RollerCoaster Tycoon – 15th Birthday

rollercoaster tycoon feat

The point of this piece is to look back on a game that I have incredibly fond memories of. In fact, I have nothing but praise for this game. But I’m actually going to start this with something very recent: Tumblr.

There is a meme somewhere out there about the creative genius that RollerCoaster Tycoon provided, which I think supergeek/actor/writer Wil Wheaton publicised. It is explained as thus:

A scenario in the game, Rollercoaster Tycoon, was to get a higher approval rating than your rival who was based next door. In a feat of insane evil and creative extermination some of the 20th Century’s dictators are known for, this player set up a rollercoaster that led people to their deaths. The catch though is that the angle he had the rollercoaster positioned that flung these poor passengers to their deaths was just so that they flew in to the park of his competitor. The game recorded the deaths in his competitor’s park and his approval ratings dropped like a stone… making the game easier to win. A death coaster, by design for competitive victory.

rollercoaster tycoon 2Sandbox games have done incredible things in recent years. SimCity could allow you to subjugate your population to Beijing-style air pollution. You can execute potential and non-potential rebel dissidents in Tropico and many have manipulated Minecraft with the unnecessary deaths of many different enemy mobs for a player’s own gain. But I find something incredibly enduring about Rollercoaster Tycoon. It’s simple design and isometric view was a bit more simulation than Theme Park, taking its cues from its big sister, Transport Tycoon. All of this was the genius of Chris Sawyer.

Nowadays, Atari has given the licence to Elite and Zoo Tycoon developer Frontier Developments, but the fact the original game still exists is a testament to its fortitude. These were the days where Theme Park was looking a little dated, at that time anyway. It had been ported to every console, which gives you some impression of how little it needed to run. So Rollercoaster Tycoon came along and gave a slightly more adult, graphically superior, smoother and quicker take of the genre for the PC market. I say slightly more adult…

There were still the same kinds of challenges and quirks, like upping the salt and the price of drinks. But the tools that the Tycoon series had for landscaping the many crazy environments and more impressively, completely free design in your main rollercoaster attraction, were a cut above anything on the market at the time.

In fairness, the only things that began to come after this were more 3D based games, so you could argue, apart from maybe a few Command and Conquer or Civilization clones, this was the last truly original isometric strategy/simulation game of its type. Its freedom of creativity, so long as you had the money, is still a draw now as it is one of the best selling games over at GOG.com. An iOS version, with input from Sawyer, is due to come out in April with the spirit of the original games along with a fourth in the franchise.

Which leads me back to the Tumblr post I saw. I remember designing great parks. I loved the log flume style rides and super fast crazy things. I remember really playing a lot with the sandbox mode on the deluxe edition, which has both Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Even now, looking up online, I saw some things that I completely had no care about.

The game had no speed up option. Well, not like we do now. As a complete clone of Transport Tycoon, there was no super speed. I didn’t care. The game had some issues with rail, building and queue placement due to the isometric system. I didn’t care.

rollercoaster tycoon 1

But I look back now at all my creativity that I had and that I still have in my mind. I look at the vast worlds I’ve created in my brain for fiction and the massive locations I’ve explored as a gamer. I look back at the scope of builds that people have created in Minecraft and that I’ve done myself that I could never have comprehended before…

Yet never had it crossed my mind to design a rollercoaster that purposely flung people to their death into a competitor’s business so you could win out against the competition. Rollercoaster Tycoon has given rise to quite possibly the most creative, ruthless, evil and commercially viable mind in all creation. A game that can do that is surely worth a bit of your time and money.

Happy Birthday, Rollercoaster Tycoon.

[author]

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Missing the Obvious: Limited World

Open world games are a fundamental part of modern video gaming.

The technology exists now that vast, incredible, imaginative worlds that a player can explore and find lots of completely ingenious things hidden in every nook and every cranny can be created.

But to quote a line from Star Trek (movie number six if you’re feel feisty) – “Just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing.”

