Making of DRdb

Hey there,

Welcome to the Dark Ride Database! How nice that you’re taking an interest in the making of special of this website. In this special, we will tell you what it was like to work on this website in the 6 months prior to the opening. We will discuss how we got the idea to start this website, how it was built and where we found all the information on the rides in our database. 

The team

But first, let’s meet the team:

From left to right: Luc, Erik and Johan.

Johan

Welcome to the Dark Ride Database. I’m Johan, 28 years of age and work in IT. I’m responsible for managing the services team and for managing everything surrounding our ISO and other certificates. 

However, before I started working in IT I studied Urban Design at the Breda University of Applied Sciences (or NHTV for the Dutch readers). I choose urban design because I love designing places and telling the stories of those places. It’s something both urban designers and theme park designers do. During my school days I spent a lot of time designing roller coasters and dark rides in games such as RollerCoaster Tycoon (all three of them, I still play the second a lot) and NoLimits Coaster Simulation. I even managed to win the very first NoLimits Coaster Roundup 100 with a semi-dark ride (De Vliegende Hollander). 

To me a good story is one that is told through design. Take some of the older dark rides in the mayor theme parks for example. There is no need for dialog or a narrated story, there is just good design. That’s why I love older dark rides such as Phantom Manor and Fata Morgana, they tell a story through their design.

My job on the Dark Ride Database is mainly a technical one. I’ve built the current website and I am responsible for the design of our webpages. I also help out with the editorial part of the site but I tend to keep to the sidelines when it comes to the content. Erik and Luc are more than capable enough for that. I hope you will all love this site as much as I do by now. If you have any questions for me feel free to mail me at [email protected].

Erik

Hi, my name is Erik, 30 years old, and currently working in a University Medical Center in The Netherlands. I’m a mechanical engineer and together with a team of specialists we work on equipment for MRI machines. You know, those big magnet scanners. Every day we try to improve the quality of the images by designing new solutions for each problem.

When I was young I saw a documentary on Discovery Channel on the biggest rollercoasters in the world. It caught my attention. It created not only an interest in roller coasters, but also my interest in engineering. I joined online theme park communities and even got jobs in nearby theme parks Duinrell and Drievliet. When I got older, I got more possibilities to travel to theme parks and have now been all over Europe to pretty much every big park (few exceptions, but I’ll get there).

While the big roller coasters are probably still the highlight of a day in a theme park, my interest has also shifted a lot towards the immersive rides in theme parks, such as dark rides and show rides. That’s why I love working on this website. I have a special interest for the show rides actually. They usually rely more on storytelling then a dark ride and include pre-shows. That makes the storytelling often more clear than those of dark rides.

My occupation on the Dark Ride Database is editor. Together with Luc, we’re keeping track of all the information on the website. We write news articles and coordinate (and sometimes write) specials. So, that’s it for now. If you have any other questions for me, feel free to e-mail me on [email protected]

Luc

Hi there, nice to see that you are visiting our website and interested in reading the Making Of!

My name is Luc, 26 years old, living in The Netherlands, and obviously I am fan of theme parks. I have been fan since 2007, when we had a small school project on building roller coasters in NoLimits. Apart from that two major coasters opened in The Netherlands in 2007: Vliegende Hollander (Efteling) which came with a very interesting making of-video and Troy (Toverland), still my favorite coaster in my home country. These things together started my interest in theme parks, and community fan sites made sure that the interest remained.

In daily life I am a landscape architect, which means that I design practically everything that is outdoor: parks, squares, streets, etc. I work at a major engineering company where I generally look at the design of highways, tunnels and other infrastructure projects from a landscape point of view. Seeing different parts of a design falling together is where my interest lies; I can do that in my work, but it also encourages my interest in dark rides. After all, this type of ride is particularly one in which various aspects should melt together. The way in which a ride system, decorations, animatronics and multimedia come together in order to create an immersive experience is what makes a dark ride special to me.

Together with Erik I am an editor for DRdb, and I tend to look into the graphics of the site – things like photos and that logo you find in the upper-left corner. Erik and I spent quite some time on finding as much information as we could, but if you have additions feel free to submit them! And for personal questions you can contact me via [email protected]. Have fun visiting our website!

September 2019

Over the last few years, we visited a lot of theme parks together, usually with even a bigger group of friends. The dark rides that we rode during these trips usually turned out as one of the highlights of the day. But while we usually exactly knew what to expect from the rollercoasters in the park, we never quite knew what to expect of the dark rides. This was often discussed within our group of friends. Many websites are dedicated to roller coasters, such as Roller Coaster Database and Coast2Coaster, but there wasn’t any for dark rides. 

We played with the thought of starting a website for quite some time and Johan actually already bought the domain months earlier. However, the discussion reached its tilting point in September when Johan and Erik decided to go for it and develop this website. Luc joined right away and the team started working on the website.

