In a recent blog post I revealed that I had been working part time as a ride operator at nearby Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park. The winter break between terms at ArtCenter College of Design, where I teach game design courses, was approaching, and I wanted to earn some extra money during the holidays. This part-time job was perfect: it was a ten-minute drive from my home, the hours were flexible, and I’ve been a theme park fan all of my life. What I didn’t realize is that I would enjoy the work so much, I wound up staying with it for nearly a year.
Six Flags did make things too easy. When I applied for the ride operator job over the phone, the representative approved me as a candidate in about three minutes. The next step was an onsite interview with Human Resources. Even though I said I had a commitment to speak at a game conference in Kiev in December, I was hired within the hour. Next was an online course with a trainer at Six Flags headquarters in Arlington, Texas on company philosophy and history, and then a couple of days of onsite training at Magic Mountain about policies and procedures.
One thing I learned is that Magic Mountain is divided managerially into six areas, and new employees got to pick (or at least request) which area to work in. I requested Area 4 because it had the greatest variety of attractions — the new pendulum thrill ride Crazanity, the (air conditioned!) dark ride Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, the stand-up looping coaster Riddler’s Revenge, the spinning ride Scrambler, and a couple of the theme park’s opening day rides — the Jammin’ Bumpers bumper car ride and Gold Rusher terrain coaster, and I will describe my brief time working on those two attractions today.
This bumper car ride was a sister attraction to Crazanity; that is, Crazanity’s ride superviser also supervised Jammin’, as we called it, and everyone who was assigned to work at Jammin’ that day also spent time working at Crazanity. However, while everyone in our area loved working at Crazanity, not many enjoyed working at Jammin’. This was because Jammin’ required only one employee to operate it, so that meant working alone. However, I loved working on it because I liked being in total control of the guest experience. So did a fellow teammember, Dennis, who was the only rider operator in Area 4 who was about my age.
Operating Jammin’ was a breeze, and it only took a couple of hours of training to become a “cert” at this attraction. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get assigned to actually work on Jammin’ until about six weeks after my training ended, but I located a Jammin’ training manual a couple of days before and brushed up on what I needed to know.
Getting it ready in the morning was simple enough. I and another Jammin’ cert would check that the gates leading to secure areas were locked; make sure that Mechanical, Electrical, and Staff had already signed off on the attraction; check that the correct number of bumper cars were on the floor (Jammin’ had a maximum of 20, but most of the time I worked there, only about 16 were operational and the ones needing repairs were kept in storage); reset the last two digits of the turnstyle counter to “00”; and then do a safety ride. It was because of the safety ride that two certs were required to open the ride — one would ride a car (that was usually me — I love bumper cars) while the other made sure the ride would automatically stop using three different methods: turn off the panel key, pushing the emergency stop button, or take your foot off the “dead man’s” pedal under the panel. We also made sure the ride area, cars, and queue were clean.
Our shifts operating the ride averaged about one or two hours, although sometimes it was only 15 minutes if we were just covering for someone while we were on break.; A couple of times I did a three hour shift because we were short-staffed; my ride supervisor was usually very apologetic when that happened, but I would remind her that I was one of the few who enjoyed their time at Jammin’.
As I said, I was in total control of the ride experience, and here is the protocol I eventually evolved from I found through trial and error provided the best guest experience. First, I would check to see if there were any private tours or disabled guests waiting at the disabled entrance, and if so, I would unlock the gate and let them in first. (Much to my disappointment, one guest angrily complained to me that I had immediately let in a family with a son in a wheelchair despite the angry guest having waited in line for 30 minutes. Dude, would you really rather trade places with the disabled kid? Count your blessings.)
I would then announce to the guests waiting the queue something like “Welcome to Jammin’ Bumpers! I have 16 cars in need of drivers and riders. If this is your jam, come right up!” As guests came through the turnstyle into the waiting area, I would ask if they were riding alone or with someone else. Once I had enough people for the available cars, I would tell the next people in the queue that they would be on the next ride.
