Theme Park Insider

Six Flags to Add Virtual Reality to Nine Coasters This Year

March 3, 2016, 8:59 AM · Six Flags announced this morning that it will add virtual reality headsets on nine of its roller coasters across the country this year — and some will have interactive game play.

The New Revolution coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which was undergoing renovations to celebrate its 40th anniversary as the world's first steel looping coaster, will get a storyline where riders are piloting fighter jets in a battle against alien invaders. From Six Flags' announcement:

Taking in the view around them, riders will see other aircraft in an underground secret bunker. As the aircraft moves to a landing pad, it begins to launch its thruster engines, lifting the craft straight up through the roof. During the ascent, riders can test fire their weapons using the world’s first-ever interactive gameplay technology on a roller coaster. As riders clear the roof, they realize they are on top of a skyscraper and about to launch off the edge of the building diving straight down on the first drop of the ride. The aircraft races through the city until reaching the edge of the skyline where riders see the mother ship hovering above. The mother ship is heavily protected by drones and the mission is to get past the drones, fire on the mother ship and destroy it.

The New Revolution will open to season passholders for a sneak preview on March 26. The alien invasion story line also will appear on five other coasters:

In addition, Six Flags is adding VR to three of its Superman roller coasters. In this story line...

[Riders] will be fully immersed in the 360-degree comic-book world of Metropolis. Guests will be taken on a leisurely (or so they think) tour of the city of Metropolis, courtesy of Lex Corp Sky Tours. Just after departing the station riders encounter Lex Luthor who uses an anti-gravity gun along with his army of Lex Bots to create chaos throughout the city with cars, taxis and buses floating in mid-air around the rider’s vehicle. As the Lexbots continue shooting at the vehicle, Superman uses heat vison to destroy the anti-gravity gun, causing all objects to suddenly fall, including the train as it takes the first giant drop of the roller coaster. Riders then soar alongside Superman as he battles the evil Lexbots through hairpin twists and turns, loops, dips and dives before ultimately defeating Lex and the Lexbots, and returning safely back into the station.

The three participating coasters will be:

On all nine coasters, riders will wear Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus headsets. The nine will be the first virtual reality coasters in North America, according to Six Flags.

Let's put this idea to a vote:

Update: I went up to Magic Mountain this morning to try out the VR headsets and take a look at the current status of the track and new trains.

Replies (43)

March 3, 2016 at 9:12 AM · I like the inventiveness (and I'm a big believer in the VR revolution), but I can't imagine how sweaty and nasty the headsets would get. Not to mention the potential to transmit pink eye, or the like.

Several other issues I foresee:
-The phones powering Gear VRs get overheated very quickly - how will they deal with that when a guest's screen goes black in the middle of the ride?
-Potential of the headsets flying off and injuring other passengers or guests. How will they be secured?
-Since I'm assuming they'll be cleaning each of these after each ride, I would think riders per hour would plummet pretty quickly.

I just think this is way too early in VR's lifespan to be good for the theme park industry or the VR industry. We'll see more and more of these pop up, but I see too many problems right now.

March 3, 2016 at 9:15 AM · Sounds. Can't. Wait!
March 3, 2016 at 9:19 AM · How do you put on the headset before riding?
The wireless VR headset is secured with three straps – one around the head, one over the head and a chinstrap, along with a safety lanyard. You’ll be able to try on the sanitized headset and adjust the straps before it’s your turn to ride. When you approach the loading station, you’ll raise the headset so you can board the coaster, secure the ride restraint and then pull the headset over your eyes – get ready to take off!

Will it make me nauseous?
Because the visuals on the virtual reality screen are synched precisely with the coaster’s drops, twists and turns, there is no motion sickness as some might expect. As you see the 3D movements through your headgear, your body experiences the identical motion of the coaster, creating an unbelievably thrilling experience. Unlike watching the visuals while standing still, there should be no adverse effect.

