Amusement parks have competed for decades to see who has the fastest, highest, scariest roller coasters. Now that competition is moving from the physical to the virtual world.
Later this month, visitors to Six Flags Magic Mountain here can don a virtual reality headset enter the world of “mixed reality” that will let them fly a jet, traverse a wormhole, fire weapons, and save the planet from an alien drone invasion.
They’ll do all this while strapped into the New Revolution Galactic Attack roller coaster.
Magic Mountain and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom near San Francisco are the first two Six Flags parks to add a gaming component to the VR coasters they opened last year.
“Our strategic partnership with Six Flags enables millions of consumers to experience virtual reality for the first time by bringing Gear VR to real roller coasters at theme parks across the country,” said Marc Mathieu, Samsung Electronics America’s chief marketing officer.
The key to the new ride is the Samsung Gear VR headset. Its pass-through camera allows wearers to see their real-world surroundings along with virtual images. The ride gives riders wearing the headset the ability to fire virtual weapons during parts of the ride.
Samsung developed Gear VR in 2015 with Oculus, a virtual reality vendor bought in 2014 by Facebook for $2.3 billion.
“Six Flags is proud to be partnering with Samsung to develop the newest, most innovative thrill ride experience in the theme park industry,” said Brett Petit, senior vice president of marketing and sales. “This mixed reality technology is truly groundbreaking and like nothing our guests have ever experienced. Six Flags and Samsung changed the game last year with VR on twelve roller coasters and now we are breaking new ground yet again.”
During the coaster’s initial climb, typically the least engaging part of the ride, a heads up display overlay will show data like current status of weaponry, time codes, fuel cells, and a countdown clock.
The ride’s mixed reality view changes to a completely immersive, virtual reality environment during the ride’s first high speed drop. The ride’s software allows for three different experiences.
The virtual images are closely synchronized with the movement of the roller coast train. “If you’re in the second row and I’m in the tenth row, you will see the virtual images a fraction of a second before I do,” said Sue Carpenter, Six Flags spokeswoman. “The train’s movement is perfectly synced with the headsets.”
Last year, the park overhauled its Revolution coaster with VR sensors along the track and new VR-enabled trains, making it North America’s first virtual reality roller coaster. The update refreshes a ride first launched in 1976 to coincide with the American Bicentennial. At the time, it was the world’s first looping coaster.
The sensors and VR technology are made by VR Coaster, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Six Flags Magic Mountain is one of about two dozen amusement parks around the world that have installed the technology.
The headsets use anti-microbial leather and have an extra chinstrap to make sure they don’t fall off during the ride. Several sets of headsets will be used in rotation. This will give them time to be cleaned and recharged and to cool down, as they tend to heat up in use.
Samsung has set an age limit of 12 and up to use the VR headsets, not out of concern with content but because the VR experience might be too much for younger children, Carpenter said. VR is free with park admission, and riders can decline the headset and experience the ride in what used to be the only kind of reality.
One advantage of VR technology is that it can be reprogrammed to give riders different experiences on the same ride, thus providing a greater incentive for return visits. For example, over the holiday season, New Revolution’s theme was changed to Santa’s Wild Sleigh Ride.
The game that riders will play was created for the ride, and isn’t tied into any existing video games, Carpenter said. The ride, one of 19 at Six Flags Magic Mountain, officially opens the weekend of Feb. 25-26. On Feb. 18-20, customers who bring a full bag of non-perishable food items to support Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry will have first crack at the new ride.