To the people in the waiting area, “How many of you are ready for the most exciting ride at Magic Mountain? Well, too, bad, you’re at Jammin’ Bumpers instead. (This always got a laugh). But I promise you a great time anyway. Before I let you onto the track, here are a few things you should know. If you have anything too large to fit in our pocket — backpacks, purses, souvenier bottles — please place them next to the fence around the track. They can’t go in the car with you. But if it does fit in your pocket, it must stay in your pocket. Use of phones and cameras are not permitted on any Six Flags attraction. Once you get into your car, you’ll find two safety strap attached to the pole behind yout — one per rider. Place one arm through the loop, and pull the other end of the over your head an onto the opposite shoulder so that it goes diagonally across your body. (I showed them using a spare safety strap used for demonstrations, like the safety belt used by airline attendants). Wear it like a sash, not like a belt. Okay, I need to check the height of some of you, so walk through the gate slowly.”
Of course, as I opened the gate, it was the little kids whose height I needed to check who would race through, and I would have to call out “Hey, hey, hey, come back here, please!”. Jammin’ Bumpers has two height limits — you need to be at least 54″ tall to drive and at least 42″ tall to ride. Despite there being a height check at the ride’s entrance, it would always amaze me how parents would wait with their kids in line for 30 minutes, only to have me turn a tearful child away because he or she wasn’t tall enough to ride. This may be due that many of our guests are Spanish speakers, and I suggested to management several times that our signage needs to be in both English and Spanish.
Once they got into the car, I walked to each car, making sure their straps are on correctly and that they put their loose items off to the side. I then walked back to the panel and spoke into the microphone. “Great job getting ready, everyone. I do have a few rules of the road for you before we begin. Jammin’ Bumpers is a one-way street, so drive only in the direction of the one-way arrow signs posted around the track. Head-on collisons are not allowed, but you can bump each other from the side and back as much as you like. Keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times — so no high-fiving each other, picking up a hat you dropped on the track, or pushing off the side of the track with your foot if you’re stuck. If you are stuck, just keep turning your steering wheel in the same direction until you get going again. If you need me to stop the ride for any reason, put one hand in the air and the other over your mouth. All right, enough talking. Let’s… get… this… jam… started!”
Yeah, that’s a lot of instructions for a three-minute ride, but it was all necessary, so I tried to at least make it somewhat entertaining. Once I started the ride, the cars would start up and the music would play (there was a loop of about six upbeat songs). I would clap with the music while keeping an eye out for any problems. The most common problem was riders getting their car stuck on either the center or outer curb of the ride area. This happened because steering a bumper car does not work like steering a regular car. Instead of the steering wheel turning two front wheels a limited arc either right or left, it would turn a single front wheel a complete circle clockwise or counter-clockwise, and if you turned the wheel 90 degrees perpendicular to the two back wheels, the front wheel would act as a break and stop the car from moving forward. So, I would frequently have to call out to a stuck rider, “Just keep turning your steering wheel in the same direction”, and usually that worked. If it didn’t, I would ask the other drivers to be a good neighbor and give the car a gentle push from behind. That also usually worked, unless the other drivers wound up pinning the stuck car against the curb, and there were a few occasions where I felt so bad for a someone who spent their entire time on the ride trying to get their car going, that I’d let them ride in the next cycle without having to go back into line.
As the music ended and the cars coasted to a stop, I announced something like, “Oh snap, you’re ride has come to and end, but don’t feel sad! You still have four hours of fun ahead of you at Six Flags Magic Mountain, where you can make a big splash on Jet Stream. Don’t forget to check your car for any small items that might have fallen out of your pocket or to pick up any large belongings you left against the fence before making your way out the exit gate opposite me. Thank you for riding Jammin’ Bumpers and enjoy the rest of your day in the park.” After following the last of the guests to the exit gate and checking that it was firmly closed, I would check the cars for belongings that somebody had invariably left in their car — park maps,, hats, sunglasses, even phones, which I would bring back to the panel in case their came back looking for them.
If it was close to 45 minutes after the hour, before letting in the next group of guests, I’d go over to the turnstyle and write down the numbers, and then call the Crazanity ride operator on the phone to report my attendance figures and estimated wait time. Then it was time for another cycle of Jammin’ Bumpers.
