High above International Drive, Wet ‘n Wild patrons prepare to slide down the water park’s newly revamped Black Hole attraction. Along its 500-foot plummet, they might encounter strobes, lasers, a shimmering water wall and sudden changes in temperature before splashing down.

But even if those riders immediately return to the top, they’re not likely to have the same experience. That’s because the ride’s special effects now occur in random sequences, one of the newest techniques used by theme parks and attractions to lure customers back for a second — or third — round.

“Theme parks have figured out that the real money is in the repeat visitors — getting people to come back and do the ride again and again,” said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, a Web site devoted to theme parks. “The way to do that is either create something that’s just so incredible and amazing that people can’t ever get enough of it — or change it around so that it’s different next time,” he said.

The forerunner of the ever-changing rides is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Built in 1994, it entered multiple-personality mode five years ago when random sequencing was introduced to its 13-story plunges.Variable factors include ride time, drop length and air time. Since then, advances in technology have encouraged theme-park companies to create more attractions with user options and fluid features.

At the Wet ‘n Wild ride — now called The Black Hole: The Next Generation — riders select one of two slides, each with different effects and sequences. Technology developed since Black Hole debuted 10 years ago can help keep it fresh, said David Wright, director of marketing for the park. “We have the ability to continually program the lights and the effects,” he said. “We could change the sequencing [again].”

Toy Story Mania, a computerized shooting-gallery-style attraction now in previews at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, was designed with repeat business in mind, said Imagineer Chrissie Allen, a producer for the ride.In the new 3-D ride, players launch virtual objects (darts, baseballs, cream pies) toward targets that appear on screens. It makes guests feel as though they’ve been shrunk to toy size to play five pint-sized arcade games.

The scoring system appears, but a video-game staple known as Easter eggs — hidden or secret bonus targets — can catapult a player’s score. “You’ll discover things each time you play,” Allen said. “It gives you a higher level of challenge each time you come back and play. We have team members who haven’t found all of them yet, and they’ve been riding hundreds of times,” she said. “We think that’s going to be a really big selling point for the ride.”

“The way we amuse ourselves is in flux”, said Niles of Theme Park Insider. “The consumer-entertainment model has changed over the past generation from passive entertainment such as movies and TV to more active entertainment like video games and the Web,” he said. “So it makes sense that the theme-park industry would react to that and start introducing rides that incorporate a little bit more active technology.”

Universal Studios will tap into the trend of personalized entertainment with a roller coaster set to open next spring. Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit will feature traditional hills and spills but also permit riders to pick their own soundtracks and create music videos of the experience. They’ll be able to download those videos for use on their personal Web sites.

“It really came from the trend in youth culture of being able to customize their world — whether it’s music selections to what they watch on television to what they carry around with them for entertainment,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative for Universal Parks & Resorts. “It’s important, in our thinking, to be able to transform the ride experience to that next generation, really the YouTube generation,” he said.

“Technology will improve. There’s a reason why

Grand Theft Auto IV looks, feels, acts and behaves much differently from Pong or Breakout or early-generation video games,” Niles said. “You’re going to see the same type of development within the theme-park industry,” he said. “I don’t know if it will happen quite as impressively, quite as quickly as it did with video games. But you’re definitely going to see growth and change.”

Information courtesy of Orlando Sentinel