My experiences of VR have so far have been two-fold: me in the comfort of my own home, sitting down and exploring a virtual reality world by moving my head. Or me in the discomfort of a room in a convention centre, surrounded by execs staring at me, while I explore a virtual reality world by moving my head.
Neither of these prepared me for flying around a rollecoaster at 40mph with a Gear VR strapped to my face. It’s the sort of experience that can change you as a person and it’s all thanks to Alton Towers in the UK, which is set to make history this spring, with the launch of the world’s first rollercoaster dedicated to virtual reality.
Using its existing attraction, Air, it has mapped a brand-new virtual reality experience to the ride. Every undulation, pivot and loop you experience is complimented by a VR experience that ports you into space.
The total course of Galactica is 840 metres long. Along the way passengers experience up to 3.5Gs of pressure, a 20 metre drop and speeds of up to 47mph – all while wearing a Gear VR.
Techradar was among only a handful of people to experience Galactica before it opens to the public at the end of March, and we were walked through the process of how the new experience was created, by Simon Reveley of Figment Productions, the company that created the virtual reality part of the ride.
Overcooking on gas
It turns out that virtual reality isn’t part of the experience but the whole experience of Galactica. Each passenger dons a heavily modified Samsung Gear VR and rides the rollercoaster, while watching a specifically made film that ports the rider into a CGI journey through space.
Galactica has been a total of two years in the making and while the mapping of the ride’s twists and turns are key to what you view on headset, there were a few surprises when making the experience.
“When we started working on Galactica, we were really anxious about the accuracy of the footage with the ride,” explained Reveley.
“While it does have to be accurate, what became really fascinating was that as long as you match the changes in direction and you match the acceleration, you can amplify things and over cook them.”
“You can take a corner and keep it going and no one knows. You can expand moves as long as you hit the radical changes. As long as you match these, you can cheat things a little.
“For many this will be there first VR experience and they will go 40 to 50mph while witnessing it.”
The idea of experiencing VR at 40mph for many will be a vomit-inducing one, but this simply isn’t the case with Galactica. Using a headset on a rollercoaster is a lot more natural than it sounds – it’s just another bit of kit you need to put on while entering the ride.
Sickness is usually experienced when VR tricks the brain into thinking you are moving when you are not – the locomotion effect – and that is something Galactica definitely doesn’t do. With every turn, you are actually moving on the rollercoaster.
The Gear VRs that are used are nearly unrecognisable, as they are under a thick skin of velcro and packaging to protect them from the 1,500 people an hour that will be using them. And to make sure that the technology works effectively, everything is controlled by tablets remotely.
“If we have to reset one of the headsets, then we can do so on a tablet. We can see everything on the tablet and send messages to each headset if needed. All of this infrastructure is unique to Galactica, the whole ride is just about having that amazing VR experience,” said Reveley.