As I wrote above, I really enjoyed being in control of the guest experience, and for the most part, the guests themselves were enjoyable too. However, when I did have problems, it was always with parents. Parents of young kids had a natural instinct to want to help if their child in another car gots stuck. I tried to talk the child over the microphone into getting his or her car going again, but sometimes a parent would attempt to grab their child’s car and attempt to pull it free. That’s dangerous, and I’d warn the parent to keep their arms in their car. There were a few parents who wouldn’t listen to me, and so I stopped the ride early and ask them to leave for not following the safety rules.
Another time I had a difficult mom who was in one car while her husband and one child were in another. As I did my car check, I saw that mom had brought her purse in her car with her. When I told her that she needed to put her belongings next to the perimeter fence, her husband started yelling at me about what a stupid rule that was. Sorry, its for everyone’s safety, since items can go flying around if her car gets hit hard enough. The mom stopped the argument by putting her purse away, but not before pulling out a phone that she brought back into the car with her. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You can’t hold onto your phone during the ride. You need to put it in your pocket,” I told her. “But I’m waiting for an important call!, she replied. “Well, if you need use your phone, you can do it from outside the attraction, not while you’re riding.” With a huff, she got out of her vehicle and stomped out through the exit gate. When I got the ride going, she started taking photos of her husband and son in the car. Now if she had been honest with me, I would have allowed her to take pictures of them before the ride started, but apparently she wanted action shots and that’s another dangerous thing to do from the car while vehicles are moving around.
There was a Jammin’ danger I didn’t expect, but that happened while I was operating Crazanity next door. As I was sitting at the panel and operating the ride, I got a call on the telephone from the Jammin’ ride operator. She told me that there were spider webs all around the front of the attraction, and that black widow spiders were dropping on guests who were sitting on the benches outside of it. I called Ride Operations and asked them to send someone over to clear out the spider webs but shivered at the thought of black widows dropping on me while I was operating the ride.
I spent perhaps a total of twenty days spread across nearly a year working at Jammin’, but I worked only a few days at Gold Rusher, or just “Rusher” as we called it. Rusher was another opening day attraction, a rather tame “terrain” coaster that followed the contours of the “mountain” at a top speed of 35 miles per hour. It was one of my favorite rides when visited Magic Mountain as a kid because I liked how the track wove in and out among the trees. I also remember about to board the ride during a visit in 1988 and seeing that Chevy Chase was in the train right before us; he had been filming scenes for National Lampoon’s Vacation at Magic Mountain, which stood in for the fictional theme park Wally World. That memory made working Rush feel a little bit more special for me.
My first experience with Rusher was in assisting the Rusher team with their morning safety check before going to the ride to which I had actually been assigned that day. Rusher had two lift hills in the first half of its track circuit and two break points in the last half. During the long safety check protocol team members had to stand at each of these four stations to test that the Emergency Stop and Restart buttons worked when the Ride Operator called out over the loudspeaker to test them. This was my favorite thing about working at Rusher because to get to the various stations, we got to hike up tree-lined trailers through the hill slopes. It was also thrilling to be at one of these stations as the train whizzed by, just inches from you during its safety check.
Daily operation of the ride was also fun. Rusher has three positions: the certified Ride Operator and two attendent positions, Point and Dispatch. We attendants were responsible for the loading and unloading of passengers on the train. Dispatch, at the front of the train, was responsible for the first two cars, while Point was response for the back three cars.
We each had to ensure that guests met the height requirements and that they put away all of their belongings in the storage bins on the unload, or right, side of the train. Once all the guests were seated, we told them to raise their hands as we lowered the lap bar and then pulled up to make sure the lap bars were secure.
I prefered working Dispatch position because I used a control box at my station to automatically open the loading gates when it was time for guests to get onto the train. I also got to press the green Dispatch button in unison with the Ride Operator at panel to send the train off after all three of us had given the “thumbs up” sign that the station was clear.
The Point position had a special responsibility when a train was arriving. Point used a clicker to count the empty seats on this train. At 45 minutes after the hour, Point would report the clicker number to the Ride Operator, who would then calculate and report the number of riders we had.
Once the train pulled into the station, both Point and Dispatch stomped down on large foot petals at left front corner of each car, and this would release the lap bars so that the guests could exit. We would then direct them to go down the stairs at the front of the station.
I think I worked at Rusher only a total of five days in my time at Magic Mountain. I never even got to start training to be a Rusher Ride Operator, so I don’t have many memories of this attraction to share. However, I do have two.
