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Does virtual reality have a place within theme parks?

Matt N

Strata Poster
Hi guys. If you all remember, virtual reality, or VR for short, was all the rage within theme parks back in 2016, with every park and their dog seemingly retrofitting a coaster with VR headsets as their new addition for the year. Alongside those, a couple of more bespoke VR attractions, such as Derren Brown’s Ghost Train at Thorpe Park, also opened in 2016. Rightly or wrongly, the trend did not last much beyond 2016, with a few more coasters getting retrofitted for 2017 and then very little in the way of VR action after 2017, from what I recall. However, VR as technology does have stacks of potential within an immersive environment, in my opinion, so my question to you tonight is; do you think virtual reality has a place within theme parks? And if so, where do you think that place might be?

Personally, I think VR does have a place within theme parks. However, I don’t think that the 2016 fad of retrofitting it onto existing rides was the right place for VR within theme parks. I reckon that if VR is to be implemented within a theme park attraction, the attraction should ideally be bespokely designed with VR in mind and either be a more “exclusive” attraction (by this, I mean an attraction where guests need to reserve a free time slot or book an extra ticket to experience it as opposed to queueing for it in the traditional sense), or designed in such a way that the VR doesn’t hamper the ride throughput too much. Some apparently strong uses of VR I know of include Battle for Eire at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Eurosat Coastiality at Europa Park, and these attractions were both bespokely designed with VR in mind. Both attractions also utilise either an exclusive status or find a way around the throughput issues VR inherently causes to make the concept work; for instance, I believe Eurosat Coastiality is a pay-extra experience, and in order to get around the throughput problems of VR, Europa Park has guests put on their headsets in a separate room before boarding the ride, and has arrows directing guests to their ride car, which I think is really cool! VR can be brilliant tech, and can open up whole new levels of immersion, so I think it could definitely work if some of the practicality pitfalls of it were rectified and/or accounted for in a VR attraction’s design.

I also think that VR could have great potential within the field of scare attractions. These are usually quite exclusive by nature, so the throughput wouldn’t matter too much, and I can imagine that you could rack up real feelings of fear and isolation using a VR headset in a way that you couldn’t using the surroundings! Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the highly received Clinic scare attraction at Walibi Holland utilise VR to pretty good effect?

But what are your thoughts? Do you think that VR has a place within theme parks, or do you think that VR should stay firmly back in 2016?
 

RTcmix

Mega Poster
I've admittedly never done a VR attraction, but honestly I'm not that interested in one. I'm generally less interested in screen based attractions than ones that use practical effects, and VR takes that to the extreme. Unless the technology can get so advanced that you become completely unaware that you're looking at a screen, I will remain skeptical.
 

Hyde

Matt SR
Staff member
Moderator
Social Media Team
I did two VR experiences; Iron Dragon and Mind Eraser (SFA). Both were... interesting, Iron Dragon being the far better, as the swaying played really well to the VR experience. Overall though, the loading logistics were too hard on both accounts; it's just a lot of added effort on top of everything else, and doesn't necessarily add the respective same value.

It's a fad, just like curved screens.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Yeah, I think there is one proper place for it:

800px-Public_Garbage_Bin_in_Nacka.jpg

Fortunately, many theme parks have plenty of those, so a repurposing of existing VR attractions should not be too expensive or take too long.
 

CSLKennyNI

Giga Poster
I actually say yes. But it every much depends on how its done. The short 2016 craze was very much a quick cash in and not focussed on quality or long term sustainability.

Issues of image quality, content, capacity, suitable attraction and interaction need to be properly looked at. Not just slap a cheap VR headset on any random coaster we feel needs more of a queue. Of course even with those things addressed VR will never be for everyone or everyone's favourite thing - however neither are all rollercoasters, water rides, dark rides, simulators or park shows. Its all just part of a varied line up and I do believe VR can and will have a place in future as part of the ever diverse range of experiences guests can have in parks. It will never and should never replace traditional rides and experiences but co-exist alongside.

Galactica never really impressed me or felt right. The actual coaster duration was too short to ever really get immersed in the film, it was over so quick and so much was flashing by and happening to make sense of. The flying position was just not suitable/the most comfortable for it. They really just choose the wrong ride.

