That's Entertainment!

(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)


Interactive Satellite Theater

Interactive Satellite Theater
Odds 95%
Year 1993
Cost $25-$100/1989 ($41/$490)

From games and sports we go to the nebulous "entertainment". The first thing that's supposedly entertainment is the Club Theater Network, which has "combined 35mm film, live theater, satellite transmission, computers, and gourmet dining in one experience." If you have enough money to assume a ritzy lifestyle but not enough to actually attend ritzy events, you can drop in one of the "small theaters located in private country clubs, resort hotels, or high-rise condominium complexes." After a gourmet meal, you're shuffled off to watch whatever dreary auction or fashion show is tonight's suppository of culture.

But wait! It's interactive! "The theater's seats are computerized so that you can press a button in the armrest and access a hookup to ask a question, place a bid, or enter a credit-card number." Palm Beach, you're on the air! This is the lower-upper-class equivalent of the Interactive Game Network, and it has the same problems on a much larger scale. If you loved interacting with game shows through an official channel consisting of a few buttons, you'll love interacting with high society through the same channel plus a credit card slot.

Here's a contemporaneous article that mentions the CTN. This whole thing reminds me of predictions of the telephone used to broadcast concerts to your home.


Mega Ball

Mega Ball
Odds 75%
Year 1996
Cost $2/1989 ($3/2007) per ride

Strap yourself into a ball and ride around in a gigantic pinball machine. Not a game, not a sport, just generic entertainment from Swiss company Intamin, Inc. Not surprising this didn't catch on, because it requires a lot more real estate than a regular-sized pinball machine, and regular-sized pinball machines aren't exactly cash cows.

Intamin made quite a name for themselves making amusement park rides, "monorails, and aerial tramways," and they're still at it, producing roller coasters, "water rides", and "giant wheels" to anyone willing to meet their (presumably high) price.

Mega Ball is a fun if impractical idea so I'll quote a little more detail. "You and three friends" are pulled up "a 193 by 76-foot-wide inclined plane" and then "released to roll down the colorfully painted platform, bouncing off walls and posts... You can control the giant flippers from within the ball, through a radio-frequency hookup--but even more dastardly, a coin-operated pushbutton outside the ride will allow sadistic spectators to "bump" Mega Ball's hapless riders back up the platform for another shot!" Average ride time: two minutes.

Oh, the ball isn't really a ball; it's more like a giant hockey puck or the big inner tube you'd sit in during a white-water-rapid-themed amusement part ride. I'm not exactly thrilled with the prospect of subjecting myself to the mercies of "sadistic bystanders" armed with quarters.

"Mega Ball" is now the name of a special ball in the multi-state Mega Millions lottery.


Interactive Game Pavillion

Interactive Game Pavillion
Odds 90%
Year 1991
Cost $20/1989 ($32/2007) admission

Museum exhibit designer (and marrier-into of the Kennedy family) Edwin Schlossberg) has come up with a "place where people can play with each other through technology." Sounds like a precursor to the LAN cafes of the 90s, except Schlossberg also came up with his own games people will play in these pavillions. "Beat The System," a stock trading game, the "Robot Cocktail Party", where you control a robot looking for another robot in a sea of robots, and "Big Picture", which is a lot like The Smaller Picture.

People won't generally play $20 to play (fairly boring) games you made up. They will gather, and sometimes pay, to play games they already know about. Thus the LAN cafes, and today's MMORPGs and gaming communities. Schlossberg is the type to make statements like: "Technical advancements created situations that isolated people. Now it's time we create situations where people can learn to interact with each other." So it's hard to say whether his 1989 incarnation would be interested or horrified to know that his idea came to fruition as lots of ways to get people interacting with each other without ever meeting.


In-Flight Entertainment System

In-Flight Entertainment System
Odds 95%
Year 1995
Cost N/A

The most recent plane trip I took, the in-flight entertainment system had just about everything promised in this Future Stuff entry. "4-inch flat-panel display screen located on each seatback," check. "[A]llowing passengers to choose their own entertainment," check. "[M]ovies, TV shows, video games," check. "Moving route map," sort of check. Truly, it "rival[ed] anything [I] might now have in [my] home", except in my home I have a decent-sized TV, and the music and movies I like, rather than whatever the airline has licened for the current two-week period.

Not check: "live viewing of the landing and takeoff of your plane" (from what vantage point?), "gate directories, the status of connecting flights," and the ability to "order food and drink and even duty-free goods through the system." All of that is still handled through in-flight magazines and human interaction. There's some back-end stuff about drink and food inventory management that doesn't matter much from the end-user perspective so I'll pass lightly over that.

So the state of the art is pretty good but it took a while to get there. The first time I saw the newfangled map system was around 1996, when it was displayed on the same big TV screen used to display in-flight movie to everyone, whether you liked it or not. Seatback TVs came along with JetBlue in the early 2000s. Video games are recent, although there may have been some infuriatingly slow ones in the 90s. This is a pretty good one if you want to tease out all the possible technology developments that flow from a single idea.

Oh, this was a joint venture of Boeing and Sony, both of whom you may have heard of.


Super Movies

Super Movies
Odds 90%
Year 1995
Cost "Slightly higher than today's movie admission"

Glancing over this entry I saw eye-glazing phrases like "70mm at 60 frames per second" and blurbs like "Incomparably more realistic than anything I've ever seen on a movie screen! -- Roger Ebert" and started thinking this was a precursor to today's omnipresent digital video. It sort of is, in that it's a way to shoot high-quality film, but it's not qualitatively different from film--just a different kind of film shown at more frames per second.

Like digital video, Showscan requires "a modified projector, a better sound system, and a larger screen." Unlike digital video, movie theaters never made the switch. The original ShowScan company went bankrupt in 2002, but they were bought up and ShowScan Entertainment is still putting out "simulation ride" movies like "Haunted Raceway 3D" and "Under The Sea Mission 4D". That's an extra D!


Motion Simulator

Motion Simulator
Odds 100%
Year 1995
Cost $10/1989 ($16/2007) per movie

Nice of them to put the motion simulator entry next to Showscan, because these two technologies ended up together. Remember how I just said Showscan is mainly used for "simulation ride" movies? Well, the motion simulator provides the "ride" part. "A Swiss company based in Maryland"... wait a minute, Intamin from "Mega Ball" was a Swiss company. Yes! Intamin VP Kurt Lukas is quoted here just as he is in "Mega Ball". They got the bulk of this chapter by talking to one guy!

Okay, enough of that. Motion simulators are a dime a dozen, but Intamin's still making them and probably has a nice business in them. Probably the first motion simulator to make it big was Disney's Star Tours back in 1987, but those rides were custom-built from military flight simulators. I'm guessing Haunted Raceway 3D and the other ShowScan rides are built on top of Intamin's stuff.

Intamin's website offers a "Maxi Motion Seat" with six degrees of freedom, as well as (unrelated to this entry) a "Multi Media Dark Ride" vehicle which "can be attractively designed to match the theme of the story line."

Uh, I didn't actually quote Future Stuff at all but I think you know what I'm talking about here. This sort of ride is now a minor part of our culture. Future Stuff gives the impression that a motion simulator can replace a real roller coaster, and I've not been on a lot of these simulators but I think there's still a pretty big difference in experience.


This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, March 31 2008, 00:26:30 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Thursday, October 23 2014, 04:00:04 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2014 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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