Themed Entertainment Engineer

-Five Nights at Freddy's - The Dark Ride-

Project Overview

Five Nights at Freddy's - The Dark Ride is a 4.5 minute long 4D Dark Ride based on the "Five Nights at Freddy's" IP in a CAVE environment with a pneumatic actuated motion base floor, haptic vests, fans, DMX lighting, and immersive sound. I worked on a multidisciplinary team of 3 to take this dark ride from concept, development, and ultimately showcasing at the Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center Fall Festival for 132 riders + hundreds of observers over the course of 4 hours. This was created as a semester-long project for Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center's Dark Ride Design course.

My contributions to the project included concept and experience design, programming effects (floor movements corresponding to digital visuals, speed of motion on digital track, fans turning on and off, physical and digital lighting, sound effects, and haptic vests), and being the primary point person for running the attraction at the Fall Festival. I also made contributions to the art in creating the intro screen and credits screen, sourcing assets for us to use, and constructing some parts of the environment including floors and walls.


Concept Design

It was originally my idea to design our dark ride around "Five Nights at Freddy's." Many attractions in modern theme parks are tied to intellectual property (IP), so I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about respectfully working with existing characters and stories. Additionally, this was around the time of the "Five Nights at Freddy's" movie coming out, so our team saw it as a great chance to link our experience with a big moment in the entertainment industry and popular culture to create something that we knew our audiences would be excited to experience as well as serve as promotion for the movie. 

One challenge of using an existing IP was in creating an experience that was still recognizably "Five Nights at Freddy's" and didn't stray too far from the established universe, but still gave guests a unique experience they couldn't get from the existing video games. After careful consideration, we chose to incorporate only existing characters and give riders a familiar role as a security guard exploring Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, but we added new layers of immersion including floor motion, fans, physical lighting, sound effects, and haptic vests in our final experience.

Experience Design

One question we faced in our experience design process was how interactive did we want our experience to be? We had several interactive technologies potentially available to us: motion floor, fans, physical lighting, CAVE screens, 2D and 3D visuals, air mice, foot brake pedals and hand brake, joysticks, buttons, haptic vests, etc.

Existing CAVE setup with motion floor

In our first iteration of the experience design, we wanted our dark ride to be more interactive and use technologies like the joysticks and brakes to control speed of the ride vehicle on the screen, buttons to control a flashlight, and buttons to control a horn. We also wanted to have 3D visuals on the CAVE screens for the jump scares. In the end, we decided to move away from some of these interactive features. We found that they were distracting from the story we wanted to tell, confusing for guests in playtesting, and felt disconnected from the original Five Nights at Freddy's stories and the activities that one would normally perform in the games. Additionally, this was the first time that this course was offered and the first time that these technologies were being implemented in the CAVE. The original number of interactions and technologies was out of scope for only one semester of work. 

Our original experience map (created as a team) including what we expect the guest to be doing, seeing, and thinking at each of the floor motion, fans, physical lighting, and haptic vests in our final experience.stages of the experience

Another early experience map (created as a team) including project goals, experience goals, emotional arc, and specific plans for what facilitators and guests would do during the experience.

In the end, we chose to include floor motion, fans, physical lighting, and haptic vests in our final experience. Our final experience did end up following a similar story and experience arc for the guests as our original plan. Guests would serve as the new security guards at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. Everything would seem normal at first as they explore the pizzeria, but then the characters would come alive, guests would experience jump scares, and the guests would need to escape!

Another interesting challenge of our design was that we were working with a pre-existing track in Unity, so we needed to design our story beats and environments to fit around the existing curves, turns, and drops.

A map created by our team of the existing track and our plans for the locations of the different environments we wanted to create.

Unity Triggers Programming

I programmed triggers in Unity for pneumatic floor motion, speed, fans, physical and digital lighting, and sound effects. All triggers in the project were color coded (ex: red for floor movement, blue for fans) for easy reference.

Pneumatic Floor Motion and Speed Programming

I programmed all of the floor motion and speed triggers for the experience in Unity. I added different pitch and bank motions throughout the track so that the physical motion of the floor would match the existing digital track. I also added speed triggers throughout the digital track that would speed up or down the motion of the car in the digital scene and in the physical space to appropriately match the environment and story beats. This was a challenging part of the project to get all of the motions just right and matching with the digital scene.

Floor triggers

Speed triggers

Fan Programming

I helped to install 3 fans in front of the physical seats. I programmed triggers in Unity for the fans to turn on and off at different parts of the experience to give guests a better sense of true motion and speed. It took several iterations to get the fan experience just right physically. I tested different fan speeds, different numbers of fans, and different configurations of fans on the car.

Fan triggers

Digital and Physical Lighting

I programmed triggers in Unity so that physical DMX lights in the environment would match the lighting in the digital environment.

Sound Effects

I sourced all sound effects for the experience. I pulled many sound effects and music directly from the video games and film to tie the experience into the existing universe. I programmed sound effect triggers in Unity so these sounds would go off at a certain point in the experience.

Sound effect triggers

Haptic Vests

I also worked to incorporate haptic vests into our experience. The sound was fed directly into the haptic vests and vibrations would occur at moments of intense sound or deep bass. This helped boost the immersion for our guests!

CMU ETC Fall Festival

We showcased our project at the December 2023 Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center Fall Festival for 132 riders + hundreds of observers. My two teammates had other committments during the festival, so I was the primary point person running our experience for the night. I welcomed riders into their seats and vests and welcomed observers to stand in the back of the room, gave an introduction spiel, and launched the ride. I also gave participants a physical "paycheck" at the end for their great work as security guards!

I created this poster for the festival to advertise our experience and also give a safety warning to guests of what to expect

I wrote an introduction script and planned docent instructions for the festival

Our team!

Guests putting their arms up like they are on a real roller coaster!

Our room was constantly packed with people wanting to ride and observe

Guests excitedly filming our experience to share with their friends

Overall, guests loved the experience! Here are some quotes from guests at the festival:

“Best use of the CAVE I’ve seen. The motions of the floor and coordination with the visuals and fan are amazing.”

“That was genuinely one of the best experiences of the entire festival. It was really impressive."

We even had several guests come back to ride multiple times!

There were a few technical issues like the signal to the physical lights would disconnect occasionally and people would sometimes get caught up in the cords for the haptic vests, but overall, it was a very successful showcase!

Final Product



508-404-3168  |  |  Pittsburgh, PA  |