Inside Mass Effect: New Earth

This text is taken from an article first posted by authors Joe Kleiman and Judith Rubin on Sound & Communications, September 21st 2016. Read the full piece here. All images copyright Joe Kleiman, Judith Rubin and Sound & Communications

For more than 25 years, motion simulator rides have been a mainstay of theme parks. Major operators would tend to build them as custom, one-off attractions, while smaller parks would opt for generic film- or video-based theaters with interchangeable software. An example of the latter, the Action Theater, opened at California’s Great America in Santa Clara CA in 1993, and featured films based on franchises such as James Bond and Happy Feet.

Great America recently gave the former Action Theater a complete overhaul. It reopened this year as a major new attraction, Mass Effect: New Earth, based on the popular Electronic Arts/BioWare videogame franchise. The park’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley proved ideal for the digital technology initiative of parent company Cedar Fair. “We’ve been considering digital technologies in the broader sense of the word,” said Christian Dieckmann, Cedar Fair Vice President of Strategic Growth, “which has resulted in a broad range of new attractions.”

It is not necessary to be familiar with the Mass Effect franchise to enjoy the experience. For fans, the attraction has been peppered with subtle references to the games, such as the Captain being an actual character from the third game in the franchise. The attraction also contains references to other attractions at California’s Great America, one of many indicators that this is not an off-the-shelf product.

In its mix of content, technology, gaming elements, media and suppliers, the attraction is uniquely local and suited to its setting of sophisticated Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco area.

Mass Effect: New Earth was designed to break new ground in several ways. From a theater technology standpoint, it was centered around what is said to be the first application of a patented 3D LED screen and innovative near-field audio beam-forming technology in a permanent attraction. In their twin quests for new technology and IP collaborations, Dieckmann and his Cedar Fair team became acquainted with Los Angeles-based firm 3D Live, which specializes in 3D LED screens and virtual reality programming.

According to Cantrell, “We talked about a 4D attraction using 3D Live’s LED technology instead of projection. I thought it sounded like a cool project and we sat and made a napkin sketch of how the different technologies could work together, all coordinated with a Medialon show control system.”

Cantrell continued, “But I also knew that, in order for the project to be successful, Nathan would need uncompressed video players for the content to look its best, so I recommended 7thSense Design media servers and made an introduction right there on the trade show floor.”

Realizing that additional elements were required for the technology package of this leading-edge attraction in the making, Cantrell led Huber to another destination in the IAAPA exhibit hall: the Electrosonic booth. “Video playback and LED walls are not all it takes to make a 4D attraction,” said Cantrell. “I knew that 3D Live would have to collaborate with a seasoned engineering, integration and project-management team familiar with themed attraction work. Medialon has worked on many attractions with 7thSense and Electrosonic, and I knew that whatever these teams band together to create would be simply awesome!”

According to Electrosonic’s Cottrell, the entire show is run via the Medialon Showmaster LE. The main show is triggered by SMPTE timecode, after which three different server groups (Q-SYS Core for audio, 7thSense Delta Infinity II for video and MediaMation’s proprietary server for the effects seats) take control of their independent systems.