Riding a roller coaster on the couch? Author Jan Brandt tried it out for us.

Riding a roller coaster on the couch? Author Jan Brandt tried it out for us.

In cooperation with MackMedia, we have developed a virtual reality app for Europa-Park, Germany’s largest amusement park, with which roller coaster fans can immerse themselves in new dimensions from the comfort of their own homes. Jan Brandt – author of “Against the World” – has tried it out and fulfilled many a childhood dream.

An experience report: German original by Jan Brandt, February 2018; English version by Exozet

Traveling and staying at home at the same time – this is a dream of mankind that has long been played out in books, films, or computer games, the dream of being somewhere else without having to move from place to place. Experience adventure, travel without risk, immerse yourself in foreign worlds, and leave everyday life behind for a while. When I think about it, I always remember the episode of the television series Star Trek: Voyager, in which holodeck technology is praised as the perfection of virtuality, as a possibility not only to experience fictions consciously, but also physically, as an interactive part of an artificial reality.

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Visiting our headquarters is author Jan Brandt.

The longing for the perfect illusion

As long as holodecks don’t exist, 360° screens, 3D or VR glasses are needed to simulate this experience. I remember visiting Universal Studios in Los Angeles wearing 3D glasses and driving into an artificial cave, into the middle of a scene from the movie King Kong, Skull Island.

We were surrounded by darkness, only seeing the flickering screen, while drums began playing somewhere in the distance. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of the jungle. Dinosaurs noticed us and attacked us, one even taking a leap in our direction while the train began to shake alarmingly, but King Kong saved us from the worst.

The entire time I didn’t feel entranced because as soon as I looked around, I realized that I was still sitting in the train, and that a slice of reality was leaking into this setting. In that moment, I longed for VR glasses that would neutralize this effect and completely influence my perception thus creating the perfect illusion.

I often wish I were able to virtually try out everything that I have always wanted to do.

Jan Brandt

Author

And you don’t even have to use foreign worlds to create such an effect. It’s already enough to overcome distances and to be able to see and experience what is happening at another place of the world or how it would feel to be right in this moment.

I often wish I were able to virtually try out everything that I have always wanted to do, but never dared to do in real life: Skydiving, bungee jumping, rafting. And just as often, if not more often, I wish I could get a quick impression of the local conditions before I set off on a trip or excursion.

Traveling through virtual worlds with the app

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Riding a roller coaster at home: The Coastiality app makes it possible.

Europa-Park Rust offers exactly this possibility. Using an app, I can watch roller coaster rides from home – experience them in a way: With 360° video recordings or as a ride through imaginative animated environments.

With the roller coaster into the future.

Click here to find out how Europa-Park attracts visitors with its Coastiality app:

To the project

To feel this thrill, I download the app and put my smartphone into VR glasses. Right at the beginning, I’m told that the app may cause dizziness, but that it’s not comparable to a real experience on the roller coaster.

When I think of my actual roller coaster experiences, I remember that I always felt dizzy, which was probably also due to the altitude, the loops, and the fact that I always sat in the front row to demonstrate my courage in front of my classmates.

Always the best seats

The app asks: Which roller coaster type are you? And I think: Extreme.

Jan Brandt

Author

With the Coastiality app, I’m able to sit in the front row of all coasters, no matter which category I choose. “Which roller coaster type are you?” I am asked, and I can choose between “harmless”, “exciting”, and “extreme”. The animated Alpenexpress with Ed & Edda, the Euro mice, is praised to me as “harmless”. It is a wild ride with a mine wagon through a cave illuminated by blue icicles. On a very wobbly course, I glide along until a purple dragon takes me on its back and carries me over all imponderables.

“Exciting” are the Sky Explorers, fictitious flight pioneers who, in search of a legendary aircraft, the Volatus II, roam the world on homemade, fragile-looking, but extremely agile gliders. When the gate of the airplane factory opens, I’m one of those pilots, floating over a fantastic landscape or under railway bridges, seeing the other Sky Explorers turning on their own axes, or spotting big birds with their huge wings accompany our flight.

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Enthusiastic user: Jan Brandt is testing the Coastiality app.

Paddington, the cozy bear, works up quite the sweat in the Alpenexpress version, as he has to run behind my car on London’s streets and pick up suitcases that slip from the luggage rack due to the speed. Paddington changes directions depending on where I look and receives points for every suitcase he gets. After completing the twelfth round, I start to think that I should not have been warned about potential dizziness, but about a potential gaming addiction.

The Schellen-Ursli world, named after a character from a Swiss children’s book, is regarded as “extreme”: We slide down a narrow mountain range, passing through a snowy landspace, riding on large bells that we’ve clamped between our legs like sledges, passing massive rocks that threaten to smash us to pieces at the slightest hint of carelessness.

Much more than reality

Jan Brandt.
Author and journalist.

Jan Brandt, born in Leer (East Frisia) in 1974, studied history and literature studies in Cologne, London, and Berlin, and attended the Deutsche Journalistenschule (a renowned journalism school) in Munich. His novel “Against the World” (OT: “Gegen die Welt”, DuMont 2011) was shortlisted for the German Book Prize and was awarded the Nicolas Born Debut Prize. Also published by DuMont were “Tod in Turin” (2015) and “Stadt der Engel” (2016).

The brilliant thing is that all these worlds created by MackMedia – those of Ed & Edda, the Sky Explorers, Paddington, and Schellen-Ursli – are all based on one and the same roller coaster: The Alpenexpress in Europa-Park, which I can also get an idea of by using the app, as there is also a video of a real Alpenexpress ride.

As I roll across the tracks sitting in a carriage, while passing wooden houses and trees, driving through caves and forests, I simply can’t believe that the virtual rides were following the same path, taking the same curves and gradients, and I realize that there is so much more to see in these dream worlds than in reality.

As I take off my VR glasses and realize after some eye rubbing that I’m once again sitting in the living room, I grasp what an opportunity this technology has to offer: The Alpenexpress has been around since 1984. I myself used to ride it as a child, and now that there are more exciting and bigger roller coasters, and I’ve long been used to higher rides, I have the opportunity to perceive the old and familiar as something completely new with the help of the app and the VR glasses. My experiences are virtually expanded, multiplied, and enhanced because an infinite number of digital formats can be laid over the one analog format. This is how a journey with the Alpenexpress manages to become a completely different experience each time.

With this in mind, I feel the deep urge to travel to Rust, borrow VR glasses from Europa-Park, and to immerse myself in every world: To feel the wind, the tension, and the thrill of first going up and then down – and the relief of arriving safely back at the starting point.

Text (German original): Jan Brandt

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