Years, and years ago, a short article called "Game-design lessons from Disneyland" changed the way I looked at Disneyland (and any theme park, for that matter) forever. It pointed out, in very simple terms, what made exploration based video games so appealing to me, and in turn why Disneyland always feels like an adventure.
When I first visited Tokyo Disneyland in 2007, I didn't know about weenies, forced perspective, or illusion of freedom. Reading these slides a couple of years later and thinking back on my experiences at the park, I was truly amazed by how they achieved effective crowd control by clever use of scenery.
You can bet I noticed this the next time I went.
I took note of every weenie and circular path choice, but it didn't spoil the experience. It made me appreciate the park that much more. It also made me feel like I was in on a secret. Even now, I'll sometimes notice people literally walking around in a circle trying to get from point A to point B, with a huge grin on their face all the while, because they feel like they've found a shortcut or discovered something along the way that was worth the extra mileage. Storytelling by scenery.
Tokyo Disneyland is currently in the process of expanding their Fantasyland. The scenery is changing, and I honestly don't know how to feel about it. We said goodbye to Grand Circuit Raceway earlier this year, it was a grand event, and I took a whole day riding it over and over to make sure I got to ride a yellow race car before it went away forever. Still, the raceway was placed off to the side of the landscape, I never really paid it much mind. It marked the noisy entry into Tomorrowland when walking from Fantasyland or Toontown. No big deal. In its wake, a wall came up, and the atmosphere music became more prominent. I don't really miss GCR at all.
Yesterday, it was time to say goodbye to StarJets. And this time I feel more conflicted. StarJets was a big weenie. In every sense of the word. You could spot it and navigate after it from the hub... and it was also sort of phallic? It marked the entrance to Tomorrowland in a very grand way. There was no mistake about it, you were entering sci-fi land whether you wanted to or not.
StarJets as a weenie was amazing. StarJets was the dot over the i, the little eye candy detail that made the rest of Tomorrowland make sense. It tied the room together. Now that it's gone, I'm not sure what to make of the rest of Tomorrowland. I personally love the retro-futuristic style. The blindingly optimistic 50's version of what -THE FUTURE- was going to look like. The whole land looks and feels like a misplaced Star Trek set (original series, of course). It's wonderful. But it's on the verge of feeling outdated. I cling to it, because it's an aesthetic I love, but I understand some treat it as an eyesore. I felt StarJets, while still ignorantly optimistic with its 50's brutalist retro aesthetic, "USA" lettering and all, was worth seeing. The rest of the land has a tendency to feel like a bland mix of large white boxes with rounded corners. Too bad, but you can't deny that it's a somewhat fitting description.
I think I always took StarJets for granted. It was one of the iconic attractions that debuted on opening day in 1983, but somehow was still standing. It was a navigational weenie, and an amazing photo spot. It felt just as essential as the CindereIla Castle. I treated it more like scenery than an attraction, and I think I rode it for the first time just last year - and only because someone told me the view from the top was amazing. The attraction surprised me, I still stand by my original assessment that StarJets was Tokyo Disneyland's most thrilling ride. It didn't matter how many times I rode it, I always felt like I would fall out. The flimsy little seatbelt did nothing to keep me in, I never felt comfortable taking it all the way to the top, so I would suffer the G forces to feel a little safer. My last ride was just as scary.
The loading and unloading of this attraction was painfully slow. And spending all day yesterday taking pictures of it, it became obvious just how slow it was. The ride itself clocks in at about 2 minutes. Loading and unloading took anywhere from 5-10 minutes for every group. That's the time I had to wait in between getting pictures with the rockets flying through the air. I can understand the need to replace this with a higher capacity ride with a smoother loading, but the change of scenery will be painful to me.
Those gantry lifts though. Who came up with this? What a seriously impractical attraction. Co-ordinating getting two groups of maximum 18 people up and down the structure - in lifts - for every load. It boggles the mind. The structure looks amazing, though.
I don't really know how to end this, so I'll talk a little about my impressions from last night. StarJets was my favourite spot to watch parades from. I'm not sure what to do now that my usual background will disappear. I feel a little lost. Standing in front of StarJets together with hundreds of others watching the final flight, it felt like we were watching someone die. Some cheered, some applauded, some cried...
In a way, I guess it was time for StarJets to go. The original background story of the attraction goes that they needed test pilots before going off into space. Every person who ever rode StarJets was a test pilot on a mission towards getting StarJets ready for her interstellar voyage. I guess someone finally figured out how to complete the mission.
StarJets: Mission Complete - Twitter Moment with footage of final flight and cast member sign off.