Walt Disney World: Epcot: Test Track 2.0: Is it all that???
Clearly Test Track 2.0 has the potential to deliver an outstanding guest experience, but… Is the technology up to the task? Read on.
As I’m sure you’re aware by now, I’m a huge Epcot fan. Not so much when I first visited in 1987, but today, it’s my go to destination. World of Motion then Test Track have always been at the top of my list, even when the original Test Track experienced delay after delay. After all, it was originally set to open May 1997, but was delayed almost two years and opened on St Patrick’s Day (March 17th) 1999. When the announcement came that Test Track would be closing in March 2012 for a new “Test Track”, I had to make sure to experience the original attraction one last time. Back in early 2012 (March), I did exactly that, taking pictures and recording video of everything I could capture. For more on the original Test Track, check out Sams Disney Diary Episode #12.
The idea behind the Test Track re-imagination is simple. Back when Test Track was first designed, mid 1990s, the testing and design process used by General Motors was very physical. Physical from the standpoint of crash testing, taking a real car, along with all of its safety features, adding a few “Crash Test Dummies” and crashing it!!! That process was essentially the inspiration for the original Test Track. You were emerged into the testing center, surrounded by crash test dummies and as the “ride” unfolds, you become the crash test dummy. You are part of the testing of the anti-lock brakes (relatively new for mass produced cars in the mid-90s), a series of road tests, temperature extremes, acceleration and a final lap around the high speed loop. The original queue was themed to various test stations preparing you for your test ride; the post show was essentially a GM show room. That allowed the ride itself to be the main attraction. (And for quite some time, it was the only “thrill” attraction at Epcot. Also for a little while, it was the only “thrill” attraction in all of WDW until Rock and Roller Coaster opened in July ‘99). Fast forward (mid 1990s to 2010s) and it turns out, the ideas and concepts the Imagineers used for the original inspiration of Test Track are, well… old news. That old news included the crash test dummies, and unfortunately, the original pre-show featuring Bill McKim. Bill McKim has been completely eliminated from the attraction, would have been nice to see some reference in the new attraction. Most of the design and systems testing conducted at General Motors today is done in a virtual environment, no more crashing a real car. A computer simulation can repeat the process with slight changes in variables allowing for design capabilities not even considered just 15 years ago.
In keeping with the futuristic theme of Epcot, it was time for a revamp of the original Test Track. The new theme moves Test Track from the physical world of crash test dummies to the virtual world of computer based design. The new Test Track (Test Track 2.0) attempts to immerse the guests into a digital world of car concepts and design. Contrary to what you may have heard, Test Track was not themed to Tron. The “Tron Track” name is popular in the online community, but there’s no connection. Both Tron and the new Test Track take their inspiration from a digital universe. One’s where you design a car, and the other is from the idea of living inside a computer. If the name “Tron Track” is your thing, go for it. Either way, the industrial look and feel of the original Test Track has been completely replaced with a futuristic theme and sleek design that hints to the future of the automobile.
The Chevy EN-V electric car reintroduces the idea of the “Car that can drives Itself”, but unlike previous attempts, this one looks like something current teenagers could see in their lifetime. When I think self-driving car, I immediately have visions of the 1950s news reel you can see as part of the video loop over at the Sci-Fi Dine -In Theater, but I digress… Sponsorship of the updated attraction stayed with General Motors, but moved specifically to the Chevrolet Division – A good move for GM, establishing a direct link to the brand. GM has many brands, but moving to “Chevy” creates a more noticeable reference. The latest model, Chevy Camaro, is the centerpiece of the post-show. It’s drawing lines for pictures, and that’s something that never happened for the original Test Track.
The “ride” system itself is essentially the same as the original version of Test Track. The cars have been updated and painted, but the track layout is the same. What’s different is the experience. Test Track 1.0 was essentially a ride. While the new Test Track can be considered a ride, it’s much more. In fact, if you take the Fast Pass or single rider option, you’ll miss most of the experience.The standby line will build up the design process. From videos of futuristic concept cars to engineers at work on the latest Chevy designs, the pre-show gets you in the mood. I especially like the video playing along with the “changing” concept car. Leveraging a video projection, a physical car sits in front of a video screen. The physical car changes as the video plays with engineers talking about actual designs to kids designing what they would like a car to be. The model changes to match the images and story. You’ll also be introduced to the 4 design elements: Capability, Power, Responsiveness and Efficiency, with each playing a part in your “design”.
