An Interview With Penn State Blue, 2015 Cornell TPEC Champions

Recently, several members of the team had the opportunity to judge the Cornell University Theme Park Engineering Group’s inaugural Theme Park Entrepreneurship Competition (TPEC). 17 teams from Universities across the country were tasked with taking the land formerly occupied by Geauga Lake and turning it into a brand new amusement park. Teams were given a month to put together a five year businesKs plan, which included park maps, attraction lists, expansion plans, new theme park technology, as well as a custom Intamin Coaster. After each project was scored by the 13-member judging team, Penn State TPEG’s “Blue” team, comprised of Andrew Reiff, Dustin Sloane, Ian Kopack and Matthew Hudachek, were named the overall winners of the competition. The team took a few minutes to answer some of our questions.


C101: Tell us a little about yourselves…

Andrew Reiff: I’m Andrew Reiff. I’m about to finish my undergraduate degree, and I’ll be graduating in May. I’m in Interdisciplinary Digital Studio, which is the Bachelor of Design program in the Penn State School of Visual Arts. I pride myself on being able to takean idea, bring it to life in 3D space on the computer, and finally present it well. I’ve always loved drawing as a hobby, and my program has effectively taken my hobby andbrought it into 3D space – my drawings and sketches have become prototypes of 3Dmodels and scenes. I also love watching cartoons and playing local multiplayer video games such as Mario Kart.

Ian Kopack: My name is Ian Kopack, and I’m a Mechanical Engineering student at the Pennsylvania State University. I’m currently a junior and have one more year of school before graduation,

but I am more interested in pursuing internship possibilities and thus my graduation date is dependent upon the path I decide to take. This is currently my first year in Penn State’s Theme Park Engineering Group, as well as my first time ever competing in a theme park design competition. In my spare time I enjoy working on music production/composition, creating my own ride designs using No Limits Simulator, and binge-watching entire seasons of my favorite shows on Netflix.

Matthew Hudacek: My name is Matthew Hudachek. My major is Industrial Engineering. Right now, I’m unsure of my graduation year.

Dustin Sloane: My name is Dustin Sloane. I am enrolled as a mechanical engineer at Pennsylvania State University, but I am only a freshman so I have yet to officially enter my major. I am
class of 2018! My hobbies include anything coaster related, such as attending ACE and TPR events, participating in the nolimits coaster community, as well as non-coaster related
things such as skiing, tennis, gaming, music production, 3d modeling, traveling, and so forth.

C101: What is your favorite amusement/theme park and favorite roller coaster or attraction?

AR: My favorite amusement park is Knoebels, with my number one roller coaster being the Phoenix. Spaceship Earth at EPCOT is probably my favorite themed attraction.

DS: Definitely Intimidator 305 for Steel and El Toro for wood! Of course, Storm Runner and Boulder Dash get an honorable mention.

IK: Hmm, tough one…Since I have to choose just a single park, it’ll have to be Hersheypark. I grew up going down to Hershey, PA at least once every year or two, so it’s always had this “magic” presence for me. Fast forward ten or fifteen years, and I’ve got an great park with awesome rides and lots of personal history that keeps me coming back for more. As for favorite ride, my vote goes to Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure. It’s such a graceful, flowing ride and the way it travels out away from the park into the wilderness just adds to its mystique. There’s nothing that can compare to that classic out-and-back B&M hyper style.

MH: I can not say I have a favorite theme park. However, my favorite roller coaster is Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It at Universal Orlando.

Dustin Sloane’s “Heretic” NoLimits creation. 

C101: How did you get into theme park design?

DS: Well this is the first time I have been assigned a formal project such as this. I am familiar with designing and uploading my own rides in no limits, and have done so under the name of Kyle Sloane on CoasterCrazy and the NoLimits Exchange for years now. My latest upload being “Heretic”, on (or Videos on YouTube). When the opportunity presented itself for me to actually put this experience to use I was all over it!

AR: Upon cracking open my copy of the original RollerCoaster Tycoon, I became driven to design roller coasters. However, as I attended conferences like the IAAPA Attractions Expo and SATE, I learned just how large the industry really is and how my own specific skills in 3D visualization can be applied to it. Now, I have the capability to create entire theme park worlds from scratch, and it’s inspired me to create wonderful guest experiences.

IK: Informally, I would say many years ago. I’ve always been drawn to amusement/theme parks, but when I was introduced to the various theme park games and simulators in my early elementary school years, I was hooked. But it wasn’t until this year with the Penn State TPEG that I really got a more realistic insight into how amusement/theme parks and the industry work.

MH: I got into theme park design by pretty much stumbling upon it. I was encouraged to become an engineer by my parents and was not entirely sure what area I wanted to study. After some research, I found out that designing theme parks involved engineering, and from there, I have been hooked ever since.

C101: How long have you been working as a team?

AR: This was our first time. We ended up together because our schedules matched up.

IK: This is actually the first time we’ve ever worked together. I had just met Andrew and Matthew for the first time at the beginning of this project, and I’d known Dustin briefly from past No Limits projects online, but I’d never worked with him in person before.