I’ll start with the bad one. I was working Point, and after all the guests had unloaded from the train, one remained slumped over to the side. As I walked toward him, he slowly got up and exited, but I saw that he had thrown up on the left side of the train. I called out to Dispatch not to open the gates, and I went over to the Ride Operator to find out how the procedure for cleaning up vomit on this attraction, because that was a situation I hadn’t experienced or been trained for here. Unfortunately, the ride operator was having a phone conversation, and despite all the hand waving I did, I couldn’t get his attention. So, I filled up my personal water bottle from the station’s water container and poured it over the vomit. I did this several times until I couldn’t see any more of the protein present, but I couldn’t find any cleaning supplies and the Ride Operator still wouldn’t give me his attention. So, I just told Dispatch to let guests onto the train.
My good memory is of working at Dispatch. Since this was a Western-themed ride, I wore a Western-style hat I brought from home (Six Flags was very laid back in regards to employee headwear) and I liked to take on the role of an old prospector. When the train dispatched, I would wave at them and tell them to keep an eye out for gold. One day while I was at Dispatch, one of my favorite team members, Natasha, was working at panel. She saw how I was interacting with guests, and so when she dispatched a train, she would tell them, “Everyone wave good-bye to my friend David.”
I didn’t stop there. Whenever I was about to lower the lapbar, I would say, “Everyone raise their hands… and do jazz hands” as I waved my own hands. One girl laughed and said to her fiend, “This guy is the only one at the park who has any personality!” With validation like that, you can see why I was reluctant to leave what was originally supposed to be a short-term gig.
The Battle for Metropolis
Obviously, one of the best things about working at Magic Mountain for me was interacting with guests and roleplaying a bit. Now there was one ride that gave me a great enviroment for role-playing — Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, and I will tell you all about that attraction in my next blog post. Until then, theme park fans, have a Six Flags day!
In my previous post about using the low-code game development platform YAHAHA Studio to create a navigational puzzle, I discussed how to use the Rotate and Revolve components to create walls that opened and closed like a door with a hinge. In this post, I will describe how to use the Teleporter component and visual effects to make the maze even more magical.
YAHAHA makes getting started with teleporters easy. The platform comes a built-in model called “Gear Teleporter”, which already has Teleporter, Trigger, and Audio Components installed. So, all I need to do is download this bad boy from the Resource Box.
As you may recall, I am building my maze as 16 sections, which, looking down from above, appears as 4 columns x 4 rows. I am calling the columns, left to right, FarLeft, MidLeft, MidRight, and FarRight. The columns are, bottom to top, FarLower, MidLower, MidUpper, andFar Upper.
I am placing this Gear Teleporter in the next section I am constructing, MidUpper-FarRight (MUFR), right behind the Locked Gate I previously added to separate section MLFR from section MUFR. My goal here is to give the players a clue that they need to teleport into section MUFR but they need to find a corresponding teleporter first.
When I first placed the Gear Telporter (which is called “Teleporter_Normal” in the Explorer), I found that it was much too large in comparison to my maze walls. No biggie. I just scaled it down to .3/.3/.3. I then had set its Audio component to play an audio file called “Teleport 1-1”, which I downloaded from the Asset Library, and set the audio to play when the player entered the object’s trigger box.
I always tell my students to test out their games periodically to make sure they work as intendend, and it’s a good thing that I followed my own advice. When I put the Resawner near the teleporter and playtested the game to see if the teleporter sound played when I had my avatar walk on top of it, I discovered that the trigger zone was too low to detect entry. Again, no biggie. I changed the Y value of the trigger box sized from 0.6 to 5.0, tested it again, and everything worked perfectly!
Now that one teleporter is working, time for the corresponding one. I duplicate the teleporter in section MUFR and move the duplicate to the next section I will work on, MLMR. Too more easily tell which is which, I name one “Tele_MUFR” and the other “Tele_MLMR.” Next, I set Tele_MLMR’s Transportation Point component to use Tele_MUFR as its destination.
I immediately test to see if this works, and I find that the teleportation takes too long for my impatient tastes, so I lower the teleport delay from 3 seconds to 1 second.
