Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM (1996)

Released in 1996 (with a revised edition two years later), the Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM game quickly climbed the charts to become the best selling game of the year.  Featuring an innovative combat interface, diabolical level design, and enhanced A.I., it went on to collect all the major awards and appeared on several Top Ten lists in prominent gaming magazines.
If I had to pick 5 icons to represent WDW, I would pick the Earful Tower, the Castle, Spaceship Earth, and … oh, how could I forget China and the tea cups?
At least, that’s how history might have turned out if not for Duke Nukem 3-D.  Walt Disney World Explorer had the misfortune to go up against a genre-defining first-person shooter, and got lost in the shuffle.  But we all know that it would have been great, if given the chance.  But instead it gets a spot on our list of video games based on the parks.
It’s Tough To Be A Duke
How can you not get excited about an interactive map of Walt Disney World?  And by interactive, I mean truly interactive, where little sprites of pixie-dust glow whenever you hover over an icon.  In fact, WDW Explorer invented an entire genre of games in which you get pixie dust sparkles by hovering over a map icon (so far, the only other entry in this genre is 12-year-old Billy Sims’ javascript hack of Google Maps).

Having this as your mouse cursor is not annoying in the least.
This game also featured guided tours of the parks, and I mean truly guided, where you click directional arrows on the screen and see some nice full color static pictures.  Not content to wow you with guidebook quality images, WDW Explorer took it one step further by giving you enormously interesting factoids, such as the height of Spaceship Earth or the number of leaves on the Swiss Family treehouse.  Because if it’s one thing WDW fans care about, it’s random numbers.
There were 246 toothpicks dropped in Rain Man.
But hold on there, kiddos, WDW Explorer isn’t through yet.  It also features a Hidden Mickey game.  Yes, as you take your guided tours, surrounded by glowing pixie sprites, you can also try to spot the trademark “Three Circle” symbol hidden in several of the static images.  If you click it, it would glow and announce “You’ve found a Hidden Mickey!”  While this sort of epic gameplay would later be improved and expanded upon by the classic “Where’s Waldo?” series, WDW Explorer was first to introduce it, and millions of gamers agree that this is far more entertaining than shooting zombies or driving virtual go-karts.
To simulate the experience, I have concealed a Hidden Mickey in this picture.  See if you can find it!
Occasionally you could discover “behind the scenes” videos.  I know this is 2010, and videos are available on your computer at the drop of the hat, but back then, videos could only be experienced through the magic of CD-ROM.  Or, if you were really lucky, through something called a television set (“TV”, in the slang of the times).
These backstage looks were highly prized among the Disney fan public, because up to this point, none of us had ever known that Disney sometimes repainted their buildings and replaced their light bulbs, and the phrase “Audio Animatronic” might as well have been Martian.  But through these videos, we learned that they actually cleaned the Magic Kingdom every night, and sometimes had to program things using computers.  A whole new world opened before us, and Disney fans haven’t been the same since.
I have concealed another Hidden Mickey in this exciting backstage photo!  See if you can find it!
By far the most interesting feature had to be the Walt Disney World Timeline.  This was a map that would allow you to explore the history of the resort, and learn the exact date of when new resorts, parks, and attractions were added.  I think these new icons would appear on the map whenever you scrolled the timeline.  It was like you were constructing your very own Walt Disney World in lightning speed, though since the redraw time of the map was limited to the speed of your CD drive.  Since my CD drive was a Compaq, it took roughly the same amount of time as it took to build the actual Disneyland park.
After rendering the entire WDW timeline.
You can still find the Walt Disney World Explorer CDs out there if you had a sudden hankering for your mouse cursor to leave behind a golden trail of sparkles.  Good luck finding a Windows 95 machine to run it though.

The Haunted Mansion (GameCube, 2003)

Back into the virtual world we go!  Parkeology continues to deliver hard-hitting coverage of video games based on Disney theme parks, and YOU ARE THERE.  Too bad for you.

Today we move far beyond the primitive reaches of 1990’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom and jump a full three Nintendo consoles ahead.  The year is 2003, and GameCube is the cat’s meow.  I even hear tell of two fellows from North Carolina who are working on some kind of flying contraption!  It’ll never work.
Sorry, sometimes I devolve into making fun of the Carousel of Progress script.

That year, an abomination hit the screen in the form of an Eddie Murphy movie.  Okay, that could be any year that an Eddie Murphy movie hits the screen.  But you Disney fans know of what I speak.  Yes, that was the year of Eddie’s awful screen translation of Kitchen Kabaret.

And in the same year, he released this pile of Bantha poodoo

Capitalizing on what was sure to be a runaway hit, Disney dropped a Haunted Mansion game on us just in time for the holidays (it was also available for other platforms such as PlayStation, Xbox, Gameboy, and DOS Text Adventure.)

What, no Jennifer Tilly?

It was billed as a three-dimensional puzzle game in which we explore that famous Disney landmark.  Little did we know that it was actually based on Ghostbusters.

