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An in-depth look at "Voyage to the Iron Reef," Knott's Berry Farm's new interactive attraction

An in-depth look at "Voyage to the Iron Reef," Knott's Berry Farm's new interactive attraction

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Last week, a few hundred lucky fans got to preview Knott's Berry Farm's "Voyage to the Iron Reef" a day before it opened to the general public, followed by a panel discussion with Jeff Tucker (Entertainment Supervisor, Knott's Berry Farm), Lara Hanneman (Director of Entertainment and Production, Knott's Berry Farm), Jeff Gahagen (VP of Maintenance, Knott's Berry Farm), and Ernest Yale (CEO of Triotech).


Copyright CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

Yale's background is in video games. When he was a young boy, his parents refused to buy him an Atari 2600, so he learned how to program school computers to make copies of games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man (but he couldn't figure out how to make more than one ghost). In time, he was running his own game company out of a barn in Montreal, then segued to creating gaming-type experiences for theme parks, wining several IAPPA awards.

"Voyage to the Iron Reef" is a bit different from attractions like "Buzz Lightyear" - there are no actual targets. There are, in fact, infinite positions, as long as they are on one of the screens (I tried). "People don't focus on little red dots," said Yale, "they focus on characters, they focus on story, narrative. In the one we did in Toronto ("Wonder Mountain's Guardian"), there are zombies and good guys. You have to be able to tell the difference." The blaster is linked to multiple computers on board the vehicle, which is then linked to secured wifi in the ride building, behind the screens and in the track area.


Copyright CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

The ride consists of 600 feet of track, with about 30,000 feet of network cabling. It fits 4 people per car, side by side, not back to back as they are in Triotech's "Guardian" ride in Canada. There was a problem with light bleeding and bouncing from screen-to-screen, so it's not as sharp when the screens are back to back. There are two cars per train, and eight trains, with 64 passengers on the ride at all times. Ideally, that's 800 people per hour barring e-stops. At times, you will be able to see your companions in the other vehicle if there are more than four people in your party, but the vehicle never fully spins. Ride time is 4 minutes, but seems longer, at least the first time you ride.

Hanneman added that everybody loves dark rides, they love walking through mazes, love immersive experiences, things that engage people, and that making something interactive will make it over the top. She and her team chose underwater steampunk, something people can relate to, also called Aquamechanica. Of 7 concepts, it was the one that stuck the best. They met with Triotech, who then did amazing character sketches, and from there they went to design and concept, but then had to wait for ride pathway and screens. Once they were ready, they then designed everything around the path. It's not like designing a theater with curtains, she noted, they have to compete with the people down the street. They take design concepts, then communicate ideas into reality. For example, in this ride, peripheral vision is very important.


Copyright CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

But first, they had to have the space in which to build the ride. It turns out that "Kingdom of the Dinosaurs" was built right on top of "Knott's Beary Tales." Parts of it was still there, including the Frog Pond, which still had water and mold in it. They actually had to remove TWO old rides to make room for "Voyage to the Iron Reef." It took weeks to clear everything out, but finally the building was a huge, empty space.

Gahagen, Hanneman and Yale described how they paced out where to put the track, then built the infrastructure, then built in the screens before building up the surrounding sets, because they could not be added later. The screens have thousands and thousands of tiny perforations so that the blaster's signal can be read clearly. They were covered, the sets and rockwork built around them, and then the video edited around the rocks and coral on the frame. Some parts of the old rides have a callback - for example, the "tunnel" where you are swallowed by a giant mechanical fish is a callback to Bear-y Tales' weird woods.


Copyright CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

The animation process is almost identical to that of video games: after character design comes modeling, then texturing, then rigging (skeleton), then animation. Then lighting and rendering. All the rendering is done in real time. Most other rides, "Transformers," "Spider-Man" and "Star Tours," for example, are pre-rendered. This is like comparing Pixar to Playstation or XBox game animation - live, real time rendering. The quality is not as high as pre-rendered, but it's still very good, and completely interactive. They then add special effects, explosions and such, do color-correction, and you have 30-60x rendering per second depending upon the screen, multiple images stitched together per screen, not squares, but rather trapezoids and polygons to get seamless-looking interactive attraction. It boggles the mind. Some of the stuff so good in render, that when they put it on the big screen in rented warehouse in Montreal, it made people sick, so they had to go back and fix it.

The audience was very receptive and loved the ride. It's a really good ride, but did show their disapproval with one statement: Hanneman said that they didn't want to bring back "Knott's Bear-y Tales" because the memory of the ride is never as good as the experience. If they rebuilt it, fans wouldn't like it. It wouldn't meet our standards. There are two reasons I disagree with this: the lines at "Mr. Toad" and "Peter Pan" belie this, and the design team at Knott's is so good that their recreation would be incredible. But I'm happy with what we got. Never say never.


Copyright CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

And hey, there's always Easter Eggs, including a "Bear-y Tales Car," Roaring 20's sign, Wacky Soapbox Racers sign (you have to uncover it, I did), the boat "Cordelia Knott", Hammerhead, (but no Windjammer "not even the creatures of the deep wanted it," quipped Jeff). There's also a very loose interpretation of Snoopy on the boarding mural. In the future, there's a possibility for temporary Easter eggs (like snowflakes for Christmas, boysenberries for the boysenberry festival, etc.) to be substituted for the extra point stars in the ride.

Since Matt Ouimet took over at Cedar Fair, Knott's has been hitting it out of the park over and over, with the "Timber Mountain Log Ride," "Calico Mine Train" and Camp Snoopy redos, followed by the welcome addition of a family-friendly, fun dark ride, events like the Boysenberry Festival and that mysterious happening coming to Ghost Town sometime next year. If only they could bring back my Wacky Soap Box Racers, I'd be a happy gal.

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  • I appreciate the article, Shelly, but there seems to be some context missing. Is this the second part of a two-part article or something? I'd never heard of this ride before but the article jumps right into explaining how it differs from similar rides without ever addressing what the ride /is/.

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