Crazy Bats in Phantasialand meanwhile was a stroke of genius. The perfect ride for it. You have a long ride duration for the film's events to play out and it wasn't replacing any good real experience. A couple good effects/illusions, a detailed cinema-like high quality film graphics and the new non-mobile phone higher quality VR headsets all made for truly one of the best VR Coasters. As evident by its success and high rating by guests.
Capacity when it ran as intended was also great - sadly technical issues a couple months in drastically decreased it. Whether they could sooth out the teething issues like Eurosat did after a rocky first season we don't yet know as corona came along and VR is not being used.
But the focus and effort on quality was a big step in the right direction. These new VR headsets have also now been deployed on Europa Park's Alpenexpress this year. There only the film graphics need to catch up now.

Valerian / Eurosat Coastiality, lacks a bit in the quality graphics perhaps compared to Crazy Bats and for now still uses Samsung phone based headsets, but its certainly a showcase for how to implement VR right. With a turntable switch and separate station Europa Park can dispatch VR trains without impacting the normal coaster's capacity. Allowing analog and digital experiences to co-exist; two quality experiences in one. If you hate VR you never need encounter it or be bothered by its existence here.
Taking another step to make the experience more unique and interesting combined with the ride experience is the free roaming boarding. Guests get their headsets in a preshow room. As well as the extra VR time with the preshow and being able to utilise more storytelling - guest interaction comes into play here. Theme Parks are social things normally. VR, being closed off in your own world/headset, does isolate you. However with the tracking of each guest here; guests can see each other and interact. Moving about or commenting on the appearance of the other's avatar. Then the free roaming boarding process, where wearing VR headsets the group walks onwards and gets into the train together, is also often a funny experience people share.

Moving away from coasters VR could have other great uses in parks. Europa Park's YULLBE you have full body tracking, interaction with your group and objects, mircophones to speak with each-other as you work in a group to complete your free roaming adventure. It's their version of the highly rated VOID attractions in the States, and after only a couple months open they already sold a second YULLBE to Hamburg's Miniature Wonderland.

In China the Twilight themed Midnight Ride attracted a lot of attention for its high capacity, interactivity and group experiences. Universal are strongly rumoured to be bringing a Harry Potter broomstick version of it to Epic Universe. Perhaps something like this is where the future lies rather than coasters.

Overall there's little bits and pieces out of there which show great promise. With improvements and developments in the technology in the coming years I feel it will make a more sensible and high quality comeback in one form or another.
 

MouseAT

Hyper Poster
I suppose there might be some very limited case where VR could be combined with an appropriate ride to create a ride experience that's really good, but nobody has done that so far, and I can't see anyone investing the time or money to make VR really work on that immersive level. It would require a complete re-think of how to build an attraction that is both a compelling ride experience and a good VR experience, and if you’re going to go all in on immersion, there are now better ways to achieve that without VR. Besides, VR is computationally intensive, and hence there are substantial limits on the level of detail you can render in real time. We still can't render high detail 4K at high refresh rates on desktop PCs with 300W graphics processors, and there's no way you can carry anywhere near that level of computational power around on a typical ride vehicle.

Curse of Darkastle was great at both getting into your personal space with 3D glasses, and at messing with your sense of perspective, and that was well over a decade ago. If you’re willing to dispense with the “in your face” approach, and focus on keeping amazing practical effects at arm’s length instead, then Symbolica shows just how far that concept can be taken. Both rides were more immersive, more comfortable, and more memorable than the VR attractions I've experienced so far.

As for this whole trend of retrofitting existing rides with VR, that was always a dumb idea. The only ride I can think of where it made any sort of sense was Crazy Bats, and that’s only because Temple of the Nighthawk was awful, it’s already in the dark, so you don’t lose anything by wearing a headset, and it was obvious from the very beginning that it was only intended to give the ride a short-term lease of life until they finally get around to refurbishing that area of the park.
 
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RTcmix

Mega Poster
it’s already in the dark, so you don’t lose anything by wearing a headset,
This point has me wondering about the incorporation not of VR, but of augmented reality on a coaster or other track based ride. Imagine riding with some kind of Google Glass device. You could still see where you were going and experience the real world, but that experience could be augmented. Like Pokemon Go, but a rollercoaster and Charzard is trying to set you on fire.

