The as-yet-unnamed ride will replace the Europe in the Air show, which closed last year. The new experience will not use the motion simulator theater's screens, but will display its show on individual VR headsets that riders will wear. Busch Gardens offered some behind-the-scenes views of the motion simulator platform in an announcement video released today.
Six Flags brought virtual reality to several of its roller coasters across the country last year, but this will be the first installation of VR at a major theme park's motion simulator ride. As we noted in our review of Six Flags' VR coasters, the key to a VR theme park ride experience is achieving perfect synchronization between the action on the screen and the action of your seat. When done correctly, this makes ride VR a superior experience to watching FX-heavy movies from a stationary seat, especially when compared with movies whose cameras don't always obey the laws of physics.
It's that disconnect between what you see and what you feel that creates nausea. When I've ridden the VR coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain, the action of the coaster exactly matches and amplifies the action I'm seeing in front of me. The combination feels natural, comfortable and enjoyable. (Assuming, of course, that you enjoy the idea of flying a fighter jet through an alien invasion!)
If Busch Gardens owner SeaWorld can deliver the well-synchronized experience that Six Flags, for the most part, has, then it just needs a compelling story to make this a must-see experience for theme park fans. In its announcement video, Busch Gardens teases that the new experience will be about the "otherworld" of Ireland that is invisible to humans.
But there's one more challenge that Busch Gardens/SeaWorld must overcome, and it's the one that has compromised the VR experience for so many Six Flags visitors. Can Busch Gardens find a way to make getting, putting on and using VR headsets as quick and easy as grabbing and putting on a pair of 3D glasses? The slow process of putting on and adjusting VR headsets just killed the dispatch time for Six Flags' VR coasters, sharply reducing their hourly capacities and inflating wait times.
So putting VR on a theme park attraction raises significant technical, creative, and operational challenges. But that's the price of innovation — you don't have a proven blueprint to follow.
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