Finding ride data

After the decision to start building the website, we started to collect all kinds of data on the rides in our database. First thing to do was to make an overview of all rides in Europe. We did that in an Excel sheet. We tried to put in as much information as possible; think of opening year, manufacturer and capacity. Dark rides are normally not just made by one company.  There is generally a manufacturer involved for the ride system, another for the decorations, sometimes someone for multimedia and one of them (or someone else) has the overview of the total ride design. So we had to expand our information list quite rapidly. Besides information, we also needed photos of the ride.

Screenshot of the original Excel sheet

According to Erik: “When we made the decision to build this website, I just got back from a trip to Italy. That was quite a shame, because I did not make a lot of pictures of the dark rides during that trip. Hopefully our new members will add pictures from the Italian dark rides!”
But luckily, the European theme park season was not over just yet. From that point on, during all trips to theme parks we took special care to photograph the dark rides. Erik: “The first dark ride I encountered was a couple days later: Griezelbos in Amusementspark Tivoli. I took some pictures of the exterior and the interior. However, the cars drove to quickly, all the interior photos I got were not suitable for the website.”
Luc adds: “I was just on holiday in Spain when Erik text messaged me to take pictures of every dark ride I came across. I love making pictures, when we visit parks together the others generally don’t take pictures anymore since I am already occupied with that. So it was not a challenge for me to photograph all dark rides I came across in Spain, of which you can see the result in the database right now.”

One of Luc’s pictures of Sesame Street – Street Mission in PortAventura

Some dark rides are easy to find. As theme park fans we know the major parks in Europe and at least heard of their dark rides. However, the search does not stop there.

“There are really a lot of small parks,” Luc explains. “In The Netherlands we know them, as it is our home country, but all small ‘freizeitparks’ in Germany or pier parks in the United Kingdom? No way we knew all of these! So we looked around on internet, used sites like Coast2Coaster.com and Rcdb.com to find small theme parks. When we found a park we took a look at their website and started looking up Wikipedia pages (in every imaginable language) to check whether the park included a dark ride. When you search further for information you come across websites and fan sites you never knew existed. Some smaller theme parks, like the French park Fraispertuis City (about 350.000 visitors per year) have their own fansites, with a lot of information on every ride, in this case the interactive theater.”

“Apart from looking via parks we also looked for rides via the websites of manufacturers,” Erik adds. “This brought us to rides like Vulcans Sacrés in Vulcania, a French museum on volcanoes which we found via the portfolio of Jora Vision. On a Wikipedia page we found out about an ETF ride called Time Warp Theater in Continium Discovery Center (Kerkrade, The Netherlands).”

Time Warp Theater in Continium Discovery Center

For the rides in the United Kingdom, we got some help from an unexpected source. Two members of Dutch theme park website Pretpark.club, Jim and Quintus, posted a list of all dark rides in the UK. According to them for anyone that might be interested. Since we hadn’t come to look up the UK yet, we were obviously very interested. We got in touch with them and they told us they also had the idea of a database for dark rides. After some more talking we figured out that we were quite some steps ahead of them with our website. “Quintus likes to do desk research on rides and I really like to write about the obscure facts and specials,” says Jim. From that moment we started talking with them to create a special reporters crew. Jim and Quintus will write a special for the DRdb from time to time. Their first special is scheduled to be published next month.

Building the website

During the first discussions about the look and feel of the site the Roller Coaster Database (Rcdb) was mentioned a lot. “That site is a pure bliss when it comes to databases. It’s complete, fast and has many ways of finding the right information”, says Johan. However, we wanted to be more than just a database. The site needs space for news, specials and it needs to be fun to browse and look around. Because of this we wanted something different than the Rcdb.

After some research we opted to use WordPress in combination with a listing theme, mylisting. The reason for this is twofold. First of all WordPress is very accessible and while we are very capable, building something completely from scratch was not something we wanted to do. Second, the structure of mylisting fitted into our views very well. It left enough room for customization while also offering a very robust search system. 

One aspect that is very important to us is having the forum available. While we are not directly aiming at being a community such as Theme Park Review we want to have space to discuss the site and the rides on it. During the development we used a separate forum running on PHPBB. At first we planned to use this forum for the finished site, but during development we found out that there were too many risks involved, both technical and policy wise. For that reason we implemented WPforo two weeks ago. It was a late move, but we wanted the site to be ready on the opening. 

Defining the rides

One of the things we have discussed several times are the definitions of the rides. When is a dark ride a dark ride and when will it count as a semi-dark ride? And for semi-dark rides, when would it count as one?

