Mack VR Coaster at IAAPA
The Mack VR Coaster at IAAPA was the most amazing experience at IAAPA 2015!
It’s hard not to think of hyperbole when I try to describe the effect that virtual reality is going to have on the amusement industry, especially with something as groundbreaking as the VR Coaster from Mack.
The VR Coaster by Mack is a game changer.
I was fortunate enough to visit IAAPA 2015 in Orlando with media credentials. One of the surprises of the event was that Mack and Fun Spot (on International Drive) were offering IAAPA attendees a rides on the VR Coaster. I’d heard of the VR Coaster being implemented in Cedar Fair Parks, but I never imagined it ever being better than the visceral experience of riding a roller coaster.
Fun Spot has two coasters, including the surprising White Lightnin’ wooden coaster. The other coaster is the Freedom Flyer, a family-style, steel suspended coaster built by Vekoma in 2013. The entire ride last one minute and it was a perfect choice to display the new technology.
A special shout out to Fun Spot! The White Lightnin’ coaster was a wonderful wooden coaster. It’s a fast ride that never gives up. Also, the employees at Fun Spot seemed to really enjoy their jobs and engaged with the customers very well. I was quite impressed and urge you to visit!
About the Mack VR Coaster Experience
Fun Spot offered free VR Coaster rides on the Freedom Flyer all three evenings of IAAPA for attendees (you just had to show your IAAPA badge). Tickets were available at the Mack booth. There were only four of the Samsung Gear VR helmets available, so the lines could get pretty long.
The employees helped you strap the Samsung Gear headset on after ensuring you were properly restrained. There’s a special chin strap to help keep the headset secure. I chose to keep my glasses on under the headset (I heard from a fellow attendee that removing your glasses from the Oculus Rift made it impossible to focus—even thought this wasn’t an Oculus, I didn’t want to chance it). The Mack employee assured me that the headset would focus for my vision, but I wanted the experience to be as close to normal as possible.
There was also a button on the right side of the headset that fired a weapon during the ride. What a great way to turn the experience into a competition!
The headset was snug and not too tight. The other two headsets I wore at IAAPA (an Oculus Rift and a knockoff) smashed my glasses into my face and were very uncomfortable. When I moved my head around the experience was utterly believable. The Samsung Gear was tight, but offered more space for my glasses.
The Mack VR Coaster Ride
Each coaster can have a different ride video, and based on the literature from Mack, can also offer different experiences on the same ride. The Freedom Flyer VR Coaster storyline was a classic video game/movie storyline. You were a gunner in a tank in a futuristic city that comes under attack by an alien worm of some sort.
The video was timed perfectly to the coaster. For instance, you start on a flat highway and the alien lifts up the road, causing you to go up, just like the lift hill. When you turn your head, you get a full view of the cityscape, that includes skyscrapers and roads. The coaster experience starts when the road is blown up beneath you. A ship (of some sort) attaches a tow cable to the front of your tank and pulls you through the environment, avoiding the alien worm.
Or trying to.
You whirl around the city and, at one point, I looked down and it truly felt like I was several hundred feet in the air. The ship tries to bank and you crash through a skyscraper as you bank a turn in real life.
It was incredibly realistic.
It was such a rush and very exciting to think about the changes that can be ushered in based on this technology.
Thoughts on the Mack VR Coaster
As I wrote earlier, I really thought the idea of adding virtual reality to a roller coaster was a gimmick, like adding 3D to movies. What else do you need in a coaster, besides the wind whipping you, the pull of g-forces mixed with airtime, the thrill of the lift hill, the first drop and the adrenaline rush?
Was I ever wrong.
The virtual reality environment was synced so well to the coaster that it was seamless and I was never taken out of the virtual environment, which I’ve never been able to say about simulator rides like Star Tours and Spiderman. The g-forces were real. The wind was real. The experience was real.
Based on the literature provided by Mack, this experience could be offered on a coaster for just a few customers, while everyone else could just ride the coaster. Customers could bring their own Samsung Gear headsets or rent one all day from the park. This is a great way for parks to revitalize an older coaster as well as offer more value-added experiences for guests. I wonder what the price point will be for this experience.
One thing that I thought of immediately is that this could be one way to get my kids to ride coasters. Both of my boys have a fear of coasters but they love video games and cutting-edge technology. It felt like I was in a video game environment and the opportunity to shoot a cannon during the ride added an additional element. Just like the Toy Story Mania and Buzz Lightyear attractions, the addition of competitive scoring will pull people into the experience.
I never felt like I was on a roller coaster. This is a very important point, because it changes the experience completely. There was no fear of the coaster or of the ride experience.
Carowinds is the closest park to me and I can see adding the Mack VR Coaster to Vortex, Afterburn, Carolina Cobra and Carolina Cyclone. It could even be added to the Intimidator, but that ride is a fantastic coaster experience in its own right.
There truly is a great, big beautiful tomorrow!