Back in 1999, Chris Sawyer gave the PC world one of the greatest simulation games of all time – Rollercoaster Tycoon. The game was a huge success, and had two large expansion packs that added new rides, themes, and scenarios. These were followed with Rollercoaster Tycoon 2, which was done in the same isometric style, but had streamlined UI and, of course, more rides and real life locations. Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 was released to much less fanfare, as the game was developed by Frontier, with Chris Sawyer (the mastermind of the first two games) acting only as a consultant. If you haven’t had a chance to experience this series, you need to do so NOW, especially if you are a fan of sim and management games. All the games are available on Steam as well as GOG if you need to get a digital copy.
So, what happened after the Rollercoaster Tycoon series faded away? Well, there has been a continued interest in the community for a strong, modern rendition of a theme park sim. With the success of Cities: Skylines in rebooting the city management sim after the Sim City 5 let down, the community has looked to smaller publishers and independent kickstarters to find the next great theme park creator. Here are a couple of the biggest projects to keep an eye on:
#1 Rollercoaster World
Well, the first big anticipated release is actually the “reboot” of the original series. Atari is again publishing the official follow-up to Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. Initially, the game reveal was met with extreme skepticism, which was further fueled when Atari switched developers two times. A video from PAX Prime 2014 added to fans fears that it may be a cash grab, with dated graphics and a poorly designed trailer.
Nvizzio revealed a new behind-the-scenes look at PAX 2015, and the community had a better reaction to what they saw. While the game looked improved from previous reveals, many were worried that the short turnaround after switching developers (less than a year) would leave the game in an incomplete or sloppy state. However, Atari recently announced that the release would be pushed back from this year to later in 2016.
So what is the iteration suppose to do to bring the revered franchise to its former glory? The additions include more themes, coasters, and rides (of course) but also more customization and creative tools. Players will be able to import their own custom themes and designs from Unity for use in the game (if you are savvy), and will also be able to ride each ride from a guest’s perspective (like RCT3). Further, the developers are playing up the ability to freeform terrain, including curved pathways, along with a fully realized 3D editor for coasters.
It remains to be seen if Atari can follow through with the high standards and low hopes of the RCT community. RCT3 was met with lukewarm reviews, and the complete lack of Chris Sawyer seems to tarnish its integrity. However, with the new reveal and a recent early-access beta (that prompted the push back on the release date), it appears that a genuine effort to incorporate feedback from the community is being attempted. We can only wait and see – will it meet the fate of Sim City 5 as a major let down or help revive a once thriving series?
While Rollercoaster Tycoon World is going with the full 3D look, Parkitect looks to incorporate the nostalgic isometric feel. This is partly due to the classic setup theme park sims have been built upon, but partially due to its smaller team. Parkitect is product of a successfully funded Kickstarter, and is looking to expand via Steam Greenlight in order to garner interest and raise more awareness.
The game has recently entered the pre-alpha phase, so it still has a lot of cooking left before its ready for delivery. Not much detail is known outside a few gameplay videos (which do not show a whole lot of detail…). The game advertises itself in pretty general terms, and those terms are pretty much a list of the traits of RCT 1 and RCT 2 (from the website):
- Build and manage unique theme parks
- Design and build your own rollercoasters
- Hire staff and fulfill their needs so they keep the park maintained and operating smoothly
- Build an efficient transport infrastructure to ensure the shops in your park don’t run out of stock
- Maintain the Illusion by hiding the “behind the scenes” parts of the park using scenery
- Upgrade the park with advanced systems and transit options
While the game doesn’t look too flashy from its limited reveal, that is seemingly its strongest asset. The original games were not about graphics or full 3D – they were about managing the guests, making money, and designing unique rollercoasters that didn’t break peoples’ necks. This game squarely hits those notes. I for one am glad one of these games is going for the classic angle, as I am personally fine with more of the same.
#3 Planet Coaster
If Parkitect’s attempt to channel nostalgia in its look and feel wasn’t grabbing you, then Planet Coaster might be able to draw you in. While Parkitect went the RCT1 and 2 route, Planet Coaster is nearly a direct sequel to the style of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. That makes sense given its being developed by Frontier, the makers of RCT3.
The teaser trailer was released this summer, and thus far not a lot of actual gameplay has been revealed. There has been some focus on the expressions and mechanics of the guests, but not much on the whole building a theme park part. This could be cause for concern about priority, but then again we haven’t seen any actual gameplay.
The game is not scheduled to be on the docket soon, currently aiming for Q4 2016, but there have been rumblings that it may include Virtual Reality functions. The extent of this is uncertain but speculated to deal with a first person view of riding your creations. Certainly a unique feature on this list of similar games – if they can pull it off.
#4 Theme Park Studio
Don’t feel like waiting for the next generation of theme park simulator? Well, I’ve included a game you can play right now! Well, with a small caveat – Theme Park Studio is currently in Early Access on Steam. Nonetheless, its helping to set a standard that the upcoming games will have to meet as the community has generally responded favorably to what Theme Park Studio has done.
Theme Park Studio is a little different than the other games listed here – its not a true management simulation. There is no elements of budget, funding, or trying to increase guests through the gate. The game shifts its focus entirely onto the design aspect, with a multitude of tools and editors to allow for extremely detailed designs. The editor allows for a lot of customization in both scenery and rides, and leaves out the financial hassle of trying to slowly fund a megacoaster through a basic carousel.
Without the actual sim/management aspect, this one doesn’t quite draw me in as much as the others. However, what it lacks in simulation is made up in design and creativity tools, which I’m sure will be perfect for some people.
So it seems the days of theme park simulation may be set for a revival. With multiple games fighting for attention, one should hopefully turn out to be a success and set a new standard for similar games in the future. Personally, I go back and play both RCT 1 and 2 (FYI you can import the scenarios from 1 into 2 if you were not aware) and really enjoy the simple ease of the game coupled with its surprising depth. Hopefully this next crop can deliver.
Did you play any Rollercoaster Tycoon? What happened to Sim Theme Park? Will any of these games succeed? Comment below!