In Defense of Space Mountain
In Defense of Space Mountain
Posted Friday, November 30, 2007 at 8:17p Pacific Time
In my most recent column, I made what I'll admit is a totally outrageous claim: that Walt Disney World's Space Mountain is the best version of the ride anywhere. I knew before I said it that most Disney fans disagreed with me. I had a hard time believing it myself. I mean, Paris's Space Mountain is the most beautiful, right? And Disneyland's revamped version is the most modern. How could WDW's be best?
As far as the ride vehicle goes, there should be a way to recline the seating without loosing the ability of using a locking restraint (lap bar). The B&M Flying coaster pulls it off. Now I am not suggesting the mammoth train design of that thing, but it seems conceivable that a system could be devised. A more reclined seating system could have a twofold benefit. Leaning back offers a better view of the dome for show effects while it directs viewing away from the track, preserving the thrill of not knowing which way you will go next.
Posted By lauwmw Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 4:05p Pacific Time
I can't remember being aware of the sound, I was just thinking about where I was on the track. I noticed that the visual effects were much enhanced. I heard somewhere that the added weight of the audio equipment was being blamed for some for the deterioration of the old track.
Posted By MPierce Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 3:28p Pacific Time
lauwmw do you think the added sound track compliments the ride or detracts from it?
Posted By lauwmw Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 3:23p Pacific Time
New. Since I was not involved I only know what I heard. I heard that they totally removed the old worn out track and replaced it with a new one which was built to the same design. The original track was built at MAPO (A Disney Co. named after Mary Poppins) in Glendale. But that old Grand Central Airport hanger no longer exists. I'm sure they went outside for the new track and apparently they built two of them concurrently, as the Hong Kong SM opened shortly thereafter. I rode the new track on the day they reopened and it felt just like the original one did when I first rode it during testing.
Posted By gmaletic Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 2:25p Pacific Time
>The new track at DL is a duplicate of the original.
Is the track at DL actually "new"? I had thought it was very same track as before, but refurbed.
Posted By lauwmw Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 2:21p Pacific Time
I wouldn't say that DL was a cloned version; maybe a sibling. There are no clones of the WDW-SM, but the DL-SM is in 3 parks. The new track at DL is a duplicate of the original.
Posted By FerretAfros Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 1:41p Pacific Time
So, basically, the track we have in WDW was originally designed for DL, with a couple minor changes added in? I would have never guessed that it would fit in that area, but I guess I just automatically think of Space Mountain inside a circular building. That's really interesting how they just decided that they should do it in WDW first too, since I always assumed it was their answer to not putting in a Matterhorn, and then DL got a cloned version. It's also nice to see that they didn't really get caught up in the politics that seem to be everywhere in the attractions being designed today.
Posted By lauwmw Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 1:21p Pacific Time
Let me clarify. We were originally talking about putting the ride in DL and I more or less took it upon myself to design something that would fit in Tommorrowland. The requirement that we use the Matterhorn vehicle made it necessary to have two tracks and the location of utilities in the parking lot behind Tomorrowland dictated the shape. Art direction was not involved until later. Prior to all this was a stillborn effort by an outside contractor to design a ride with 4 tracks, running in and out of the building, which was, by necessity, not a pure gravity ride. It was concluded that there just wasn't room for all the booster and retarder drive units and still have reasonable clearance between track and peoples heads, etc. So, without really asking anyone, I began my studies and design. When I finally showed it to management, no one could figure out what kind of a reasonable facade could be put on it. The thing that saved the design, (most of it, anyway) was the move to WDW.
If you think that this is a casual approach to developing an attraction; well now you know what it was like to work at Disney in the 60's.
Posted By gmaletic Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 11:39a Pacific Time
Bill can shed more light, but I'm reading one of the articles he pointed to--http://www.mouseplanet.com/mark/mg050706gm.htm--and it shows that at one point they had considered a five-sided building. Also, the first design was more cube-like in structure, and Bill was asked to make it more mountain-shaped. So it seems that the aesthetic ideal played a very important part in the design.
Posted By FerretAfros Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 11:36a Pacific Time
"The WDW-SM building has a lot of unused space because it was sized by drawing a circle around a track layout that was designed for a different shaped building."
