UK theme park Alton Towers will combine the thrill of a roller coaster with the visual excitement generated by virtual reality in a world-first new ride called Galactica, which will launch in the next few months. Riders will climb aboard and become Galactinauts, blasted into space through a 10ft portal at the start of the two-minute ride, then out into amazing galaxies and beyond.
The track is 840-meters long, and the seats rotate by 90-degrees when the ride starts, so you’ll be facing down for the duration. A real wind-in-the-hair experience, with physical sensations never before felt on a theme park ride, particularly because the G forces at the start are greater than that of a real rocket launch. VR not only provides the visuals, but also exaggerates the movement of the roller coaster, making twists and turns much more dramatic than they are in real life, for an even more exciting ride. Or more terrifying, depending on your point of view.
Created by 3D video designers Figment and Merlin Magic Making — a company described as the “Disney of UK theme parks,” and the driving force behind many of the world’s biggest rides — riders will wear a custom designed VR headset, but underneath is a modified version of Samsung’s Gear VR, complete with a smartphone inside. Figment has managed to overcome mobile VR’s drawback of not featuring positional tracking — where the headset doesn’t understand where it is in the physical world — by strapping the rider in tightly so there’s only head movement, and then synchronising the ride with the VR view perfectly.
This is essential to creating a realistic VR ride, and for avoiding motion sickness that some experience with virtual reality. Special sensors on the ride ensure the video and the movement of the ‘coaster are kept in sync.
It has been a long time coming, and Figment’s Simon Reveley explained the company had been working on a VR roller coaster project since 2014, and the very first tests involved strapping people to office chairs and whizzing them around the room. In a meeting with Alton Towers, where Figment wanted to borrow a roller coaster for testing, it was discovered the theme park also wanted to build a VR ride. The two came together, and the original test ‘coaster has evolved to become Galactica.
Little has been revealed about the ride itself, but in a brief preview video, the graphics were beyond what we’d expect from Gear VR, and even high-end PC and console games. Riders will have the whole experience — sight, sound, and extreme movement — so it promises to be an astonishing, exhilarating ride like no other. John Wardley, famous roller coaster designer and developer, told Alton Towers after trying Galactica out that it was one of the greatest rides he’d ever experienced.
Galactica will blast off at Alton Towers in April, and spaces can be reserved now. We can’t wait to see how it turns out.