code and will know what scene you're on and what game you're playing on. Depending on what piece of art you're going to, you'll see a different scene customized to where you are in the game."

The game, which sends players to all areas of the ship, is actually an additional level of interactivity that enhances Enchanted Art pieces. Guests who stand in front of this art will see animation come to life.

There are video games built into the different stations, which require players to turn the badge to manipulate on-screen items like lighting fireworks and tightening pipes with a wrench.

The Muppets game adds a lie detector to the equation, which offers additional interactivity with characters. (The Fantasy is also showing he Muppets' new movie in its Buena Vista Theater.)

The Fantasy adds a golf simulator to the mix on Goofy's Sports Deck. Designed for avid golfers, this video game features 80 authentic courses that are displayed on a giant screen inside an air-conditioned room on one of the upper decks. Players choose from real Calloway golf clubs and swing an actual ball into the screen.

"The system uses motion sensors and infrared lines that intertwine with each other," explained Jaco Gouws, assistant port of interest manager on the Disney Fantasy. "The ball goes though this system, and the angles are calculated as it passes from one line to the next, and then the ball enters the video game screen and proceeds into the course. It's designed so you can do everything from play a full game to just practice putting or go to the driving range."

For younger passengers, the room houses an adjacent simulator. Utilizing the same motion sensor and infrared technology, passengers can pick from hockey, football, soccer and baseball and use actual balls to interact with Goofy and the gang.

Interactivity is spread throughout the ship, including a new dinner show at Animator's Palette that allows guests to draw an animated figure and then watch it come to life with classic Disney characters.

Zalk said that just as there's been an influx of passengers who game, there are more Imagineers that have grown up playing games. That's influencing the types of experiences that are being designed for vacationers.

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