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Did Disney World visitors "Myst" out on an amazing new interactive attraction?

Jim Hill

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Did Disney World visitors "Myst" out on an amazing new interactive attraction?

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In Las Vegas parlance, they're known as whales. Those really big spenders who want to do more than just stand in a line, doing what typical tourists do at Walt Disney World.

So -- with the hope that this project might make WDW more whale-friendly -- back in the late 1990s, the Imagineers began meeting with Rand and Robyn Miller, the creators of the multimillion unit selling CD-ROM game, "Myst." WDI also recruited Richard Vander Wende -- the Miller's collaborator on their equally popular "Myst" follow-up, "Riven" -- to come to work on this super-secret project.

"What sort of super-secret project"," you ask. The Imagineers -- working in tandem with Wende & the Millers -- had dreams of moving the Disney theme park experience to a whole new level.

How so? By designing brand new interactive entertainment that would have been built out on Discovery Island on WDW's Bay Lake. The project's name? "Myst Island."

Inspired by the Millers' & Wende's best selling CD ROM games, "Myst Island" would have attempted to duplicate the look and feel of the award winning computer games. Only a limited number of guests would have been allowed out onto the fog shrouded island each day. They'd have been dropped off by boat early in the morning and then picked up in the late afternoon. Their mission was to explore the ruins scattered around the 11 acre island to try to figure out what happened to the island's previous occupants.

This day-long adventure would have been unlike anything that Disney theme park guests had ever experienced before. Just like the CD ROM games that inspired it, "Myst Island" would have no linear storyline. Guests could only discover the various puzzles scattered around Myst Island by exploring all its weird little nooks and crannies.

Depending on which path they took, which artifacts they uncovered as well the order in which the guest discovered them, different secrets of the island would have been revealed. Theoretically, no two guests could ever have the exact same adventure as they wandered the terrain.

Sounds a bit "off the wall," doesn't it? Well -- for a while there -- Disney management was pretty hot for the "Myst Island" idea. Back then, they felt that the future of the entire theme park industry lay in projects like this. After all, the Mouse's own exit surveys suggested that Disney theme park guests were becoming increasingly disgruntled with the idea of having to stand in an hour long line in order to experience a three minute long ride. (Which is why Disney poured so much time & money into the development of the FastPass system. They wanted to show their theme park guests that the Disney Company was aware of their concerns and was actively doing something to try & take care of this wait-time problem.)

But what truly intrigued the folks at WDI was that these same theme guests -- when surveyed about their thoughts about a theoretical Disney theme park, where they'd only have to wait in a three minute long line in order to experience a two hour long attraction -- immediately said that they'd be glad to pay double the normal admission price to visit a theme park just like that.

Given that there was obviously built-in demand for just this sort of experience, Disney was eager to make Bay Lake's "Myst Island" project a reality. For here -- in theory -- was an affordable way to field test the notion that people would actually pay more to visit a different type of Disney theme park.

And the beauty part of this scheme was ... With only 11 acres of land available for development on Discovery Island, the size and scale of this test project would naturally have to be small. Which would (obviously) keep construction costs down. Best of all, because " Myst " and "Riven" already had millions of hard-core fans worldwide, there was already a ready-made audience out there; people who would be eager to visit this interactive attraction. Which meant that the Mouse wouldn't have to spend millions on marketing, as it tried to explain to Central Florida visitors what a "Myst Island" was.

On paper, "Myst Island" looked like a project that couldn't fail. Which is why the Walt Disney Company bent over backwards to try & keep the Millers and Wende happy. They did whatever they had to in order to keep "Myst" and Riven's creators on board the "Myst Island" project.

To this end, Disney had their publishing house -- Hyperion Press -- publish a series of novels based on the "Myst" game. They also produced an elaborate coffee table book that illustrated all the effort & artistry that went into creating "Riven." Though that art book may not have sold that many copies, it proved to the Millers and Wende that Disney really respected what they did and was really dedicated to bringing that same look and feel to a real world recreation of their CD ROM's environment.

So -- over a couple of years -- several proposed "Myst Island" storylines were sketched out and potential rehab plans for Discovery Island were drawn up. But -- in the end -- this potentially ground-breaking project never quite made it off the drawing board.

So why did the "Myst Island" project run aground? Some WDI insiders suggest that it was because the 11 acre Discovery Island construction site would have been a logistical nightmare. I mean, all of that earth-moving equipment would have had to be ferried out to the island. Likewise all the construction crews.

Then there was the issues with the technology that were necessary to make "Myst Island" a reality. To successfully achieve the effects that the Millers, Wende and WDI would have involved truly cutting edge stuff, machinery & devices that would have been prohibitively expensive. Which (unfortunately) would have this interactive attraction's admission price past the point that even whales would have been comfortable with paying.

Which brings us to today ... With WDW's Discovery Island still off-limits to visitors and all of the Millers & Wende's snazzy plans stashed away in some filing cabinet in Glendale, CA.

Makes you sad to think about it, doesn't it? How we all "Myst"-ed out on this whale of a Disney World attraction?

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  • I always liked the idea of Discovery Island as a park within a park but not as a Myst attraction but a Pinochio one.

    To me, this area would be perfectly themed around Pleasure Island and Pinnochio. My dream plans for this area include a Pinochio dark ride, an interactive indoor mini golf with todays projection technology and splash "get wet"  whale attraction of some kind for those hot Summer days. I think these would have better attendance draws as well as entice the "whales" to play a fun game of advanced indoor mini golf.

    Though, Myst would be a fun,  if the idea is ever revisited!


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