This is the most important "software engineering" course I've ever taken, despite it not involving a lick of software. A great deal of the software design process depends upon building a good team, and communicating effectively within that team.  I learned more team-based communication skills from this extracurricular project than I learned in most of my core classes. 

In 2009, I assembled a team to participate in Disney Imagineering ImagiNations contest.  The team started out as just Mary Highstreet (née Aden) and myself.  After we had a solid idea to build upon, we interviewed over a dozen other students before finally inviting Mechanical Engineering student Ben Johnson and Architecture student Shawn Dillon to join our team.  We worked for several months before submitting our final ride idea to Disney, and ended up as semi-finalists!

This was a really rewarding project.  I learned first-hand through our teammate interview process how much team fit matters, even more so at times than  subject area knowledge.  Plus, the experience taught me how to build a multi-disciplinary team that worked well together, and then guide us towards a common goal.  You'd be surprised how difficult it is to narrow down ideas and start implementing them when all the info you're given is "Make an Imagineering experience".  

On a side note, I still wish I could ride all the rides we imagined up.

For more pretty pictures, check out Mary's blog post with some of her concept art!

Design Process Artifacts

Choose Your Own Adventure ride

One of the ride-formats we considered was a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Fantasyland-style dark ride.  The format lends itself to many different types of stories (as you can see in these notes that I took during the project development), and the CYOA aspect would add re-ridability value.

We had a few logistical issues to work out, though.  I created some diagrams of a potential ride layout, and color coded them to explain various issues inherent in the CYOA darkride format, including transformable rooms, throughput, flow control, and story possibilities.
This diagram explained the purpose of each of the room types, and how they tied in together.
One of our major concerns was ride throughput. In a choose your own adventure ride, some of the rooms will necessarily be different for different ride vehicles. However, making new rooms for each possibly storyline would be unbelievably wasteful, space-wise. This diagram explained the idea of dynamic rooms, which have changeable "sets".

This diagram shows all possible storylines for the ride.This possibilty tree diagram, paired with the color-coded diagram, allowed us to visually calculate how many storylines we'd have to create. The ride path in this incarnation of the darkride would remain static, with a few railroad-style "switches"  to allow for maximum throughput in the ride.

This part of the project taught me the importance of explaining ideas thoroughly to your team--these diagrams, though they weren't used in our final deliverable to Disney, were invaluable to our team's discussion.  Having these diagrams made sure we were all on the same page when it came to talking about concepts for a new ride format that before that existed only in our head.  Having a shared mental model was invaluable, because it allowed us to speak in shorthand from then on.

Here are some more pages of brainstorming doodles! They don't make a heck of a lot of sense out of context, but show the diversity of ideas that we had to sift through before settling on our final product.

Final Product

We had a pretty awesome deliverable: we sent all of our ride materials to Disney in this gorgeously-decorated trunk!
Final Product
Final Product

Ride Story

(Click on the links to view concept art!)

Our guests enter ancient Greece, at a time when all of Greece is preparing for the Thebian/Greek Games!  Gods and mortals alike are gathered in Thebes, in anticipation and preparation for the accompanying extravaganza.

Our guests are invited to attend a Special Presentation at the Herculand Theater.  They enter the theater, and are greeted by Hermes and the Muses—well, by four of the muses anyway.  One is missing, but the show must go on!

 A panicked Thalia bursts in during the performance, holding a strange urn.  Before she can explain her alarmed appearance and the urn, Pain and Panic crash into the theater! They begin hurling potion bottles at the muses—and as each hits, the muse disappears!

 Before she is banished, Thalia throws the urn into the air to Hermes.  Hermes tries to catch it, but Pain throws his last potion at it, and it shatters.  Most of the pieces disappear, covered by the potion, but Hermes manages to save one.

Pain and Panic have run out of potions, and Hermes shackles them to each other with mischief-minimizing bracers.  Apparently, they’ve been causing problems around Thebes all week, and this is the last straw.  Pain and Panic refuse to disclose where the muses are, but their babbling does give a few clues. 

Hermes is too busy with preparations for the Thebian Games, so he asks our guests to go find the Muses, and the remaining shards of the urn.  He sends them to Phil, who is working as a valet at the Gods’ Chariot Garage, with the instructions that Phil is to advise them, and let them borrow one of the gods’ chariots to get around in.

When the guests are in the chariots, they begin to explorethe many roads of Thebes.  When they do so, they gather the shards of the urn, and hear Pain and Panic plotting once or twice.

Depending on the path they take through Thebes, they run into either Poseidon, Aphrodite, or Ares and Athena.  Each god (or pair of gods) has a unique interactive challenge for our guests

After the guests meet the challenge, the gods mention that they’ve seen no sign of the muses in Thebes, and that the guest might have more luck in the countryside.

Our guests go to the Grecian countryside, exploring the many paths and byways there.  Similarly to Thebes, the guests will gather the shards of the urn, and hear Pain and Panic plotting again.  They will run into either Demeter, Bacchus, or Artemis and Apollo, who offer their own challenges. 

Once the guests meet the country god’s challenge, they continue on to a dark forest, where they see Pain and Panic’s shackles, discarded.  Almost as if by accident, our guests find the Muses, trapped in a cave by a music puzzle/lightning bars.

They free the Muses, who then tell our guests the truth:  Pain and Panic were simply a distraction! While they were mischief-making, someone stole the Titans’ threads of life from the urn Thalia found empty!  Even though the titans are dead, if one was to braid their broken threads together, it would create one gigantic, ethereal Super Titan!  This plot has Hades’ name written all over it!  But why?

Our guests rush to the Underworld, to expose and thwart Hades’ plot.  As they sneak up upon Hades’ map room, they hear Hades railing at Pain and Panic, furious that they almost gave up his plan! With all of Greece preparing for the Thebian Games, Hades figured it was the perfect time to attempt a takeover, and Pain and Panic almost ruined it by letting themselves get caught!

Pain and Panic see our guests approaching, but Hades does not, and continues to reveal the intricacies of his plan.  He has, indeed, revived the Titans, and as soon as their entwined threads solidify in the Styx, they will be unstoppable!  The only way anyone could stop him now was if they discovered his plan, and broke the threads, and Pain and Panic almost let the whole world know about his plan!

Pain and Panic have been gesturing wildly at our guests, and finally, Hades notices them.  Enraged, he roars that they will never escape this place alive!  Our guests’ chariot protect them, by diving out of one of the map room’s windows, and they begin to accelerate into the depths of The Underworld

Our guests must find and break the Titan’s threads of life, before they solidify.  Chased by Cerberus and by Hades on his chariot, they reach out and break the threads as they seethem, during a thrilling roller-coaster battle royale!  At every turn, they can see the horrible ghostly Super Titan become more and more solid! 

When our guests break the final thread, they hear an otherworldly howl, and the ghostly Super Titan dissolves into nothingness.  Hades’s nefarious plan is thwarted, and Greece is once again safe from his machinations!  Our guests ascend to the gates of Olympus, using a Styxian geyser, where all are waiting for them, celebrating their triumph!  Our guests have become true heroes, and are serenaded as they exit the ride.

Jenee Pearson Hughes,
Aug 22, 2012, 11:59 AM
Jenee Pearson Hughes,
Aug 22, 2012, 11:59 AM