The first thing we defined was of course the dark ride: ‘The definition of a dark ride is a ride that contains a transportation system that takes its riders through a building where a variety of scenes are displayed.’ Soon we found out that this definition is not applicable on every ride. Many ghost trains or a dark ride like It’s A Small World (Disneyland Paris, France) have their stations outside the building, but we still consider them a dark ride. It’s a small exception to the rule. Main criteria for this exception is that no element of the ride may take part outside. This includes scenery, storytelling (though, excluding a pre-show if there is one) and track based elements such as drops and splashes (in roller coasters or boat rides). Downside to this rule is that the oldest entry in the database, River Caves (Blackpool Pleasure Beach, UK) counts as a semi-dark ride. “I really wanted River Caves to count as a full dark ride, but we have to follow our own rules to prevent a lot of discussions on other rides”, says Erik.

River Caves has a splash element outside of the building and was therefore categorized as a semi-dark ride.

The second large discussion was obviously held over semi-dark rides. When does a ride count as a semi-dark ride? The main thing we wanted to prevent was that every car or train ride that enters a tunnel at some point would count as a semi-dark ride, even if there was some sort of scenery inside that tunnel. This was done by adding the rule that a semi-dark ride should contain at least two different enclosed scenes. Unfortunately, this excluded fantastic themed rides such as Baron 1898 (Efteling, The Netherlands) and Chiapas (Phantasialand, Germany), but again, we need to follow our own rules.

With the semi-dark ride rules, we came across a new problem: what defines a scene? We wanted to exclude indoor rollercoasters that do not feature real scenes. Vogel Rok (Efteling, The Netherlands) for instance, does not feature such a scene. There are some attributes along the track, but it lacks a real scene. We defined a scene by 4 characteristics:

– A scene tries to tell you a story or part of a story.
– A scene has its own room inside the building. The walls of the room are decorated according to the scene.
– A scene has moving objects or projections.
– A scene contains sound effects and/or a soundtrack.

Not every dark ride scene will contain all 4 characteristics, but usually a dark ride contains all four at some point. The attributes along the track of Vogel Rok do not have their own room inside the building, nor moving objects. Therefore, it is not a dark ride.

The Vogel Rok roller coaster does not qualify as a dark ride.

Final discussion: Show Rides. From the start of this database, we wanted to add a couple rides that are often compared with dark rides, but in theory are not. Rides like madhouses, motion simulators and flying theatres are usually highly immersive and comparable to dark rides. They very much rely on storytelling and that is what interests us. We decided to create a third category for them and named this category ‘Show Rides’. 

We defined show rides as ‘Rides that are completely enclosed, but do not feature a transportation system. Instead, they focus on a certain type of show (that varies between types) and tell a story.’ Main criterion is that there should be a ride system present. With this definition, we also added 3D movie theatres that contain moving seats and interactive theatres. At first, the database contained all 3D movies, but after more discussion, all 3D theatres without movement in the seats were taken off the website.

Time Riders in Movie Park Germany is a typical show ride.

And with that, we have most of our definitions taken care of. We know however that a lot of rides will still be discussed and the line between a dark ride, semi-dark ride or no entry is not always black and white. Discussions on rides can be held in our community.

First announcement and feedback

The first announcement for the website was made on February 11th, when we placed our first part of the making of previews. The article explained what the purpose of this website was going to be and gave a short preview of the website for both PC and mobile devices. 

From that point on we received a lot of feedback and suggestions from the theme park fan community. We took a lot of advice on the interface of the website and made sure that it would be easy for our users to upload information to the database. Another thing we did was take another closer look on our definition of VR simulators and 3D films. This resulted in a rule for movement in the chairs for 3D films, but also for more storytelling in a VR simulator. This last rule was made because nowadays it is very easy to have a VR-arcade-like game or short experience. We would like to stick to the immersive experience of the ride, something that a 3D theater with moving seats will provide in our opinion.

Derren Brown’s Ghost Train in Thorpe Park (United Kingdom) is a highly immersive VR-simulator

Over the next two months, we released several making of previews and took all the feedback we could get. The result is the website that you are visiting now.

Opening

1st of April 2020, 08:00 (GTM+1). The official opening of our website. We tried to gather all information we could find. We tried to think of everything for the website. But of course you, our users, will know much more than us. So please, look around on our website and help us to complete our database. If you see that we missed a certain ride, make a new listing. If you know some facts about rides that we couldn’t find, please add them. Our editors team will review your additions and put them on our website.

We hope that the start of this website is more than that. We hope it is the start of a wonderful community. For now, as you have probably seen, the website just focuses on rides in Europe and only existing rides. In the future we would like to add an archive of rides that have been torn down and of course the addition of North America and the rest of the world. Hopefully you can help us with those additions too.

We hope you have a nice time browsing our website and be sure to check our website more often. We will keep you updated with all the news on dark rides and we will release a new special about rides or manufacturers every once in a while.

Have fun!
Team DRdb.