The Art and Science of Thrill Rides

The Art and Science of Thrill Rides


Friends at Frontier Developments asked me to be the brand ambassador for Planet Coaster, and give a lecture to thousands of fans at their Expo in 2017. This video gives you the complete lecture, which I have since delivered at New Scientist Live.

I jumped at the chance to work with Frontier for two reasons. Firstly, Planet Coaster is a sim game that invites you to create, manage, and share the world’s greatest coaster parks – and it absolutely rocks! I had the pleasure to get a guided tour of Frontier’s studios to conduct research and ask questions. I was impressed. Not only are all the rides engineered and modelled to provide an accurate simulation, but so too are the “guests’ brains”. Just like real theme park visitors, Planet Coaster guests all have their own complex likes and dislikes, and they are quite discerning about what they’ll ride. The creative team behind Planet Coaster cut their teeth developing titles like Roller Coaster Tycoon, and that passion really shows. If you’re interested in working in the theme park industry, then this is a great place to get an understanding of the whole business, as well as making higher and faster rides if that’s your thing.

Secondly, Frontier Developments’ front man, David Braben, is the creator of Elite, which was the seminal 3D vector art space piloting game from the 80s. The Elite story is still going strong over 30 years later with Elite Dangerous, which – to my delight – was also being celebrated at Expo 2017. When I visited their studios, I was invited to play Elite Dangerous in VR! – a new development. I was blown away. I told David that I used to play Elite on my BBC Micro, sitting on a swivel chair, inches from my black and white Sony CRT screen, with a cardboard box over my head to increase immersion, and that experiencing Elite Dangerous in VR is everything I dreamt of. I expected a nod of approval from a kindred spirit, leading to a discussion of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Instead, I got a polite smile and a handshake. I suppose I had just admitted to spending a good portion of my youth sitting alone in my bedroom with a cardboard box on my head.