MH: We all have been together since basically when the program started.


Year One Design for Penn State Team Blue’s Geauga Lake Project. 

C101: What was your process / plan for creating your TPEC project?

IK: Before we could start any major work on our park, the four of us first needed to figure out how we were going to approach the challenge that we were presented. To do so, we spent about a week brainstorming the park style/structure and significant attractions, and also determined the primary roles each of us would be adopting for the duration of the project. We established that Andrew would be handling the park layout design and theming concepts for each area and major attraction; Dustin would be our No Limits aficionado, taking the reins for the coaster design and presentation; and Matthew and I would be handling the research and documentation for the more technical aspects of the park and project requirements.

DS: We really focused on looking for gaps in other parks near by that we could fill with our own park, since we had some really tough competition against Kings Island and Cedar Point. We planned it to really focus on being a well rounded and themed experience, as a contrast to the more thrilling amusement park feel of our competitors.

AR: We took a “fill in the gaps” approach with this project. We looked specifically at what attractions our main competition didn’t offer, and sought to include those attractions in our design – to give Geauga Lake a chance to stand out with experiences that couldn’t be found anywhere else.

MH: Our theme park was planned to develop gradually. One thing we noticed with Geauga Lake near the end of its life was the fact that they tried almost a “Roller Coaster Overload” through adding too many coasters in too short of a time frame for them to pay off. A slow yet steady development of the roller coasters in the theme park was a must. We also wanted a strong base at park opening so the park was interesting. However, we did not want to open too much because we needed to develop it over 5 years.


Year 3 Design for Penn State Team Blue’s Geauga Lake Project

C101: Did you know what you wanted to do right away?

DS: We threw around a LOT of crazy ideas before reaching our final product. I think when we saw the prompt we knew what we needed to do to figure out what we wanted to do, but there was no instant lightbulb moment where we knew exactly how we wanted it to be, if that makes sense. It started off kinda general and I guess we honed in on our lineup and theming details, refining it until we were satisfied with it.

IK: A few different possibilities were tossed around in the preliminary brainstorming for our park. For example, there was the idea of utilizing a free admission structure for our park akin to Knoebels, but with the different aspects of the Geauga Lake property considered, we decided against it. Most of our project was figured out in the early planning stages though, with a few minor details being meshed out along the way.

MH:  Some ideas were tossed around before the final decision was made. Rides we thought would be beneficial for the park were pitched. Other ideas for the new technology were pitched.

AR: I wouldn’t say we knew right away. We each did our own initial research and came up with our own ideas – and finally hashed it out to find a compromise.



Year Five Design For Penn State Team Blue’s Geauga Lake Proejct

C101: Did all of you work together?

MH:  We used the “divide and conquer” approach on the project for the most part. We all pitched ideas in the beginning and then came to a general consensus Dustin handled the roller coaster on No Limits. Andrew handled the layouts, development of the theme park, and overall decision-making of the project. Ian and I did most of the research for the theme park.

AR:  It was kind of like a lecture-homework situation. We would meet together for several hours to talk about the project and our overall progress, then we would go our separate ways to work on our own components. Lather, rinse, repeat. I ended up working on the attraction lineup and master plan. It was cool because I got to dabble in slightly unfamiliar territory, and it helped me to round out my experiences in themed entertainment design. Dustin took care of the NoLimits coaster and its environment because he was more familiar with creating a realistic coaster. Finally, Ian and Matt hammered out our business model. It all worked out because everyone was interested in what they were doing.

DS: I think we all kind of focused on individual things but we constantly shared everything we were doing. I think our system ended up working really well, and allowed us to have a very seamless and coherent final product, where you couldn’t tell that every part was done separately. For example, I was in charge of the model of the intamin hyper coaster because of my experience in no limits and blender 3d, so I made several mock ups of the layout, and shared my progress along the way. Other members could tell me what they liked and what they didn’t, and I would revise it and move on from there. I would check layout dimensions with Andrew to make sure it would align where he wanted it in the park and satisfy the constraints of the location and terrain. I would say it all worked because of this communication, and because everyone was equally enthusiastic about this project and contributed everything they could.

IK: While we did split the project into different areas of focus as I mentioned earlier, we all had to coordinate our work with one another. Andrew needed to work with Dustin to get the coaster details accurate for the park layout, and Matthew and I bounced tasks back and forth as well. In one way or another, something from each of us ended up in every aspect of the park.

C101: An aspect of this project was new technology in the park. What was the inspiration for the new technology (Phone Charging Lockers)?

DS: Well I knew that there had been a couple occasions where my phone had died at theme parks, and back before I had the ability to drive myself home this was a huge issue. We knew we wanted to have charging ports, and there is simply no more secure and convenient place than the rentable lockers to be leaving your phone to charge. We were kind of surprised it hadn’t been done before.

AR: Think about that for a second – when you drop your mobile phone into a loose article locker, it just sits there and does absolutely nothing while the battery drains.

