Can Legoland be the park that makes VR roller coasters work?
Legoland is climbing aboard the virtual reality bandwagon, even as other theme parks seem to be reconsidering the push toward adding VR to attractions.
Legoland announced that it will add a VR overlay to its Project X roller coasters in Florida, Germany, and Malaysia, transforming the rides into The Great Lego Race VR Coaster. From Legoland's press release:
Featuring a colorful lineup of racers drawn from the ranks of the popular LEGO minifigure mystery assortments, The Great LEGO Race pits riders in a rollicking race against wild, brick-built contraptions driven by Trendsetter, Pharaoh, Surfer Girl, Wizard and Pirate Captain, including a rocket-powered surfboard and a stylish scooter fueled by espresso. Wearing VR headsets, guests will experience the action from every direction – up, down, forward, backward and all points in between – in a dazzling environment where everything is made of LEGO bricks.
Guests will have the option of riding the coasters with or without the VR headset. The new experience will debut later this year at Legoland Malaysia, with a spring 2018 debut slated for Legoland Florida and Legoland Deutschland.
The VR revolution in theme parks fired up last year, when Universal Studios Japan and Alton Towers each added a virtual reality overlay to one of their coasters. VR came to the United States later in 2016, when Six Flags added VR overlays to nine of its coasters across the country. Six Flags later added VR to some of its drop rides and switched some of its VR coasters to "mixed reality" experiences that combined passthrough camera views of the riders' surroundings with animated video. This year, Cedar Point added VR in the evenings to its Iron Dragon, and SeaWorld jumped aboard, too, adding VR to its Kraken floorless coaster in Orlando.
But industry leaders Disney and Universal (outside of Japan) have resisted the VR fad, with Disney CEO Bob Iger openly criticizing it. While VR on coasters can amaze fans, that comes with the prices of having to wait much longer at dispatch for everyone to get their headsets adjusted. That extra wait to dispatch trains slows cycle times and inflates the wait beyond the point that many fans consider worth the benefit of the VR experience.
Some Six Flags parks have removed VR from their coasters, including Superman at Six Flags New England. And Six Flags Magic Mountain now is running its New Revolution in "classic" mode, without VR, too.
Will SeaWorld and Legoland eventually step away from VR rides? Or will Six Flags find a way to improve dispatch times and give the technology another go? No theme park has yet figured out how to wow people with VR while still keeping people moving through a VR attraction at a respectable pace that matches non-VR versions of the same ride system.
Theme parks — and their fans — are looking for enhanced experience, not trade-offs. Will Legoland be the park that delivers this, or will it suffer the same problems as other parks have? We will find out later this year.
Our "must read" discussion on virtual reality on roller coasters:
It's nice to see Legoland continuing to invest in new attractions, but having experienced KRAKEN UNLEASHED at Seaworld, I think this is a bad move. Project X is already a super fun mouse coaster and it already commands generally longer lines than the other attractions. My biggest gripe is that this kind of intrudes on the Lego technic theme of the land.
Adding VR for anything longer than a very limited run strikes me as a bad move for the reason that Robert mentioned - i.e., excessive loading time. For a short run I don't have a problem with it. Although it slowed things down considerably last year when Six Flags Great Adventure briefly added Rage of The Gargoyles to Skull Mountain, the VR experience was highly entertaining. Interestingly and in contrast, when the park added VR to Zumanjaro:Drop of Doom for a very short period this year, loading was quick and efficient. I don't know why this was the case but everything went off without a hitch. And the VR experience on Zumanjaro proved to be pretty awesome in that it completely altered my perception of what was really happening. Whereas in reality the gondolas go straight up 415 feet before plummeting, with the VR headset I had the distinct impression that we were moving to the right in an almost circular manner.
USJ ran VR on their indoor spinner roller coaster when I visited this spring. They locked the cars from spinning, so they were only loading 4 guests per dispatch, but they made their standard dispatch intervals on a continuous loading belt. They also had 20 team members on the platform (6 for load, 4 for unload) to assist guests, plus groupers and panel operators. It's expensive to use that many people to load, but hey... we got loaded and dispatched in a reasonable amount of time.
Why Merlin, Why?
There's something else that's completely absent from this discussion. Sure, hygiene, load times, and the slowing VR fad are all considerations, but the biggest issue I see here is that Legoland is trying to apply VR technology to attractions designed predominantly for children. Most companies producing VR headsets state that they are not meant for kids under 13. Oculous, Samsung Gear, PlayStationVR, and Hive all have age ratings or recommendations discouraging use by those under 13. In fact, every theme park that I've been to where VR is being applied (Cedar Point and multiple Six Flags parks) prohibits children from donning headsets. Does Legoland have some special headsets for kids or are they taking on the added liability if a child comes off with a headache or cross-eyed? Is the VR designed only for teens/adults so that they have something more interesting to look at while their kids ride sans VR?
I've only been on Kraken VR, but did not find the experience enjoyable. The video was very choppy and only heightened my nausea on that often rough ride.
Given how poorly the VR has performed at SeaWorld, and the fact that Six Flags has discontinued it at most of their parks due to poor guest reception and major capacity issues, this move makes no sense for Legoland. Considering VR generally cuts capacity to about 1/3 of what it would otherwise be, I suspect a lot of guests will be waiting ~90 minutes for the ride (assuming typical waits are 20-30 minutes like in California). Not only is that way longer than a wild mouse is worth, but how will that go over at a park where most guests are elementary-aged kids? Probably not too well.
Merlin adding a cheap overlay to existing attractions? I'm shocked.
I actually thought Galactica was good at Alton Towers .... am I the lone voice for the VR Air conversion ... ? The coaster layout seemed to match itself perfectly for the changeover ...
I rode Galactica at Alton Towers and was not impressed, I think mainly because the main draw of'Air', as it was called before the conversion, made you feel as though you were flying. When I had the headset on I could not really tell when I was flying upside down so it dulled the overall experience for me.
I did not like Galactica - the novelty wore off quickly and it is much better without the headset. Fortunately every time i have been back to Alton Towers the VR has not been working so only had to try it once
I agree the Galactica overlay of Air was great and didn't seem to have a significant impact upon load times
I am not sure what many of you are talking about. I rode Kraken Unleashed this summer and LOVED it- and most of the other guests I encountered also enjoyed it. Each to their own, however I think many of you are being overly critical of Kraken Unleashed.
I did the Iron Dragon at Cedar Point. As it didn't go upside down, it was not nauseating and was a huge success for Cedar Point, for they can run the ride normally during the day, and then run the VR from 6 (?) to close, except during CP nights. The Graphics were great, the story was great. Believe it or not, even the Operations were great! One of my favorite ride experiences.
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