Catacomb River Adventure

This is an attraction concept for a water coaster/EMV hybrid adventure that takes guests through the lost catacombs underneath a church in the city of Rome. This story idea was originally inspired by my time studying in Rome and a visit to a real life church that was built upon the ruins of an ancient temple.

Land Site Plan

This attraction is located in a theoretical land that I included in an unpublished park concept. The land is set in early 20th century Rome and includes an urban street and a small forested park along the ruins of the Aurelian Walls. An obelisk marks the center of the land and a large church that holds this attraction sits across the street.

The story of the land and attraction is that an archaeologist and adventurer has been hired by the church to investigate a legend about a Roman treasure hidden in the catacombs it is built upon. The present church was built on the ruins of a 4th century basilica, which was in turn built on the ruins of an early Roman temple. Adventurers through the decades had attempted to map the levels below and find the treasure with no success. This new archaeologist has brought with him a large team and a substantial amount of equipment to make the most thorough search yet. We have arrived just in time to join the search ourselves.

Our adventure starts at the queue entrances outside the church. This area is being used for unloading equipment and there are two trucks parked. One has an unusual looking amphibious vehicle on its flatbed. That is going to be our ride vehicle.

Upper Queue Axon Sketch

The queue lead into the side aisle of the church sanctuary. This is a large space meant to set the character and setting of the entire experience. The queues quickly turn through a side door and into a gallery space adjacent to the sanctuary. This is a small museum about the history of the building, starting to set up the story. This gallery includes a large stone tablet on a raised plinth, labeled as a Roman artifact that has been unearthed from below the church.

The queues lead around a corner and into a gallery hall. Paintings on either side of the hall show important figures and moments from the history of the church building. Through open double doors, the queues cross a hall and enter a library room. This room has been taken over by the expedition team, and is being used for research and planning. Maps sit on a pair of desks and more are taped up on the bookcase walls. Open books suggest research is being actively done. The maps on the desks call out the church ruins below with a note labeling it as the staging area.

Library Queue Scene

The queues cross back through the hall and out a door into an exterior cloister. This is a traditional double level cloister with a covered gallery running around the edges. The queue leads around the space on the lower level and then back into the building. The following room is a back room being used as equipment storage. Boxes and barrels fill the room and temporary lights are strung between the beams above. The queues pass into a second room of storage, where there are two chalkboards along the wall, displaying important information for our trip. One shows a diagram of the vehicle we will be riding, and the other acts as a screen for a video that gives an intro to the story and safety information. The projector is perched on a stack of boxes in the middle of the room and speakers are wired through the rooms, playing the audio. Finally, the queues lead to a staircase that heads down into the basement ruins level of the church. An elevator is located just to the side.

Equipment Storage Queue Scene

The stairs wrap their way down a level and lead into the cavernous basement ruins. This is an old chapel that was carved right into the rock, with a series of stone arches above. The queues turn and pass by an open excavation pit, where we see a rope and pulley rig holding up a large stone artifact. The path then leads into the ruins of the main church, with arched side aisles to the left and right. The queues wind through this area on elevated pathways, on top of the rocky debris, and lead to the loading area at the front of the room. In this area, we hear radio messages about the expedition we will be participating in today. In an effort to map the entire cave system, the team is sending out as many vehicles as they can spare. They will all take a different route and report back with their findings.

A river crosses right through the ruins. The bank across the river holds more equipment and a storage tent. Guests are distributed to load at two waiting vehicles. After loading, they float forward for seat check and then dispatch for their adventure.

Lower Queue Axon Sketch

The vehicle is an original design for a hybrid water coaster and EMV system. It is designed to appear to be an amphibious expedition truck that seats 16 guests. It’s built from rough and rugged materials, including an aged steel chassis and a canvas raft ring. The tops of the wheels can be seen in the dark water.

Vehicle Model

The vehicle is actually made of three primary components: the lower roller coaster chassis, the upper vehicle basin, and the upper show vehicle. The coaster chassis rides on standard steel rails under the water. The basin attaches to the top of the chassis with a 180 degree rotation ring, allowing the entire top half of the vehicle to rotate backwards. The motion equipment is housed in this basin section. It is called the basin because it is built with high walls that sit above the water line, keeping the interior equipment dry. The show vehicle then sits on the motion equipment just above the basin, and is attached to the basin with a waterproof gasket. The show vehicle is designed to notch around the high walls of the basin.

Vehicle Motion Diagrams

The vehicle is able to perform multiple motion modes as needed to support the story. While loading and floating peacefully, the show vehicle rests at its lowest position, just at the water line. In rougher waters, the vehicle can raise up above the water and use the motion equipment and rotation to simulate rapids and turbulence. When the vehicle is supposed to be on land, the motion equipment can simulate varied terrains, dips, and hills. And during the coaster portion of the ride, the vehicle can rotate and shake as if the track is rickety and uneven. Below is a schematic animation of the vehicle in three motion modes: float, rapids, and land. The section view of the animation shows how the vehicle fits over and around the basin.

