Busch Gardens’ Battle for Eire is nearly at hand.
During a preview of the ride Friday, park officials expressed high hopes for what they said is a unique attraction that blends 360-degree virtual reality, a motion simulator and a fairy tale. The simulator has been used in the past by the park for its Europe in the Air and Corkscrew Hill attractions.
“We’ve got a unique opportunity here to create something that spans a lot of the family unit, everybody gets to enjoy it, and it brings in some technology that most people have never seen before, said Larry Giles, Busch Gardens vice president of engineering.
The ride will open sometime in April, though no official date has yet been set, according to Busch Gardens spokesman Ron Vample.
When entering the ride, people don a green, adjustable headset and use a knob in the back of the mask to tighten it to the face. Then, they’ll view an introductory video to the Battle for Eire story and a quick overview of safety procedures before entering the main ride.
Once inside and seated in the simulator, people fasten a seat belt and fasten the virtual reality headset to the mask, at which point they’ll see a hint of what’s to come. That would be a good time to tighten the knob of the headset even further, which should provide a crisper image.
The time between now and when the ride opens will allow park officials to work out the ride’s kinks before unveiling it to the public. During the preview, an introduction video momentarily stopped playing and had to be restarted. Then the video, which had been touted as being crisper than virtual reality viewed on a smartphone, was not sharp on first viewing, though it got sharper when the mask was tightened.
“We, basically, have been sculpting this story for almost 18 months,” said Cecil Magpuri, president of Falcon Creative Group. “We’re really excited to see how VR is going to be introduced in a very unique way. … I can’t think of anything in the world today that has this kind of experience.”
In the VR fairy tale, riders will travel with Addie, Ireland’s last fairy guardian, and ride on a dragon to rescue the sacred Heart of Ireland. While riding, Addie’s voice narrates the scene as the simulator moves in sync with where you’re looking, and riders feel cool air blow on them as they’re in virtual flight.
“When you watch something on a projection screen as we have for the last 20, 30 years, the story feels sort of far away,” said Mark Stepanian, director of technical services at Dreamcraft Attractions, which helped to integrate the storytelling and technology that went into Battle for Eire. “By integrating it into a VR system, it comes really close, and you can’t get out of the story.”
Giles said the park is pushing the envelope with the VR technology and expects more enhancements in the future with improvements to it.
“The computers are mounted underneath each of the seats, they’re running four, Intel i7 processors, top-of-the-line computers in a four-by-four inch little box,” Stepanian said. “So it’s pretty impressive, the output that those computers are delivering and really processing this media at (90) frames per second.”
Stepanian said the computers are necessary because if an individual looks in a certain direction, the whole world of the video shifts and the computer has to process that in real time. He expects the technology to advance to push the amount of interactivity people have with the ride.
Giles said each experience on the ride will be a little different depending on where you look during the virtual reality experience.
“I think part of this is the richness of the experience, the length of the experience — this is one of the longest experiences you’re going to have (at Busch Gardens),” Giles said. “By the time you enter the first show to the time you leave, it could be up to 10 minutes. It’s a nice long experience, and it’s a lot of fun, and I think the entire family gets to enjoy the experience together.”