Can children wear the headsets?
As with any of our rides and attractions, we follow manufacturer's guidelines. In this case, their policy states that the headgear should not be used by children 12 years of age and under. Typically Gear VR users are in front of gaming stations for extended periods of times while connected to the internet, so there are privacy issues to consider. Users might also be walking around in their homes, while wearing the headsets, which is not recommended. While use on our ride is completely different, we are adhering to the manufacturer's policy. Guests 12 years or under may still enjoy the coaster, without the Gear VR headset, as long as they meet the minimum height requirement.

Are the headsets cleaned?
Yes, all parts of the headset that touch a rider’s face and head will be covered with an anti-microbial leather and cleansed between every use with anti-bacterial wipes. The coaster will have multiple sets so that as a trainload of guests ride the coaster, others can be adjusting their headsets and preparing to board, while additional headsets are being sanitized.

March 3, 2016 at 9:37 AM · I am in shock right now. I will comment later once this information sinks in
March 3, 2016 at 9:38 AM · A coaster is sth *real* - that´s the whole idea behind spending millions of dollars on real track. Anything that distracts from the reality of the experience is thus contra productive. If I want video games, I can stay at home. Comic book world? Sorry, completely uninterested.
March 3, 2016 at 9:51 AM · I agree with everything Blake said.

This a great idea - that Six Flags will probably execute horribly!

They need to keep putting their limited I&M funds into family dark rides and increase attendance the smart way. I just don't see how this is going to attract more people/families to their parks as it would appeal mostly to the teenager set who are already well represented in their parks.

March 3, 2016 at 10:00 AM · The gross factor of using something that was on another person aside, do we have to digitize everything today?! The experience of going up a lift Hill and glancing out over a park is part of the thrill and beauty of coasters. Not to mention, theme parks make you leave all loose articles with another person or in a locker (so conveniently located at the entrance of almost every coaster) due to safety concerns, how can they rationalize this tech gear as safe? I'm sure this will appeal to some but at the ripe old age of 42 I just don't get it. :)
March 3, 2016 at 10:11 AM · Oh this seems like a good idea.....WAIT WHAT?
March 3, 2016 at 10:14 AM · I voted terrible idea. Coasters can be sickening for some people (myself included) and motion simulators can be sickening for some people (myself not included). The idea of combining the two sounds, well, even more nauseating. I worry that parks are going to start switching to VR for more rides and will allow them to "cheap out" in other areas of development such as aesthetics and environment (such as we've seen with the tired screens debate). At the end of the day, it's just a pair of goggles. If I'm paying top dollar for some rides, I'd like to actually see them and everything around me too.
March 3, 2016 at 10:24 AM · I have some concerns.

In order for VR headsets to "feel" right with an operating roller coaster, the imagery you see needs to be in perfect sync with the motion of the ride. But I have doubts that Six Flags can get the picture you see in the headset to sync correctly with the forces you actually feel on-ride. Even if it's slightly off, that could cause issues.. so even a moderately thrilling roller coaster like New Revolution could induce nausea or dizziness because you can't see your physical surroundings.

VR tech is exciting and flashy and "the new thing" right now but I'm skeptical about how it will work with an outdoor coaster.

March 3, 2016 at 10:32 AM · I think an augmented reality system would be much better for a coaster experience. One of the great things about a coaster is not only the physical thrills, but seeing all your surroundings. Especially on Revolution, weaving in and out of the trees, following the landscape. Imagine adding an alien attack, not to a virtual world but to Magic Mountain itself.

The other main problem with VR is motion sickness. Unfortunately, I will not be able to try these VR coasters at all because of how sick I get.

March 3, 2016 at 10:53 AM · Nice comments so far...
So when these things fly off your head..

I go to a park to see the Park, not wear a f-ing head piece.

They will break and cost $$$$$...
Take more time to load folks on ride...
What if you wear glasses?

At least Six Flags is being talked about for once....hahahhaha

March 3, 2016 at 11:00 AM · A few questions/comments:

How does the anonymous third poster know all that?

I guess this is a (relatively) cheap way of theming their coasters. But aren't coasters thrilling enough?

Here's a question: Would we have the option of not wearing the VR goggles?

