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What Mario Learned from Mickey Mouse - Part 3: Decision Making and Weenies

"What Mario Learned from Mickey Mouse" is an analysis on the world building of Super Mario Odyssey through the design of Disney theme parks.

Part 3 studies how studies how we can guide and help our players make decisions in our worlds and levels.

Game Developer, Staff

April 8, 2019

12 Min Read

This article was first published on my blog, which can be found here: https://www.asuttongamedesign.com/post/what-mario-learned-from-mickey-mouse-part-3-decision-making-and-weenies

Decision Making & Weenies

Figure 18. Cinderella’s Castle (Harrison C.) is Disney’s most famous weenie. This version of Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World, is used to guide the guests to the main hub when they first enter the park.

Imagineers are masters at subconsciously guiding their guests wherever they want them to go. It’s nearly impossible to get lost within a Disney park because guests always feel as if there is something of interest close by. Disney has developed their own design principle they call weenies, (or beckoning hands) a term Walt Disney named after his love for hot dogs (Hench 50). Weenies are a tool that is used like human bait, attracting guests to locations and enforcing decision making. Weenies promise guests that where they are travelling to is worth the effort and that there will be a payoff if they travel to the location. Weenies are effective when they fulfill their design through proper staging, size, form, colour, and motion, and successfully catch the attention of the passersby (Hench 50). The most prominent successful weenies are often considered to be Disney’s landmark attractions such as Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, and of course Cinderella’s Castle. These famous attractions are the perfect blend of the weenie design principles. They are visible to the guest at the correct time, have a form that invites guests towards them, use colours that draw a guest’s attention, and have movement that sparks the guests curiosity. Weenies are a guests invitation to come forward, they beckon the guests towards them.

Figure 19. Splash Mountain on the left (Galloway A.), and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Lynn J.) are two attractions that are only visible once in Frontierland, in order to both ensure that immersion is maintained within that section of the park, and in order not to break it within other sectors.

Although Disney always wants the guest to be drawn towards a location, so that they have a sense of purpose and direction, weenies must be visible at the correct place and time. Through brilliantly staging, weenies only being visible to the guests from certain locations around the park. For example, in Disney World, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are only visible from within Frontierland as they fit Frontierland’s old-time wild west theme. It wouldn’t make sense for the steam train and the Arizona mountain inspired attraction to be visible from Disney’s futuristic sci-fi themed Tomorrowland. If they were visible from either land, it would completely break a guests immersion into the environment Disney created. This illustrates why staging is not only is this important in guiding the guest at the correct time, but is also important to guest immersion. Through using clever staging, Imagineers show guests what they want them to see, and when (Hench 38), while still being able to guide guests forward within the parks. It is important for weenies to both be applicable to the environment they’re in to enhance the realness of the setting, and provide the guests with a navigation tool that enforces decision making.

Figure 20. This photo (Javier, L.) of a map of Disneyland, circa 1988, shows the many hubs that Disneyland offers to guests, with many areas of congregation near their main attractions, specifically the Central Plaza in front of Cinderella’s Castle.

Naturally guests within the park will eventually need to make their own decisions. It is impossible for Disney to constantly guide a guest down a linear path in a wide open park. In locations where guests are given many options and must make decisions, a hub is needed. Hubs are created within a congregation point inside the Disney parks. Hubs are open spaces that connect different locations, and allow for guests to group up, then decide where to continue their adventure. When multiple weenies are pulling guests in different directions, the guests must make a decision on where to go. For instance, the hub in front of Cinderella’s Castle is one of the first hubs a guest encounters on their visit to Disney’s Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This hub provides guests with the opportunity to plan out their day, with open spaces for groups to cluster and meet in a safe space that won’t block the flow of traffic (Hench 37). These hubs work together simultaneously with weenies. Weenies attract guests towards their next destination, while hubs provide the guests with a decision making opportunity.

Creating a Linear Path Within the Sand Kingdom

Figure 21. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) showcases all the main weenies of the Sand Kingdom, which guide the player from the beginning of the level (the town) to the end of the level (the flying inverted-pyramid).

The main story path of Tostarena, the Sand Kingdom of Super Mario Odyssey, acts similarly to a line queue in a Disney Theme Park. Although the world of Tostarena is extremely open for the player to explore as they please, weenies end up guiding the player through a linear path to complete the main objectives of the level. The Sand Kingdom is one of the first levels of the game, so it is of the utmost importance that the player has clear direction on how to complete the level. Line queues at a Disney theme park act in a similar fashion, with weenies placed at the ends of pathways in order to guide guests down a linear path towards their objective, which is most often a thrillride. Although Tostarena may not have the same narrow hallways or rope to define a solid path, pathways are made clear to a player through the same practices found throughout Disney theme parks.

Figure 22. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) shows the order in which the weenies navigate the player throughout the level. Each sequential weenie becomes clearly staged and upon reaching the previous weenie, starting from the beginning of the level.