A much more intriguing three-dimensional puzzle game, and one that I wish I had played.

Yes, in this game, your job is to capture ghosts using your lantern.  The game leads you through room after room where you have to sweep up all the lost souls that are hiding there before you can move onto the next.  If you somehow manage to capture 999 of them, the EPA will shutdown your containment facility, Gozer the Gozerian will land on your apartment building, and Slimer will eat your hotdog.

Okay, that doesn’t happen.  If it had, we might not be looking at this game with scorn.

It should come as no surprise to you that except for the title, this game bears virtually no resemblance to the Disney attraction.  I’m not even sure what the plot is.  Something about you being a janitor in a Southern style mansion?  (the Disneyland version, I guess.)

Stanley Spadowski in the Haunted Mansion?  I’d play that.

Even more annoying is that it is apparently the exact same idea as that awful Haunted Mansion level from Adventures in the Magic Kingdom!  Kill x number of ghosts with your candle and beat the stage!  There is a willful disdain of the source material.  You have an attraction with an awesome number of potential levels – an endless hallway, a ballroom, a corridor of knocking doors – and the part I remember most is being stuck in a haunted kitchen.

The Bride?  Cousin It?  That creepy kid from The Ring?

I never did beat this game, even though I got pretty far.  I finally made it to a weird room where the walls pushed in and out like the Death Star garbage compactor, and just gave up.  It’s not like there aren’t any other janitor jobs out there.

Sweet dreams, kids!

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Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Queue

This tree is so much more awesome living 30 feet away from where it used to live.

Today I want to talk about Interactive Pooh.  No, I will not be stooping to any cheap bathroom jokes.  I hope.  But I did get a chance to see the new Queue for Winnie-the-Pooh out at the Magic Kingdom.  Lots of interactive elements have been added to what was once a standard dark-ride switchback line.  Not all of them were operating yet (they turn them on just in time for Thanksgiving; that’s a heckuva stress test).

Strangely, no meerkats.

Truth be told, this is exactly why we love Disney.  The loving attention to detail here is top notch.  Perhaps it seems even more impressive because WDW’s Fantasyland has for so long been so plain, but this little corner has really beautified itself, and it will be even more impressive once the trees and plants fill out.

Rabbit’s Garden has interactive watermelons, sunflowers, and lettuce.  Now we know what happened to the characters from Food Rocks.

They’ve finally hit on the right way to make the “waiting in line” experience more interesting.  Soarin’ and Space Mountain with their stationary video games were steps in the right direction, but Pooh takes it up several notches.

Imagineers were letting select families into the Tigger area.  Believe it or not, those are springs that sink down about 6 inches and bounce you back up.  Don’t let the lawyers find out.

It would be quibbling to say that a lot (okay, most) of the activities here are for kids.  Not many adults are going to want to crawl through Pooh’s house or Eeyore’s shack, and I’m darn sure they aren’t going to let adults jump on those nifty Tigger trampolines (even though I really want to).  But frankly, it’s probably fidgety kids who have the most problems with lines, and this is built to take out the fidgetiness.

Props from Tigger’s stint with Cirque du Soleil

Disney has truly created something different here.  It’s a step beyond the “interactiveness” of the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland.  This is practically a line that doubles as a playground.  I was shocked but just how many different experiences are crammed in here.  This isn’t one or two little “rope pull” effects.  The activities are wide and varied.

Hard to see, but the door is dimensional, and you’re supposed to knock on it.   I’m guessing it will trigger some sort of effect, but Piglet was too scared to answer today.

In fact, I’m still not sure how it will work in practice.  The various interactive areas are not linear, but sort of stations and detours through the “real” line.  Maybe the kids are allowed to play while the adults hold the spot?  It’s a complete reinvention of the concept of waiting, and it’s this kind of thinking that puts Disney so far in front of everyone else.

I admit to being annoyed when they shut down Haunted Mansion’s cemetery for a similar retrofit.  Now I’m excited for it.  And it certainly bodes well for the interactive Dumbo area rumored for the Fantasyland expansion.

If this is the gloomiest place Eeyore could find, then he needs to stop complaining.

There are some things I don’t have pictures of, like the wall of writable honey, and some stuff that’s still a mystery.  This shot of Pooh and a cloud of bees is in an area that at first glance looks like a FastPass distribution area, but the pages on the wall indicate that it might be something else, and it’s sort of smack in the middle of the real queue. Fastpass Distribution is still happening over at Philharmagic.  My theory is that it will be something with honeybee hives, but the hives weren’t there yet.

Hope your kids aren’t allergic.

Also, the ride itself has stayed the same, but the rails in the loading area have been replaced with awesomely themed “wooden” rails (you can catch a glimpse of them in some of the pictures here).  If I had to complain about anything, it would be that I think “Pooh’s Thotful Spot” is a better name for the shop than “Hundred Acre Goods.”

Nice wood facade, nice stone paving, nice brick queue walls.  A far cry from the old building.

The most significant change of the day:  The shop checkout counter has moved!