Remember that hinged wall I created when I made section MLFR for my last blog? That’s the real exit for the section, not the locked gate, and I want the player to open the hinged wall and find the path to the teleporter in section MLMR. As always, I follow my mazemaking process of filling in the entire area with horizontal and vertical walls, and then remove the ones necessary to form the path I want from the maze’s entrance (Hinged Wall) to its exit (Tele_MLMR).
The final step in making this maze is to remove some more walls to create passages branching away from the main path. Also, even though I originally created my sections as 9×9 squares, I don’t want them to be too semetric, so I remove some walls around section MLMR’s border so that paths can lead into and out of my initial bounding area. Of course, I still want the sections to be separated so that there are no shortcuts into the solution path, so I also add some walls to preserve a (non-square) boundary between each section.
Oops. Did I use the word “final” too soon yet again? As I checked out my “completed” maze section, I realized that the teleporter needed to be more dramatic — more magical — since that was this secton’s distinctive feature. Fortunately, as I checked the Resource Box, I found a built-in VFX (video effect) that would do nicely, VFX Teleporter_Normal_Keep 2. I scaled it down to .4/.1/.4 and place a copy on each of the two teleporters. Finally, I walked my avatar around the maze to make sure it effect isn’t too obvious from nearby paths.
*Head slap* I keep using “final” before I’m finally satisfied that things really are finally final. I’m now concerned that this section is still fairly early in the maze experience, and the player is still learning the rules of how my devious mind works. Since I don’t want some players to get frustrated trying to find a way out and trying in vain to open the hinged wall from this side, I’m going to re-use my “hint statue” from earlier. In fact, I’ll use three of them. One says the dialogue, “Walking alone will not get you through the gate. Find the teleporter. It is some distance from the wall opening.” Another says “You are half the way there.” A third says, “It is near.”
On to Section MUFR, where the other teleporter is located. I place a normal Gate as an exit, but what else to do? I think I’ll have some more fun with hinged walls, since the player has had an experience with one. So, I duplicate the Hinged Wall (1) from the section below and place the copy here.
Here is how I will start off this maze section: the player teleports in from Section FLMR, only to see there’s there’s nothing here but a locked gate and a short passage leading nowhere. However, if the player enters Hinged Wall (2)’s target box, which I put just in front of the wall, the wall revolves and rotates like a door, accompanied a rumble sound, just like the one in the secdtion below. However, this wall opens in a different direction, and so it took about three minutes of experimenting to figure out that rotation needed to be clockwise and the revolve needed to be anti-clockwise around a point where Z=1.
I now create rows and columns of walls and then carve out a solution path to the gate at the exit. However, along the solution, path, I add in a series of hinged walls.
Add in some side passages and allow a couple of the passages from the section below to extend into this one, and I have a maze. Should I add some hint statues, too? No, I don’t think this is necessary. You see, the hinged walls, which open only one way, serve as closure points, making the solution space smaloler and smaller with each wall the player goes through. My feeling right now is that the solution is simple enough to not require any hints.
It’s time for some teleporter fun. I dived Section FUFR into 8 rooms, numbered 1 through 8 (not consecutively, as you can see), and I place a locked gate along the left wall of room 6. I copied the Teleporter object to create 9 Pads, and placed one in each room, with the ninth just outside of the locked gate. In each room I place three portals, using the Blue Circle, Green Circle, and Yellow Circle built-in VFX. I scale each of these portals to 2/2/1 and rotate them on their 9 axis 90 degrees so that they would be upright, like a door rather than a hole. Since they are circles, I give each a spherical trigger box rather than a box-shaped one, and then set up audio component to play teleporter sound effect which triggered.
These color portals are going to work as an order of operations puzzle. The player needs to go through the portals in the correct order to exit out through Pad(9). I used the above chart to work out this puzzle. The correct path is Blue-Green-Yellow-Blue. If players choose any of the wrong portals (Green or Yellow) in Room 1, they will bounce around between Rooms 2, 3, 4, and 5 until they eventually wind up in Room 1 again, where they can start over.
If players make choose the wrong portals in Rooms 6, 7, or 8, they will be sent into Rooms 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. So, there is only one sequence of portals leading to Pad(9), and any other sequence eventually leads back to Pad(1). After I was convinced that this plan worked as I wanted, I set the Teleportation Point of each color portal to go to the appropriate pad.