Vehicle Motion Animation

As the vehicles are dispatched into the attraction, we get a radio message welcoming us to the adventure and instructing us to turn right at the fork and head up the waterfall stairs. This lift to the upper level is dressed as an ancient ceremonial staircase that has been flooded. We bounce our way up it as if we are driving up steps and then settle back into the river at the top. We are fully surrounded by natural caves and this is a calm section of the river. Just as we reach the top and turn the corner, we heard another message, instructing us to split up and go left. A prop vehicle ahead of us turns right into a darkened passageway and we turn left away from it. A rear projection extension of the cave on our left shows the scale of the catacombs we are exploring and we can see another vehicle driving away from us.

Attraction Plan Level 2

We continue to float forward and are told to go around the bend and then keep to the left, but just as we start to turn underneath a stone archway, we hear a rumble and crash ahead of us. As we continue forward, the result of a cave-in is revealed, with splashing water and large boulders settling in the river. That blocks our path, making us pause at first, but then we hear more rumbles so we start to speed away to the right.

We hear a message frantically questioning where we are going, and telling us that we shouldn’t go that way, because that path hasn’t been cleared yet. We soon see a set of stone columns in the cavern ahead and realize that something is different. The river takes us through the columns, revealing a catacomb temple. The river quickens as a whirlpool opens up ahead of us, and cauldrons begin to smoke with fire. We are caught up in the rougher waters and are drawn farther into the temple. A radio broadcast asks us where we are and if we are ok, but is interrupted with static just as a lightening effect fills the room. That causes us to speed up and try to get out of there as fast as we can. The message comes back in, telling us that the rest of the team are coming to look for us.

Exiting between more columns, the vehicle encounters the roughest waters yet and turns a corner to reveal another prop vehicle with a pair of passengers. Behind the vehicle is a rear projected screen that shows the cavern beyond and a massive flood rushing towards us. The prop vehicle is bobbing up and down in the water, and the passengers are waving to us to speed away. Our vehicle rushes forward and into a projection tunnel. Screens on either side of the track fill our full view and blend into the water at the base and darkness above. The track and our vehicle have risen just above the water line at this point, so that the vehicle can freely simulate being caught in a flood in synchronization with the projected media. The screens show us being caught in the wild flood and being washed away though the dangerous caverns. Other similar vehicles pass us on the way. We exit the projection tunnel and quickly travel around a dark corner and then immediately go down the first drop of the attraction.

That takes us back down to the ground floor and the vehicle splashes down in a more peaceful river cavern. There is another vehicle ahead of us, crashed on the rocks. We get a radio message, telling us that the other group is ok, but lost farther upstream. We are to head up on land and try to find a way out, but we should be careful because this is a completely unexplored area. The vehicle drives up on land, using the motion equipment to simulate the bumpy transition. The coaster track and the lower portion of our vehicle are set down into the ground in this area so that the ground to our left and right is at the correct height for our fake tires. The cavern ahead of us is dark enough to hide the track well enough. We start slowly driving through the dark caves, but soon things start to go wrong. We see just in time that a large stone column is falling in our direction, causing us to swerve and then swerve again as a second column falls. This section of the catacombs is rigged with traps.

Attraction Plan Level 1

We speed forward around the corner but stall for a moment when we see two large blocks slowly swinging in our path. We see each swing back and forth once, and then take our moment while they are both at their high points and race through the gap. We continue to race through the next few traps, starting with a tunnel where we hear and feel darts being shot at us, but missing. A fireball at the end of the tunnel causes us to speed out to our left and into a large open cavern.

This room is a projection dome. We slowly creep along a rocky ledge above bubbling water. Suddenly the entire room starts to shake and crumble as an earthquake hits the catacombs. The water bubbles higher and shoots jets up. Our vehicle shakes and slides as if caught in a landslide, and rotates 180 degree around as it begins to leave the room backwards.

The vehicle swiftly slides backwards into the coaster portion of the ride. We slide down a small drop to build speed and then wind through the dark caverns, passing more bubbling pools of water. While making a slow banked turn, the vehicle rotates back to face forward and continues speeding away. The vehicle races towards the only opening in sight but rapidly stops when it is revealed that it is a dead end. A rock wall in front of us shows no escape. Suddenly, we hear rumbling around us and we begin to shake. Then we are launched straight up on what appears to be a geyser.

When we reach the top of the lift, we shoot forward and splash down back into a river, like where we started. A radio message comes in, telling us that everyone has made it out after the earthquake, and that we should head back to base as quickly as we can. As we float forward, a room of treasure is revealed. It is covered in cobwebs and dust, but it is clear that this room is what we were looking for. Just as it is revealed though, the water starts to bubble one last time. We turn around and see more rapids ahead, drawing us forward. The vehicle passes one more rear projection screen that shows another room of treasure quickly being flooded with the rapids. We head around a dark corner and fall down the big and final drop.

The vehicle splashes down and peacefully floats forward. A message comes through, telling us that they just spotted us and that base is just head. While we float through the cave, we pass an assortment of treasure that has washed away with us. Turning back away from it, we can see the unload dock ahead. Guests leave the vehicle and exit up a staircase or elevator to the church above. The exit path leads to a retail space adjacent to the cloister and the street outside.

The attraction plan, land plan, and vehicle model were created in SketchUp. All sketches were created in Procreate. The vehicle animation was animated in 3ds Max.