Alton Towers, Galactica: Virtual Reality Roller Coaster Review
VRRelated recently traveled up to Staffordshire, UK, to try out Galactica, the latest attraction at the Alton Towers theme park.
Billed as the ‘world’s first Virtual Reality’ roller coaster, Galactica, takes the rider on a short trip into space by strapping them into a Samsung Gear VR headset.
The ride is situated in the Forbidden Valley area of the park and winds through the pathways as you approach. We made our way down to the queue and were greeted by welcoming staff members, who took us under their wing. The first thing I noticed was the attention to hygiene. After each ride, all of the headsets are wiped down before being placed onto the heads of the next visitor. Which, is something that can be an issue, for some, when sharing headsets with other members of the public.
After this, we were sent through our turnstiles and ushered onto the ride. Staff members lock you into the seat and place the headset over your head. As the journey begins, the floor beneath you lowers and the rides mechanism takes effect to raise your body into the prone position. At which point you feel like you are ready to take flight.
The visuals inside of the Samsung Gear VR headset thrust you into an intergalactic space station- all mapped out to follow the twists and turns of the roller coaster. And, worked well to ensure the sensations fitted with one another.
There is something slightly disconcerting about riding a rollercoaster without visual feedback from the real world. However, the calming voice of the ‘onboard AI’, in the experience, helps to guide you through.
There is a slow approach to the ride’s first fall, and the suspense is used quite cleverly in the design of the software. As you make your way to the peak, a mechanical door opens up to expose a futuristic-looking city, which you look down on from a considerable height. Vertigo is a sensation that can be triggered by similar software experiences in VR, however, on this occasion, the knowledge of the real world height outside of the visor added confirmation to this response.
Galactica shoots and spins you around through various space orientated environments. All of which mapped to match the roller coaster. Having the real world feedback of the wind in your face, plus the g-force of the ride – reaching a max of 3.5 G’s – makes for an immersive, but albeit, short-lived experience.
The only thing that, slightly, detracted from the overall immersion for me, and my colleague who rode with me, was a small amount of latency that occurred throughout some of the faster sectors of the attraction. It wasn’t enough to be a deal-breaker, but still, something worthy of a mention. That said, speaking to other visitors on the park revealed that simulator sickness was not a prevalent issue for Galactica.
Developed by Figment Productions, the software for Galactica took a total of two years to make and use’s Samsung Galaxy S7, mobile phone handsets, to power the experience. Notably, the hardware it runs on isn’t just ‘out of the box’ kit. As modifications have been made to improve the sustainability of the devices for prolonged periods of use. Including, a custom holding case, that wraps around the VR headsets to offer additional safety measures.
Overall, Galactica is an interesting application of virtual reality technology and serves as a wonderful introduction for those that are yet to see what all of the fuss is about. What better place to try it than on a giant machine, optimized for its use? With that said, there are obvious hardware limitations regarding the utilization of the Gear VR to power the experience, most notably in the frame rate and resolution. So it will be interesting to see how this compares to other, similar, experiences, that encompass the use of more sophisticated technology.