Just to point out to you that during the Xbox 360/PS3 era alone there were no less than forty, FOUR ZERO, open world games. Off the top of my head I can give you both Dragon Age games, all three Mass Effects, both GTA releases, all three Saints Rows, the Elder Scrolls, another two Rockstar games, the Fallouts, the Far Cry’s and the Fables (including the recent HD remake). That’s twenty-one games there alone, and I haven’t even put in the Assassin’s Creeds, the Mafias, the Godfathers and any other PlayStation exclusive games. Or the Batman games! I’ve criminally excluded three Batman games there too. That’s another thirteen on top of the twenty-one. Dishonoured is another, Sleeping Dogs…

Batman-wrong-1Whilst I’m making a point of the vast quantity of open world titles available, the amount of games isn’t what bothers me. It’s that sometimes a much better game is missed because of the decision to make something open world, in my opinion. So my point of missing the obvious here is that we sacrifice something because we create too much. We lose the quality.

Let me give you a few examples of what works and what bothers me. Sometimes you want to go around and explore a vast world where everything is dynamic and the story is well thought out and encapsulating for the player that the vastness and scariness of the world is put aside. In this case I would raise Red Dead Redemption as the pinnacle of that. Over Grand Theft Auto 5, you ask? Yes, because Rockstar actually did something they are normally criticised for which was providing an ending for the game that was incredibly satisfying and well thought out. A well designed linear game.

I’ve mentioned scariness because some games actually scare me because they are too much. The world is so big, so massive and so populated with things that once you’ve completed the main storyline you are left with an utterly bewildering set of options and to be honest, I have enough trouble organising my own life to worry about finding enough to do to level me up past level 25. In this regard, I offer the Bethesda games, specifically Skyrim. If Skyrim has any fault in its beautiful visuals, epic scope and atmosphere it’s that is was too epic, too overwhelming and too lonely.

bioshock infinite 2Come on now Sean, you’re just being particularly picky now aren’t you? Yes. Maybe I am, but some games actually benefit from not being open world and I also think that helps the longevity of a game. Grand Theft Auto online, for example, has a major flaw in that there is no real narrative or direction to be guided in past a certain point. GTA Online suffers from the fact that the levels are designed around the environment, which doesn’t give me, personally, a full enjoyment of a game.

Now, Bioshock on the other hand is something that has benefited very well from the rise of technology without getting in to the open world bracket. Yes it’s a very open shooter that allows you to explore the beautiful crazy art deco inspired environment of Rapture or the steampunk-esque floating Columbia. But they are levels. Regardless of if you can travel around them, they are all specifically designed levels that have an incredibly beautiful immersive environment. Irrational Games’ nuance at storytelling is (or was) second to none. Could that have been achieved if Rapture was a fully open world autonomous environment? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as atmospheric.

A second example of this is a game that was originally open world and still retained some open world elements, but discarded them because it made the game too open, too complex and hard to achieve the narrative exposition that they were looking for. That game was Alan Wake. This wasn’t scrapped because it was too much for the technology to handle after becoming an Xbox 360 exclusive, but because the thriller element of the game could not be delivered with it. Frankly, Remedy made the best possible move there. Thriller games (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark) benefit more from being enclosed, small and well designed. If the world is too big, it becomes a bit convoluted to program a random scare in to a design with no levels.

Open world games do push you in a directional narrative and you could argue that the Assassin’s Creeds aren’t truly open world compared to the other games. But there are many games that, whilst it is great that they exist, might be better with a scaling back of thought and a better implementation of level design.

south park review 2I’m not saying that open world is becoming an easy or lazy option, not by any means. But there is a tendency I feel to let the world be the level and dictate your moves and personally I don’t like it. I think a good game can suffer because of it.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is an interesting case here and an example of why open world isn’t always the answer. Firstly the town of South Park is small. That makes the open world a bit more limited, but completely able to be explored. Secondly, the narrative of the game does drive you in a quest laden turn based combat game. But to get to these fights, you have to negotiate designed levels. Because of the 2D visuals of the game, this looks like a platform game, but actually it’s quite a designed level as the lampooning of Canada in the Zelda/Pokémon series style neatly shows. Thirdly, everything in the game, the sub-quests and the story, guide you but still allow you free reign to explore and do it on your own terms without being overwhelmed.

