Adding VR to an already existing physical property - one that already brings its own set of excitement - was an interesting challenge for Six Flags. The team worked with several companies to create the experience, including representatives from DC Entertainment (for Superman-related storyline and brand issues), VR Coaster (a German company that synchronizes VR with roller coasters) and the theme park company’s own designers and engineers. A marketing partnership with Samsung Electronics announced in March provides the parks with the Gear VR headsets and Galaxy smartphones.
“What I love about this particular project is that it was a group effort,” says Jennifer McGrath, communications manager at Six Flags New England. “We all jumped onboard together, and to create a product that our guests absolutely love, and Six Flags is very proud of that.”
VR Coaster says that by the end of 2016, more than 20 parks worldwide will be equipped with its VR technology. This includes many Six Flags parks, including ones in Texas, Georgia, St. Louis, New York and Maryland. In addition, the company has equipped VR on coasters in parks in Germany, Belgium, Canada and Finland.
“Three years ago if you said, ‘Jen, would you have virtual reality on your coaster?” I actually wouldn’t have thought that this was possible,” McGrath said. “Virtual reality is in and moving very quickly. In the theme park world, not just Six Flags, we’re all trying to jump onboard and see what we can do with it.”
For the Superman ride in New England, here’s how the system works - riders who want to use the VR headsets (they’re totally optional and Six Flags say about 70% of riders choose the VR) are given the headsets right before they get onto the ride (or as they’re climbing into the car). The system utilizes a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone paired with a Gear VR headset. Other modifications include an over-the-head plastic strap that can be tightened behind the head, a safety strap and chinstrap to prevent the headset from flying off during the ride, and an anti-microbial Velcro pad that touches the rider’s face (the ride’s attendants sanitize the headsets before they get used again).
Once on the ride, the headset reads a QR code that is located directly in front of the user - it’s on the back of the seat in front of the rider. This means that riders sitting in the front row of the train can’t utilize the VR component. After the headset reads the code, the VR animation is ready to go inside the rider’s helmet. During the ride, the headset communicates via Bluetooth to a control center located on the fifth car of the train (this car only has two seats instead of the regular four seats on other cars). The animation that occurs during the ride is synchronized with the physical aspects of the coaster, so as the car drops or turns, the associated action happens within the VR animation. The box in the middle of the train also synchronizes with your particular seat on the train - if the front of the train is doing the drop and you’re in the back, you don’t see the drop animation until the back of the train starts to drop.
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