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Video games move out of the living room and into theme parks

A new generation of theme park attractions based on popular video game titles will let gamers looking for bigger thrills in a larger arena fend off zombies and battle aliens as they compete for the highest score and struggle to save the universe.

A partnership between Cedar Fair amusement parks and Electronic Arts video games will bring the Mass Effect 4-D holographic experience to California’s Great America in Santa Clara and the Plants vs. Zombies interactive shoot-’em-up attraction to Carowinds outside Charlotte, N.C. Both attractions are set to debut at each park at the start of the summer season in the motion simulator Action Theaters.

The collaboration eventually could bring video game-based attractions to all 11 locations of the Cedar Fair amusement park chain, which includes Ohio’s Cedar Point and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park.

“If it’s off-the-charts successful, we’ll find a way to do it at every park,” Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet said during a recent interview.

Next in line for EA attractions would be the three other Cedar Fair parks with Action Theaters: Kings Dominion in Virginia, Kings Island in Ohio and Canada’s Wonderland near Toronto.

EA has a deep catalog of best-selling video game titles that could be turned into theme park attractions, including “The Sims,” “Battlefield,” “Need for Speed,” “Madden NFL,” “Medal of Honor” and “Rock Band.”

Theme parks appear to be the next frontier for video games, which already have expanded into movies, television, competitive sports and academic studies. Universal Studios recently unveiled a partnership with Nintendo that will introduce interactive rides based on fast-paced games.

“For decades, rides and attractions have been based on the storylines in movies,” said Ouimet, a former Disneyland president hired to sprinkle a little pixie dust on Cedar Fair parks. “It’s a little surprising that video games haven’t worked their way into this arena sooner.”

So why would anybody go to a theme park to play video games?

“The game manufacturers and game designers want to have a place to show their games at a scale that you can’t do in your house,” Ouimet said.

Plants vs. Zombies

Based on the popular console and mobile app games, the Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare attraction at Carowinds combines the interactive shooter elements of a dark ride with a theater with motion-based seats.

The game’s backstory involves suburban homeowner Crazy Dave using the plants in his backyard to halt an advancing army of brain-eating zombies lead by Dr. Zombass. At Carowinds, riders wearing 3-D glasses will fire blasters at a video screen while straddling a jet-powered motor scooter.

The Carowinds theater will be divided in half, with one side zapping zombies while the other side fights plants with improvised weapons that squirt taco sauce. Players accumulate individual scores while also contributing to a team effort that results in one of the two sides claiming victory. The separate experiences promote replayability and repeat visits.

The Carowinds attraction will be designed by Belgium-based Alterface, which previously worked on the Justice League: Battle for Metropolis dark rides at Six Flags parks.

Mass Effect

Based on the third-person shooter EA video game, the Mass Effect 4-D holographic experience follows the exploits of a ragtag band of heroes struggling to save the universe from an ancient evil race of artificial intelligence called the Reapers.

Ironically, the new attraction at California’s Great America involves no gaming or shooting. Instead, visitors will sit in a theater with motion-based seats while a live actor surrounded by a few physical props interacts with 3-D imagery emanating from a movie screen.

The science-fiction attraction at the Silicon Valley-area theme park attempts to simulate the futuristic holodeck imagined in “Star Trek,” where living people interact with holographic images in a virtual-reality room.

The attraction’s holographic elements are being developed by 3D Live, a relative newcomer to the theme park industry. The Los Angeles-based company uses immersive 3-D LED technology and augmented reality to create virtual environments at concerts, music festivals and live events. Cedar Fair first worked with 3D Live on the virtual reality point-of-view video preview for the new Valravn roller coaster coming to Cedar Point in the spring.

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