comscore Theme parks embrace virtual reality | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Theme parks embrace virtual reality


    Jenny Alvarez and Alfonso De Elias prepare to ride the New Revolution Virtual Reality roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif.

Knott’s Berry Farm is getting in on the latest theme park craze: putting visitors in a virtual world created primarily by software engineers instead of carpenters and welders.

The new VR Showdown in Ghost Town, which opens next month at the Buena Park, Calif., theme park, will put virtual reality headsets on up to 16 visitors at a time, letting them shoot futuristic blasters at robot creatures in a battle to save the historic ghost town.

Many new theme park attractions in Southern California rely on 3-D technology and motion-simulating seats, including the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Despicable Me: Minions Mayhem rides at Universal Studios Hollywood. (The park ditched the Harry Potter 3-D but said it wasn’t because riders complained about nausea.)

But smaller regional parks are turning to virtual reality headsets to immerse visitors in a new world without the expense of building sets, erecting towers and installing hydraulic-powered seats.

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif., began last year to strap virtual reality headsets to riders of its Revolution roller coaster to give them the sensation of flying through space as they shoot at alien aircraft.

Industry experts say virtual reality headsets represent a new way for smaller theme parks to attract new guests without making a huge investment.

“It’s a very cheap way to add a new attraction or extend an older attraction,” said Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business management professor at Farmingdale State College in New York.

A major benefit of using virtual reality headsets is that the experience can be changed simply by writing new software. Another advantage is that the world seen by parkgoers is interactive, so the experience is never the same twice.

At Knott’s Berry Farm the new attraction lets visitors score points by destroying the bad robots and completing objectives, said Ivan Blaustein of VR Studios, the company that created the headsets and software for the theme park.

A drawback of using virtual reality headsets, said Lewison, is that each headset needs to be cleaned after each use, reducing the number of people who can ride the attraction per day.

Knott’s Berry Farm will be charging an introductory price of $6 to try the new attraction, on top of the regular park admission price.

Don’t expect to see the headsets used at major theme parks such as Disneyland or Universal Studios Hollywood, Lewison said.

When visitors pay prices of at least $99 to enter Disneyland or Universal Studios, he said, they expect more.

“Theme park purists don’t like it,” Lewison said. “They’d much rather go on a $250 million ride at Disneyland than throw a mask strapped to a Samsung smartphone over my eyes.”

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