The announcement for the Virtual Reality Ghost Train at Thorpe Park is another sign of VR’s warm embrace by theme parks. It comes on the heels of the VR roller coaster planned at Alton Towers and rumors of other rides in the works.
The Virtual Reality Ghost Train is designed by the well-known illusionist, Derren Brown, who has always pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable in his shows. He promises no less this time around with a 13 minute ride that uses VR headsets, live action and special effects.
Virtual Reality Ghost Train
As you can gather from the video, the project is short on details. What we do know is that it will include HTC VR headsets, lots of CGI, multiple storylines, and incorporate an intense psychological element.
The latter is just the way Derren Brown works. As he says, it’s ” . . . not for the faint-hearted.’ Don’t say we didn’t warn you if happen to be in the UK this summer and muster up the courage.
Here’s what we do know from his account for the Standard:
The ghost train opens at Thorpe Park in spring and combines grand illusion, live action, virtual reality, and 4D special effects to terrify audiences and play tricks with their minds.
Visitors will enter a seven-tonne, 20-metre Victorian train carriage, suspended in mid-air. Each will wear a mask, allowing them to experience virtual reality.
The attraction lasts 13 minutes, during which they will have several multi-sensory surprises — including sequences where they will take centre stage and interact with actors. There are 12 possible journeys and two different endings, which are being kept under wraps until closer to opening.
The “mask” as the Standard refers to it is actually the HTC VR headsets. But Brown has enough mind-bending tricks up his sleeves to design a VR headset that looks unlike anything we’ve seen before.
The entire train carriage is suspended in mid-air (it may move) and set inside a 2,300 square meter warehouse designed to look like a 19th century British railway station. Over a thousand people have worked on the project.
Disney and the Theme Park Revolution
In 1955, Walt Disney opened Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, built on plowed over orange groves for $17.5 million. There were amusement parks before, but nothing like what Disney had done.
“That’s it, right here. ‘Disneyland’ … we hope that it will be unlike anything else on this Earth … a place of hopes and dreams, facts and fancy, all in one.”
“Next year, our television show will be coming from this ‘Disneyland,’ but this year, we want you to see and share with us the experience of building this dream into a reality.”
With its appeal to the past (the values of small town America) and what technology could do (electricity, television, highways, air travel, etc.), it was an instant success. Built with a new understanding of immersive environments (for its time) and vibrant storytelling, it spawned an entertainment empire.
Our Immersive VR Future
Now we’re seeing the first crude sketches and prototypes of a new theme park model, one built out of programming code, processors and headsets. Along with some rides. Virtual reality will bring a new revolution in entertainment.
The Thorpe Park press release describes the ride as,
. . . no place for spectators, guests will play a major part in the action which will leave them questioning where perception ends and reality begins.
And Derren Brown adds,
I firmly believe that this kind of multi-sensory, mind-blowing attraction represents a glimpse of what the future holds for theme parks the world over.
By incorporating virtual reality into the ride, the experience itself becomes malleable. Go to Disney and if you’ve been on the ride once, you basically know what to expect. But when part of the ride is based on code, on virtual reality, anything can happen. Different experiences, different stories, different endings. It suddenly opens up a world of possibilities.
Knowing what Brown does in his shows, the Virtual Reality Ghost Train will make the Alton Towers VR roller coaster look like a kiddie ride. It already sounds utterly terrifying.
As virtual reality works its way into our lives, its inroads into the theme park experience is just the beginning.
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.