Virtual reality, Irish mythology come together in Busch Gardens' Battle for Eire

Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

If you like your virtual reality with a pint or two of Irish mythology, packaged inside the feel of a roller coaster, then you will enjoy the newest Busch Gardens attraction, which offers a journey unlike any other in the amusement park.

Park officials said Battle for Eire, set to open this spring in the Ireland area of the park across from the Blarney Stone Theatre, will incorporate state-of-the-art virtual reality that will provide a crisper viewing experience than what is available through phones.

“We really tried to tie a lot of Irish mythology into the story and into these characters and to bring a lot of authentic Ireland to audiences here in Virginia,” said Jason Ambler, executive producer and director of production for Falcon’s Digital Media, which created the new attraction. “We really want people to have a very personalized, individual and repeatable experience, but we also want people to feel like they’re having a communal experience with their friends or family, who will be attending the ride as well.”

That crisper 360 degree view? It comes at you at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 90 frames per second — about three times the speed of a large-screen TV — and a 4K resolution image. An individual computer drives each adjustable headset, which Larry Giles, the park’s vice president of engineering, said will give each person a unique experience. The motion simulator and air blowing into the theater will give riders an extra-sensory experience.

Entering the attraction, visitors will receive a small, adjustable headset — which comes in adult and children’s size, and will work for those who wear glasses — and then watch a pair of short videos to get them introduced to the characters and the storyline. They then enter the theater, put on the virtual reality masks, strap themselves into the motion simulator and ride into the story.

And if you haven’t yet experienced virtual reality — VR for short — not to worry.

Giles cited statistics that just 5 to 6 percent of people in the U.S. have tried virtual reality.

“For a lot of people walking through the park, this will be their very first time seeing something like this,” Giles said. “And this is not only the complete virtual reality experience, but we are layering it with a storyline and flight simulation and wind effects.”

While each person’s experience will be different, the basics of the myth include hopping onto a dragon and joining the battle to rescue the sacred Heart of Eire, the source for all magic in Ireland.

Before donning the VR headsets, park visitors will learn the backstory for the characters:

  • Addie: A fierce female fairy and the heroine of the story.
  • Ollie, Addie’s dragon sidekick: In the virtual reality, visitors to the attraction will help Addie and Ollie rescue the Heart of Eire.
  • Balor, the villain, and Sluagh, Balor’s minions: They try to thwart Addie and Ollie by consuming the good magic.

“This is going to take you to places that you can’t go to any other way,” Giles said. “You can’t really go there, but your senses will tell you that you’re there. You will be riding on the back of a dragon at 5,000 feet, and your eyes will tell you you’re there. Your inner ear will sense that you’re there. No other medium aside from virtual reality can do that.”

Though the park studied other virtual reality attractions during the past year while putting Battle for Eire together, they think this ride is more unique, more immersive and more technologically advanced.

“We feel like this is going to be the first, major mass reality experience for people to come and actually go in large groups and experience virtual reality,” Ambler said. “Up until this point, it’s always been in small groups or small capacity venues, so this is a really exciting opportunity.”

By the numbers

1 — attraction.

2 — theaters for visitors to the view virtual reality Battle for Eire.

4 — minutes of virtual reality video for Battle for Eire.

5 — percentage of people who previously have used virtual reality.

15 — minutes it will take for the full Battle for Eire experience.

42 — inch height requirement to experience the attraction.

59 — motion seats in each Battle for Eire theater.

360 — Battle for Eire has 360-degree virtual reality headsets that park officials say are unlike any other experience in the attraction industry.

10,000 — virtual reality headsets, called emerald masks, available for use.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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