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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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Features News Opinion

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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featured Opinion

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?

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Construction News Opinion Rumors

Is RMC Mean Streak Opening in 2018?

Cedar Point fans rejoiced when the park announced that Mean Streak would be closing for future plans. After all, the rumors all pointed to one possible outcome: A steel transformation from Rocky Mountain Construction.

Categories
featured Features Opinion

Why I’m Not Upset that Lightning Rod is Still Closed

Dollywood’s record-breaking wooden coaster was expected to shatter all expectations when it opened in April. The problem? It didn’t open until May, and then suffered from a series of issues with its launch system, causing it to shut down. Since then, Lightning Rod has been in and out of technical ride rehearsal, disappointing many enthusiasts who visited the park solely to catch a ride on the coaster. For me, this long summer of waiting proves that innovation comes at a cost.

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Announcements News Opinion

Has Fury 325 Set a New Standard?

With its long-awaited opening last weekend, Fury 325 became the tallest and fastest non-launching roller coaster in the world. Stretching 325 feet in the air, this monster of a coaster towers menacingly over Carowinds’s other rides. Swiftly winding its way to the front of the park, the coaster’s sleek train dives under the stunning new entrance. Fury is super tall, super fast, and super smooth. It’s been looked forward to like few others before it. But does it have what it takes to make a model coaster?