This feels like a terribly terrific, or a terrifically terrible idea. I'm not sure which it is.
 

Will

Strata Poster
I'm not a fan, I don't think any of us are - it feels lazy and it won't last.

BUT I think it CAN be done well even if Alpenexpress is the only example I think I've actually encountered. I suspect the EP operations that stopped it being an ungodly faff like Galactica has been every time I've tried to ride it probably helped. The downside is missing out on the scenery which is actually quite good on Alpenexpress.

I did NOT like the VR mine train at Tibidabo that decided to show me the video in reverse.
 

nadroJ

CF Legend
One of the best uses of VR I remember seeing in the parks was for accessibility. Efteling had a VR version of Drumvlucht for guests who were not able to experience the ride proper. I think that's a fantastic use of the tech and something I thought we'd see more parks adapt.

For me the actual visuals and stuff isn't the worst, and I did have a few good rides on Galactica (although I think it was the fab IMAscore track doing most of the heavy lifting there.) For me it's the sheer weight and discomfort of the tech. It's so, so heavy and uncomfortable. That and I don't particularly like that my eyebrows usually get taken with the headset when it's time to take the thing off.
 

chainedbanana

Mega Poster
Now! Heres the thing, I'm generally not the biggest fan of VR - especially used in Theme parks, and thats because I think it's lazy, when a theme park is meant to be about going to a place - and being in space - its a 'park' after all...... its in the name, and you wouldn't expect to go to a theatre and see a show on VR! theres live elements that should never be replaced.

However I recently went to the Van gogh immersive experience - which had a VR component, very simply you just sat on a swivel chair and went on a 'tour' - the headsets were wireless, light and comfy - and the visual world and experience really magical! I was very impressed and dare i say 'immersed', just sitting there - looking about and drifting along (and a lovely soundtrack).

This got me thinking that this technology would be great for theme park HOTELS! either in a communal area or in hotel rooms themselves! Bringing the theme park world into your hotel room! it takes up little space and could easily work in this premise.

Another great use would be at airports - I'd definitely pay a few £ to tap out of realty into a relaxing and immersing world if I had some minutes to kill, and could really help de-stress people, also as a double hander, this could be provided my local theme parks or resorts as a sort of marketing vehicle 'spend 15 mins in our themed story' etc.

I'm also not apposed to the use of VR experiences in their own unique and separate set up - like YULLBE, its when it replaces something else or is an overlay that I take issue - or uses up valuable theme park real estate/ groundspace!

So I think VR has it's place. especially for space limited facilities i.e. Cruise ships! and for its original intention to bring immersion into peoples HOMES! But it should never be a replacement for say a dark ride at a park! It can however be used to complement a resorts experience in the ways i mentioned above
 
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Y. Kim

Mega Poster
Seeing local parks, Lotte World (Seoul) did VR on Gyrodrop and a Vekoma indoor coaster. For indoor coaster, people hated it due to lower capacity and longer time for dispatch. They always operate 1 train, but longer dispatch time? They can send only 6~10 trains per hour. Horrible capacity. For gyrodrop, some liked it and some hated it.

For Everland, they belongs to SAMSUNG, so they were able to make lots of VR 4D rides. In 2015, they made T Express VR 4D, called VR adventure, but that was just an advertise center for Samsung. There was a motion simulator, and a big zone for Samsung VR product. And they even showed me 2 Samsung 360° advertisement before the ride. At that time, VR was rare, so it was pretty crowded and successful. But I felt like I was advertised by Samsung even in a theme park.
With this, they created much more VR rides like Robot VR ( riding robot arm with VR) and gyro VR, a motion simulator plus VR. But both were UPCHARGE.

I'd say VR is NOT for high-crowded parks. If installed in theme park, it is not for major coasters, just for discrete upcharge attraction.
 

Robbie

Hyper Poster
My local garden centre is launching a (Christmas-themed) VR Coaster experience on Monday. From what I can tell, you strap on a headset then sit in a shed for 5 minutes. This is the future.
 
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