Universal Orlando figured out a way to turn bumper cars into the ultimate game of Pac-Man


With the upcoming Super Nintendo World rumored to be shifting from Universal Studios Florida to the new yet-to-be-announced but highly hinted-at theme park slated for Universal’s Lockheed property, there’s plenty of room for more than just two major rides.

The most recent rumors point to two E-ticket level attractions themed to Donkey Kong and Mario Kart Yoshi possibly getting a smaller attraction, and at least two kids areas making up the land. But other smaller attractions are also possibilities for the new land. Leaked plans and fan speculation have ranged from a Kirby-themed Dumbo-style spinner to a Pokemon shooter-style dark ride, but now we have new details on one of the more promising rides possibly slated for the Super Nintendo World.

A rendering found within the patent that shows what the ride vehicles may look like. - IMAGE VIA UNITED STATES PATENT APPLICATION US20150360127
  • Image via United States Patent Application US20150360127
  • A rendering found within the patent that shows what the ride vehicles may look like.
A patent first filed by Universal in 2014 was finally granted approval earlier this year. It shows a Pac-Man like ride vehicle for what can best be understood as a high-tech version of bumper cars.

Uncovered by Orlando Business Journal’s Richard Bilboa, the patent seems to point to a Pac-Man themed attraction for Universal. Using a self-illuminated floor, riders in the Pac-Man-looking bumper cars would be able to drive over special images causing the riders to score points. Riders can track their points via a display module within the ride vehicle. Driving over the images would cause them to either disappear or change colors. The Pac-Man like ride vehicles would navigate via certain pathways that could change during a ride sequence and based on what the ride vehicles passes over it could be "frozen" or slowed down for a set amount of time.
  • Photo via Universal
Some of the more interesting aspects of the patent notes that riders can block other riders, which may cause the blocking rider to gain more points.

The patent explains, “the game vehicles may bump into one another or block the path of another vehicle to prevent certain game actions. Information about the vehicles movement relative to the floor, as well as the bumping and blocking activities may be provided to a game controller to assign scores for individual vehicles or a team of vehicles. For example, bumping into another vehicle may earn points for the initiator of the bumping. In another embodiment, the bumping may be unscored, but the bumping may prevent the opponent’s vehicle from increasing its own score. Images attached to the patent shows both a Pac-Man-like ride vehicle and a ghost-looking one with notes indicating that the two separate designs could signal opposing teams within the game.

An image within the patent application that shows what an interactive floor may look like. Note the Pac-Man like cherry in the top maze. - IMAGE VIA UNITED STATES PATENT APPLICATION US20150360127
  • Image via United States Patent Application US20150360127
  • An image within the patent application that shows what an interactive floor may look like. Note the Pac-Man like cherry in the top maze.
In the following paragraph, Universal explains that the ride vehicles could be programmed to not actual bump each other or slow the cars down ahead of any such bumping. Each car would be equipped with a number of controllers for the rider to use with the patent listing, “a steering wheel, brake and gas, pedals, a joystick, a display screen, one or more buttons, etc.” all being possibilities within the car.

Scoring and difficulty could be adjusted based on the number of riders and their skill level. This seems similar to the interactive Millennium Falcon attraction headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and isn’t that different than what many go-kart attractions now offer.

The video-like floor surface, which the patent notes could be an LCD or LED display surface, is a bold move considering the long and mostly unsuccessful attempt at a similar concept by Disney Imagineering. Early plans for Pandora – The World of Avatar called for interactive sidewalks that would "react" to each step a guest takes. These sidewalks can be seen in some of the earliest concept art for the land.

Mock-up of the sidewalks were rumored to be in the works with plans for the test sidewalks to be used as part of a Winter Wonderland seasonal exhibit at Downtown Disney, now known as Disney Springs. Rumors point to skyrocketing costs along with unreasonable levels of wear and tear from even non-demanding uses as the primary reasons why Disney backed away from the concept. Unlike the Disney projects, the Universal one looks to be exclusively indoors.

Not all the focus will be on the floors though, with physical props possible throughout the ride pathways, protected from bumping thanks to the in-car systems that block it.

The Pac-Man bumper cars would be the only bumper cars in any major Orlando theme park, making it an even more unique attraction. Traditional bumper cars are a slow loading attraction, limiting their ability to be used in Orlando’s busy parks. The interactive game floor system proposed by Universal has cars that can be called back to the load and unload area automatically, similar to how a trackless ride system, like SeaWorld’s Antartica – Empire of the Penguin, works. This would allow for more continuous loading and unloading which would dramatically increase the hourly capacity for the ride.

While this may be the most interactive C-ticket level ride rumored for Super Nintendo World, wording within the patent seems to point to this interactive game floor-based ride system being used in a more arcade-like setting, with returning riders being able to select different levels of difficulty and theming.

A Dave and Busters-style arcade and mega-store themed to Nintendo have been previously rumored for CityWalk. An attraction of this type would be an ideal central feature of this experiential retail concept that may also include its own Nintendo museum and bar. Rumors of that retail experience have died down significantly in recent months, as the focus has shifted almost exclusively to the newly acquired property. But such a store would be an ideal way to draw Nintendo fans to both the original resort and the new Lockheed property. Other Nintendo concepts rumored for Universal include a Zelda mini-land, and a Pokémon themed land that would be mostly kids focused.

As with any patent, there’s no guarantee we’ll ever see it realized. But with hundreds of millions of dollars already earmarked for Nintendo, no matter what Universal decides to build it will be some of the best-themed attractions ever conceived.

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