by Richard Prior
The image of the traditional museum includes halls filled with paintings, statues and busts on pedestals, display cases of artifacts and relics and visitors speaking in hushed tones.
So, how do children firing laser guns at cartoonish figures with green slime oozing out of their oversized nostrils fit into that setting?
Just perfectly, said John Wood, CEO of Sally Corp.
“Body Battles is a great example of making learning fun,” said Wood. “You’ve seen the traveling exhibits of the dinosaurs, the big bugs. They’re always there to create a buzz about the museum.
“The normal exhibits are difficult to create that buzz with. So the new stuff has to come in. This is one of those buzz exhibits. This has a lot of sizzle.”
Body Battles is an interactive laser game that teaches players about a healthy body’s struggles with illnesses.
It was designed by Bruce D. Robinson Museum Design in Cincinnati. Sally Corp. provided the characters and the animatronics that bring them to life. Design Craftsmen, from the Detroit area, was responsible for putting the display together at Nashville’s Adventure Science Center.
The $1.3 million, 3,500 square-foot exhibit opened July 3.
The Center first contacted Robinson, whose involvement with Sally Corp. projects goes back 20 years.
“He is an architect that worked with the Paramount Parks Group for the first part of his career,” said Wood. “He told us about this opportunity to create a fun, educational game in the style of the interactive dark ride attractions we’ve been doing.”
Known as The Great American Dark Ride Company, Sally creates animatronic figures and interactive rides, arming visitors with laser guns to ward off evil creatures and score points.
“We’re really excited about this because it expands our techniques into the science museum field,” said Wood. “We really believe that museums need more of this. Those types of museums are constantly needing fun ways to educate.”
Going to the museum is not necessarily every child’s idea of a good time. The reaction in Nashville has already begun to change those attitudes, said Amy Vineyard, the Center’s marketing director.
“Our visitors get really involved in it — visitors from 3 years old all the way up to 103,” she said. “I love it, adults love it, children love it.
“The game is just phenomenal. The noises and the lights and the characters are just outstanding.”
Body Battles is one part of the Center’s “health odyssey” titled BodyQuest, which includes the Wind Pipe and The Amazing Aging Machine. Visitors are invited to step inside the Wind Pipe and explore the throat, windpipe and lungs in an oversized model of the respiratory system.
The Amazing Aging Machine instantly turns 12-year-olds into 70-year-olds, showing how health choices affect the aging process.
“What BodyQuest does is weave together body systems, healthy choices and health careers,” said Vineyard. “There are lots of interactive games and all kinds of different exhibits about the human body.”
Teams of six players compete in the black-light environment of Body Battles, spurred on by Lt. Lymphocyte (the good guy) and Private Pathogen (the bad guy), “who become the cheerleaders who coax you on,” said Wood.
The dominant component is a soaring thermometer, with a mercury stream that rises and falls, depending on the health of the “patient.”
“Actually, there were a lot of challenges that went with this,” Wood said. “Unlike a ride, where you’re going to go through an environment and kind of pick your targets, these people were staying still. And there were more people playing than what we would typically have.
“So we took a game play area and filled it up with really cool graphic renditions of your fingers, your mouth, your lungs, your skin, your hair in a Nickelodeon-style graphic. It’s very much in today’s style of graphics for kids.”
Robinson’s belief in the edutainment appeal of Body Battles was born out on opening night as he played the game with the vice mayor of Nashville and his 4-year-old granddaughter.
The little girl could hardly hit the targets with her laser, but, when she did, and a score of 250 came up, “She went nuts,” said Robinson. “She was ecstatic . . . absolutely beside herself with excitement.
“Her reaction underscored our belief that Body Battles is a wonderful combination of experiences for any age.”
Wood’s own electronics supervisor, John Stegall, got to see a dozen 7- to 15-year-olds playing the game while he was on vacation.
“They pick up the guns, and the characters starting talking with them, getting ready to play,” said Stegall. “They’re just having a ball doing it.
“There’s an excitement phase, then they kind of wind down a little bit. Then you’ll see them going into the next phase. The last one, everything gets turned on, and it’s everbody shooting and having a great time.”
Intuition told everyone involved in the project that Body Battles would be popular, which is why the Center asked for, and was given, a one-year exclusive.
“We definitely think it has legs,” said Wood. “It has the ability to be picked up by quite a few museums.
“It’s provided all the energy that these guys expected and the reliability they expect from us. They’ve indicated they will be working with us on other projects very soon.”