Rollercoasters have been part of gaming's heritage since the earliest days, back as far as 1983's 3D Crazy Coasters on the Vectrex. But VR's inherent sense of presence makes the managed terror of roller coasters all the more impressive. It also has the added, uh, 'bonus' of sometimes inducing exactly the kind of sickness that you get from a really impressive rollercoaster (try 'Cyber Space' below for the full effect.)
Why do so many developers make VR Rollercoasters? Well, the easiest VR experience is one that has the player sitting down in one spot, with a fixed path going by that the player can look around and control their passage through. That throws up something like Operation Wolf - or a rollercoaster.
Obviously, the dream would be for Frontier's upcoming Planet Coaster to support VR, like their Elite Dangerous did. Yet, from the early preview code we've seen, Planet Coaster is throwing a *lot* of polygons around - and the whispers at that it won't be able to stay that pretty and hit the 90fps that makes for comfortable VR viewing. (Which is going to be a huge problem with Playstation VR too, but we're guessing that they'll just focus on keeping poly counts low, taking its graphics back to the PS3 era…)
Atlantis: Infinite Coaster
This unusual coaster was developed by a physicist, not a software engineer, to prove to himself that he could code something solely in openGL. That means Atlantis: Infinite Coaster doesn't have the regular big bugs from engines like Unity or Unreal - it has it's own range of interesting bugs! Thankfully building collisions are fixed in the latest version.
What's most unusual is that this coaster is procedurally-generated - That is, you'll never get the same ride twice. Yes, it'll always take place in a mammoth city floating on the surface of an featureless sea - but once in the city proper, the ride will go on forever, theoretically.
Frag VR Roller Coaster
Google Cardboard / Android / iOS
You get what you pay for with everything… and this is free. Seriously, though, as long as you can get this working with your iOS or Android device (not guaranteed by the comments on the Google Play store) then it's a solid Roller coaster experience.
Playing it, you travel through a detailed cityscape that's randomly generated each time you start riding, and full of noisy crowds, birds, cars, screaming fellow passengers and an airship. The ride isn't like Atlantis because it all loops in on itself, rather than spreading out to explore the city.
Tip: tap with one finger to face forward, or tap with two fingers to restart the ride.
The guys behind Garry's Mod and Rust are working on this fun Minecraft style VR world. It's obviously been designed from the ground up to be both silly and flexible - and a core part of its silliness is that it allows players to quickly and easily design their own roller coasters. You can pretty much sketch a 3D rollercoaster track with the Vive's controller, then ride it - and blow it up with TNT, if you so wish.
Unfortunately, at the moment, it's only an internal prototype - but we'll update this piece whenever we gets hands-on with it.
Cmoar Roller Coaster VR
Google Cardboard / Android / iOS
The oddly-named Cmoar have developed this VR coaster with a bit more love than some of the others. It's a four minute ride inside caves, through canyons, and across flaming pits (where most roller coasters seem to be built, for some reason.) There may also be dragons!
Cmoar has also made a free version, if you want to try before you buy, which lasts just a minute.
Cosmic Roller Coaster
Google Cardboard / Android
This VR coaster has you riding through the Solar System, listening to the music of the spheres (which appears to be mainly electronica.) You fly close into Saturn and through its rings, passing close past a space station and each of its planets. Then you pass a mammoth star ship and flyby a warp gate, triggering yet more trippy effects, before returning to a very ocean-lite Earth (where you can listen into its radio signals. It's all a bit 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Warning: there's a slight flashing, oscillating effect whilst you're riding, which may cause problems for users with epilepsy.
Influx: Volcano Coaster
This is actually a promotional spin-off of Influx, a puzzle game along the lines of The Witness or The Talos Principle. We presume that the developer has taken the engine of that game, and tweaked it to make a rollercoaster.
The twist on Influx is that it's a rather beautiful fixed path ride into the heart of a volcano. Not spectacular, but it shows off the capabilities of the system well and lasts a reasonable time. Now we want to play the proper game...
NoLimits 2 Roller Coaster Simulator
This is an unusual one. NoLimits 2 is a roller coaster simulation built on the backbone of a professional roller coaster design tool, used by designers at world famous theme parks like Alton Towers. It's actually quite spooky to ride one of its coasters, as they're so attractive (with realtime reflections, shadows and wind) and realistically laid out that they're close to the experience of a real ride. And many of them are based on real rides!
Obviously, we recommend you only download the demo version. This will let you try out the park editor, and play around with the weather effects, day/night cycles, real-world physics and so on, for 15 days. Or just walk around the theme park you've built!
Cyberspace isn't strictly speaking a Coaster - it's more of a fairground ride. But it's spectacularly, fast-moving and nausea-inducing. What more do you want?
Set in a cityscape, the ride is a giant pendulum, with a gondola at one end and a counterbalance at the other. The player sits in a middle seat, flanked by impassive people, as the gondola swings higher and higher and higher, turning you upside down as it goes, faster and faster and… it's nauseating, but damn compelling.
Fibrum VR Roller Coaster Attraction
Google Cardboard / Android / iPhone
Though it's no slower than the other roller coasters, Fibrum's Roller Coaster VR ride (grab it for Android and iOS) has a gentler feel to it, set as it is in a fern-heavy jungle, complete with tropical bird song. As you ride, you pass ancient buildings and temples, leap broken parts of the track and splash through flooded areas.
It's by no means the prettiest of the rides - it's all a bit low polygon - but it is one of the oldest around, if that's any consolation, and it is certainly more relaxing than the others.
Oculus / Google Cardboard / Android / iPhone / Windows Phone
Nival is a Russian game developer with a long history in hardcore PC games, so it's unusual to see them publishing this. InMind VR is not ostensibly a rollercoaster, claiming to be a scientific experiment, but in mechanics and appearance it is.
The player talks the role of a surgeon, shrunken down to a tiny size and tasked with destroying infected neurons. You enter through the eye and start riding down the nerve bundle. If you spot a diseased neuron, you have to focus on it for a couple of seconds to zap it. Otherwise, it's just a psychedelic rollercoaster through a human brain...
Real world VR coasters
IRL & Samsung VR / HTC Vive
These are both virtual rollercoasters and not. All over the world, theme parks are designing or revamping rollercoasters to have virtual reality headsets attached to each seat. Each features a ride that takes account of the g-force and direction of travel to really immerse you in a strange virtual journey.
The main contender is the cheapest - Oculus's Gear VR headset with a Samsung mobile phone built in. There is functionally no difference between this set-up and the consumer version, which makes it rather effective. Both Alton Towers' Galactica ride in the UK and Six Flags across the USA are using this tech to revamp older rollercoasters. Alton Towers' ride takes you on a journey through space, whilst Six Flags has several rides, ranging from a Superman experience to the New Revolution space battle.
On the other hand, Thorpe Park in the UK is planning a very mysterious ride, with celebrity Derren Brown. They're going to use the much superior HTC Vive, which can track players as they move around a room and produces the most photorealistic, powerful simulation. If you experience one real-world virtual ride in the next few years, you should try this one.