Once you get through the standby line, you’ll enter “The Chevrolet Design Center at Epcot”. You’re given an RFID card which is a plain white card with no marking, but I expect that to be temporary as the RFID in your “My Magic Band” will provide perfect integration between your park ticket and the attraction (and your return home for that matter). The RFID card will house your design; you scan your card at one of the design stations and start designing. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of the design system, but once you do, you’ll be on your way. If you ever customized a car in a video game, you’ll pick up the design process in no time. It’s basically the same and feels a lot like playing a video game. In fact, the younger you are, the quicker you’ll pick it up.
It took me a few seconds to pick up that swiping the screen vs. pressing the button was the way to move to the next element. My 5 year old son started with a swipe and was off to the races (the “I” generation in action). You can customize just about every element of your car. Start with a basic package car or truck then customize: wheels, color, front, back, sides, superchargers, wings… you name it, you can change it. But be careful, everything you change could impact your car’s performance. If you add a bigger engine, it will impact your handling, add bigger tires and your efficiency will decrease. Your custom design will follow you through the “Sim Track”. Your “ride” doesn’t change, but your car will be judged against the others in your ride vehicle. Important: Before you load the attraction, you’ll need to “scan” your RFID card. This will link your “sim” car to your ride vehicle… or so it’s advertised; more on that later.
Remember the ride system hasn’t changed. You’ll still get in a 6 passenger vehicle and ride using the same track. What’s different is the promise of comparing your design to the 5 others in your vehicle. Your car will have a “score” that will be compared and ranked against the others in your car, and from earlier that day. There is also a Daily High Score (think Toy Story Mania). Who wouldn’t want to brag about having the daily high score?
Here is what I mean about a three part experience; if you use the Fast Pass or single rider line, you miss the design center. You’re still given an RFID card, but you’re limited to a handful of designs. You can’t customize them, it’s a grab and go process. In fact, if you don’t specifically look for an RFID card in the Fast Pass line, you won’t get one. You’ll ride the ride, but you won’t have a car participating in the experience. The sad part is, I expect most people won’t realize they are missing a part of the experience.
Though the track itself is the same, the ride is unrecognizable. What used to be an open area with stations that simulate physical tests now resembles more of a “dark ride”. The open area is gone, as you are surrounded by walls and screens pulling you into the futuristic design story. You can’t really see other cars ahead. Keep your eyes open for lots of hidden World of Motion Logos, but they go by fast.
I’m especially fond of the “City of the Future”, an obvious shout out to Walt’s original vision of Epcot, and a big upgrade from the brake test comparison. The 3 rooms (hot room, cold room and robot room) from the original Test Track are gone, replaced with “Thermal Efficiency, Aerodynamic Efficiency and a final Drive Systems Analysis.”
Not sure what that last room was all about. Of course, the ride finished with the final test. Outside of the City of the Future is, in my opinion, the “coolest” redesigned room… The logos for “Capabilities, Efficiency, Responsiveness & Power” each light up as you pass. You are preparing for the final test when you hear, “Here comes the Final Test”, “Energizing for the Power Test”. You are then launched to the outdoor track. A few things changed here… First, the on-ride photo moved outside to the track itself, about a hundred feet on the right just outside the door. Second, if you’re riding in the daylight, it’s going to take a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the Florida sun. You’re going from a “dark ride” directly into the sun, a side effect being a different ride experience in the daytime vs. after dark. (Try them both). You’ll see your car’s final results as you enter the unload station.
The video edition of SamsDisneyDiary Episode #26 is below, the blog continues after the video.
Listen to the podcast below.
|Episode #26 (2013-02-27) Test Track 2.0, Is it all that?||SamsDisneyDiary The Podcast Episode 26 Test Track 2.0 (2013-02-27)||
As I mentioned before, the attraction doesn’t stop when the ride stops. Using your RFID card, your car follows you through the post show attraction and beyond. You’ll see your on ride photo first, followed by the first post-show station. The first station will show your personal test results and compare your score to the best score of the day. My first car scored a 205, while the best car of the day scored 232. In addition to an overall design score, a score is kept for the best in each category. The trick is to balance each design criteria to get the best overall score. You can also see cars as they are making their way around the sim track which is cool.The second station allows you to customize a commercial for your vehicle; after all, the next step in car design is taking it to market. The most noticeable part of this area was the lack of participation.
