Showing posts with label CommuniCore/Innoventions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CommuniCore/Innoventions. Show all posts

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Consolidating Innoventions

When it first moved into the space formerly occupied by CommuniCore, EPCOT’s Innoventions was touted as a high-tech playground of the future, a sort of permanent consumer electronics show. Just check out this commercial from its early days (I apologize for the poor video quality)

Today, of course, the high-tech experiences at Innoventions once offered have been replaced by the Wall O’ Video Game Consoles You Can Get At Wal-Mart.

It’s like the run-down arcade at your local movie theater, but with older games

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Sum of All Thrills is pretty cool. But outside of that Raytheon-sponsored exhibit, Innoventions looks pretty bare these days. The last few times I’ve been to EPCOT, you know what I’ve noticed about Innoventions? Nothing. Large expanses of it, in fact. And that’s the real problem with the place. Disney just can’t seem to secure enough corporate sponsors to fill all the exhibition space, leading to large tracts of vacant real estate. Last week, WDWMagic reported that the House of Innoventions is returning, and it will occupy the now-empty space across from the Waste Management exhibit (also known as the “what the heck is a big green garbage truck doing in Future World?” exhibit). However, the Waste Management exhibit is going away, so really we’re just trading one piece of empty space for another.

So I have an idea. Since Disney is never going to get corporate sponsors for every piece of Innoventions exhibition space, why not consolidate all the exhibits into just one side of the pavilion, say Innoventions East? Innoventions West could be converted into an A or B ticket attraction like a scaled-down version of Adventures in Inner Space or a Horizons simulator, something inexpensive but true to the spirit of EPCOT. That way, Innoventions could be the busy, bustling place it was supposed to be, and we’d get a little piece of that EPCOT Center magic back.

I doubt this will ever actually happen, but it should.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Horizons, Simulated

First of all, I want to thank all 44 people who voted on the poll concerning the blog’s recent visual overhaul. Three-quarters of you liked the new look, so it will stay. If anyone has any suggestions on how to improve things, please fire away in the comments. Now, on to today’s topic:

The future is never what we imagine. Sometime in the mid-80s, my parents bought my sister and I a set of educational National Geographic books. One of them, entitled Science-It’s Changing Your World, contained this picture of a kid playing a futuristic videogame:

I have absolutely no idea how this game was supposed to have worked (I think it involved lasers) or why the kid was wearing a motorcycle helmet, but it looked so futuristic, like TRON! I was sure that, by the time I was in high school, I would be able to go down to the local arcade and play the Laser Pod Game for myself.

By the time high school rolled around in the early-90s, I had forgotten all about the Laser Pod. Instead, I was anticipating the newest Big Thing That Was Just Around The Corner: virtual reality! As crazy as it sounds, we spent most of the ‘90s believing that the future of video games looked like this:

Which is why I wasn’t one bit upset when I learned that EPCOT Center’s CommuniCore was being replaced by something called Innoventions. In the beginning, Innoventions was advertised as the place you could test drive all the new technologies that were about to revolutionize our lives, including virtual reality. Because I was young and stupid, I assumed that this was EPCOT’s way of taking the first step into the New Millennium. I imagined that, on future EPCOT visits, I’d spend some time playing with the virtual reality in Innoventions, then head out to ride updated, plussed versions of Horizons, Journey Into Imagination, and World of Motion.

And just like we arrived in the 1990s without Laser Pods at our local arcades, the Innoventions of 2011 is significantly less exciting than we imagined it would be. Excepting the Sum of All Thrills exhibit, it seems more geared to showcasing stuff we already have in our living rooms.


Case in point

Also, the place seems largely empty. Imagine how Future World would look if every sponsor-less pavilion got bulldozed. Clearly, Innoventions needs some fun, permanent exhibits that aren’t dependent on corporate sponsorships. For example, a Horizons simulator.

This is not a farfetched idea. The guys behind WEDCon are already building one that could easily fit into one of the larger plots of empty exhibition space. And Chris Wallace, the guy behind the Horizons Resurrected project, is in the midst of creating a virtual reality version of everyone’s favorite lost EPCOT pavilion that could be utilized in a much smaller space, like where the Wall O’ Playstations currently resides. It would be Disney’s favorite type of attraction: a relatively inexpensive, permanent exhibit that, aside from regular maintenance, never needs any costly upgrades. (Okay, that’s not completely true. Disney’s favorite “attractions” are actually revenue generators like gift shops and character Meet-and-Greets)

Over the past year or so, little things have been happening at the park that delight EPCOT Center fans. Universe of Energy was returned to its old exterior color scheme, the painted monoliths on Spaceship Earth’s legs were removed, the Fountain of Nations got that cool new railing, and the whirlygigs are disappearing from Innoventions plaza. Clearly, someone with decision-making authority at the company has at least a passing affection for old-school EPCOT. So why not a Horizons simulator, or maybe a 21st century refresh of old CommuniCore exhibits like Energy Exchange? Not only would it make people happy, but it could fuel an expansion of the extremely popular line of retro EPCOT merchandise.