March 3, 2016 at 11:23 AM · Sounds like fun. I'm old (52) and am always up for new stuff! The VR goggles are totally optional. As for myself, the main draw will be riding Revolution again WITHOUT SHOULDER RESTRAINTS as it was originally designed. Most likely there will be designated seats for goggle users as different parts of the train will reach twists and curves at slightly different times and in order to minimize motion sickness, the VR projections have to sinc up EXACTLY with what your body is experiencing physically. I think the VR goggles will be an up-charge experience that only a few will opt for once the initial thrill has worn off. I'm wondering just how much this up-charge is going to be for the 5 minute "rental". I don't see this as an imposition to the rest of us who are riding the coaster sans goggles.
March 3, 2016 at 11:24 AM · Interesting that so many people have opinions about VR used on roller coasters. I have personally never had experience with VR, and the thought of combining technology of that sort with a roller coaster seems completely natural (given that it is synched well with the ride). I would love to see how it goes once the change is rolled out!
March 3, 2016 at 11:47 AM · I can't imagine using a VR headset on a hot humid day. It will fog up and I won't be able to see anything.
March 3, 2016 at 12:00 PM · Great! Just what we need. Longer wait time as putting these things on and off and cleaning them will slow loading times. Let's not forget Six Flags love to run one train at a time with 75% of the train filled.
March 3, 2016 at 12:07 PM · I think that this is a godawful idea. VR headsets strike me as extraneous and I can't see how they could fail to detract from the overall ride experience. By adding them, the park will be depriving guests of the PURE experience of riding a roller coaster. The experience will necessarily be distorted. At least this is optional; were it not, I'd skip the coasters in question entirely. I decided to wait until this year to ride Wicked Cyclone so that I could also reap the benefit of the newly repainted Superman f/k/a Bizarro and now they're doing this to Superman? Give me a break!
March 3, 2016 at 12:15 PM · Let me see if I understand this correctly.

The same company that can't seem to scrape the chewing gum off practically any surface of their roller coaster queues is going to be responsible for sanitizing the VR headsets between users?

Forgive me for my cynicism - and I am a fan of the Six Flags parks - but in this age of MRSA and other sanitizer-resistant bacteria, I think I'll pass on this opportunity.

March 3, 2016 at 1:16 PM · Pure and simple, this is a gimmick. It is something that will probably be interesting in the short term, but I don't see it lasting more than one season on the same coaster. However, it would be real easy to move the headsets to different coasters each year until every ride has had a VR experience. I don't know if it will be an upcharge or not, but I do know that it will be completely optional and (at least at SFMM) there will be separate queues for VR and non-VR, so the effect should be limited on those who don't want to use it.

As for whether it is a great idea or terrible idea, that depends 100% on the execution. I could see this being an excellent way to breathe new life into an older or unpopular coaster, but I think it should be kept away from any that are low capacity or still very popular as capacity will be reduced a bit with these. Some of Six Flags's choices make perfect sense (Ninja, Shockwave, the Superman rides), while others are quite questionable (particularly Goliath and Dare Devil Dive). New Revolution is an okay choice, but I would think Scream would be the best option at SFMM for this. If the image quality is good and the syncing is perfect, this could be a really budget friendly way to plus a basic coaster. As for me, this is something I will probably try once or twice, but even if it is free I don't think it will become the new way to ride a roller coaster.

March 3, 2016 at 1:34 PM · Ninja at Six Flags Saint Louis is a neck breaker of a coaster. If you aren't bracing yourself, you're dead meat. I worry that someone is going to suffer serious injury on this ride if he is watching a video game instead of bracing for injury inducing turns.

On the other hand, Six Flags Saint Louis is a filthy, ugly park (Tim you are spot on with your gum comment), so virtual reality will provide much better scenery.

March 3, 2016 at 1:49 PM · Sylvain, notice how anonymous #3 said "As with any of our rides and attractions, we follow manufacturer's guidelines." This came from a Six Flags pr person. At least TPI is getting attention paid to it by the big boys. Is it a good or bad idea? We'll know by the end of the opening month, possibly opening week.
March 3, 2016 at 3:00 PM · I don't like the idea of wearing one of these on a coaster. I love the climb up a lift hill, the views, and the thrills of being on a roller coaster. If I can still ride those rides without the headsets I will be ok with it, but man otherwise it will ruin the experience for me.
March 3, 2016 at 3:23 PM · Big concerns. Lots of em. More than I can count.

