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VR on Coasters: A New Dimension of Theming?

Back in August, I waited nearly an hour to ride Iron Dragon at Cedar Point. I’d ridden Iron Dragon countless times on past trips to the park, mostly because of its notoriously short line. But on this August evening, the ride was different—Cedar Point had implemented a virtual reality experience the season before—and I was curious to try it out before leaving the park. Judging by the number of people in front of me, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Cedar Point only had one train running, and with the added complication of preparing a VR headset for each rider, the line stood dead still for five minutes at a time.

Each time the train completed its cycle and came swaying into the brake run, I surveyed the riders’ faces, trying to interpret their reactions. Having read reviews for other virtual reality roller coasters, I had picked up mixed feelings about the whole “virtual” concept. After all, the ability to use CGI might make theming limitless, but could it successfully replace the authentic ride experience? I was ready to find out.

Once I reached the loading platform, a ride op handed me a headset and explained how to properly adjust it. Climbing into the suspended car and lowering the restraint over my enlarged face was harder than I had anticipated, but I managed alright.

The image in front of me was blurry, so I adjusted the focus until a horse came into view. I was sitting at the front of a wagon in a medieval fantasy setting with cliffs and beasts in front of me. As the train exited the station, the horse began walking and we headed up a steep path leading to a castle. The visual, while not a very high resolution, was engaging, and I found myself moving my head in all directions to gaze at the little details.

As I neared the top of the virtual ramp, a giant troll bowled through the structure just in front of the wagon. My horse teetered forward, forcing me to look into the abyss below. To my dismay, my horse tumbled into the depths with me close behind. At the last second, a winged beast (presumably the Iron Dragon) swooped from behind and swung me out of harm’s way.

VR is impressive on its own, but when combined with the actual forces of a coaster’s drops and turns, the experience is truly convincing. Normally, I get a slight knot in my stomach from looking down a drop on a roller coaster, and gazing over the edge in a virtual environment was just as terrifying. If it weren’t for the fact that the VR headset didn’t have audio, I would have forgotten I was on Iron Dragon at all.

After the first drop, I was swept in one direction and then the other at the dragon’s whim. We weaved through structures and evaded creatures determined to steal whatever treasure my wagon held. I felt like a viking in How to Train Your Dragon, only my dragon was completely out of my control. I don’t remember many of the details from my flight, but there was a pretty thrilling air battle with another flying beast. Near the end of the ride, there was a jump scare that made me and the riders around me scream as we narrowly avoided being eaten by a virtual monster.

The ride ended with an intense swoop around a lake and a smooth glide into a cave. I didn’t even realize I was back in the station until I heard a soon-to-be-rider asking if I enjoyed it. If I had any mixed feelings about virtual reality coasters before, my ride on Iron Dragon fully opened me up to the VR concept.

Should roller coasters stay the way they are now, or should they have unique VR themes? My answer—yes! I thought the way Cedar Point offered Iron Dragon VR as an optional experience after 7 pm only was a brilliant model. Riders who want a traditional experience get to ride the coaster during the day without suffering from the extended line. Enthusiasts like me who have already ridden the ride the “normal” way several times can wait for longer to experience the themed version. While I wouldn’t suggest that parks add virtual reality to their headlining attractions, offering it as an optional experience on a less-popular ride is a great idea for two reasons:

1: VR sparks fresh interest in aging rides

Nearly every park has that one ride. Enthusiasts have ridden it a dozen times, but it doesn’t run like it used to, and frankly, it’s boring. It may have short lines, but even the general public is passing it by. If the park adds a virtual reality option, it’ll give enthusiasts a new reason to ride and it’ll attract the general public. Don’t like the new experience? Well, at least it’s shortening other queues around the park.

2: VR offers limitless theming at a low expense

Everyone loves a well-themed coaster. When a ride tells a story, riders find themselves wanting to come back and experience the ride again and again. Humans are drawn to stories—that’s why they’re so enthralled with books and movies. There’s just one problem when it comes to theming rides—creating a realistic themed environment is difficult and expensive. Sure, with a high budget, a park could come up with a well-themed ride (think Expedition Everest or Mystery Mine), but for lower-budget attractions and older rides, theming a ride isn’t a realistic investment. Until now. Virtual reality is a way for parks to tell a ride’s story without breaking the budget. Why does the coaster have the name it does, and what is the ride’s relationship with the park or themed zone? Using VR, parks can vividly depict the ride’s “mascot” and environment without building any physical elements at all. And whether it’s taking a tour through space, meeting Kraken face-to-face, or being flown around on a dragon of iron, riders are able to experience thrills not possible on a real world coaster.

In the end, I loved my ride on Iron Dragon VR. Having ridden it once, I don’t think I’d be willing to wait that long for it again, but I would highly recommend it to a first-time rider. I’m excited to see where future VR coasters will take us, and I know the technology will only grow from here. If I ever get the chance to try another virtual reality coaster, I will definitely check it out.

Have you experienced a virtual reality roller coaster? What are your thoughts on the concept?

