Is VR Good Or Bad For Theme Park Rides?

Is VR Good Or Bad For Theme Park Rides?
October 7, 2016
Virtual reality might be one of the hot new technologies in the entertainment business these days, but is it a good fit for theme parks? Six Flags Magic Mountain’s The New Revolution" VR roller coaster debuted earlier this year, but fans complained throughout the season about slow loading times, due to the need for riders to put on and adjust their VR headsets.

With the video game industry earning billions of dollars each year, publishers are looking for any edge they can find to win customers. Virtual reality makes video games look and feel more realistic, as the action moves off a flat screen in front of you to take up all the visual space around you, thanks to a headset that consumes your entire field of vision.
VR no longer needs expensive, bulky, purpose-built headsets to work. With today's technology, a cell phone can work as a VR headset, using a simple set of straps to mount it at the right distance in front of your eyes. That’s brought down the price of VR, encouraging theme parks to try using it in some of their attractions.
When I rode The New Revolution at Magic Mountain earlier this year, I found the VR display complemented the physical experience of riding a roller coaster, making it delightful.
One of the problems with some VR implementations is the potential disconnect between what you are seeing in your headset and what your body is feeling at the some moment. If the VR display is showing motion that you’re not feeling, your body might adjust by making you feel queasy. It’s like watching a big-screen action film with an unstable camera, but way, way more nauseating.
Riding a roller coaster whose motion matches the action on the screen eliminates that problem, allowing you to experience the full exhilaration of an action scene. But many fans have complained that wearing a VR headset on a roller coaster also robs them of some of the great joys of coaster riding – those wonderful views at the top of lift hills, coupled with the rush of seeing the real world fly past.
Ultimately, people aren’t going to pay $50-100 a day – or more – to go to a theme park to experience video technology that’s at best marginally better than what they can see for free at home. Throw in the time it takes to clean, hand out, put on and adjust all those headsets, and VR theme parks often means slower loading rides with longer waits. Ugh. SeaWorld has announced that it will add VR to one of its coasters in Orlando next year, sparking more complaints from fans worried about longer wait times.
Virtual reality also gives away theme parks’ greatest strength, which is the creation of fantastically themed physical environments. Walking into Hogsmeade at Universal Studios Hollywood or Cars Land at Disney California Adventure raises goose bumps like no VR experience ever will. Who wants to miss that by strapping on a VR headset?
But what if the headset allowed you to see both? If virtual reality might prove a dead end for theme parks, augmented reality could be the development that clears the way for theme parks’ next great building boom. With augmented reality, you see your physical environment while also seeing virtual elements added to it. Pokemon Go provides a simplistic example of the technology, but its real boom will come once companies develop inexpensive eyeglasses that support augmented reality projections.
With augmented reality glasses as easy to distribute as 3D glasses, theme parks can start developing augmented reality attractions no video game ever could match. I can't wait to walk around Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter casting spells at virtual trolls, werewolves and dark wizards throughout the land. Or to ride a Pirates of the Caribbean where virtual cannonballs whiz past my head as even more virtual pirates do battle along the plentiful "real" ones.
But augmented reality slapped onto existing attractions probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as impressive as new environments created with augmented reality in mind. I would love to see what new environments and attractions theme park designers could create with augmented reality at their disposal.
At least that gives me something exciting to think about as I wait in another slow line for a VR headset.

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