What do I look for in a rollercoaster?

Tall, fast, well themed? Which aspects are the best ones to focus on when designing, building or, most importantly, seeking out a rollercoaster? The real world has boring answers like cost, capacity and marketability, but here in my own enthusiast world I like to dream about all of that being inconsequential. What if all the manufacturers made rides just for people like me?

Spreadsheet alert. This one isn’t going to be me opening up about personal preferences, I’m going to let the numbers do the talking again.

I did a (somewhat inconclusive) project like this a couple of years ago to find out which statistics or features of a rollercoaster would appear to be the most important to me out of the following:
Height, Length, Speed, Elements, Inversions, Age & Theming

Does the list look familiar? It will if you’ve read this one.

The same data set that goes into making those cards was put to good use again here and two years (and 300+ creds) later I’ve decided to revisit and see if firstly I can do it better and then if my preferences have changed at all. Here’s how the slightly more refined process went down.

Every significant and unique coaster I’ve ridden sits in this list and has all of those key stats ready and waiting to be manipulated. We need to first decide which rides I would personally consider the most important in defining what I like about them and I settled on that golden Top 10% ~ish.

By hinging around my excitement rating, the control for how much I like something, we can see here that so far I’ve rated 87 coasters a 16 (out of 20) or higher and 122 coasters at 15+. 10% of my total count right now of course sits around 100 so we’ll err on the side of caution and just take the top 87 coasters to represent what I like best from a ride.

Here’s the sum of each stat against each rating and the total sum of each stat, so for example the combined height of all my coasters rated 20 is 815.4ft and the combined height of every coaster in the data set is 43,025.6ft.

Now we need to know what percentage of the data set (population) our chosen rides (rated 16 and above) represents – in this case 22.96%.
Why has my top 10% suddenly got bigger? This is only because the data excludes everything insignificant or cloned, sorry Wacky Worms. Though I’ve ridden over a thousand coasters, there are only 379 ‘worthy’ entries that we’re dealing with here. How depressing.

Finally we can also see above the summed % of how each stat is represented across my chosen favourite rides – 22.96% of the coasters carry 26.26% of (or 1.25 times) the total length. We can assume from this that as rides get longer, they tend to get better.
In fact, every statistic has a positive correlation here, taller = better, faster = better, well themed = better and though that’s a bit of a boring answer in itself, it makes sense. I like an all round package and increasing any one of these factors is unlikely to make me like something less all by itself.

The important question we’re asking today though is which ones are the most important? And what better way to present the final results than in the traditional list format.

#7 Elements (1.109)
In the Top Trumps cards these are combined with inversions to give a single, more competitive number for gameplay but it’s easy enough to split them here for analysis.
Not to be confused with the naming of a section of a ride like ‘airtime hill’, because that’s far too woolly, what’s my definition of elements here? Primarily it’s the less common features found on coasters, mainly launches, but it also includes, though not limited to, holding brakes, turntables, splashdowns, drop tracks, elevator lifts, racing etc.
While these can add that extra spark to a coaster it turns out they are the least important to me when it comes to making a good ride. I am admittedly not big on launches, particularly standing ones. Aside from that, gimmicks, or unique selling points, often lead to compromise in other areas and aren’t always inherent to a quality end product, I guess.

#6 Theming (1.134)
I’m a little disappointed that I appear to think so little of this one. I’m a self-confessed sucker for a good theming package but it cannot be denied that a lot of the top rollercoasters out there just don’t really have any, and that’s fine, the thrills alone are enough to satisfy us simple folk.
Always a bonus though.

#5 Speed (1.144)
Not a huge surprise to me, as all the fastest coasters in the world don’t tend to do a whole lot with it. Up, down and done, they’re built to break records, not change lives. Looking slightly beyond that, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the ‘sensation of speed’, which does seem to work well on others. Personally I need a little more than just sitting on a ride with the wind in my face thinking “this is fast”. I’m jaded like that.

#4 Inversions (1.178)
Either something has changed in me in the last two years (maybe all those RMCs) or I was getting my calculations wrong before, because the numbers originally showed no correlation between inversions and enjoyment, allowing me to dismiss them as mere nothingness – something I can give or take on a coaster. It turns out now that they are reasonably important to me and I see some truth in that, you just have to get them right, give them purpose. Corkscrews aren’t up to much these days, but Norwegians and Pretzels? Yes please.

#3 Height (1.235)
Physics. Without height, you can’t have drops, and drops are good. You can’t even have terrain and we know how much I love that on a coaster.
I’d definitely say there’s a certain point when you get diminishing returns (a spreadsheet topic for another day), somewhere between 200 and 300 feet, but that mainly comes down to layout limitations with material and build cost. They want to go high, yet they can’t afford to make it last. And I said we don’t want to think about those things.

#2 Length (1.250)
So make it last instead. A long ride is a good ride, as long as it’s good, right? Definitely makes sense to me, if a coaster can do more with its layout then it can give me more reasons to enjoy it and more time to appreciate it. As much as I admire something full on and well paced, there’s nothing worse than hitting the brakes and saying “is that it? I wanted more.”

#1 Age (1.444)
The results show that above all else I care about how new something is. What we build today is on the whole a lot stronger than what we used to get. Technologies have improved, boundaries are being pushed and I get the sense that there’s a real appreciation amongst the industry these days for making the best all rounder, not just to make that big blue one that goes loop de loop.
Anyone with a keen eye may have spotted that the % of age was in the opposite direction to everything else in the data I showed above. Well I had to tweak a few things for this category to essentially prove the point that newer is better, with an inverse correlation to old age (collectively the data set has existed for 6907 years!)

This particular winner doesn’t make much sense against my earlier question of what aspect to focus on when building a coaster – focus on it being new? That’s inherent surely. I guess the closest answer to that is that I would like everyone to keep doing new things, no clones or relocations please. Though boring again, that’s a good way to sum up the above conclusion that a bit of everything is what I’m after as most new designs are ticking that box already.
We’re in a golden age of coasters right now and if I ever get unleashed on the world of creds again then soon the new builds will be all I’ll have left to cling to. Can’t wait.

Europe 08/20 – Tripsdrill + Schwaben Park
Rollercoaster Ranking – Six Flags Magic Mountain

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