I have been to IAAPA many times previously and feel it’s appropriate to host the event here in Central Florida, since there are so many attractions nearby.
A first-time visitor will be rendered speechless by the sheer quantity of flashing lights, towering bounce houses and slides, cutting-edge arcade games, free food booths, and models after models of rides or even entire parks. It’s sensory overload. After a while, though, you start to see the same vendors each year, so you become more attuned to “what’s new” this year.
The trade show opened today (11/17) and at first it didn’t look like there was THAT much new. I was impressed with the technology to surround you with cameras and enable “bullet time” (like we saw cameras zoom around people in the Matrix movies)–that will be cool when this technology makes it to the parks. But there wasn’t much impressive otherwise. I was actually a bit let down; a year ago I had seen a few impressive Oculus Rift (3D visor) demos and had assumed it would be more advanced, and far more numerous, this year around. I didn’t see that much on the trade show floor, and I didn’t try all that I did see, but it didn’t blow me away. I was ready to dismiss this year as “evolutionary rather than revolutionary,” but then I made it out to Fun Spot for a sponsored special ride.
You had to get a ticket while an attendee of IAAPA (and visiting the Mack Rides booth), but it was free. You could use that ticket to ride Freedom Flyer at Fun Spot America (the one on I-Drive). Freedom Flyer is an “inverted” coaster; the cars sit below the track and swing freely, and riders’ feet dangle freely below them. It’s also a “bare steel” ride – there isn’t any theming to speak of. It’s a family coaster; there are only mild thrills to it normally.
Let’s not mince words: riding that same coaster with a VR visor (possibly even an oculus rift; I didn’t ask) is a QUANTUM leap forward. There is nothing “evolutionary” about this. It may even be a brand new paradigm. The ride was fresh, new, exciting, exhilarating. I knew the track layout, having ridden it many times, but was guessing anew during my VR ride.
It is THE wave of the future, I have to say.
It’s good enough to make me wonder if I should be buying stock in Mack Rides (alas, I think it only trades in the German stock market). The motion was smooth and seamless. “It feels like I’m really there!” exclaims the grandmother in the Carousel of Progress, and darned if that wasn’t true here.
The visuals were crisp and really believable enough. It was “animated” (not photo realistic) but honestly it was fine. The resolution and graphic detail were more than enough.
If you’re like me, I urge you to stop reading about now. The ride was better for NOT having known any spoilers.
That said, for those of you who want to know what the ride does, and what you actually look at, read on.
Once you strap on the visor, you see you are seating on the left side of a tank. It doesn’t matter which side of the coaster you are actually on (I was on the right). Tapping your right temple fires a gun; actually dual turrets at the front of your tank.
The ride starts, and your tank rumbles forward. It turns left, and a bridge ahead is lifted up by a giant robot on your left side. You shoot at him desperately, inflicting massive damage, but he still arcs the bridge up (obviously, we are climbing the lift hill). At the top, we simply freefall–we’re a tank! Almost right away, a helicopter zooms by and snags us on a cable, dragging us behind them in the air. The effect reminded me of a moment in Islands of Adventure’s Spider-Man, where the flyer snags us briefly. In this case, the copter zooms around the city, ducking through partly-ruined buildings. We shoot some things but soon the gun is jammed. It’s a zany trip through the city, exciting and disorienting. I know the ride well but had no idea where I was at any point. The action on screen lined up perfectly with the motion I was experiencing, and we crash-land INTO a building at the very end. Thrilling. If I could have, I would have jumped right back in line immediately.
It was astonishing how different the ride is as a VR coaster. It’s night and day. I’m not sure anyone will build physical sets ever again. I do hope Disney would be smart enough to put “bare steel” coasters into a dark warehouse (like Space Mountain) in the future, but I really think this is going to take over.
It adds enormous excitement to an otherwise-banal, even boring, ride. Even better: there isn’t any reason they couldn’t also design a SECOND animated scenario to play out. Or a third or fourth. Maybe we’ll queue up in the future never knowing which version we’ll get, like the modern Star Tours or even the drop pattern of Tower of Terror.
So, yeah, there really was a “killer app” from this year’s IAAPA. I felt fortunate to try it. And now I’m positively ITCHING for a chance to ride again and again and again. It’s made the old new again, way more than I could have ever imagined.