The path of Tostarena has a main path that players are directed from start to end until reaching the boss battle that is the end point goal, with many small scale weenies directing the path to the larger set pieces. Using proper staging, the main path of Tostarena becomes clear to the player, with each main set piece being visible from the beginning of the level, and the order in which to follow being determined by proximity. When the player starts the level, the main town is seen first and immediately grabs the players attention with its vibrant colours and animated characters, and is within a very short distance. In the background behind the town lie the next weenie composed of ruins and a large white stone tower that piques curiosity with its colour and form. The tower is staged directly behind the town to guide the players towards the tower after exploring the town. Directly behind the tower is a massive upside down pyramid, which is successful as a weenie due to its large size and sharp edge form that signifies adventure. The player reaches this weenie after going through and completing the main path.These weenies are successful in guiding the player down a linear path with their proper staging, size, form, colour, and motion, but are ultimately more successful with their massive payoffs, which drives the player to visit each consecutive weenie. The level as a whole is more of an open world, meaning that players are free to explore as they wish. In order to provide direction in areas off the main path, there are smaller weenies to pull the player in other directions. If the player chooses to go off the main path they will mostly find some moons and extra coins. But, if the player chooses to follow the main path they are further incentivised to continue follow it with larger rewards than just moons and coins. For example, exploring the town gives the player access to new outfits, reaching the top of the tower provides the player with a view of the ruins they scaled and a cutscene, while the final top of the pyramid provides the player with a boss battle and a Multi-Moon. Providing the players with a payoff for reaching these weenies incentivises the player to explore the level further, and ensures that they will continue to follow the weenies that they discover.

Guiding Player Choice Within the Seaside Kingdom

Figure 23. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) displays the intro cutscene to the Seaside Kingdom.

The Seaside Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey is similar in many ways to the Sand Kingdom. Although they both use the same design principles that Disney has established in designing weenies, the way that the weenies guide player choice is extremely different. Tostarena takes place on solid ground and is very linear, where weenies guide player choice in a visible straight path. Bubblaine of the Seaside Kingdom has many of objectives taking place underwater which is only visible to the player from directly above and is completely open-ended in terms of what order players complete the main objectives. In order to solve this challenge, Nintendo changed the ways in which their weenies guide the player. The designers needed to use weenies as a way to influence the direction of players in a free-choice world and to enforce further exploration in a more challenging late-game level. In short, the weenies of Bubblaine act as a way to guide the player while not giving too much away.

Figure 24. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) displays the main weenie i.e the champagne glass tower, in the background of the photo, and the four sub weenies, i.e the cork lids surrounding the champagne glass.

In the beginning of the level, players are immediately directed to the main weenie of Bubblaine, a giant champagne glass situated in the centre of the level. Player attention is drawn to the glass for its fancy gold pattern, massive scale, and for the giant animated octopus that is drinking from the top of the glass. Bubblaine is structured through guiding player choice from the centre of the map. Multiple weenies such as rock formations protruding out of the water, a water tower, mountainous hills on the shore, and shining electric containers that act as the main objective of the level, pull the player in many different directions and solidify the purposeful staging of the central champagne glass as a hub. Bubblaine’s map is structured similarly to Disney park layouts where the main hub takes place in the centre and more action sets are placed around the central hub e.g Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. The champagne glass is an important piece that both enforces the player to make decisions on where to go and aids in orienting the player from where they surface after swimming underwater.

Figure 25. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) displays the map of Bubblaine. The champagne glass tower in the center of the map acts as a guiding weenie for the player at all ends of the map, and serves as a hub that reaches out to all the objectives and sections of the level, as demonstrated by the flags. This hub setup is similar to the map of Disneyland from figure 20.

The weenies that are branched out from the central hub guide the player towards one of the four main objectives that the player must complete before unlocking the boss battle. These weenies work differently from the weenies in Tostarena as they either direct the player to a location that is near where the main objective while still not giving the exact location of the main objective, or act as a piece that the player cannot reach directly and must find an alternative route to reach the weenie. For example, one of the four main objectives is situated on a high cliff that cannot be reached by traditional methods such as capturing enemies and using their abilities, or using Mario’s acrobatics to scale the wall to the cliffside. Players must explore the level and find a back road that leads to the main objective. This different use of weenies gives the player a challenge while still offering some form of direction on how to beat the level, i.e the location of the main objective is always close to the weenie. As the weenies don’t provide full information on how to clear an objective, the player must explore how they can overcome an obstacle.


1. Hench, J., & Pelt, P. V. (2009). Designing Disney: Imagineering and the art of the show. New York: Disney Editions.

2. Super Mario Odyssey Nintendo Switch (Version 1.2.0) [Digital software]. (2017, October 27). Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/super-mario-odyssey-switchThe video game Super Mario Odyssey was used as the base for the analysis of said game and for pictures in the Art of Color, Architecture, Weenies, Characters, and Visual Storytelling sections to illustrate the ideas of the analysis to the reader.

3. Rafferty, K., & Gordon, B. (1996). Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real. Hyperion.

4. Lynn, J. (2015, February 16). Big Thunder Mountain [Digital image]. Retrieved December 9, 2018, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/129451096@N08/16191564474Used to show Big Thunder Mountain to the readers so they can understand the staging process.

5. Galloway, A. (2007, September). Splash Mountain - Magic Kingdom - Walt Disney World [View of WDW Splash Mountain main drop.]. Retrieved December 9, 2018, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Splash_Mountain_-_Magic_Kingdom_-_Walt_Disney_World.JPGUsed to show Splash Mountain to the readers so they can understand the staging process.

6. Harrison, C. (2008, April 10). Cinderella's Castle - Walt Disney World [A photograph of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World in the daytime]. Retrieved December 2, 2018, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/cdharrison/2407640646

Used to show readers the main weenie people think of when they hear Disney.

7. Javier, L. (2010, October 27). Map of Disneyland from 1988 [Circa 1988]. Retrieved December 2, 2018, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenjavier/5119527894/

Image of the Disneyland map from 1988, used to show readers the layouts and sightlines of weenies.

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