VR technology has really taken off in recent years, and now several companies are doing new and exciting things with their designs. One idea that initial tech developers probably didn’t come up with though is using VR headsets in theme park rides.
Over the last year, VR enabled rides have exploded all across the world. At time of writing, around 22 VR rides have opened since September 2015. They’re mostly based in the US, but there also several in Germany, and one in Japan, the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu XR Ride. This ride claims to be the first fully dedicated to using VR technology.
We even have two located right here in the UK. Galactica, a VR enhanced roller coaster, is located in Alton Towers, and Derren Brown’s Ghost Train is at Thorpe Park.How are they using VR technology, and does it enhance the average theme park experience?
Galactica isn’t actually a new ride for Alton Towers. It’s actually a re themed version of Air, the park’s world first flying roller coaster. The revamped experience isn’t too different, as the track hasn’t changed. Now, though, riders can wear a Samsung Gear VR headset as they ride. The headset and ear phones give the rider the experience of flying through space and distant alien planets.
Derren Brown’s Ghost Train is a totally different experience. The ride was designed with VR in mind. In true Derren Brown style, the VR headset (in the case, a HTC Vive), is used to skew the wearer’s perceptions and of course, scare the living daylights out of them.
Both rides have had the VR images produced by Figment, a UK based production company. The goal for both rides was to make the wearer feel as though they were somewhere completely different to their physical surroundings. Galactica wants you to feel as though you’re really flying through space, and the Ghost Train wants to make you feel totally alone on an eerie London Underground train.
All current reviews say that both rides achieve these goals, in theory at least. Riders report that on the Ghost Train, in particular, that it’s unnerving to turn around and see that a previously packed train is empty except for them. Riders also report that there’s significantly less travel sickness than you would expect. This is put down to the fact that riders are essentially ‘locked’ into one spot, allowing developers to account for this in their designs.
One issue mentioned is that the graphics used don’t feel as up to date as they should. Many have commented that they look like the graphics from a video game that’s a few years old. It seems a shame that so much money is poured into these experiences, but the graphics aren’t as convincing as expected.
All in all though, VR seems to be adding something new to the average theme park ride. The technology will never replace the traditional rollercoaster, but it can certainly bring new experiences to a novelty craving crowd. Also, there’s lots of scope for updating and even changing rides, as the VR portions can be swapped out quite easily. It seems as though theme parks have a solid foundation to build on with VR technology.