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Gamer Tuesday

January 1, 2013

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: The Carousel of Gaming Progress

So there's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow

Shining at the end of every day

There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow

Just a dream away!

Welcome everybody to not just the first Gamer Tuesday of 2013, but the first Days of the Week article of the new year! I love the new year's celebration as it always fills me up with hope and optimism for a new chance to start anew and pursue better things off in the horizon. In honor of this jolly holiday, I will be talking about a specific scene in Disney's Carousel of Progress and see how it relates to gaming's own progress.

Carousel of Progress 

For those not in the know, The Carousel of Progress is an audio-animatronics attraction which celebrates the progress mankind has made over the decades and how it has affected the lives of the average American family. It follows the lives of the Progress family, headlined by patriarch John Progress as they see their lives both become easier and more complicated with the advancements made in technology, detailing historic events such as the invention of electricity and the airplane to the audience. The show first debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair as Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress to great success. Disneyland would later receive the show as part of its high tech attractions, where it ran till 1973. It was then moved to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida where it continues to delight park guests to this day with its simple yet positive outlook on, well, progress.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney himself supervised the creation of this attraction, and featured the musical talents of the Sherman brothers, best known for their work on films like Mary Poppins

Over the years, the attraction has seen some changes in order to present the ever evolving lifestyles of the decades. To get to where I will be talking about, here is a basic rundown of the attraction's storyline and how it operates. Guests enter a theater which actually rotates from scene to scene. Each scene depicts the Progress Family in a different era and holiday, showcasing the world events that lead to the lifestyles we now live in. The very last scene in the show takes place in a very near future setting where the Progress family are celebrating Christmas.

This is where we will be focusing on today. As already explained, The Carousel of Progress is a celebration of mankind's ingenuity and desire to make a better life through its own inventions and discoveries. All the previous scenes reflect just how far we have come since those early days, and how sometimes tenacity and perseverance can create things that can change everyone's lives significantly, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. The future scene represents just how far we can go in terms of technology in every aspect of our lives, from personal comfort to ultimate leisure.

Carousel of Progress

As we stop in the future scene, the now-teenaged son James is playing a video game with his grandmother. Right away, we see that this video game is not what we have gotten ourselves used to. It is a virtual reality space shooting set that the family got for Christmas. James proudly declares himself to be the resident flying ace. Then, he switches the footage over to the TV so that grandma can play and show everybody how it is done. Both don virtual reality goggles that allow them to look around their surroundings and get a better feel of the digital environment they are in.

Virtual Boy
I am sure that James and grandma would suffer from headaches and complain about how every game is red and not quite virtual

It is very curious that as we enter the future scene the first thing we see in terms of progress through technology is a virtual reality video game. Back in the early to mid-90s, virtual reality was seen as the next step in gaming's evolution, and shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation fueled the dreams of those that wish to literally be transported to an abstract world from the comfort of their living room. Several video game companies tried to cash in on the possibilities by creating their own take on what was then somewhat impossible to attain. One of the most well known, and sadly disastrous, attempts at this was Nintendo's Virtual Boy. Billed as a 'handheld system,' players would place their heads inside the goggle-like system in order to witness 3D gaming in a 'virtual reality' setting. As promising as the idea sounded on paper, the execution was left to be desire. The games could only display two colors, red and black, and the game library was quite small due to the lack of third party support. Due to this, the system was quickly retired within a year, so there was no great big beautiful tomorrow for the system. That's not to say that Nintendo let the idea of 3D gaming die. In 2010, Nintendo announced their next 3D handheld, the Nintendo 3DS, promising glasses free 3D. Needless to say, the system has been better received by the gaming public, despite a rocky first year.

Sony Goggles

If we are going to talk about a literal virtual reality as depicted by the Carousel of Progress, Sony has experimented with the technology in the last couple of years. One of their most recent attempts at virtual reality is the Sony TMZ-H2, a 3D headset that takes cues from the mistakes and failures of past attempts and re-invents them for a new generation. The headset has been featured at several trade shows, but it is clear that thanks to the price and the still experimental nature of virtual reality, the headset won't become mainstream yet. So it might be a while till we experience virtual reality on Christmas as we see in the attraction.

In addition to the game being a virtual reality title, there is also the matter of how the characters interact with the game. Both James and grandma are wearing gloves in their hands in order to navigate through the game. In this brief scene, The Carousel of Progress is suggesting a future in which gaming will no longer rely on traditional controllers in order to interact with the games, using hand free devices to achieve the illusion of control. What is curious is that we are actually beginning to see gaming try and experiment with this train of thought.

The Power Glove
The Power Glove: It's so bad...

Perhaps the most infamous of this attempts happened in the 80s, just as gaming was beginning to experience the massive growth it is still living through today. The peripheral was named the Power Glove. Players would wear the glove and after inputting a game specific code on the keypad, they would be able to control the game using their hand motions. Much like the Virtual Boy, the concept sounded fantastic on paper, but the final execution lead players frustrated due to poor calibration and mediocre use of technology. It has then become a sort of an ironic icon of gaming as it presents the hopeful idealism of what gaming could do, but without the know how to actually make it a successful reality. In Carousel of Progress, the gloves the characters wear are slight variations of the notorious peripheral.