Since maze sections are 9 x 9, divding FUFR into 8 sections resulted in rooms that weren’t all the same dimensions. That’s okay. I don’t want these sections to necessarily be symmertical. I just move some walls and add some others so that the each room looks a bit different from each other. I also rearrange the color order of the portals or move the location of the pad in most of the rooms.
I also set each of the teleporters’ Y rotation position so that players would be facing direction I wanted when they teleport into the room. For example, when telporting into room 6, I want players to be facing the locked gate so that they see the exit pad (Pad(9)) on other side.
This maze definitely needs hints and therefore, a hint statue. Need hints. This time I placed it under the terrain between the gate and Pad(1); however, I put a trigger box over its head so that the trigger extended above the ground while the statue was underneath. When the player walks through the trigger box, the statue will pop up about 30 seconds later, so that if players wind up back in room 1 again, the statue will tell them what order of color portals to go through to reach the exit of this section of the maze.
For Section MUMR, I am going to combine portals with hinged walls. Well, it’s mostly going to be portals because this section will be like an endless runner. When players teleport onto Pad(9), they will find themselves in a long, straight passage with a yellow portal at the end. When they go through that portal, they find themselves at the end of another long corridor that has a yellow portal at the end. After going through several of these, they be in a corridor that leads to a locked gate. That gate looks onto Section MUML, which is the final section of the game. Eventually, there will be a fierce Minotaur there, guarding the maze’s exit!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to the yellow portals of Section MUMR. Instead of the portal teleporting them to a pad object this time, I’m having it teleport to a specific position in another corridor. How do I figure out the custom coordinates to use for the position? I’ll use a pad object, but I will move it to where I want the player to appear, write down the pad’s coordinates, put them into the corresponding portal’s teleportation point, and then move the pad to figure out the teleport point for the next portal. I do this for all 8 yellow portals and then delete the pad object, as its work is done.
After playtesting this endless runner section, I realized it needed more and decided that some of the yellow portals should have yellow Phoenix’s flying out of them as an obstacle for the player. I download an animated yellow Phoenix model from the Asset Library and placed it under the terrain in front of the yellow portal in Corridor 3. I then put a large trigger box attached to the wall behind the portal that ran from the wall to most of the length of the corridor. When the player enters the trigger box, a bird sound effect will play and then the Phoenix will move through four waypoints. It will first pop up 5 units from under the terrain so that it appears in front of the portal. It will then fly 10 units down the corridor towards the player. If it hits the player, it will push the player back. The Phoenix then drops back down 5 units so that it disappears under the terrain again and then moves back 10 units to its origin point. This will happen every time the player enters the trigger box from the end of the corridor opposite the player.
I do the same for Corridors 5 and 7, but with each one, the trigger box is a little shorter, and the Phoenix appears in a slightly different position in front of the portal and then flies toward the player a little faster. For Corridor 8, I have two Phoenixes come out of the portal. After playtesting it, I find that it makes this section of the maze much more interesting while not being punishingly difficult — this is more of a puzzle game, after all, and not an action game.
I have one more trick up my sleeve for when the player finally reaches the corridor leading to the locked gate looking into Section FUML with the Minotaur. I set up a trigger box so that when the player comes to the gate, a hinged wall behind him opens and closes. When players turn around, they may miss seeing the wall closing, but they will see a green portal at the end of the other end of the corridor. If they decide to go through that portal, they will go into another endless runner sequence involving two long corridors with a green portal at the end of each. Unfortunately for the player, that last green portal leads right back to Pad (9), and they’ll have to do this section of the maze over again.
However, if they do notice the hinged wall and pass through before it closes, they will enter a long corridor with another hinged wall at the end. This leads us into Section MUMR containing… what I will dicuss in my next YAHAHA and the Amazing Maze entry. This time we covered a lot of territory — teleporters, video effects, and movement waypoints — but there’s more coming in my next post. In the meantime, here are some screenshots of what these latest features look like while playing The Amazing Maze.
Note that you already have learned more than enough to start making your own 3D games using YAHAHA Studio. In fact, you may even be ready to participate in the YAHAHA Global Game Jam taking place January 30th through February 5th, with a $15,000 prize pool. You can find out more by click on this link.