VR Coaster









When we started preparing this project in February 2014, we had no idea if it was possible at all. Neither did we know if the sensors of the Oculus Rift would work under the conditions of a roller coaster ride, nor how it would feel to experience this combination.
We knew that we would have to do fundamental research. But, we also felt that if it would work, we would surely make some amazing discoveries. Here's a selection of the most interesting insights:


1 _ No motion sickness, no dizzyness

Other than riding an Oculus Rift coaster while sitting at home in front of your desktop, there is no motion sickness or dizziness happening when experiencing this on a real coaster.
If the VR ride is synchronized to the real coaster, the sense of balance actually delivers exactly the right feedback that fits the VR simulation.

Also, and what is probably even more fascinating, these "augmented thrill rides" even feel much more comfortable than riding the real coaster without wearing the Rift.

This probably has several reasons:
First, depending on the VR track layout, you can eliminate the most common factor that causes fear and insecurity, namely the classic vertigo while being pulled up the coaster's lifthill.
Why not simulate green hills next to the virtual car, like riding a "ground coaster"? Also, a well designed and choreographed VR track probably won't have to expose the entire track right from the start. Much like a classic dark ride, it can tell a story and surprise the riders with what is happening.
While it would be way too expensive to build halls for a full-scale theming of today's mega coasters, this is no problem at all in the VR world.

Student Sascha Vogel just tested his work for the first time on the real coaster and he is totally amazed


2 _ You don't need rails

Rails actually give away pretty much the entire ride. The passenger knows exactly in what direction the train will go next and when a drop or a looping will happen.
When you don't show rails in the VR world, the ride gets much more exciting, surprising and interesting. You can still have a kind of "helper" that hints on what direction one may go next, e.g. a plane or a spaceship that is being pursued by the passenger's vehicle in an aerial or space combat situation.

But you can make the entire experience even more exciting if you're playing around with "false informations": Imagine rolling down a visible track that seems to turn left in the distance. Then appears a giant creature and bends the track all the way to the right - which of course turns out to be the real direction that the car will take. Or you're going up a seemingly never-ending stairway when, all of a sudden, the stairs break away and you're falling down (while actually going down the first drop of the coaster in the real world).

A demo based on the upcoming sequel to Spooky Hoofs has the passenger sit on top of a coach.
The flying horses take off to dodge a giant monster, following the path of the horseshoe curve (below).
The horses are hinting at upcoming flight directions, but they aren't giving away as much as "visible rails" would do.

Photo © by epfans.info


3 _ The VR track can be more complex than the real track

When we started our tests, we thought that the one thing we could never change was the given orientation of the passengers at each point of the ride. Therefore, at first, we just focussed on playing around with increased dimensions and higher simulated speed, but we were not aware of the amazing possibilities that lay before us.

Then one time, when the synchronization of a test ride went terribly wrong, one of our students experienced a part of the track riding backwards in virtual space (while the real car kept going forward) - and, surprisingly, he felt that this experience was still totally convincing!
This insight initialized many new ideas and experiments:


3.1 _ Unfolding and extending the track

When the real car is rolling through a wide 90° curve, the g- and centrifugal forces do tell our senses the direction of the turn - but we aren't able to sense the exact angle of the turn. In general, our motion senses are always giving us only relative and no absolute informations.

Therefore, it is possible to bend a real 90° curve to 45° or to 135° in simulated space - thus changing the course of the entire track.
This offers solutions to several problems that occur when dealing with an unmodified track, most of all the too small spaces for your VR world in a compact coaster layout.
But when bending all curves just a little bit, you can unfold the entire track just like a paperclip - allowing for a much greater area to build vast landscapes for the VR experience.

The actual track layout of the Pegaus (right) and the
unfolded version as experienced in virtual reality.
Every curve is still there, but slightly bended in order to achieve more space for the virtual environment.

A simple but very effective VR interpretation of the unfolded Pegasus track with floating rocks high above the ground.
The track spline is only shown for clarification, it is not visible in the actual VR ride.

The real Blue Fire track (above) and an unfolded version.

With the unfolded Blue Fire version, there's much more room for giant creatures to hunt the virtual vehicle.
This demo track features assets and creatures from the upcoming 3D sequel to Spooky Hoofs.


3.2 _ Brakes can become accelerators

Turning the virtual orientation by 180° and having the passenger ride backwards is something that has to be applied very carefully and that actually needs a fitting segment in the coaster's track.
Most of all, it would usually require a section where the car is rolling shallow with little or none acceleration.
But when going for a section that offers great acceleration forces, for instance where brakes are slowing down the entire train, one can even play around with these forces.

Most coasters that run more than one train simultaneously feature special block brakes that slow down each train in order to keep them far enough away from the other trains on the track.
Once you go into such a block brake, you feel a strong deceleration, or in other words an acceleration towards the front of the car. You're being pulled forward, out of your seat.

But when you're oriented the other way around in the simulated car, so you're viewing backwards in the VR world, this braking force will be conceived as a speed-up acceleration.
As your car in the simulated world is speeding up while you're sitting turned around by 180°, this is totally compliant to the sensed forces. This way, you can replace a short block brake section by an enormously long acceleration track with the car going at incredible speed.

Block brake section of the Blue Fire


4 _ Interaction

Right from the start, we had the idea of virtual on-board-cannons that follow the head movement. Our first experiments with this approach were so impressive that we started looking for ways to expand this concept. Using a gamepad and pressing buttons actually isn't too difficult during a rollercoaster ride - even if it's as intense as the Blue Fire is.

Handling a gamepad during the ride is quite easy - and it opens up enormous possibilities




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