MH: The new technology of our theme park was inspired due to lack of support of cell phone use in theme parks. Putting in cell phone charging lockers would be great to have since it is so rare yet so useful.

team15_design_layoutoverview copy


Layout for Penn State Team Blue’s Intamin Coaster, Planetary Explorer

C101: Did you draw any inspiration for your coaster from existing ones?

MH: We based our roller coaster off of a classic Intamin roller coaster design for the most part. Inspired by roller coasters such as Millennium Force, we noticed some of the best roller coasters according to fans were the long mega coasters built in the early 2000s. Adding a roller coaster that could be grouped with some of the best roller coasters in the country and even the world would be a huge asset to have in a theme park trying to attract guests in its newly opened theme park.

DS:  A lot of inspiration came from classic Intamin/Stengel design, particularly Goliath at Walibi, Holland. We really liked the balance of gracefulness and intensity with the low sweeping turns, over banks, and “twisty” s-hills, but also having moments of pure, classic, ejector airtime. It is a simple, effective, and timeless approach to a ride design. The track shaping details were heavily inspired by Werner Stengel, and I went to great measures to ensure that the ride felt and rode exactly how it would if he and Intamin were to design the ride with the layout we decided upon. We wanted to convince the viewer that this was an animation for a real coaster.

On ride video for Planetary Explorer

C101: What was your personal favorite aspect of the project?

IK: I think out of everything involved in the contest, the most interesting aspect of the whole project was the fact that we were utilizing a real location with real history. The various circumstances surrounding Geauga Lake’s downfall, as well as what made the park successful in the first place needed to be considered with each decision we made for our park. Not only was this an exercise in design and creativity, but we got a bit of a history lesson as well.

AR:  Creating the five-year master plan for the park was a fun and interesting challenge that put me out of my comfort zone. For that reason, it was my favorite part of our project.

DS: My favorite aspect was when everything started to really fall into place with the theming sections and stories behind each section and attraction in our park. It started to feel like something that was feasible for a real theme park.

MH:  My favorite aspect of the project was just the experience and opportunity to learn a little bit about what goes into designing and developing a theme park.

C101: What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

AR:  Research is incredibly difficult. We were being asked to make decisions that a world-class theme park hires hundreds of people to make, and with only a search engine as our ally! Searching for information to help justify our park decisions was probably the most challenging part of the project.

DS:  The most challenging portion in general were the nitty gritty details. We had to be extremely thorough in working out our budget, and finding specifics on ride dimensions and costs. Personally, I was especially challenged with making the 3d model of the station and theming for our intamin. It was a lot of work for modeling and texturing in a very short time to adequately express our vision for the ride in the simulation.

MH: The most challenging part of the project was getting everything done in so little time on top of all of the school work that comes with being an engineer. Nothing really caused issues until the deadline was rapidly approaching and we saw how much work was left to do.

IK: For me, the most challenging aspect of the project was taking these big plans we had for our park and finding the resources to support our ideas with solid facts. During the project, it was sometimes difficult to find the information I was looking for in my research, and that indirectly held up other work from being completed at times. But regardless, I love a good search digging deep through the internet for information about topics I’m interested in, so it was enjoyable nonetheless.



Future Zoning for Penn State Team Blue’s Geauga Lake Project.

C101: Do you want to have a career in the amusement industry?

AR:  Can someone hire me, please? The answer is a resounding yes! I want to be a part of a team that creates wonderful themed experiences for guests the world over. I want to use my talents as a 3D visualization artist to create conceptual designs for a planning and design firm in the industry.

DS: Yes, I really would love to get a position with an American based manufacturer such as Premier or GCI. Of course my dream job would be that of Stengel or Alan Schilke. But I have realistic expectations and would settle for a more basic engineering position in the industry.

IK: Of course! If there’s one industry that touches on all of the different areas I’m passionate about, from art and storytelling to science and technology, it’s the amusement industry. I don’t think there’s many other industries that have the ability to do that, and that’s what I really love.

MH: I do want a career in the amusement industry after graduation. I hope to eventually open my own theme park.

C101:  Is there anything else you want readers to know?

DS: Well simply that I had a lot of fun. Thanks Andrew, Matthew, and Ian for being awesome group members! Really had fun working with you guys.

IK:  I just wanted to thank everyone involved in making this contest a reality: the Cornell TPEG, the judges, the sponsors, and all of the other participants. It was a fun, challenging experience and I’m very happy to have taken part in the competition!

AR: This was an incredibly interesting opportunity. If you’re an aspiring theme park engineer, or even a creative professional, I encourage you to take part in these kind of competitions to get a taste of the diverse set of skills needed to figure out how to develop a theme park. It will open your eyes, if they haven’t been opened already. Thanks to Cornell TPEG for putting this on, and thanks to my teammates Dustin, Ian and Matt for working with me!


Thanks to Penn State Team Blue for their time in this interview. For more information about the Cornell Theme Park Engineering Group, or Theme Park Entrepreneurship Competition, be sure to visit their website and Facebook page!



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