Is this the solution to faster load times on virtual reality rides?

March 1, 2018, 10:41 AM · Busch Gardens Williamsburg is mashing up virtual reality with motion theater shows with its new Battle for Eire production, which debuts this spring at the Virginia theme park.

Virtual reality offered amazing promise for theme park attractions when designers first started adding the technology to thrill rides a few years ago. If all you could do with VR was walk around, that greatly limits your narrative potential. But on a roller coaster? Now you can fly.

Sounds great, right? Well, if you've been on a VR ride, you've probably discovered the downside to this once-promising tech. Clumsy attempts to put on the required equipment slowed lines and inflated wait times, sucking much of the joy from the experience. So designers' holy grail has been to find a way to help people put on their VR headsets faster once they get to load. And to that end, the team at SeaWorld has come up with... this:

Oh, my goodness gracious.

I am assuming the idea is that guests put on the headgear in a pre-show area, allowing them quickly to snap the VR screen into place once they find their seat in the theater. But thinking about that strap under my nose is triggering me, hard. Yes, the park has promised to clean and sanitize the units after each use, but setting aside the hygiene concern (which I think is generally overblown), this set-up just looks uncomfortable enough to make me think twice about the show.

Which is the kiss of death for any theme park ride or show. The word "attraction" has meaning, because theme park rides and shows ought to entice you, to attract you to want to experience them. Of course, the 300-foot hill that attracts some riders to certain roller coasters while repelling others. But I can't imagine that Busch Gardens' VR set-up would attract anyone other than the extremely limited audience of leprechaun Fifty Shades of Grey fans.

That's my $.02, of course. Who knows? Maybe this will be a comfortable solution that finally solves the problem of VR attraction load times. We won't know for sure until the ride opens.

Replies (9)

March 1, 2018 at 1:24 PM

In looking at more pictures from the media preview, it would seem that this woman has the head peice on incorrectly ( and no one present corrected her). The bottom strap there is supposed to sit across the bridge of the nose, and is even molded to do so. I imagine with so many people and cameras on her, she might have hastily put it on. It looks a little more comfortable worn correctly

March 1, 2018 at 1:49 PM

That just looks uncomfortable. Give it up already.

March 1, 2018 at 6:56 PM

Looks like its a step in the right direction though. Hopefully if this new attraction proves to work well with positive feedback, perhaps Sea World can use a similar head set style for Kraken Unleashed which may mean the park make have to come up with a pre-show type area for the ride to allow riders to put on the head gear as well as a section at the end of the ride to allow riders to take them off and hand them to a person who would be cleaning them before presenting them to new riders, but I think it looks like a good idea.

March 1, 2018 at 6:58 PM

Someone please buy this company. Please please please please please. Put them out of their misery. The Virginia park used to be the absolute crown jewel of the chain, too.

March 2, 2018 at 1:44 AM

All this seems to be symptomatic of companies rushing to try and use technology that simply isn't ready to be used in this way. It's a classic case of 'just because we can doesn't mean we should...'.

VR has the potential to make for very interesting attractions but simply giving people an exciting ride isn't enough if the loading and unloading process takes forever. The trouble is that latter isn't the sexy part of developing a new attraction, but it's an essential part of it. Until attractions can load with the ease of slipping on a pair of 3D glasses this technology is never going to make for a truly successful main-stream attraction.

And am I the only person around here thinking that if I have to wear an over-sized gas-mask to experience an attraction then perhaps it's not that appealing a thought to begin with?

March 2, 2018 at 1:48 PM

It's all down to personnel numbers when loading and unloading times are a consideration. Galactica at Alton Towers had (when I was there) at least 1 person per train row, and sometimes 2 with the sanitizing of the head gear. Kraken had the usual 2 or 3 people doing the whole train. OK, so Seaworld most probably can't afford to pay for 1 person per row, but the changeover times were night and day between the 2 coasters.
Both coasters always ran with VR and none VR riders and I've often wondered how feasible it would be to have a side track, so that VR riders can be loaded and unloaded away from the main track. When the VR is ready to go it's allowed back on the main track and away it goes. There could be a VR and none VR line also ... ? Obviously with existing coasters it would mean a major overhaul, but if a coaster was designed from new with VR in mind, would the side track be a viable option ?

March 2, 2018 at 12:40 PM

Honestly, I'm surprised Galactica hasn't switched to a two-queue system already. It has two loading stations, so I would assume it's easy enough to run one with VR and one without.

March 3, 2018 at 2:50 AM

@Makorider: The Europa Park in Germany is currently rebuilding one of its older coasters, Eurosat, and in this process is doing just what you described. They are adding a second, separate station to load/unload the train with the VR-guests.

March 4, 2018 at 1:29 PM

Interesting comment about Europa park ... to me it’s the only logical solution. When I was at Alton Towers last summer there was only one station in use, but again an ideal solution for busier days.
Despite what I’ve been told I don’t think Kraken will ever be unleashed again ... even though the notices around the park are still advertising the VR.

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