Edutainment that’s not very edutaining
For about as long as I’ve been alive, Walt Disney World has been my family’s go-to vacation destination. We’ve reliably visited the four-park resort in Florida every couple of years for around two decades. I have a real fondness for the parks. But I’ve always been a little unsure of EPCOT.
EPCOT, the “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow” (named for an intentional community that Walt Disney thought up shortly before his death), is a weird beast. It’s an edutainment park, which already makes it a harder sell than something like the Magic Kingdom. When you’re nine years old, the choice between meeting Mickey Mouse and learning about the fuel efficiency of the modern automobile is not a difficult one, even if Test Track is a great ride. More frustratingly, though, it’s a bad edutainment park, one where many attractions were reworked for a few years and then basically abandoned in a state that is neither particularly educational nor very entertaining. More recent additions, like the baffling new Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, seem to have totally abandoned the idea of a “theme,” offering no parity with the surrounding park whatsoever.
That wasn’t always the case, though. Many theme park fans look back on the EPCOT of the early 80s with a great deal of warmth. It played host to some of the most beloved attractions in Disney’s history, and its design was dramatically more cohesive. At least, that’s what I’ve been hearing from older fans for years – I wasn’t around to see old-school EPCOT. Then, a few days back, Justin McElroy mentioned Futureport ’82 on an episode of the excellent podcast The Besties. And right at the end of January, I found my game of the year.
A blast from the past
Futureport ’82 is a digital recreation of EPCOT’s Future World as it existed on the park’s opening day in 1982, built entirely in Unreal Engine 5. Future World makes up about half of EPCOT, and Futureport ’82 recreates that half stunningly. From the monorail station at the entrance of the park all the way to the entrance to World Showcase, EPCOT’s other half, just about everything is represented.
I’m honestly astonished by the attention to detail in Futureport ’82. Creator Sean Patrick Holland, with the help of 22 credited collaborators, has made far more than I ever expected, especially given that Futureport ’82 isn’t yet finished. The recreated Future World includes everything, down to the merchandise that would have been present at the park’s opening, all proudly arranged in an empty gift shop. There are even advertisements for planned but unrealized attractions – two posters proudly advertise the TRON Arcade, a gaming-themed installation that was advertised at EPCOT’s opening but never built.
I wasn’t alive in 1982, so I can’t say for sure whether or not this is a perfect recreation of Future World. You’d have to talk to someone more qualified for that. I can say that Futureport ’82 feels comprehensive. Even if the layout isn’t exactly 1:1, it’s clear that every element of early Future World has been carefully considered by knowledgeable, passionate, and intelligent people. Anyone who goes to the extra effort of modeling attraction signs with their original corporate sponsors clearly cares about the little things.
A museum for weirdos
All around Futureport ’82 are little kiosks. These are some of the only pieces of Futureport ’82 that weren’t present when EPCOT opened, although you won’t be surprised to learn that they’re based on EPCOT’s real, long-defunct WorldKey Information kiosks. The real kiosks were largely used for dining reservations and were found in the Earth Center (a building that you can, of course, visit in Futureport ’82), but here, they’re scattered across the park and contain fascinating pieces of EPCOT history.
These kiosks lend to the sense that Futureport ’82 is a kind of niche museum. It’s not really a “video game” – there are no goals, no systems to play with, and not all that much to do. It’s more of a virtual love letter to a specific place from a specific era.
The passion is palpable, and there’s something rewarding about wandering through it and feeling all that enthusiasm radiate off of the screen. It’s the kind of thing you download if you’re interested in seeing where the Potato Store was in 1982 and learning which restaurant was similar to the Sunshine Terrace. In short, it’s for a very specific group of weirdos, and I find myself comfortable in that group.
Pardon our pixie dust
Futureport ’82 is still a work in deep progress. A disclaimer at the top notes that interiors are only available for a handful of buildings, with more to come in the future. Full attractions are also still in the works – right now, you can stand in the Kitchen Kabaret lobby, but actually hearing robots say “Veggie veggie, fruit fruit” remains a distant dream.
It’s also a bit rough around the edges from a technical perspective. On anything higher than the lowest graphical settings, it starts to chug, and at one point I climbed up the stairs in a room and fell straight through a floor with no collision detection.
Even in its current, incomplete state, though, Futureport ’82 is something truly special. This isn’t the first time someone has recreated a theme park in a digital space (Disney itself recently rebuilt the Magic Kingdom in Minecraft), but the care that’s gone into this project is absolutely infectious. I truly can’t wait for the future of Futureport ’82.