Joy Sequence - The triggered or sequential use of lighting, sound, and other atmospherical and visual special effects within an attraction to create a mood and atmosphere.

An attraction that these effects are often used for to great effect, and something I happen to be a huge fan of, are roller coasters. Something that really completes a roller coasters’ theming for me is a well produced and well thought out dispatch sequence. It doesn’t even have to be too elaborate to please me, just a little consideration and theatre to a train leaving the station (and bonus points for another one for trains re-entering the station) is good enough for me. Be it a voiceover, change of lighting, or a more elaborate concoction of effects, I think it’s an extremely effective application of special effects and does wonders to enhance the tension and excitement.

One of my very favourite dispatch sequences is that of The Smiler at Alton Towers. Sure, the station could have been better themed had the project had more time and money, but I’m just glad such an elaborate and fun dispatch sequence made it through to the finished product.

Photo by Morgan Price, edited to show how much more impact the lights could have had if the station were a little less open to natural daylight

All of six things happen in perfect tandem as you leave the station and begin your ride:

1 - Lights

Overhead surgical lights flash on accompanied by a menacing sound effect as they activate, making riders feel vulnerable and insignificant, selecting and inspecting them from above, it gives me the feeling of something about the correctional process being alive and in control and suspends the disbelief of the fact that it’s just computer programmed machinery.

2 - Audio

A wonderfully deep and sinister voice tells you to “JOIN US” as you slowly roll into the pitch black abyss ahead of you, accompanied by a final snippet of the ‘HA HA HA’ jingle you’ve been listening to for the last hour in the queue to bookend the experience.

3 - Smoke

Smoke machines blow a dense fog over the train as it sweeps down, building up speed and heading into the windy darkness beneath.

4 - Strobes

Strobe lights dazzle and disorientate riders’ sense of direction as they fall down into the heartline roll, an indoor inversion which I must say I was not expecting when I first rode back in 2013 and came as a great surprise.

5 - More lights

As the train stops at the block section after the inversion, a series of heavy-duty orange lights illuminate one after the other, beaming down onto you as a reminder of the process you’re undergoing.

6 - Ferociously loud audio

Ferociously loud audio (until it was unfortunately turned down in recent seasons) of people laughing maniacally and screaming from the depths of a smiling hell deafen you as you wait, stunned by the dispatch, looking ahead at the approaching lift hill. I’ve heard complaints that the audio was too loud and that it stopped you from being able to speak to your friends, but I personally think that added to it and really had you captured within the Smiler’s power.

Watch it in action

Video by Coaster Bot

Now that is what I call a Joy Sequence!

Another of my favourites used to be Air at the same park. The original sequence consisted of the room changing from white to a deep blue as the floor disappeared from beneath you, the trains tilt you forwards and a friendly and ethereal voice whispers “prepare for air, assume the position, now fly” at you enchantingly. In 2006 when the coaster was re-branded to Galactica to feature VR headsets, the voice was removed and replaced with absolutely nothing, which I think is a big shame.

Photo by Morgan Price

Another honourable mention at the same park is Wicker Man which features a more modest but still very considered dispatch sequence. The sound of grinding chains send the train out of the station and re-entering the station is accompanied by a voiceover telling you to exit to your left as ‘there is no escape to the right’. Chilling.

Photo by Morgan Price

What's your favourite dispatch sequence?