Game-design lessons from Disneyland -- UPDATED

Update: Here's Rogers's' slides from the talk

Today at the Game Developers' Conference in San Francisco, I saw an outstanding talk on the lessons for level design to be had in the design of Disneyland. It was presented by Scott Rogers, Creative Manager at THQ in Los Angeles, who taught himself level design for Pac Man World by thinking about the experiences he'd had on many visits to Disneyland. The talk was full of lively insights and fun facts about both Disneyland and game-lore, and Rogers was a great presenter. I took copious (for me) notes and photos of most of the slides and I've just put them online (Rogers says he'll put the slides up in better form shortly, I'll link to them when he does).

* Walt invented lots of "moving people around" tricks that are useful in level design e.g. weenies (landmarks that draw guests towards certain locations)
   * Good navigational points for open worlds like GTA
   * Provides "picture spots" to stop and think, "Wow this is cool" -- Athens coming into sight in God of War

* How Weenies Work
    * First weenie is the castle -- you walk down linear Main St, and as you reach the hub, more weenies open up, the fronts of the lands, prompting the player/guest to choose where to go
    * As you go further, more weenies open up, the rivers, treehouse, Matterhorn, Space Mtn -- peeking over the horizon, giving a tantalizing glimpse

* Enhancing Weenies:
    * Draw players towards goals geographically and visually
    * Change altitude to enhance drama/scale
    * Make player backtrack/change direction to give more information
    * Switchbacks can do this
    * See ratchet and clank games
Notes from the talk

Slides from the talk

Scott Rogers' homepage


  1. Hey Cory, with all the harm that Disney did and does to the Public Domain and fair copyright, how come you’re still so into it?

  2. @#3 Ha ha!

    You arrive here and are carried along the corridor on a conveyor belt in extreme comfort, past murals depicting Mediterranean scenes, towards the rotating knives. The last twenty feet of the corridor are heavily soundproofed. The blood pours down these chutes and the mangled flesh slurps into these…

    It’s people! The weenies are people! …

  3. I have noticed the way there is a ‘palette clearing’ trip under a depression that sets up a grand ‘come into a clearing and get a dramatic first look.’

    Now where was that? Disney’s Toontown? It’s been a while since I’ve been, but I remember noticing the layout and its effect at the time.

  4. According to the book ‘Rules of Play’: “Weenie” is a phrase coined by Walt Disney himself. It refers to the technique used on movie sets of guiding stage dogs by holding up part of a sausage.

  5. @1: um, because it’s possible to dislike one aspect of an entity, but admire another aspect? because even if someone or something is your mortal enemy, it’s still possible to learn something from it (and thus improve yourself)?

  6. @1, there seems to be a great deal one can learn from both Disney’s feats and its foibles.

  7. snardpickery time: “palette clearing” is meant to be “palate cleansing”? I keep seeing that crop up.

  8. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    I had noticed how Disneyland more-or-less takes you on a journey through time, ending at Tomorrowland (which is part of what made the redesign of Tomorrowland so tragic). But I hadn’t noticed different styles of pathways influenced the “story” of one’s journey through the park. Thanks for sharing your notes. Fascinating. I hope a video of this becomes available someday.

    And, your notes also supplied my new favorite word: “boioioing.”

  9. Do different demographics react to the same weenie differently?

    If a park had a rapid prototyping system for weenies that could try out different colors, designs, and themes and see if various groups could be tugged one way or another.

    Arrange things right, and all the die-hard shoppers would find themselves channeled to what amounts to a giant mall, where they could have their money extracted and shorten the queues for rides.

    And all the potential vandals and thugs would be inexorably drawn to a far corner of a park, where they’d pass through a one-way gate and find themselves in a weed-strewn vacant lot.

  10. this is a rehash presentation from last year, albeit with better photos. it changed the way i thought about design of public spaces and the role of video games in rapid prototyping for public works. hopefully others were as inspired this year!

  11. You know, I’m tired of hearing about Disney being the biggest creative force there is when it comes to Boing, Boing posts.

    Not for nothing, but I’m not going to respect game design tips from someone who created something as derivatively awful as Pac Man World.

    Can there be deeper exploration into the puzzle/game concepts behind classic games that make them truly timeless?

  12. Yes! I have thought on this at length previously–by happenstance, I was reading “Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance” at the same time “Zelda: Twilight Princess” came out. As you can tell by the title, “The Architecture of Reassurance” is just what is needed to encourage players–this book should be required reading for 3D level designers!

    The parallels are remarkable–and sometimes literal–

    -“The castle in the center” is the main weenie in both.
    -Map is a hub, with castle in the center and different style lands as spokes, most with their own weenie–Death Mountain in the distance is almost an exact parallel to Big Thunder Mountain or Splash Mountain.
    -Perspective tricks are used so that your view is constrained, and then you open up into vastly differently styled zones (also helps with loading new zones from DVD into memory seamlessly, in the case of Zelda)
    -Fading-out one style of music and fading-in another style of background music seamlessly as you switch zones, just like moving over the bridge into Adventureland from Main Street in WDW
    -Heavy use of long view/close view techniques that are documented in the Architecture of Reassurance–in Zelda, this is used to cast your attention on the next step of a puzzle from very far away, and once you get closer gives you more info on what to do, in WDW to tell you what’s the next fun thing to do.
    -Lots of vendors in both. (g)

    Miyamoto really is the Disney of our time!

  13. How cool. Imagine if a consumer ‘engagement’ with brand’s communication were similarly conceived as a game?

  14. Might I point Boingers with an attenuated historical memory to the original maker of panoramas and vistas that lead… Lancelot “Capability” Brown?

    The term weenies pretty much summed up Disney’s attitude to his customers – very Ayn Rand if you asked me. Let’s not speak of his park again.

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