Does that mean that they weren't always planning on having a circular building? I know in early concept art, I've seen a mostly circular building with random protrusions with some spires on them. Would it have been more like that? Or did they just want a track layout that was fun, regardless of how it really used the space, and then stuck a building around it?
Posted By gmaletic Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 9:16a Pacific Time
Bill--thanks for reminding me about one other thing I love about the WDW Space Mountain: separate loading and unloading areas. It's remarkable to me how much that changes the ride experience for the better, when you climb into an empty, mysterious vehicle rather than one that's just been vacated by tourists who obviously weathered the ride without any problem. (This is also one of the few things that the WDW Pirates has in its favor, too.)
Posted By lauwmw Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 9:10a Pacific Time
Decisions of the type you mentioned are made by several people. The WDW-SM building has a lot of unused space because it was sized by drawing a circle around a track layout that was designed for a different shaped building. But there were several modifications to the track to accommodate integration into Tomorrowland and Operations issues.
I described George McGinnis as a show designer. He was, but he was much more. He was concerned with getting people in and out of the building. For example, he asked me to widen the space between the lifts so that he could get the entry tunnel between them. Then there was a suggestion that the load and unload be on different levels and that
space be made for the Peoplemover to tour through the building. And at Disneyland, George placed the load / unload station with its access ramps and asked that I run the track past the queue line so that people could be forewarned of the nature of the ride.
So what Iâ€(tm)m trying to say is, the decision wouldnâ€(tm)t be all mine. Given a free hand, I probably would suggest a single, long track with larger vehicles (maybe even with 3-car trains) that would better utilize the building. I would stick to the same standards as were applied to DL-SM, i.e. roll rates and maximum g-force levels. And certainly pure gravity, no boosters or retarders. The vehicles would have lap bars. (Those seatbelts in the original WDW ride were a nightmare). I donâ€(tm)t think that lap bars and a laydown seating arrangement are compatible.
Posted By a1stav Saturday, December 8, 2007 at 9:22p Pacific Time
Bill, it is quite a pleasant surprise to hear from the designer of these rides. WDW Space Mt. was one of my first ever coasters. The lay down seating offered a very different feeling to the more upright lapbar system that has been in place for the last 15 years. I do enjoy the MK version of the ride, but I always preferred the DL version, even before the massive referb. So if you were to redesign the MK ride (I know you are retired) would you consider a single track layout? With the HUGE MK show building it seems that there could be so may possibilities. I have envisioned an almost lay down ride vehicle so you could have the best view of the dome, like in a planetarium with the steep reclining seats. Also a Barco planetarium projection system could create some amazing show effects.
Posted By lauwmw Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 10:51a Pacific Time
Just noticed that I substituted my initials WMW for WDW in one of yesterdays posts; sorry.
Posted By Spirit of 74 Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 1:13a Pacific Time
Very interesting comments on all sides.
Posted By lauwmw Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 10:57p Pacific Time
In many ways, both of the Space Mountain designs are the same. The basic principles of curve transition design and velocity control are the same. The differences that you perceive are more subjective than technical. Even the Big Thunder rides, which I also designed, are technically similar.
As I told McGinnis when he told me that the design of the WDW-SM might be changed: I considered offering my services, but I got over that in about 10 seconds. After 14 years of retirement, I'm content to sit back and enjoy the memories.
Posted By mickeyboy43 Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 7:39p Pacific Time
Yes great job on both of them. Its interesting how one person can have two very different styles of building roller coasters and i find it rather amazing how you rose to both of the challenges. Will you be brought in on the refurb of Space Mountain or will you be kept in the dark on it?
No pun intended.
Posted By brotherdave Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 7:06p Pacific Time
Yes, thank you, Bill. As a lifelong coaster enthusiast, I'm fascinated on how these rides were developed. And thank you for designing both Space Mountains. They're both wonderful ride experiences in their own unique ways!
Posted By davewasbaloo Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 2:07p Pacific Time
Thank you so much for joining the debate Bill, it is great to see your insite to the attraction development.
