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.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Banksy’s Dismaland and theme parks as an art medium

I want theme parks to be taken seriously by academics. I want them to receive the same critique that fine art, literature, film and now gaming "enjoys". Firstly because I just find it interesting to read someone else’s over-thinking on my favourite subject, but also because I like to think it benefits the medium in some way. When questions get asked about the lacking female representation in gaming for example, some developers respond with increasingly better female representation in gaming. It's far from perfect, but we're on a road started by that discussion. Criticism matters.

Photo by Nic Jenkins

Monday, 23 February 2015

Audience misinterpretation of hyperrealism in theming…. Or, “why Dinoland USA is interesting but ultimately flawed”.

I was reading what fellow theme park nerd friends had to say about Disney’s Animal Kingdom recently, specifically Dinoland USA. The usual comments: the area is vile, doesn’t fit in or feel very Disney-like in execution and other perfectly valid and true criticisms… But I felt the need to chime in and defend the cleverness of the theme.

Then I thought, wait, what am I doing? The answer: Playing devils advocate, mostly.

See, Dinoland USA is perhaps the most self-representational, metaphorical, hyperreal commentary on the amusement industry that exists as an actual attraction. And that’s kinda cool from an “arty-farty lets have a discussion about theme park theory” point of view.