This morning Randy from Metro Atlanta Coaster Club got the great opportunity to head out to Six Flags Over Georgia and check out their new VR coaster, and also ask a few questions to Thomas Wagner who represents the German company who developed the VR coaster.
We'll start off with some awesome video that shows the VR and reverse POV of the ride and then Randy's review including some quotes from Thomas Wagner from VR Coasters.
Lastly, some great pictures showing off the actual VR tech.
SFOG goes VR … WTF or WTG?
In early March 2016, Six Flags surprised park fans by announcing it was rolling out a virtual reality experience at several of its parks for the coming season. We’d been hearing about Cedar Fair testing VR on Thunder Run at Canada’s Wonderland, and Alton Towers is transforming its B&M Flyer, Air, into Galactica, complete with a wired VR experience. But what Six Flags is doing is rather unprecedented, and was kept remarkably quiet until about 10 days before the first parks receive it. Nine different parks on nine completely different coasters … will the big gamble have a big payoff?
Before we begin, we need to flash back to IAAPA. VR Coasters, the German company behind The New Revolution VR Coaster program, showcased its product aboard Freedom Flyer, the Vekoma Family Suspended Coaster at Orlando’s Fun Spot America. The reaction from the various Six Flags park presidents in attendance was pretty unanimous: let’s do this! Most importantly, they did it very silently, so it came across as a great bonus way to start off the season. By virtue of the calendar, Six Flags Over Georgia will be the first park of the nine to launch The New Revolution VR Coaster, and does so aboard its now five-year-old Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter, Dare Devil Dive.
The ride already has a huge sign announcing the arrival, and the ride platform has had some features added to get it ready for this new experience. A work area has been set up at the back off-load side of the platform, where the virtual-reality headsets can be kept charged and will be cleaned after each use. There’s plenty of tech available to keep things moving. Park officials also insured that there will be additional staff on the platform to help get riders ready and to keep the lines from getting extraordinarily long. It debuts exclusively to Season passholders for opening weekend, so it will be a good test run. (Incidentally, the ride will be open to all this weekend, but only passholders can experience the VR version; all riders can access it starting March 19.)
Thomas Wagner, the co-founder of VR Coasters, was on-hand to describe the technology. The headset itself, aside from the various securing straps, is very stock. It uses Samsung’s GearVR goggles with a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone for the visuals. The eyepiece and straps are covered in an anti-microbial leather material similar to that used on airplane seats, which will be wiped down between uses. Each of Dare Devil Dive’s four cars will have a small box mounted to it, between the rear seats. This box controls the on-screen action that’s sent to the goggles using two sensors; one looks for specific sections of track so it knows where it is (such as the station), while the other counts rotations of one of the rear wheels. This sets the speed of the experience, ensuring the film tracks precisely to the, well, track, regardless of its speed. Also, in the event of a mechanical failure on the ride (such as getting held in the mid-course brakes), the experience will hold at that point and resume after the car gets moving again.
Riders will take their seats on the ride and then mount the headgear. It’s not difficult, and the prototype straps in place for this media preview were comfortable. It’ll be powered up as soon as you put it on, and will show you inside a fighter-jet parked inside a hangar. Look around, and you’ll see other activity in the hangar. You’ll also notice a rather formidable dual-barrel gun tracking wherever you look. Touching the right side of the visor will fire those guns, even! After the restraints are secured, the car leaves the station – er, the fighter begins to taxi around the hangar. It approaches a door and holds for a moment, but when the door opens, there’s nothing in front of you. Oh well, the only way to go is up, and up you go as Dare Devil Dive climbs its vertical lift hill and your fighter heads toward the (thankfully) open roof.
As soon as you reach the top, you emerge into a raging battle. In the distance, a looming alien mother-ship is menacing a port city. Alien ships to the left and right! Hopefully you can take one out, but another one will take out your guns, leaving you to hang on for dear life as your pilot dives straight down to street level and winds through the city streets chasing the invaders. So many buildings! Let’s hope you don’t hit one, but no such luck. You do, and it slows you down … at exactly the same time you hit Dare Devil Dive’s mid-course brakes, coincidentally. It’s that attention to detail that makes the experience that much more believable. We now swing around a loading crane by the port, pursuing more invaders, ducking between falling buildings and spiraling through that crane again, heading towards a waiting aircraft carrier. We touch down (DDD hits the final brake run) and see the mother-ship falling out of the skies, engulfed in flames and explosions. Victory is ours … until the next batch of riders boards!
Sam Rhodes, Six Flags’ Director of Design, explained that the basic theme is similar across six of the nine rides, but synced up to that particular ride’s profile. Since Shock Wave at Six Flags Over Texas is different from Dare Devil Dive, it has a completely different VR experience. The three Superman-themed rides that will have this overlay – Krypton Coaster at SF Fiesta Texas, The Ride at SF New England and Ride of Steel at SF America – will indeed feature the Man of Steel battling arch nemesis Lex Luthor. Again, real-world components of the ride are masked in a way that makes sense in the general story. For example, for the Superman coasters, riders will be taking a pleasure flight and will have just taken off from the airport when Lex Luthor appears, pursued naturally by Superman. Lex attacks your plane, sending it hurtling to the ground before Superman collects you and pulls you back into the sky … I’m sure you can tell me what REALLY just happened.
