Taking VR-Equipped Roller Coasters to the Next Level

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Six Flags Galactic Attack, image copyright Six Flags

Six Flags Theme Parks have been aggressive over the past few years, adding new or revamped coasters and rides. One of the reasons we visit the park every year is that season tickets are relatively inexpensive for theme parks. (Right now, they’re on sale for $73.99 each if you buy four, and that includes Fright Fest admission.)

Last year, Six Flags added a new virtual reality experience for Superman: The Ride in its theme parks, including the one at Six Flags: New England, where my kids and I had a chance to test it out.

This year, they’re equipping the classic Mind Eraser coaster, on its 20th anniversary, with a new kind of VR, have named it the Galactic Attack Virtual Reality Coaster, and are adding a 14th brand-new roller coaster–The Joker: 4D Free Fly Coaster. The Joker coaster features a massive and twisting track frame in which ride vehicles begin their journey by traveling up a 120-foot elevator-type lift before being released, plus two beyond-vertical free falls, and four to eight head-over-heels flips

My family’s initial impressions last year of the first VR coaster, Superman: The Ride at Six Flags New England, (which was created with the renovation of the Bizarro coaster) were mixed, in that the virtual reality was cool but that after one or two rides with it, the experience dimmed. Donning and adjusting the Samsung VR headsets on the ride also added to wait time. Still, overall, we decided it added a great new twist to the coaster experience, especially since this particular coaster is tied for our favorite in the park.

For Galactic Attack, Six Flags New England is taking that virtual reality one step further with what they’re calling “the world’s first mixed reality experience.”

From the press release:

When riders board the coaster and don their Samsung Gear VR headsets, they will be introduced to the device’s passthrough camera functionality, instantly making riders aware of their surroundings, by allowing them to see the “real world,” including the person seated next to them— along with virtual content. As they get settled into the ride, a heads up display overlay on the passthrough camera view will show data like current status of weaponry, time codes, fuel cells, and a countdown clock. Cresting the lift hill, a massive, swirling wormhole comes into view. As riders drop at high speeds, the mixed reality view changes to a completely immersive, virtual reality environment and a fighter spaceship cockpit materializes and envelops the riders into a tunnel of light. At the bottom of the first hill, riders are launched into the middle of a space battle, coming under attack from flying drones firing lasers and missiles. After swinging through tight channels, narrowly dodging drones and artillery fire, riders are brought into one of three drone bays, each of which offer a completely different gaming experience and three different endings.

The ability to be aware of one’s surroundings while at the same time being in a virtual reality reminds me a little of apps like Pokemon GO, where the virtual is mixed into the real world. Except these graphics are set up to be far more intense and, of course, you’re on a roller coaster. The three different endings should relieve one drawback of the Superman: The Ride VR coaster, which is that the ride is the same every time.

Additionally, the coaster is being outfitted with brand new restraints for a more comfortable, smoother, and exhilarating ride experience than ever before. (It was already an excellent ride, though shorter than Superman: The Ride or the Wicked Cyclone, our two favorites.)

The Joker: 4D Free Fly Coaster, also promises something new for coaster fans.

  • It features:
    One-of-a-kind onboard magnetic technology featuring four to eight smooth head-over-heels
    free-fly flips providing guests the feeling of weightlessness as they soar outside the
    confines of a traditional track;
  • A 4D wing coaster that seats up to eight and has riders “face their fears” by allowing
    them to physically face each other as they tumble head-over-heels;
  • A 120-foot tall hill that is ascended by an elevator-style lift straight up;
  • Two beyond 90-degree raven drops giving the sensation of free-falling; and
  • Five vehicles with eight passengers each.

Opening weekend for Six Flags: New England is April 8th, with a special preview opening of Galactic Attack on April 7th. We hope to have a report on the full experience the following week.

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