Electronic Arts Blasts Off With ‘Mass Effect’ Theme Park Ride
Electronic Arts (EA) continues to expand its relationship with Cedar Fair Entertainment (FUN). On the heels of the opening of the Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare: 3Z Arena at Carowinds in Charlotte, N.C., comes the Mass Effect: New Earth 4D theater experience at California’s Great America in Santa Clara. The new ride opens May 18.
Located just down the highway from EA’s Redwood Shores headquarters, Mass Effect: New Earth is set within BioWare’s bestselling science fiction video game franchise. The game studio is developing a new title, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and 3D Live co-founder and CEO Nathan Huber says this theme park attraction takes place around the same time as the beginning of Mass Effect 3. The game’s protagonist, Commander Shepard, is referenced in the ride, but does not make an appearance.
Christian Dieckmann, corporate vice president of strategic growth at Cedar Fair Entertainment, says guests will be taken on an adventure alongside the Normandy, the iconic starship from the game series, through a mass relay and on to the planet Terra Nova, where not all is as it should be.
Dieckmann says BioWare has been involved in the attraction every step of the way through weekly calls that covered story, artwork, animation, and a host of other topics.
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“It’s very important that we create an attraction that fits seamlessly in the world of Mass Effect, while including the elements we know are critical to making a good amusement park experience,” Dieckmann says. “We want to ensure that dedicated fans and park-goers being introduced to the franchise alike walk away thrilled and excited.”
Huber says 3D Live, which designed the ride alongside Halon Entertainment and Cedar Fair, created a custom 60-foot 3D LED screen for the theater experience. The 4K screen technology was originally designed for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It Tour,” but never saw the light of day with the passing of the pop superstar.
“3D LED is like a live VR experience,” Huber says. “We have a performer (playing the captain of the ship) interacting on stage with the holographic screen. The 80-seat theater feels like you’re in a spaceship thanks to motion seats with wind, water, leg pokers, and neck ticklers with 80-channel atmospheric surround sound arrays. It’s a full sensory bombardment.”
Huber says the ride’s seats will toss viewers around quite a bit during the 4½-minute experience. He says the giant, brighter screen will add more depth to the 3D experience than smaller theater-based rides that use a projection system such as Star Tours at Disneyland or Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
“We’re trying to show you can have an interesting experience with real interaction that doesn’t give you a headache or make you feel like you’re going to puke,” Huber says.
BioWare used Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 technology to create the Mass Effect trilogy. Halon Entertainment, which created the 3D digital media for the Mass Effect: New Earth ride, has been migrating parts of its development pipeline to game engines for cinematics and virtual reality for some time. Halon used Unreal Engine 4 for the new attraction.
Jason Choi, lead engine technical designer from Halon Entertainment, says using Unreal Engine 4 allowed his company to work on a small collection of artist workstations to create the movie instead of running an extensive farm of machines that might typically be used to produce final work.
“Once the images started pouring out we were shocked by how much visual quality we were able to produce in such a short period of time,” Choi says.
Mass Effect has come full circle, developed for game platforms and then designed with game technology for a thrill ride. It’s the latest example of theme parks developing attractions for today’s gaming audience.