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Top New Roller Coasters for 2018

It’s a new year, and that means theme park fans are putting their 2018 park trips on the calendar and keeping those coaster POVs on repeat. With every year comes a host of new coasters, and if 2017’s lineup was lackluster, this year is determined to make up for it. With over 150 coasters opening in 2018, I had a harder time than usual narrowing down my top picks, but I managed to filter them down to the best of the best. Here are my top 15 most anticipated coasters for 2018.

Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom announced that they would be building the world’s first Skywarp model. The ride, designed by Skyline Attractions, will feature two trains that duel as they race through a 62-foot vertical figure eight. The coaster will be powered by drive tires and the trains will be connected to keep them at a consistent distance from one another. Interestingly enough, the ride’s Raptor track will be manufactured by Rocky Mountain Construction.

Electric Eel

SeaWorld San Diego plans to add their tallest coaster yet, a Premiere Rides Sky Rocket II. Electric Eel will launch riders backward and forward through the station before cresting a 150-foot hill and spiraling through an inverted heartline roll.

Tantrum

After removing their popular Thunder Rapids log flume, Darien Lake promised to replace it with something even better. They went on to announce Tantrum, a 100-foot Euro-Fighter from Gerstlauer with a beyond-vertical drop and an Immelmann.

Fēnix

A relatively small B&M wing coaster will be coming to Toverland for 2018. After climbing to height of 130 feet, the coaster will take riders through a dive drop, Immelmann, and zero-g roll.

Wing coasters are known for their elaborate train designs, and Fēnix will be no exception. The bright orange trains will feature detailed phoenixes between each row.

Wicker Man

The newly-announced wooden coaster coming to Alton Towers will be packed with theming and special effects.

As the UK’s first new wooden coaster in 21 years, Wicker Man will incorporate wood and fire in a unique way. The ride’s trains will weave through a 60-foot “wicker man” structure that appears to burst into flames.

Wonder Woman Golden Lasso

As one of the first new Raptor coasters from Rocky Mountain Construction, Wonder Woman will treat riders to the first-ever single-rail experience.

With track composed of one wide steel beam, the coaster will seat riders in single file and offer unprecedented views of the train’s surroundings. Wonder Woman will start with a 90-degree drop before executing a dive loop, a cutback, and a corkscrew.

RailBlazer

RailBlazer might be a near clone to Wonder Woman, but California’s Great America’s single-rail model will have a few extra details like ATV-inspired trains and a silent lift hill. Themed to the Californian wilderness, the ride will incorporate scenery and rock structures that the coaster will dive through.

Overall, I’m excited for the potential of RMC’s Raptor coaster. Its compact design and realistic price tag make it a great choice for small parks like Great America.

HangTime

A dive coaster of sorts, HangTime will take riders 150 feet into the air and hold them in a dropping position. The ride will feature a 96-degree drop and five inversions, including a rare negative-g stall loop.

Knott’s Berry Farm isn’t skimping on the lighting package, either. At night, HangTime will come to life with disorienting chase lighting that races the train through each element.

Valkyria

Liseberg’s new dive coaster will take a bold stance as a valkyrie, a winged creature from Norse Mythology that chooses the outcome of a battle. After a 164-foot drop, the ride will swoop through three inversions.

Like most dive coasters, Valkyria will have a relatively short layout. I must say, though, Liseberg is doing a great job tying the ride into their new mythology area. If they implement the attention to detail we see on the station in the concept art, they’ll have a well-themed coaster on their hands.

Twisted Cyclone

In 2018, Six Flags Over Georgia will become the latest Six Flags park to receive an IBox coaster.

While Twisted Cyclone will feature quite a few disorienting maneuvers, including a signature reverse cobra roll, the ride’s layout is noticeably shorter post-conversion. One can’t help but wonder whether Six Flags went low-budget with the transformation. Regardless, the ride is certain to be a welcome addition to Georgia residents who have yet to ride an RMC.

Icon

Designed by Mack Rides, Icon at Blackpool Pleasure Beach will feature a weaving course with two launch sections and an endless series of high-speed over-banks. If there were an award for most efficient layout, Icon would be a likely candidate. The ride will pack in two launches and two inversions while circling inside of Big One’s footprint.

Time Traveler

Beginning with a 10-story vertical drop out of the station, Time Traveler will become the world’s tallest, fastest, and steepest spinning coaster. As the first Xtreme Spinning Coaster of Mack Rides, the coaster is a thrilling new take on the classic family ride. I’m excited to see Silver Dollar City investing in a ride that thrill seekers and their kids can enjoy together.

Twisted Timbers

In 2018, Kings Dominion will join the RMC bandwagon by giving Hurler the iron-horse treatment. Post conversion, the ride will stretch even longer than its wooden predecessor. With a barrel roll drop and a compact layout, Twisted Timbers makes me think of a slightly bigger version of Storm Chaser at Kentucky Kingdom. And that is by all means a good thing.

