Tuesday 14 March 2017

The Evolution of B&M's Dive Coaster

Liseberg’s upcoming dive coaster “Valkyria” will open in 2018… 20 years after the B&M prototype first debuted at Alton Towers.

Promotional artwork for Liseberg's Valkyria.

B&M’s Diving Coasters have ...come a long way. I’ll explain why I say that so hesitantly in a moment, but now that they come with floorless trains, with rows ranging from 6-10 persons across and capable of inversions, they’re barely recognisable from the single drop prototype that is Oblivion. We haven’t seen this kind of evolution with B&M’s other products, not even close.

Back when I first rode Alton’s Oblivion - the world’s first vertical drop “dive machine” or “dive coaster” - I was so certain it needed more to it. I thought, this… This is awesome, but imagine just how much more awesome it could be if it were like other roller coasters - with a longer circuit, inversions, etc. Years later and I couldn’t disagree with my younger self more. Oblivion is special - and good - precisely because it isn’t like other coasters.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion - Review

A peculiar assortment

In 2010, Kings Dominion finally opened something major. 2008’s Dominator, a relocation from the company’s now-defunct park Geagua Lake, was a welcomed yet far from major investment. And before that, you have to go back to 2006 for the unremarkable Italian Job: Stunt Track.

KD was the first conventional American amusement park I visited. I have local friends who grew up with the place and that has probably shaped my perception to be sympathetic of their nostalgia… But, I honestly do rather like KD, never failing to have a good time there. I'm under no illusion however that the place is not critically good, but it certainly is interesting, and the more coasters I get to ride, the more I value those weirder, interesting additions to my checklist.

Photo by John Cooper

With its odd lineup, visiting Kings Dominion for the first time brings with it unusual additions to one's coaster count, with even most well-travelled enthusiasts acquiring a few firsts here. Until very recently, for example, the park was home to Shockwave, the last Togo standup left in North America. For an albeit brief period in the early 2000s, one of the only two S&S compressed air launches ever built: Hypersonic XLC, lived there too. But KD is still home to a bunch of weirdness today; the relocated Dominator is known for being one of the few (the only?) looping B&M’s to lack a zero-g and have one of the world's largest vertical loops; they have two rarely seen Premiere coasters and the only Mack bobsled in North America. Volcano is the only one of it's kind in the world and they also have one of those awful Mack wild mice found at Legoland parks.

But none of these were world renowned. Volcano came closest and was certainly the park’s signature attraction prior to 2010, but the place really needed a coaster that was undeniably awesome.

The stakes were high

So, the new for 2010 Intimidator needed to be good. It needed to put Kings Dominion on the map. And really, it had no excuse for being anything less than stellar. At 305ft tall, this monster Intamin giga coaster ranks as one of the tallest and fastest coasters in the world. I’ve wanted to take the time to write about I305 since its brief mention in my Skyrush review, because, like Skyrush, I305 is crazy intense.

Friday 21 October 2016

Galactica at Alton Towers - Review

Mourning for Air

When you take the monorail from Alton’s carpark to the entrance, the aqua blue track of the original B&M flying coaster is the first attraction you'll catch a glimpse of.

Air was a peculiar roller coaster, marketed so successfully as a gentle ride experience, it even managed to convince my mother to try it. Until then, she could only brave the Runaway Mine Train. Unless aimed at children or families, roller coasters are always supposed to be scary. But here was a major coaster, one with a rider height requirement of 1.4m to match the likes of Nemesis and Oblivion, that did everything to appear gentle. From the colour scheme, audio and environment on park to the TV advertisements, branding and name... Air was calm.

Air's original TV commercial captures the traditional sense of anxiety associated with roller coasters at the start, but as the story progresses, the riders discover Air is a gentle experience.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Derren Brown's Ghost Train at Thorpe Park - Review

Founded Pessimism

Ok, feel free to skip this these first few paragraphs to the Expectations heading if you’re just interested in my critical breakdown of the attraction, but I really need to get this off my chest...

Why does everyone have such a hard time with other people’s prejudgements?

The moment anyone speculates that an upcoming new attraction looks mediocre or less, someone else will jump in to comment “you can’t know until you’ve ridden it!” Notice how no one will do this when your judgements are positive, because it has absolutely nothing to do with having an opinion of something before you’ve tried it, and everything to do with being “negative”.

Following the last post detailing my thoughts on Virtual Reality use in theme park attractions, someone noted that my preconceptions - my negative expectations - were “telling”. They said that if I was determined to dislike something, I would find a reason to dislike it. That misunderstands the entire point I was trying to make and I would hope anyone who read even half of that article would see that. I intentionally started writing it before I tried any VR attraction - or the technology in any other context for that matter - so I could capture what was more important than reception... My opinion, predictions and expectations prior to riding. I was as honest and blatant about that as I always am. It doesn’t matter how good something is if the very idea of it fails to appeal to the audience. Whilst it may seem like sound advice to not knock something until you’ve tried it, it isn’t logically sound. Making judgements based on past experience is realistic, not negative and my entire argument against VR was just that - comparing similar experiences and considering known issues to conclude it was a bad idea in the theme park context.

I had plenty of reasons to believe VR was a write off, but with only DBGT under my belt, I can’t be sure and I never pretended to be. I even stated in the article that I need to try one of the coaster VR experiences (hopefully Galatica at Alton Towers before this year is out!) because - I suspect - they will utilise the technology better. But whilst VR was a large part of my distaste towards Ghost Train, it certainly didn’t account for all my prejudices prior to riding, nor does it account for all my opinions post riding. 


Nothing about DBGT is my cup of tea, so take this as a warning… Even if it were good - which it definitely is not - I probably still wouldn't enjoy it. So if that’s “telling” of my determination to hate Thorpe Park’s newest attraction, cool. Whatever. I cannot be fake. I cannot pretend to be excited for something that sounds like a terrible idea. I tell it how it is here and that involves being honest about the fact that I went into Ghost Train expecting it to be bad and I came out shocked that it was worse than I expected... Spoilers ahead!

Photo by author.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

VR is Anti Theme Park and thoughts on VR usage in Derren Brown's Ghost Train

I can’t remember where the murmuring of VR coming to theme parks began; all I recall is that I felt repulsed by the concept from the start...

I’m not really a fan of screen based attractions full stop, to be honest. Only Universal do them well and even there I find their prevalence annoying, having to put on 3D glasses for what feels like every single attraction. I sometimes wonder if my dislike for them is just defiant principle. Somehow, using film cheapens the physical, spacial experience that makes theme parks special. The acclaimed Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is so good due to the use of projections to do what conventional dark rides cannot - to keep up with an intensely physical, fast-paced experience. The sets are really there; you navigate through real space and interact with real scenery. The screens display the action and interact with surrounding sets and the whole thing is seamless, or… Well, near enough. It would be ridiculous to say that it's difficult to tell where the set ends and screen begins, but that's part of why Spiderman’s cartoon styling makes for a better attraction than Transformers next door. It helps my brain excuse the screens, lending to that “suspension of disbelief”. Of course, both are really outstanding, well made attractions.

Spiderman's elaborate physical sets.
Photo credit: Heavy Structures

Saturday 28 May 2016

Nemesis at Alton Towers - Review

Last year, I had planned to write a piece for Nemesis’ 21st birthday. I never got round to it, but decided that this ride was worth writing about regardless. So, happy 22nd season to Nemesis!

Isn’t it sort of crazy how legendary Alton’s B&M invert is? Few coasters get the kind unanimous praise and fascination amongst enthusiasts as Nemesis. But is Nemesis really as good as people say?

This way...
Photo by author.