So come on, Disney. You know this needs to happen. In fact, I am willing to throw a little something in. Remember how I once promised to publicly embarrass myself before the whole Internet if the Imagination pavilion ever gets a worthy overhaul? That promise still stands, but now I’m going to add to it: if a worthy Imagination overhaul happens OR if Innoventions gets a Horizons simulator, I will celebrate like a crazed chipmunk, and said reaction will be posted on YouTube for all the Internet to see. So come on, Team Disney Orlando. Do the right thing. Make me embarrass myself on the Internet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Feasible EPCOT Improvement #9

Make Innoventions/CommuniCore More Interesting

I have a pretty good memory, especially where Disney World is concerned. I have vivid memories of extinct attractions like Horizons, World of Motion, and Mission to Mars, but when I sat down to write this, I realized that I can't remember much about what Innoventions contains. The only thing I know for sure is that the south side of Innoventions West completely empty except for a character greeting area and some bathrooms. So, I did some online research and found this page detailing the twin pavilions' current offerings, and I didn't see one thing that made me think "Wow, I can't wait to see and/or do that!" Well, except for the "Test Drive a Segway" thing, maybe. But if the line is too long, I could skip it without feeling too bad. In fact, that's the problem with Innoventions. You can completely skip it without feeling like you missed anything. Judging by how un-crowded the place usually is, most EPCOT visitors agree with me.

How might Disney turn things around? I really don't know.
Before Innoventions, CommuniCore had the same problems. To its credit, Innoventions tries really hard to be educational. There are all kind of neat little activities that kids should enjoy, but they're the kinds of things you see at any childrens' museum. There's simply no attraction or experience there that only Disney could have pulled off.

While I'm talking about the Innoventions pavilions, I've got to take a paragraph and talk about Mouse Gear, the large gift shop that takes up a substantial chunk of the eastern building. The previous occupant of that space was a neat two-level store called Centorium. Centorium carried a selection of general Disney merchandise, of course, but it also had lots of interesting things that could only be found in Future World. Mouse Gear, on the other hand, is a thoroughly generic store that sells the same stuff you can get at any gift shop in Disney World. It carries only the tiniest selection of EPCOT-themed merchandise, and most of that is T-shirts. There is nothing unique about the store AT ALL, and because of that it really sticks out like a sore thumb in EPCOT. After all, the stores in the World Showcase are full of unique and authentic merchandise from the various countries. Check out the large store in Japan; you'll think you've actually crossed the Pacific. It would be nice if Mouse Gear became Centorium again and regained some of that uniqueness.

That's all for this week. Next up: logos and fonts.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Feasible EPCOT Improvements: A Wish List

As my wife and I were doing some planning for our January 2010 trip to Walt Disney World, my thoughts turned to EPCOT, and how it could feasibly be improved. Obviously, I'd like nothing better than to walk into the park in six months to find Mission: Space gone without a trace, with Horizons sitting in its place like it never left. Unfortunately, that will never happen. Instead, I've come up with a list of twelve improvements that Disney management could make to EPCOT if they really wanted to. (Whether or not they're inclined to do so, and what it says about the competence of Disney management and the health of the company as a whole is a different topic altogether). Let's get started:

#12: Get rid of the graveyard at the entrance to Future World
In saner times, the space between the entrance turnstiles and Spaceship Earth was a wide open area that contained only a few planters of flowers and a fountain. Now we have this:

Is it a graveyard, or perhaps a war memorial? No, it's just a transparent attempt to get you to pull out your wallet just minutes after you put it back into your pocket after paying for your tickets. At least it was. From 1999 until 2007, guests could shell out $35-$38 for the dubious privilege of having their picture etched onto a tiny steel plate that was then affixed to the surface of one of the gray stone monoliths that litter EPCOT's entrance plaza. Now that the Leave A Legacy program has been discontinued, I really wish they'd just remove the monoliths altogether.

#11: Clean up Innoventions/CommuniCore Plaza
In the late 1990s, EPCOT was obviously invaded by a pointy-haired boss type who had a phobia of open spaces. It's the only way to explain what happened to the area around the CommuniCore buildings. What used to be a clean, open area with clear sight lines to the pavilions that ring the periphery of Future World was defaced into this:
Image borrowed from EPCOT Central 
It might've looked cool in the '90s, now it's just loud, and unnecessarily busy. I might be able to forgive it if those triangular tarp things served a useful function like providing shade against the Florida sun (which can be unbearable in the summer months) but they don't. If the clean, open lines of CommuniCore plaza seemed dated by the mid-90s, they're suddenly in vogue again. Look at Apple's industrial design: the cleaner and simpler their design aesthetic, the more units they sell. It's time to remove the tacky, useless tarps and the pointless whirlygigs that litter the area.

Check back later this week for Number Ten on the list. Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 6, 2009

How educational was EPCOT?

It's widely believed that the EPCOT Center of the 1980s and early 90s was a more educational place than the Epcot of today. But was it really? Let's compare the pavilions of EPCOT Center with today's lowercase Epcot and see. Of course, it should be noted that what follows is purely my own opinion.