Going to be SO MUCH FUN to see this play out.


March 3, 2016 at 7:39 PM · This literally sounds like the worst thing in the world. Let's start with the basics. First, if people wanted to ride a ride that is motion simulated, than they'll just ride a motion simulator ride. Second, these VR headsets are a bacteria magnet. I can't even imagine how disgusting they'll be on a summer day when they're covered in sweat and hair product. Not to mention if somebody has a contagious illness like pink eye or some kind of skin virus, it'll instantly be transferred to you. I really don't care how well the park says they'll clean them, because in reality they can never eliminate 100% of the bacteria and viruses on there and considering how close these devices are to your eyes, I would be very worried.Third, this will make the line sooooo much longer. Ordinary people can't even figure out how to buckle a seatbelt on a roller coaster, let alone strap on a complicated headset. Fourth, Most people will get massive motion sickness with these headsets on. This will lead to many more people having an unpleasant day and a lot more vomit throughout the park. Fifth, in the long run, they'll be extremely expensive as the constant head banging will eventually break the devices. Sixth, many people go to Six Flags parks specifically because they have physical coasters that allow you to watch the track and just be able to look around. Six Flags needs to stop trying to be like Universal.
March 3, 2016 at 5:39 PM · Don't knock it till you try it!
March 3, 2016 at 10:17 PM · Although I do not like this idea I do remember reading somewhere before that Cedar Fair was toying around with this Idea before Six Flags decided to implement it so this does not come as a complete shock to me.

Yes former Disneyland president now current cedar fair CEO matt ouillet was considering this concept.

Therefore it wouldn't completely shock me if Seaworld Parks and Entertainment considers this concept next

March 3, 2016 at 11:49 PM · Think this is brilliant! Check out some other articles about it. The video will be hooked up with each train and all banks and dives will be incorporated into the VR world so the rider braces themselves for the upcoming twists turns and drops. Just really surprised this is the first day I'm reading of this. Think it could be a game changer. The possibilities are off the chart!
March 3, 2016 at 11:54 PM · Check this out. Six Flags vid of fighter pilot VR coaster ride

March 4, 2016 at 2:37 AM · If nothing else the idea of spreading a disease via the headsets will make a great plot for a horror movie!
March 4, 2016 at 3:10 AM · Wow, so many potential problems with this:
1) Bacteria - do you trust Six Flags to wipe them down properly after every use?
2) Projectile - do you trust ride operators and riders to have these visors fastened adequately so they don't fly off during the ride?
3) Motion sickness - simulators make some people sick and the vomit could really fly.
4) Neck and back injuries - I can just see the lawsuits coming from this where riders complain (unfairly or not) of injuries because they couldn't see where they were going and brace themselves
5) Slower load times
A roller coaster is not a controlled environment suitable for today's VR technology. This will fail terribly and quickly.
March 4, 2016 at 7:48 AM · Can't wait for someone to take the VR thing off during the coaster ride because it was bothering them.. And of course they drop it plummeting to the earth at something like 32 ft per second, per second..

How about a motion simulator ride using these? Like a Minion mayhem simulator.. Now that would make sense..

March 4, 2016 at 1:37 PM · I'm not sure how I feel about this technology, because I have not personally experienced it. However, the one thing that strikes me about this move from Six Flags is that I'm SHOCKED that they're not selling this as an "upcharge". The cost of the equipment, extra crew to staff the coasters with this technology, and the maintenance of the system as a whole is going to be HUGE for Six Flags. While that total probably is minuscule to the raw cost of building a new roller coaster, it seems odd that they're going "all-in" on this concept across the country instead of testing it out on one or two rides first.

Here are some of my other reservations about this...

1. Coaster experiences are not identical every single time (or in every seat), so their claim that the images projected in the headsets will always be perfectly synchronized with the coaster is going to be pretty hard to meet unless they plan on installing sensors along the entire length of the coaster track.