Posted By lauwmw Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 7:32p Pacific Time
The simple answer is that the ride is designed to fit the building, but there are so many parameters that influence the thousands of decisions that were made. I suppose that to entertain the guests is paramount, but safety is an overiding factor. But who knows what it takes to be entertaining. You could study that and plot responses . You would probbably get a classic bell curve with most people saying that they enjoyed it to various degrees, but at one end you would have peole saying that it was the worst experienc of their lives and on the other end that it was so dull that they had a hard time keeping from falling asleep. So the answer is that, after experiencing response to WMW, I established a set of parameters that I felt would satisfy the majority of the millions of people who would ride it.
If you're interested, you should look at:
and click on the link to an earlier article by George McG and I.
Posted By gmaletic Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:53p Pacific Time
Sorry...that last post was a little vague. My question about "deliberately creating a ride that felt different" refers to Disneyland's Space Mountain.
Posted By gmaletic Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:52p Pacific Time
Hi, Bill; very glad to have you join the conversation.
It's interesting: I almost wouldn't have guessed that the same person designed the two tracks, they seem so different. Beyond the logistical changes that you detailed in your post (necessitated by the smaller show building), did you feel that you were trying to deliberately create a ride that felt different? Or was it solely due to the logistical issues?
Posted By lauwmw Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:45p Pacific Time
George McGinnis designed the show. I am the engineer that designed the track, the track equipment and the vehicle chassis. Other specialists did the body styling and the electronics. My name is Bill Watkins.
Posted By gmaletic Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:09p Pacific Time
>I designed both the WDW and the DL rides
Very glad to have your comments! Are you George McGinnis?
Posted By gmaletic Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:06p Pacific Time
>I hope they don't put a soundtrack to WDW's Space, because I think the music would distract from the experience. It's much more fulfilling to hear the other cars racing around the track and the screams of other riders.
I agree. I'm not opposed to the idea of a soundtrack for a roller coaster, but in general I've found the music they've selected for the Disney roller coasters--the Space Mountains and California Screamin'--to be a real disappointment.
If they do add sound, I think I'd rather have it be sound effects than music.
Posted By lauwmw Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:01p Pacific Time
I find the articles and comments to be interesting. I designed both the WDW and the DL rides so it would be hard for me to favor either one; kind of like comparing your two children. When I designed the WDW ride, I did not know what kind of a building it would be installed in, so I had a lot of freedom except that my boss insisted that I use a Matterhorn type vehicle. To achieve the capacity that is required for an "E-Ticket" ride it was necessary to have two-car trains and two tracks. (Matterhorn had individual cars at that time). My only experiance in coaster design was a test track that we used for Big Thunder Railway. That project was set aside when it was decided that Space Mountain had priority. I had already written most of the computer programs and was able to use the test track to evaluate the necessary coefficients, but the thing I didn't know is what the roll rates should be into the banked turns. Some of those turned out to be a little excessive for a dark ride and we went back and changed them.
When it came time to design the DL version, the frst issue was the space available at DL. The building would be much smaller. To get sufficient capacity the vehicles had to be larger and therefore the track had to be larger. And it all had to fit in a 200 ft. diameter building. So the spiraling down through the several right hand turns was because there wasn't room to double back. And in order to accommodate the guests that felt that WDW was too wild, the roll rates into the curves are about half of the worst-case WDW rate. I don't feel that roll rates have much to do with thrill factor; it's more of a comfort issue.
I had nothing to do with the Paris SM, and I've never been there. The Tokyo and Hong Kong SMs are identical to DL.
Posted By leobloom Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:00p Pacific Time
I agree with you Greg. WDW's Space is the most minimalist of the pack, and I think its simplicity is its superiority.
I hope they don't put a soundtrack to WDW's Space, because I think the music would distract from the experience. It's much more fulfilling to hear the other cars racing around the track and the screams of other riders.
In short, anything to keep Space from turning into RnRC II is good. RnRC is just a disappointment to anyone who likes good rollercoasters or good on-board scenery.
Posted By MPierce Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 3:17p Pacific Time
That was a fair judgement Greg. Most everyones favorite ride is based on nosalgia or just how a particular ride effects you. Everybody is entitled to their own favorite ride. In the end it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks, as long as the ride makes you smile.
