The Tech Behind Super Nintendo World’s Power Up Bands and Interactive Games

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Last month Universal Parks revealed the new wearable tech that will allow us to interact with and play in Super Nintendo World. When worn, the Power Up Bands will allow guests to punch question blocks to redeem coins, play mini-games around the land, and even team up in boss battles.

Universal has filed several patents in recent years for interactive gaming systems and tracking devices that seem to explain how the Power Up Bands—and the interactive games themselves—will work when the new land opens at Universal Studios Japan this summer, and other Universal Parks in the following years. Let’s dive into these patents, as well some official information and rumors, to try and piece together how the Power Up Bands will let us play a video game in real life. (Check out the video below for additional visuals.)

About the Power Up Bands

In addition to the rides, dining, and shopping opportunities that will open with Super Nintendo World, guests will have the option to purchase a Power Up Band to participate in interactive elements located throughout the land. Similar to the way you can purchase an interactive wand to add to your experience in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Power Up Bands will be entirely optional, and will not be required to experience the main attractions in Super Nintendo World.

Purchasing a Power Up Band will open up additional experiences including mini-games, interactive elements, score-keeping, and even a multi-player experience after you’ve earned enough points. Universal revealed six unique designs for these colorful wristbands during a recent press event in Japan. While a price was not announced, it is assumed that these bands will be available for purchase inside of Super Nintendo World, and it is certainly possible that additional styles may be released over time.

Power Up Band designs shown in promotional image (Source)

The Power Up Bands will work in conjunction with an app you will need to download to your mobile device. The app will keep track of your score, as well as other achievements earned by playing mini-games and collecting “keys” or “stamps” throughout the interactive areas. The app will apparently also display an interactive map of the land to help you locate achievements you have yet to earn.

According to rumors, as well as what little information was confirmed during the media event, it sounds like we will only be able to experience the multi-player segment, refered to as the “boss battle,” after completing a certain number of tasks. “By collecting a certain number of digital keys, guests can cooperate with other guests who also have keys to unlock additional gameplay opportunities, including Boss Battles against various enemy characters.”

Guests will be able to use the app to locate interactive collectibles (Source)

Power Up Bands in the Patents

Thierry Coup, the Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Universal Creative, said, “Think of SUPER NINTENDO WORLD as a life-size, living video game where you become one of the characters. You’re not just playing the game; you’re living the game, you’re living the adventure.”

Universal has filed several patents for technology centered around creating interactive experiences and gaming elements for a theme park land. One of the patents is specifically about how a tracking device could be worn on the wrist to communicate with technology integrated into a land.

Patent showing verification method using an interactive wristband (Source)

“Interactive systems and methods with tracking devices” as it is called, talks about a wearable device that includes a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag. This wearable device would be able to transmit unique identification information to sensors to help differentiate it from other users’ wearable devices in the area.

A large part of this particular patent is about ensuring that users are in fact wearing a real Power Up Band and are not attempting to cheat the system. There are multiple methods described that could be used to verify that a guest’s interaction with an element is authentic. One of the methods would involve sensors or cameras that verify the presence of a wristband coupled with the RFID transmitting a unique identifying code.

Patent showing multiple users interactive utilizing different methods (Source)

The most interesting aspects of the patent are the images that were submitted along with it. Most show multiple users pressing a wearable wristband to a cube of some sort, similar to the large question mark blocks we saw recently in promotional footage. The patent describes a way to signify to the user that they have successfully interacted, such as an LED light that illuminates on the wristband. Instead of a light on the wristband, it appears that the cubes themselves light up to show that they have been redeemed, along with a sound effect.

Interactive block lights up and makes a sound when you collect coins (Source)

Another possible feature of the wristband, according to the patent, would be a motion sensor, such as an accelerometer. This would allow the wristband to track a user’s movements, like “touching a target, dancing, waving, jabbing, or various other gestures.” It was explained in the official press release from Universal that “Guests will be able to have interactive experiences throughout the land, making use of their arms, hands, and entire bodies as they explore, making them feel like they are truly in a video game.”

So, while I compare the Power Up Bands to the interactive wands in The Wizarding World, it sounds like this technology will be a little more involved.

Patent for integrating gaming elements in a theme park environment (Source)

Interactive Gaming in the Patents

Another patent that was filed in 2018 talks about the overall concept of integrating gaming systems into a theme park land. This interactive gaming system would keep track of individual user scores throughout multiple rounds of play, and allow them to compete with other users in a higher level, but only after certain criteria is met. In other words, rather than letting users skip right to the final round of play, or “boss battles” as Universal has referred to it, you must first complete other tasks around the land.

The patent describes how dynamic user profiles can be stored in a database, and how users can be automatically separated into groups to play in team-based games based on how many points they’ve earned or challenges they’ve completed. It also talks about how you can work with a team in an early round, and then your team could face off against another team in the next round. Scores for teams and scores for the individual user would be kept and stored in a user’s dynamic profile, so how well you do in a group challenge would not only affect your team’s chance of winning, but also how many points you earn yourself.

Multiple users work as a team to get to the final level and compete against other teams (Source)

This patent also describes examples of what types of experiences could be included in an interactive gaming system. One of the examples involves users pressing specific buttons or inputs that correspond to solve a puzzle on a screen.