2. They're installing this technology on some pretty popular attractions that already carry sizable lines on busy days without having to rig up guests with headsets. In the case of Six Flags America (my home park), Superman: Ride of Steel is the only coaster in the park worth re-riding, and with typical single train operation, lines can exceed 30 minutes on busy Saturdays. The load times on these coasters will be affected dramatically unless they completely reconfigure the queues.

3. What if guests want to ride without the headsets? Will they be given that option?

4. These headsets will break, just like everything in a theme park, so will there be techs on site from Samsung and Oculus to quickly repair or replace the tech as it dies?

5. There are the obvious safety issues noted by just about everyone above. Again, it would make sense if they were trying this out on one or 2 rides in the chain, but Six Flags is going for the all or nothing approach here, which could very easily lead to a complete disaster.

6. This is Six Flags we're talking about here. Sure, they were pretty successful last year with their Justice League attractions (even those had some serious technical issues throughout the season), but I have ZERO confidence that Six Flags can pull of something this complicated across the entire chain successfully.

7. Considering the above, how long until they make this an upcharge? As I stated before, I'm shocked they're not advertising this as an upcharge (they haven't said it isn't), but inevitably, Six Flags will find a way to monetize this because the shear cost of maintaining and running these systems is going to be significant.

I would like to try this out to see what it's like, but I just don't think it's necessary on the best coasters in the chain. It might be a good way to improve an aging coaster that is slated for SBNO in the near term, but hypercoasters seem like a bad choice here.

March 4, 2016 at 10:40 AM · While I will wait and see the details of how this will play out before commenting on the success of the idea, I'm not overly concerned with the hygiene aspect of these goggles. The 3-D glasses being used in theme parks are reused every single day, but there isn't an outcry about their cleanliness. While cleaning VR goggles will take more care than stacking 3-D glasses in a washing machine, I'm not worried about getting somebody's germs.
March 4, 2016 at 1:18 PM · I think this is a good idea to use on smaller coasters or older ones that don't have the same thrill as newer giga and strata coasters. However, the visuals are going to need be be constantly updated to keep up with the current pace of technology. What looks like great VR graphics now is going to look like trash in 5 years.
March 4, 2016 at 2:23 PM · totally agree that this is one big giant bad idea...when i first read the article i thought what are they thinking? i get that they are probably trying to increase ridership on some of these relics but this will probably cause more problems in the long run. james rao, you are right...some of these coasters are ROUGH rides and you need to be prepared to brace when necessary and not have a blindfold over your eyes! lol
March 4, 2016 at 2:28 PM · something i really WISH six flags would implement is single rider lines!! it is maddening while waiting in a 90 minute line watching raging bull or goliath, titan, et al dispatched with scores of empty seats
March 4, 2016 at 6:42 PM · Lots of great questions. The roll out will indeed be memorable. Can't wait to see what kind of train modifications will be needed? Onboard Video/Audio/CPU, power, synchronization. Or keep it simple stupid. Which begs me to ask, if I get stuck on the lift do I get to watch something interesting or get a do-over. Could be interesting like running Batman backwards for a season. Technology can wonderful or a bag of problems. One thing is certain it will work or disappear as quickly as it appeared.
March 4, 2016 at 11:16 PM · They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round, they all laughed when Edison recorded sound.... Well hahaha who has the last laugh now.
March 5, 2016 at 6:54 AM · @ Well,if you think that Columbus wanted to prove the Earth was a globe (a well known, completely undisputed fact then!), then I´d say that *we* have the last laugh...) He was laughed at because he thought he could reach Asia by going west, which he thought because his math was terribly wrong).
March 6, 2016 at 7:12 PM · I cannot wait to try it out, although I am a bit worried about the wait times as the coaster chosen to feature this at our park already has a hideous wait time, without this new feature.
March 7, 2016 at 7:27 AM · The Superman Coaster in Fiesta Texas is in my top 5 coasters simply because it is one of the best in simulating the sensation of flying. Why mess with that? If they want to play around with one of the outdated low traffic coasters or one that has cluttered scenery around it I guess that makes sense but leave Superman alone!
March 9, 2016 at 5:58 PM · I see a pandemic waiting to happen... but then again it could be the goal; and thus I am missing the whole point.

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