Posted By Disneyland55 Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 1:47p Pacific Time
WDW SM is my favorite too. I have only been on DL, WDW, and DLP's SM, but have heard that the other two are not that great.
I agree with what you said, plus I also really like the queue area with the stars, commets, etc. You can also see SM vehicles go by, which I think is neat.
Posted By Kennesaw Tom Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 12:07p Pacific Time
Its funny Dave that you brought up the Matterhorn Bobsleds. I much rather prefer the Matterhorn Bobsleds to WDW Space Mountain. Having the ride vehicle going in and out of the Matterhorn mountain so you can look out while you race down the mountain is so much more fun.
Posted By Kennesaw Tom Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 12:04p Pacific Time
I'm going to have to disagree. Yes, I think it has a great building and the inside of building is masive. But DLR Space Mountain is much, much better done, smoother ride, ride vehicles where you ride side by side, and SOUND. If you are squarely comparing roller coast to roller coaster... DLR wins hands down. WDW Space Mountain has a ways to go to catch up.
Posted By disneysnout Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 9:43a Pacific Time
WDW best Space, No Way,
Posted By fkurucz Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 8:38a Pacific Time
I was very underwhelmed with MK's SM. I think DL's is heads and shoulders above it.
Posted By a1stav Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 7:53a Pacific Time
"Most of all, I love the show building itself; at more than twice the size of any other Space Mountain show building, it's simply awesome..."
That's why I think the show building is being wasted with the just OK two track layout. It would be far better with one longer track. With clever track design you could easly recreate the little airtime bumps and quick turns that you like about the ride. The track design is similar to the Schwarzkopf / Jet Star coaster that has been removed from most amusement parks that ever had them. http://www.rcdb.com/ig355.htm?
Of course the comparison to the matterhorn is undeniable. SM is basically the matterhorn in the dark. It can be so much more.
Posted By Dabob2 Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 6:52a Pacific Time
Well I can't agree - I prefer both DL's and DLP's - but certainly the MK's has its strong points. And there's nothing wrong with personal nostalgia.
Posted By brotherdave Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:38a Pacific Time
I most heartily agree, Greg!
As a coaster, MK's Space Mountain was indeed innovative as the first 'modern' coaster in the dark. Although small by today's monster thrill rides at other parks, Space Mountain still delivers a great ride experience without resorting to gimmicky (and often uncomfortable) loops. Yes, the effects need sprucing up, but overall, the ride is still a fun one more than 30 years later. And I agree that, especially considering its age, that the ride is not as rough as some suggest. In fact, it's very smooth when compared to many steel coasters in operation today. I also find the layout much more interesting and fun than Disneyland's. Sure, DL has the better effects now and onboard music. But, as a coaster junkie, those are just gimmicks that sometime interfere with the the actual ride experience. Take away both, and Disneyland's Space Mountain is a rather boring ride. MK's Space Mountain is still fun, even with the house lights turned on. (Yes, I did get to ride MK's Space Mountain with the lights on last year, and it was still a very fun coaster that I feel most amusement parks would love to have in their ride line-up!) Now, can MK's Space Mountain be improved? Sure, especially with the theming and presentation (darker would be better, obviously!) But, as for the ride itself, it will be tough to find something as thrilling, yet family friendly, to equate to it. I truly hope that during its reconstruction, that the layout remains the same. I love the dual track design, as well as the single seat layout of the trains which gfves a more 'personal' experience than side by side seating. The Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain will always be one of my favorite fun coaster experiences!
Posted By davewasbaloo Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 3:11a Pacific Time
I do not, but I can see where you are coming from. Just like I love the Matterhorn as it was my first coaster, and a complete submersion into another world. Therefore I respect your opinion. FWIW, in it's day SM rocked. I just find it hard to believe it's someone's fav. As a kid I used to adore PB&J, but I would still rather eat Fillet Mignon ;-)
But I love the fact you shared your perception. I think it is those formative experiences of our youth that shapes our love of Disney now. And just like I love TRON and the deep impact it had on my life, I know others do not share y love of this film.
Posted By stitch81 Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 1:53a Pacific Time
I whole heartedly agree!!!