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.

Comments (10)

  1. @KC, I have a fond love of it as well, in spite of its corniness. Back then, it was all we had! That, and buying used Birnbaum guides from Half Price Books.

  2. When I saw that Rain Man image that you provided with that description underneath, I immediately imagined how it would have been like if it was in the game, which made it very amusing to me.

    I imagined that I clicked on a “Trivia” option on the side after viewing a slideshow. Tinker Bell flied away, the Rain Man image popped up, Disneyesque music quickly faded in, and after a second or two of nothing but music, Corey Burton (the male narrator) reads the description. Then, the music quickly fades out a second later.

    So yeah, I loved this old “game” too!

  3. Yeah, it was like having Waldo waving his arms and pointing at his striped shirt. Not much of a challenge.

  4. I had (have) both versions of this “game.” You didn’t mention that the “hidden” mickeys were very easy to find, because the cursor sparkled with very dust like you were about to click on EPCOT center for the very first time.

    The cursor just acted like a metal detector over all the dark parts of the images looking for a hidden Mickey.

  5. Wow, I had completely forgotten about that creepy “Yes!” But I never get tired of Epcot entrance medley!

  6. I loved this game, my parents bought it for me along with my very own computer ( and a CDROM equivilant of a facebook pet game,) for my tenth or eleventh birthday. It was a lot of fun until I got my very own Aol account the next year upon which I abandoned all CDROM games. Also, while I love Disney background music there is only so much Epcot entrance theme music I can listen to while playing repeatative trivia games. Yes! *in a creepy gameshow host voice followed by audience cheers and applause*

  7. I admit to being too hard on the games here, because frankly it’s more fun to point out their flaws than their successes. WDW Explorer was really more like an interactive encyclopedia (okay, marketing brochure) than an actual video game. And it did come out before “hidden mickeys” were rammed down our throat by the Disney marketing machine. All things being equal, it t’weren’t that bad.

  8. Man I loved this game…I was also about 9/10 years old. It was great since I didn’t care to read through those travel books on Disney and those little silly interactive bits like the hidden Mickey and quizzes made it fun.

    I vouch for this clearly lo-tech 90s gem =D

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