Recently I got to visit Legoland Windsor, which was a pretty cool way to spend a working day. Not only was I able to explore the park and get a glimpse of the model-making work done behind the scenes, I got to check out the latest ride to open up: the Lego Ninjago 4D interactive ride.
The Lego Ninjago ride opened up back in May, so it's not 'new' per se, but it is newer than the lighthouse which has been around since Legoland first opened. The Ninjago ride isn't just a ride, though; it's a 4D adventure that also features motion controls that let you interact with screens dotted around the track.
If you've ever been to a major theme park, you might have been on a ride that involves sitting in a car and shooting targets with a laser gun and you travel around. The Ninjago ride uses that core concept, but instead of a laser gun, you use your hands to throw fireballs at a 3D display. And because it's 4D you get more than just a pair of 3D glasses. The car you're in spins around while you get blasted with air and heat that's designed to make the experience more immersive. Or at least, as immersive as it can be without plugging you into a VR headset. That wouldn't really be practical in a park designed for kids as young as two.
Four people get into each car, and in front of them are a range of sensors built into the lapbar that actually make the Ninjago ride work the way it's supposed to. Going round, the car turns to face enemies on 3D projected screens, and you move your hands over the sensor to fire projectiles at them. Each time you hit someone you add points to your total, and naturally the more points you get the better you've done.
Sounds simple, right?
Wrong! Honestly, it's really rather difficult. Even more so when you have a small child sitting next to you, and you're doing everything you can to avoid elbowing him in the face as the ride progresses. Like any sort of motion control, there is a learning curve as you get used to the tech and how it responds - something that's made a bit more difficult by the fact you're almost constantly moving around the track. Plus the fact that the Lego Ninjago ride is incredibly popular, so the queues can be quite long, especially if you dawdle getting there after the park opens, so you can't realistically keep going round to improve your game.
According to the people who developed the ride, the tech itself isn't too dissimilar from other motion tracking tech we've seen. But despite that, it doesn't seem to have been directly based on things like Microsoft's Kinect or whatever Magic Leap claims to be working on these days. It's able to detect movement, speed, angle, and distance, which then translates into the game part of the ride. The higher your hand, the higher the projectile will go. The faster you are the faster you'll fire them off (obviously). And, of course, angle determines where on screen your projectile ends up going.
The sensors themselves shot out a cone-shaped beam, and by breaking that beam it's able to see all the things your hands are doing. Everything is then pumped through a lot of computers and translated into the virtual environment you see on screen, almost simultaneously. It's pretty amazing how little lag there seems to be, though you are firing off projectiles so quickly it can be difficult to keep track of what's going on.
As I said before, the Lego Ninjago ride is incredibly popular, and according to the Legoland rep I spoke to people rush to the queue as soon as the park opens. It opens at 10am, and by 10.30 there's a queue that around 90 minutes (!) long. It eases up throughout the day, but it does show how much people like it.
That seems a bit crazy for a park for small kids, but Legoland has thought of that. There are lots of different things in the queue that make it more enjoyable for kids, including episodes of the animated Ninjago TV series (unrelated to the recent movie) and a play area for kids to pass the time with some Lego while their parents queue.
It's quite cool to see, particularly since the queue surrounds the play area which itself has multiple entrances and exits. So the parents can stay in the queue but still keep an eye on the kids while they play. And of course there are puzzles on the walls for the parts of the queue that are not within reach of the play area.
The Ninjago ride has a bit of a learning curve while you figure out how the controls work, but it is quite a cool example of how theme park rides are adapting to incorporate new technology. It's a video game, sort-of rollercoaster, and 4D simulator all built into one ride, and it is quite fun to try and beat the score of the people around you - even if you are going up against a member of Legoland staff who's had quite a bit of practice.
There are lots of reasons to go to Legoland, particularly if you have kids, but if you are there then you shouldn't miss out a chance to check the Ninjago ride out for yourself.
Legoland Windsor has closed for now, but it will be open on specific dates during December for the annual Christmas event. The Ninjago ride will be there to enjoy if you choose to head down, though remember to book ahead since you probably won't be able to buy tickets at the door. More information is available on the Legoland Windsor website.