Hyperion

The new Intamin mega coaster coming to EnergyLandia will feature a 260-foot drop and a seamless layout. The ride will combine Skyrush-inspired turns with the sweeping drops of a B&M hyper coaster.

While we may not have seen many new Intamin coasters here in the United States, Hyperion is proof that the manufacturer is still capable of designing relentless rides that take thrills to the limit. In particular, the Stengel Dive turnaround is a unique element that I would love to see on more coasters.

Steel Vengeance

In 2018, Cedar Point’s Mean Streak will be reborn as the world’s first hyper hybrid coaster, standing at 205 feet tall. RMC outdoes themselves every year, and 2018 will be no exception. Featuring four inversions, Steel Vengeance will be three minutes of out-of-control maneuvers. The ride will never let up—even after the mid-course brake run, the coaster will take to weaving in and out of the coaster’s support structure, providing near misses as it bucks from side to side.


Which new roller coaster are you most excited about for 2018? Leave a comment below!

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Wonder Woman vs RailBlazer

August saw lots of great announcements from Six Flags and Cedar Fair, but perhaps the most innovative new rides coming in 2018 will be Rocky Mountain Construction’s new Raptor designs.

Wonder Woman at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and RailBlazer at California’s Great America will open as the world’s first single-rail coasters—meaning that they will run on one extra-wide beam of steel. As clones, the two coasters share a lot in common, but they each have minor differences that set them apart. Let’s take a look at what makes the Raptor coaster so unique and then compare two models opening next year.

What is a Raptor coaster?

Last year, Rocky Mountain Construction introduced their latest ride concept: A compact steel roller coaster that could save parks both space and money, all without compromising thrills. With single-file seating and a narrow track design, the ride could perform all of the wild maneuvers IBox coasters are famous for—but in a fraction of the space. The single-rail track would span only 15.5 inches wide, giving riders unprecedented views on either side of the track. Thus, the Raptor coaster was born.

An early visualization of RMC’s Raptor track

All of last off-season, coaster enthusiasts debated which park would be the first to jump on the new design. Early rumors pointed towards Knott’s Berry Farm getting a Raptor coaster, but the teasers put out by California’s Great America soon made us think otherwise. It became evident that the Santa Clara park planned on opening the first single-rail model based on their repeated reference to “SR-1.” Unfortunately for Great America, Six Flags Fiesta Texas had other plans. In an unexpected move, Fiesta Texas made their announcement a month ahead of schedule, boasting the world’s first single-rail coaster, Wonder Woman Golden Lasso.

When California’s Great America revealed their plans for RailBlazer, it became clear why Fiesta Texas had gone out of their way to be the first to make their announcement—the two Raptor coasters had nearly-identical layouts and shared the same selling points.

Regardless of which ride was announced first, Wonder Woman and RailBlazer show off the stunning capabilities of this new ride type. Both models begin with a plunging 90-degree drop and feature three inversions—a dive loop, a cutback, and a corkscrew. The compact layouts take advantage of the narrow trains by executing extremely tight turns and quick changes of direction.

Can you spot the differences?

Wonder Woman begins with a 113-foot lift, while RailBlazer is only 106 feet tall. However, both rides have the same length and both reach a top speed of 52 miles per hour, indicating that the extra seven feet on Wonder Woman won’t make much of a difference in the overall experience. Interestingly enough, California’s Great America pointed out that RailBlazer will feature a completely silent anti-rollback system that takes a turn from the traditional “clack-clack” sound of a chain lift, making for a quiet climb.

In terms of theming, the two Raptor coasters vary greatly from one another. Wonder Woman rides the wave of interest following the recent Wonder Woman film, and will feature Greek architecture and a wrecked plane in the queue area. RailBlazer is themed to the California wilderness, and the ride will weave in and out of a gorgeous rock structure and a natural waterway. RailBlazer takes advantage of the single-file trains by theming them to look like four-wheelers. This brilliant train design is one of the best implementations of the motorbike concept that I’ve seen. And I must say, the use of Raptor track in the RailBlazer logo was pretty creative.

I love the Raptor design, and applaud Rocky Mountain Construction’s decision to market to parks that have low budgets but high ideals. It will be interesting to see what amusement parks add Raptor coasters in the future. What do you think about Wonder Woman and RailBlazer? Are you planning on riding either coaster next year? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

Read next: Everything Cedar Fair Announced for 2018

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What’s Next for the Amusement Industry?

In our recent series about the history of roller coasters, we looked at six key rides that launched the amusement industry into a new era. From the Matterhorn Bobsleds revolutionizing the steel coaster to Magnum XL-200 starting the “Roller Coaster Wars,” the industry has been constantly changing as new and better roller coasters are introduced. Over the past decade, it’s become clear that we’ve reached the end of the Roller Coaster Wars. Kingda Ka has stood as the world’s tallest roller coaster since 2006, and with forces as high as they are on Formula Rossa, it seems unlikely that any ride will break 150 miles per hour. With the race of the record-breaking steel coaster drawing to a close, what trends can we expect from the amusement industry going forward?