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May 30, 2006
By David Cohn/Also by this reporter 02:00 AM May, 30, 2006
NEW YORK -- Mario can jump four times his height, and soon so could you.
The Nintendo Amusement Park is a project by three New York University students who want to create a life-size obstacle course based on Super Mario Bros. that lets players strap into a bungee system to jump 12 feet in the air, smash Goombas, collect coins and snag magic mushrooms, just like in the classic video game.
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The game is a product of NYU's Big Games class, which was responsible for PacManhattan, a re-creation of Pac-Man on the streets of New York. The Nintendo Amusement Park is an obstacle course navigated with a "power-assist harness" that gives players the superhuman abilities of video-game characters.
"We started off with the idea of making a real-life duplicate of the game," said Noah Shibley, one of the amusement park's creators.
In this first, homemade step, the project consists of a 40-foot-high motorized truss, bungee cords and a military harness to enhance players' jumping power. Once outfitted with a Mario or Luigi costume, players can pop yellow balloon "coins," punch a power-up box 15 feet above their head or avoid a Bob-omb that is chasing them. Meanwhile, sound effects sync up with their movements to add to the Super Mario Bros. feel.
The game is a lot of fun and a serious workout. While I wasn't in physical pain, it felt like I'd run a couple of miles. Once you get the hang of the bouncing motion, it's a blast. At the height of a jump you get a weightless feeling, like a roller coaster about to descend. It's challenging and a bit frustrating -- in the same way video games can be. Some obvious problems arose when testing of the makeshift project began last week at the Streb Labratory for Action Mechanics in Brooklyn. The uncomfortable military harness is attached to a spot on the ceiling, eliminating forward mobility. And jumping 12 feet in the air presents an element of danger.
"I think it's really cool if they could build it to scale so you can run through an entire course," said Robin Kawakami while catching her breath after trying the apparatus.
While the students who built the contraption admit it's a crude first step, all are inspired by their ultimate vision of a 100-meter-long obstacle course where a "haptic winch" utilizing predetermined algorithms will instantly react to a player's movements and boost their physical abilities accordingly.
"We could actually load video-game physics models into this winch and put them in the real world," said Dan Albritton, one of the NYU students. "Once you have (the haptic winch) built, you can repurpose it for anything you want. You can have Excite Bike, a crazy Tony Hawk game, anything you want."
Right now, the Nintendo Amusement Park is an obvious copyright infringement. The students say they are paying homage to the game company that inspired them, and hope Nintendo will eventually team with them to develop an advanced version of their "augmented-reality" game.
"We don't want to make money off their name, but we want to get Nintendo's attention," said Albritton. "Nintendo with their game design and Disney with their ride engineering, those are the types of groups we can smash together to make this haptic winch real."
Kevin Slavin, managing director of area code, a company that tried out the students' prototype, said the students' ideas were bold and adventurous.
"There is no longer any moon to put people on," he said. "The spaces that we have left to explore are fantasy spaces and the question is, 'How do we explore them physically?'"