Typically, a post-show with an interactive touch screen has a line multiple people deep (think Spaceship Earth). But here, there were plenty of open kiosks. Most people just walked right by the activities. You’re not in the commercial, but your car is. You pick the location, the voice over, the features to highlight and background music. The commercial is finished, and you can forward it to any e-mail address. I will say, overall commercial design process was “slow”. Finishing the commercial took minutes for something that should take a few seconds. I’m sure it has something to do with the virtual kiosk environment Disney deployed vs. a dedicated computer for each kiosk.
The most popular post show kiosk is the “Race”. A circular video game with 10 steering wheel stations and each station has an RFID reader. When the race is looking for new participants, you can scan your RFID card and YOUR car joins the race… The throttle next to the steering wheel controls forward and reverse, and you’re off to the races. Each race lasts a few minutes and then the next race starts. It can be a little confusing if someone walks away from the kiosk while a race is in progress. You get the car they were using. You can’t change the car mid race. As soon as the current race ends “Race Mode Complete”, you’ll be asked to join a new race “Race Mode Initiated”. Scan your card and start racing!After the racing kiosk, you will notice multiple photo stations with each station including a set of kiosks. These kiosks are used to set up your photo scenario. Depending on the location, you get the chance to: pick your custom design or another car, pick your set location and enter an e-mail address for the picture (A great “free” photo opportunity). Then move to the “Next group, scan your card here”. When you’re up, scan your card and enter the photo area. You can go alone or take your entire group. You’ll see a screen with the actual picture background and countdown for the next photo. You’ll get a total of 3 pictures, each after a 10 second countdown. 10 seconds may not seem long, but it is
A few of the photo stations had no queue, while the most popular, the 2013 Chevy Camaro, had a 10 minute wait. In addition to the photo opportunities, there are lots of Chevy vehicles available for photos. You can take a look at the car, have a seat and imagine how it would feel to drive away in a 2013 Chevy. General Motors paid a lot to sponsor the pavilion, might as well get a picture with a Chevy. As you exit, of course, there is one more room… the mandatory gift shop ;-) But before you exit, there is a drop box for your RFID tag. The plan white RFID cards have been at a premium, to the point that the queue has been delayed until cards are returned, or in the case of Fast Pass, just aren’t available at the end of the day. This may explain why. Your design is tied to your RFID so if you take it with you and “re-ride”, you’ll be able to use the same car or even make changes to your car. In fact, there are a few design stations in the post-show area that allow you to make changes to your car… change the engine, change a spoiler to impact aerodynamics… anything to get a few extra points on your overall score. Then, once you get that perfect ride… it’s yours. Long term, the next gen “My Magic Band” will allow you to keep your car. I can even imagine a future where you can “take your car home”. Maybe an on-line game or ability to make changes at home before your next trip.Overall, Test Track 2.0 has the potential to be an outstanding attraction. It engages the guest from the queue to the design to the ride to the post show and even the potential to “take the attraction home”. Make sure you take the opportunity to experience the entire attraction. Sure, get a Fast Pass, but use it after you were able to experience the full queue.
BUT, unfortunately, Test Track 2.0 just isn’t ready for prime time, at least not as of February 2013 (a little over 2 months after opening). The main problem is linking your design to the ride. It’s safe to say, it just doesn’t work. The ride operates fine, but your car doesn’t follow you as advertised. When you scan your RFID card as you enter the car, your car will be displayed, and everything looks good… BUT, your car doesn’t follow you. During the ride after the second test, 6 cars are displayed along with corresponding scores. The 6 cars displayed should represent the graphics and score of the 6 cars designed by the guests in that vehicle. I’m not sure exactly how the cars are chosen, random or some other method. I do know it wasn’t my car, and it wasn’t any of the 5 cars designed by my family. I understand that occasionally things happen, but of the 8 times I rode over a two week period, my car did not follow me through the experience.
Granted, my ride experience wasn’t impacted but bragging rights and the thrill of victory were impacted. Now, even though my car didn’t follow me through the ride, it was my car in the post-show. So after every ride it was a sprint to kiosk to see who had the highest score. It wasn’t me, so maybe not knowing I’m losing is an OK thing… nah, I’m OK with some good hearted ribbing from the kids. Although, I do hope the full experience is ready to go soon. Something is definitely missing.
What was your experience? Contact me directly at Samsdisneydiary@mail.com Like the Site on facebook at www.facebook.com/SamsDisneyDiary The Test Track 2.0 video is in editing… posting along with the latest podcast soon!!