Spaceship Earth: To be fair, I haven't had the chance to ride Spaceship Earth since the Siemens rehab. However, I've watched a little ride video, and I've listened to the entire audio track on Subsonic Radio a few times. In my opinion, the new ride has a lighter tone and is less scholarly than the communications-themed experience that preceded it. Is it actually less educational? It's a tough call. It seems to me, though, that the old ride contained more historical facts than the new one.

Universe of Energy: Among those of us who remember the first version of this pavilion, there's the widespread perception that Disney dumped the respectable, serious original show in favor of a lighthearted and airheaded Ellen Degeneres vehicle that's too busy dropping 1990s pop culture references to convey any information. So I went back and watched some videos of the original show so I could compare them. And honestly, they both convey pretty much the same information, although the original show goes into a lot more detail about oil exploration. Whether you prefer the scholarly and serious presentation of the original show, or the 1990s flavor of the current incarnation is a matter of personal preference.

Wonders of Life: This pavilion used to be an interesting EPCOT destination featuring shows and exhibits about health and the human body. Now it's an empty shell.

Horizons/Mission:Space: Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about Horizons. It was absolutely my favorite theme park attraction of all time. If I had the power of Q, I would rebuild Horizons, convert the second-floor VIP lounge into an apartment, and live there. Nevertheless, Mission:Space is more educational. Why? Well, even though it's nowhere near the triumph of Disney Imagineering that Horizons was, and in fact it makes people sick, it realistically demonstrates why not everyone is cut out to be an astronaut. Horizons was more fun. Mission:Space is more educational. I don't like it, but it's the truth.

World of Motion/Test Track: Although it is fondly remembered, no one would accuse World of Motion of historical accuracy. How many kids got off that ride believing that the wheel was introduced to mankind after an Egyptian Pharaoh picked the round model over square and triangular versions? To be fair, though, the post-show area had some educational value. Test Track has a narrower focus, simulating an automobile testing ground instead of telling the story of human transportation, but it does try to educate riders about the testing process that new car models are put through before they go to market. I wish it explained why GM's cars are so unreliable compared to Honda and Toyota if they really go through all these tests, but I guess that story doesn't have as much entertainment value as the testing process itself. Comparing the old and new rides is a bit of an apples-and-oranges proposition, but I'd have to give the nod to Test Track here.

Journey Into Imagination/Journey Into YOUR Imagination with Figment and Eric Idle: The Imagination pavilion was never meant to be educational in the slightest. It was simply supposed to be a fun, whimisical trip that reminded visitors of the potential of their own imaginations. I've written at length on this before, of course, but in brief the old ride was charming, the newest one is a sad joke, but neither had any educational value (unless you count the present-day post-show area that "educates" you about some of Kodak's more banal services.) The Captain EO movie might have been educational had it been retitled "People You Should Never Allow Near Your Children".

The Land: Although the boat ride portion of the pavilion has changed very little since the pavilion opened, the change from a live guide to a recorded narration track during the greenhouse sequence was an improvement, as everyone now gets the same information. The biggest change at The Land, of course, was the replacement of the Kitchen Kabaret/Food Rocks show with Soarin'. Although Soarin' is definitely the superior experience, it's one of the biggest examples of the "generic Disney-Park-ification" of EPCOT. Soarin' makes The Land one of EPCOT's most popular destinations, but the place was more educational without it.

The Living Seas/The Seas With Nemo and Friends: I've written about the Seas pavilion before. As I said then, my favorite version of the pavilion is WED's amazing original concept that United Technologies was too stingy to fund. The attraction that opened in 1986 was perfectly serviceable, however, and it did a good job educating us on the amazing variety of living things in our oceans. Unfortunately, people today aren't wowed as easily as they were in 1986, when the line to get into The Living Seas stretched almost to the monorail track. For better or for worse, Disney decided it was the ocean's fault. Since actual sea life wasn't sufficiently entertaining, the whole place got a Pixar makeover, complete with digital characters from Finding Nemo that seem to float inside the aquarium (which is still the world's second-largest man-made underwater environment.) I haven't had the chance to examine all the exhibits inside the refurbished Seabase, but from what I can tell the Seas pavilion isn't as much about turning guests' on to the wonders to be found beneath the ocean as it is about entertaining preschoolers.

CommuniCore/Innoventions: The old CommuniCore had more exhibits that tied into Future World pavilions, but it also had lots of cheesy gimmicks (anyone remember the Astuter Computer Revue?) Innoventions plays more like a sales pitch for different corporate sponsors, but such things have a long history at Disney. Still, Innoventions does convey actual information, even if it's not very entertaining. Overall, CommuniCore wins out. It had a teachers' resource center, and there was just more of it. CommuniCore took up two buildings; Innoventions only takes up one.

So, was the old EPCOT Center really more educational than today's Epcot? Yes, but not as much as you might think. The main difference was that it cared about educating visitors in a way that today's Epcot really doesn't.