Both Rhodes and Wagner said this may just be the beginning of this experience at the park. The VR overlay is described as “limited-time”, but that’s being purposefully vague. SFOG does pay attention to its visitors; it kept namtaB (Batman Backwards) for several more weeks last season by popular demand. So you may be battling aliens all year, or just until daily ops begin this May. Or, it may relocate to another attraction … or it may be given a Halloween or Christmas theme during those two end-of-year events at the park. All it takes is the ride profile, a bit of math and a lot of creativity, and the sky is VIRTUALLY the limit!
Having ridden Dare Devil Dive since its debut five years ago, I knew the ride layout by memory, making the VR easier to adapt to. I spent much of the first ride matching everything up in my head … but that was unfair. I blocked that out on my second run, trying to experience it as if I was a first-time rider. The VR really does plus it up in a fun, but unobtrusive way. It all makes sense, with no dialogue or explanation … which is mainly because it has no sound component. Adding audio would make everything heavier and harder to wear, to say nothing about adding even more to the concerns about guests’ personal hygiene. Also, and this is really being nitpicky, the graphics are good, but hardly cutting edge compared to today’s movies and video games. But in the end, it’s the experience that overweighs all that. It’s still fun, and still worth some effort to experience.
The New Revolution VR Coaster is just one of the new experiences Six Flags Over Georgia has in store for 2016, its 50th operating season. The first of the two announced kids’ areas, Bugs Bunny Boomtown, will open with the park on Saturday, March 12 with all but one ride, the Yosemite Sam Wacky Wagons Ferris wheel (that will open soon). Work is slowly getting underway on the second area, DC Super Friends, which will be the first-ever use of this kid-friendly variant of the comic heroes. It’s still on target for a late spring opening. Another new feature, JB’s Sports Bar and Grill, replaces Big Mo’s in the French section and will open by the end of the month.
For you coaster fans, the rest of the park’s arsenal looks to be ready for the season, with some notable exceptions. Goliath will open with just one train; the second unit is being rebuilt from the bogies up and will be added later this spring (the operating train has already undergone this overhaul). Cyclone may debut with one train at first, as well, but everything else will have standard load-outs starting Saturday. Two coasters will not debut with the park. Canyon Blaster is busy being rethemed into The Joker’s Funhouse, and should re-open with DC Super Friends later in the spring. And then there’s the red-tracked stepchild in Cotton States, Ninja.
Sharp-eyed readers observed the park’s 2016 map on its website and noticed two things: that Ninja was now blue in color and was labeled “all-new” and opening later in the season. Park President Dale Kaetzel said that Vekoma was on site and working to improve the ride experience with some track work and some improvements to the trains. Kaetzel did mention it would sport the new vest-type harnesses found on Vekoma’s Boomerang coasters (such as Carolina Cobra at nearby Carowinds), but was coy about whether it would be on new trains or on the existing vehicles. I’m wagering it’ll be the former. Kaetzel also mentioned that the name “Ninja” may not be on it when it does re-open, but nothing was set yet.
And lastly, while this is the 50th operating season, next year is the big 5-0 itself. Big anniversaries usually mean big presents, and needless to say, Mr. Kaetzel wasn’t forthcoming with what may be planned for 2017, but he did say that I would be pleased with the plans. He knows I’m a coaster fan, so I’m pretty sure he knew the message was received and understood.
Randy is a member of Metro Atlanta Coaster Club (MACC), which will celebrate its 7th anniversary this summer. MACC calls the Atlanta area home when it’s not traveling around the United States trying out other new attractions, but it has members and followers throughout the country. You can find their site at http://www.metroatlantacoasterclub.com or on Facebook under “Metro Atlanta Coaster Club” or on Twitter at @MACC_Coasters.]
The tech is impressive!
The headset ... all stock. Samsung GearVR with a Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone. The surfaces that touch your face are made with an anti-microbial leather similar to that used in airplane seats, and will be wiped down after EVERY use. It's very secure and lightweight.
The brains. This small box feeds the headsets wirelessly with the data they need to run the experience. You can look around and see the "world" around you, so it's not like Star Tours.
These sensors tell the VR system where the train is. The vertical sensor sees that strip near the wheel and tells the system it's in the station. The horizontal sensor counts wheel rotations to know where the train is on the ride. So the action you see is timed to the ride experience perfectly, regardless of the train's speed or unexpected stops (like on the lift or mid-course).
Another group of riders about to take off!
Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Thomas Wagner, from VR Coasters, the German company behind this great experience
Thanks again to Randy for covering the event for us, looks like a great time. Be sure to check out Metro Atlanta Coaster Clubs Events Page for all the latest on their upcoming trips including trips to Dollywood at the end of this month and their big Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky trip in May.