As far as hands free gaming goes, there have been various attempts with various degrees of success. While not quite hands free, Nintendo's Wii system, released in 2006, did try to bring players into a whole new level of immersion. Using what is known today as the Wii Remote control, players would wave a wand that translated the motions into actions within the game. So for example, if the player is playing a sword game and he did a slashing motion, the game would recognize it and turn it into an action within the game world. It was seen as the next step in placing players in a virtual reality setting through their own motions and control input. The success of motion gaming was so grand, especially after the industry had seen it as a fluke, that it prompted all gaming companies to try and create their own take on the concept.

Nintendo would go back and re-invent the controller and dubbing it the Wii Remote Plus, a controller that actually allows players to have one on one motion in real time, meaning that the game would react to the player's motion in real time, no lag or delay in response. Sony would pretty much replicate the same concept as the Wii with the Sony Move wand, a controller that uses a camera in order to recognize the movements of the player.

Gaming
From top to bottom: Sony's Move, Nintendo's Wii Remote and Microsoft's Kinect

But easily the most drastically different of all was Microsoft's Kinect motion camera. Much like the future scene in Carousel of Progress depicts hands free gaming, the Kinect promised a new era in motion gaming where the player could use his whole body to interact with the game. The early concepts were more than promising, showing how the camera could even scan real world objects and turn them into objects within the virtual world. The trailer even promised that the game could detect where a player was standing and properly react to it. The final product, however, was not as advertised, with some ideas taken off the final product and others stripped to their bare minimum. Regardless, the Kinect camera has received some solid games since its debut in 2010, such as the acclaimed Kinect Disneyland Adventures (which I have talked about several times here on Gamer Tuesday), the Dance Central series and more. Still, many saw it as just a brief diversion cashing in on a new concept rather than a genuine step in the right direction.

Laserdisc

Going back to the future scene in Carousel of Progress, grandpa begins to talk about how amazing progress is, mentioning how in his day none of the things the family enjoys today didn't exist. He briefly mentions two things: laserdiscs and high definition TV. This is where unfortunately we see that the show is slightly dated, and realize that this was a future envisioned by the people of the 90s (as cynical as that may seem). The laserdisc was a digital video format that was seen as the successor to the VHS. Many companies, especially Disney, tried to capitalize on this by releasing several high profile films on the format. Not only that, gaming even used laserdiscs in various experimental phases. In the early days of the arcade scene, long before the video game suffered a crash that almost destroyed it, there was one game that caught the attention of many players: Dragon's Lair.

Dragon's Lair

Dragon's Lair is an action/fantasy game in which players take on the role of Dirk the Daring, a knight out to rescue Princess Daphne from the clutches of an evil dragon that resides within a castle. The game came as a huge revolution as it was one of the first titles to utilize laserdiscs as well as the first to be presented as an animated feature. It was created by none other than Don Bluth, who has an extensive history at Disney as an animator on features such as Pete's Dragon. The basic gameplay concept is that you press buttons in a timed manner. If done correctly, you would see the other part of the movie, if not you would see the death animation and the game over screen. Several laser disc games were released after the success of Dragon's Lair, including a direct sequel also produced by Don Bluth.

Laserdisc as a home medium lasted for a couple of years, but never really took off like VHS did. That was because laserdiscs were often large and bulky, and required special players to work. In comparison to VHS it was superior, yet VHS was easier to afford and find in stores. You could buy blank tapes and record video footage over them. The laserdisc would then be defeated by the DVD as the disc based media as it was not only the size of a compact disc, it could store the same amount of data and present high definition video and other features. The DVD surpassed the VHS, and now the DVD co-exists with Blu Ray. Now, the belief is that there will come a time in which there will not be a need for a physical format and stuff will be distributed digitally via the internet, from music and movies to applications and, of course, games. People will just need the device that can play said items.

Carousel of Progress

Then there's the concept of high definition TV. Grandpa Progress was correct in that notion. Since the mid-90s, it was advertised that all television media would be transmitted in high definition by the mid-to-late 00s through the release of high definition TV sets and the TV broadcasts being done in high definition. How has this benefited gaming? In 2005, Microsoft released the Xbox 360, being the first gaming console to be a high definition machine. Sony then followed this through in 2006 by implementing their own Blu Ray technology, giving movies a whole new dimension of visual fidelity. Interestingly, the attraction itself would update the television set with a high definition set to better reflect this new era.

Another invention the future scene of Carousel of Progress proudly displays are voice activated devices. In the attraction, they show how devices can be controlled with just a voice command, often leading to several turkeys being burned to a crisp by mistake. We may not be there yet in terms of how a whole house can be programmed to react to one's voice, but we certainly have seen devices with voice command features. The latest iPhone device comes with an app named Siri, in which the user can talk to the device and it will offer search results and even spirited answers.

And that is the progress of gaming as presented by the Carousel of Progress. It is a very small element in a grand show, and there is a lot more to gaming than what I presented. Many of the ideas presented would evolve into what we know today and others scrapped altogether. But as Carousel of Progress shows, as long as there is a need to progress, we can always expect brand new ideas that enhance not just our daily lives but gaming as well. You can bet I will be there when the next best thing happens, cause after all...

Carousel of Progress

There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow

Shining at the end of every day

There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow

Just a dream away!

 

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