One of the interactive experiences rumored for the land is based on the “Lucky House” slot machine game as seen in Super Mario 3D World. This game could have us pulling a lever, or even punching each block to stop its display from spinning, just like in the game. It could even be played with multiple users working together to match the slot machine-style icons. Your individual prize or score would then be sent to your user profile on the app.

Example interactive gaming element utilizing screens to create a puzzle challenge (Source)

Another variation of an interactive experience in the patent utilizes an animatronic figure. Haptic sensors could be used to receive tactile user inputs, such as light taps, palm touches, or other contact from the users. Working alone or as a group, depending on the game scenario, you could work to defeat the animatronic figure character within an allotted time limit. Once again, your score would be recorded to your user profile.

Illustration of how users or a team could interact with an animated figure to complete a challenge (Source)

The rumored final boss battle for Super Nintendo World is said to be Bowser Jr. After completing the required prior rounds and collecting enough digital keys, players will be able to reportedly face Bowser Jr together. This patent describes how access to something like that would work, stating “…the winners may scan their user-associated device at the entrance of the game finale to gain access to the game finale.”

While this patent describes an overall system for integrating gaming elements into a theme park land, as well as a couple game examples, there are still a couple more patents that go into more detail on possible games. They describe concepts for possible mini-games that we might see in Super Nintendo World.

Another patent shows how sensors could display a virtual representation of the user (Source)

Patents for an Augmented Reality Experience

Two patents filed by Universal in 2018 and 2017 demonstrate how mixed reality could use sensors to show a virtual representation of a player or players on a screen that matches their movements. Similar technologies are being utilized in other theme park attractions, including The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash opening soon at Universal Studios Hollywood, but in this context it would be used in an interactive video game.

The patents describe how sensors would scan players in the area, and at least one display device would display a virtual representation associated with the player. The user’s motions could be matched by their on-screen counterparts and to earn points they might need to move in certain ways or accomplish specific patterns of movement.

Users play in either a 3-dimensional or 2-dimensional play area (Source)

By performing actions in a three-dimensional play area the users could work together to accomplish a goal. Or, a more simplified, two-dimensional play area, where sensors can only see a limited range of motion, could also be used. The users’ virtual representations could be displayed as other characters or animals, according to one of the patents. And specific gestures could be used to trigger broad movements on screen, or even to unlock special moves, like seen in a video game.

From the patent: “For example, in an embodiment in which a virtual representation, such as a particular video game character, has particular enhanced abilities (e.g., an ability to jump extremely high, an ability to swim extremely fast, an ability to fly), then certain player movements or poses (e.g., a small hopping motion, a swim stroke through the air, a flapping motion) may be detected and may trigger these enhanced abilities in the virtual representations of the players.”

Gestures create your virtual character’s movements like jumping high and more (Source)

The patent goes on to explain alternative display possibilities, including animatronic figures, (or other non-virtual representations,) that would move to simulate the users’ motion, rather than displaying characters on a screen. And, in addition to recording the body movements of the users, additional controls could be provided on an interface panel, such as cranks, wheels, buttons, sliders, and blocks. Audio devices, like speakers, horns, sirens, and so forth, would be used to alert each player of their progress.

As if visual and audio stimuli weren’t enough, the patent also describes possible physical effects that could be incorporated into this interactive video game experience. Bursts of warm or cold air or mist from compressed air lines could be incorporated. The examples the text gives are a blast of cold air when the user is using a motion to throw a snowball, or a blast of warm air when the user is throwing a fireball in the game.

Images for your avatar growing/shrinking and example of hot/cold stimuli based on activity (Source)

A fireball reference already sounds a lot like a Nintendo game, but the patent also describes how your virtual representation may discover a power-up that allows it to grow in size, just like you would after collecting a super mushroom in a Mario game. It also includes this interesting detail on how your virtual avatar could be selected: “…if the game involves a larger hero and a smaller sidekick, the interactive video game system may select or recommend from the pre-generated library a relatively larger hero virtual representation for an adult player and a relatively smaller sidekick virtual representation for a child player.”

With all of these possible concepts in mind, we can image an interactive game where multiple players are exploring an area together, and then come to a point where they must use power-ups like the fireflower to hurl fireballs at a shared enemy. Your team must work together to defeat the bad-guy, while your independent scores are being recorded. This could be describing the boss battle finale where you have to face off against a foe like Bowser Jr.

Official concept art for Super Nintendo World

While these patents may describe some of the methods for how guests will be able use the Power Up Bands inside of Super Nintendo World, they likely aren’t conveying just how much there will be to discover while exploring the land. Things like collecting coins, defeating bad guys, playing mini-games, and working together in boss battles may only be part of the full experience.

We should know more as we get closer to the first official opening of Super Nintendo World in Universal Studios Japan this summer. The second version of Super Nintendo World is expected to open at Universal Studios Hollywood next year in 2021. Orlando’s Super Nintendo World will open with the new Epic Universe park, expected in 2023. And finally, Universal Studios Singapore will get their version of the land by 2025.

Thierry Coup demonstrating the app and Power Up Band (Source)

Check out our previous story about the Power Up Bands, and see our article all about the Mario Kart ride if you’re curious about what that ride may be like. Be sure to subscribe to our news feed or enter your email address below to never miss an update as we continue our coverage of Super Nintendo World and Epic Universe!

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Stay tuned for continuing updates on Super Nintendo World. Subscribe to the news feed or enter your email below to never miss an update. Patent Images: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office | Official Photos: Universal Studios Japan

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