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The future of fun?
STAR TOURS

A UK theme park is opening a ~virtual reality~ rollercoaster

By Mike Murphy

The age of consumer virtual reality is nearly upon us. Soon, we’ll all be able to strap on a VR headset, sit back and be transported to new worlds. We’ll be able to play immersive games, watch movies like we’re part of them, and experience the thrill of rollercoasters from our couches. But one theme park in the UK wants to get us off our couches and strap us into VR sets on a real rollercoaster.

Alton Towers, one of the most popular theme parks in the UK, announced today (Jan. 12) that it’s opening a rollercoaster in April that uses virtual reality to enhance the riders’ experience. Riders will wear headsets while strapped into a coaster laying flat in a sort of Superman-flying pose. The VR visuals are timed to match every twist and turn, which the theme park says will give riders the sense that they are ”flying and looping beyond the stars, banking through wormholes and speeding across undiscovered galaxies.”

From the short promotional footage Alton Towers released, it feels a lot like other space-based applications coming out of VR now, and in the past. EVE: Valkyrie, a sort of Star Wars-styled space battle game that partially relies on the novelty of VR making you feel like you’re in the cockpit of a spaceship, comes bundled with Facebook’s new Oculus Rift headset.

Alton Towers
Into the unknown.

This trope has been around for years, especially in theme parks: Disneyland in California had a ride called Star Tours that opened in 1987, where a ship from the Star Wars universe transported you through space. Riders weren’t wearing headsets, but they were in a small room with a giant screen that could move and shake with each turn on the screen.

Other companies have tried similar ideas with VR on a smaller scale. At the E3 videogame convention in June 2015, games maker Ubisoft showed off a VR game that connects to a chair that mirrors the motions of the game, in a rollercoaster-like fashion. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Samsung built a stadium seating system that could move around like a roller coaster, to show off the capabilities of its Gear VR system.

Galactica lasts just over three minutes, but riders apparently will feel G-forces that are more powerful than those experienced by astronauts during rocket launches. That’s not exactly something you’d be able to recreate on your couch at home.

Alton Towers told Quartz that Galactica will use Samsung’s VR system to power its ride. This is the first new coaster that the theme park has opened since one of its coasters crashed and injured five people in June 2015, which has hurt attendance, according to the BBC. Perhaps it would be easier just to strap on a VR headset and stay on the couch.