To say I was skeptical of Mack Rides’ new VR Coaster concept is an understatement. I’ve been chatting with several industry insiders for months about this project and I decided to withhold any real judgement on the experience until I tried it out for myself. Mack was giving IAAPA attendees a trial run at Fun Spot amusement park in Orlando on the Freedom Flyer suspended coaster during the 2015 convention.
For those unfamiliar, Mack Rides (who have build all kinds of ride systems, from roller coasters to boat rides and everything in between) has developed a way to ride an existing attraction in an entirely new way.
Wireless headsets will be available in the park (Cedar Fair currently has exclusive rights in the United States) to rent. It could be a full-day rental or it could be by attraction. The rental fee has yet to be determined and keep in mind this technology and concept is entirely new, so I suspect we might see different models rolled out in different parks.
Rides within each park, which has been synched up, will have proper signage or a rental location located near the queue entrance. You bring the device with you while you wait in line or possibly around the park for the day depending on how this goes. Guests will have to pay a deposit fee, so if you break it, you bought it. Also, this will not be like traditional theme park 3D glasses where they need to be washed after every ride if the guest rents them for the day. Regardless, VR Coaster will be an optional experience no matter how you slice it.
Once onboard, the system will recognize where you are in the train and react accordingly. Coaster fans know riding in the front versus the back of a train can provide very different experiences and VR Coaster will react to the different forms of acceleration accordingly. Simulator fanatics will also tell you that fractions of a second matter and if the visual is not lined up with the movement perfectly? Nausea ensues.
Going into this test I still had many questions. How will this affect the loading and unloading of the train? Was it comfortable? Was it safe? Will I be nauseous? Can people with glasses ride? I’ll do my best to answer.
First of all, the headsets are fairly lightweight. Anything touching your head is insulated with sturdy foam, which is light enough to be comfortable but not absorbent enough to soak in sweat.
The top of the unit actually contains a wheel that allows you to adjust the focus. Therefore, you can not wear prescription glasses with this. In theory, the dial at the top will help those that need glasses. No one in my party wore them, so it was not an issue for us.
Boarding took quite some time. For this test, we were handed our headsets after we sat down by a staff member. This would not happen during normal operation. However, assuming everyone had it in their hands prior to boarding, considering everyone has to pull down their harness and then put on the headset and adjust it before dispatching, this will most definitely increase dispatch intervals. Longer lines are never a good thing.
The VR Coaster headset covers your entire field of vision once you put it on. No matter where you dart your eyes, all you see is the digital world around you. The visuals are very sharp and crisp.
Worth noting, there was a button on the side of the unit which allowed you to fire a gun when pressed. After the cresting, the lift hill the button was disengaged.
The test animation we saw represented the world in a sort of “robot apocalypse,” where we were riding in a virtual car. As sci-fi destruction often goes, as we left the load station and turned left down our virtual road, the pavement before us was actually ripped out of the ground by a flying robot creature. Essentially our road became a ramp, which was naturally the lift hill of the coaster I was riding. As we crested the left hill, the robot took my car by its claw hand and we were flying through a city.
Being swung left and right actually seemed very fluid and believable in the animation they had created and I was fascinated by how much detail had been put into flying over this city. I could choose to look ahead and see what direction the robot was pulling me, but I could also look around and see virtual cars, trees and sidewalks below. No doubt, even for a demo, the technology and animation was very cool and I walked away impressed.
Was I nauseous after the ride? Personally, not at all. However, of the four friends who I rode with, the reaction was split. Two of us walked away feeling next to zero nausea. The other two were either very or extremely nauseous and these are friends who have ridden anywhere between 100 and 350+ roller coasters in their life.
All in all, the system has a lot of potential. I would definitely try this again. Considering you can change out the animation by season or even from day to day gives it a lot of flexibility. In addition, this doesn’t have to be just for coasters. This can technology can be used anywhere. Consider someone who is disabled and can’t ride a roller coaster, they can ride it virtually. Maybe this can be used on an existing dark ride. You know those scenic rides you find boring? This headset can turn it into an interactive adventure. Many possibilities. Am I sold on the concept? Absolutely not. However, I do think it has enormous potential. Your thoughts?
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