Now the game industry has a choice here and I think the rise of independent gaming will make that choice for them. The next two years are going to see heavy lighting/physics based stunning driving games, incredibly smooth and frantically busy first person shooters aimed at multiplayer audiences and vast open worlds full of quests to explore. But would they be missing the obvious if they took a step back from these types of games to deliver a more stable, concentrated and well-designed progressive game?

I think so. But I’m not you so tell me to shut up and go away if you want.

[author]

The Real BAFTA Winners

Last week, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts bestowed some its bronze-faced trophies to the gaming industry and the people behind some of the best selling games of the past year. Namely Grand Theft Auto 5 and The Last of Us.

But in my purely observational opinion, whilst they won the trophies, they weren’t the only winners or at least the best winners. I’m talking about the people who were nominated and, more importantly I suppose from the selfish point of view, the gamers… Us.

the last of us review 2This year was the tenth BAFTA Video Game Awards and you could say that the winners and nominees have been pretty focused towards the AAA producers of the gaming industries. The franchise players like Halo, God of War, EA, Microsoft, Activision, et al. But this year I think is the first year where I’ve felt that games were not just stuck in the best sellers wins category but also that there was those more independent and smaller game producers that we’ve all been glued to for the past eighteen months.

This is why I think the gamers are the real winners here. Over the past couple of years the market for creating your own video game and being as creative and enjoyable as any other games that you have ever played in your life has boomed.

Journey won some well-deserved awards for the 2012 ceremony, before that Notch of Minecraft fame won an award. This year, Papers, Please took away an award and was nominated for many more. Gone Home also took away an award and was nominated for more. The Stanley Parable was placed in the same categories as The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto 5.

Now I’m not saying that they all should have won more. Let’s face it, the competition this year were shoe-ins for awards as the pinnacles of the video game as an art form, which they truly are. But the fact that these games have co-existed with them goes to show how much our beloved video game has come along.

If you’ve not played any of the three recent indie titles I’ve mentioned then you should. Put down that controller, step on to your laptop (it can play them all pretty well) and just enjoy what you have at your fingertips.

Papers-Please-Entry-Denied featWhen you’re a small independent producer, you’ve probably done this as a labour of love and when things are so well received as they have been, it’s because your creativity and imagination with what you have to hand is beyond the measure of expectations. If Papers, Please, Gone Home and The Stanley Parable aren’t amazing examples of that, I don’t know what is.

I’m sure we’ll see Titanfall up for the Multiplayer award next year and Watch Dogs, Dying Light and Destiny duke it out for top dog. But as the industry slowly moves to its new generation of consoles, the amount of independent gaming being released is increasing vastly.

I’m excited to play the games that will win awards for sure in the 11th British Academy Video Games Awards. But I’m more excited to play the imaginative, out-of-the-box creations that will give them a run for their money. So really… I’ve won, right? Just send that Bronze-faced bad boy to my PO Box and I’ll see you in smug-land.

[author]

Missing the Obvious: Silence SCUMM

The day I write this (currently a Monday with all the trimmings of Spring) is a glorious day. I’m putting aside Mass Effect, which I’m doing an article on. I’m ending my quest to get 100% on Lego Lord of the Rings. I’ve even stopped my foolish crusade at restarting Skyrim from scratch including deleting all of my old save games.

Why?

The BBC has released the 30th Anniversary edition of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy game. It’s a text adventure game originally released in 1984 based on one of the most seminal pieces of British comedy radio/TV/play/books/film to have ever graced the mushy neuron sponge that is the human brain. It’s an important game for me. Along with the original Hobbit, it was the game that infuriated my five-year-old self, amused my parents and had no graphics. Yet its sense of adventure, and surprising capacity to teach you how to spell was apparent.

Hitchhiker's GuideThis is being mentioned because it is without a doubt, one of the major forbearers for the greatest series of adventure games ever produced. LucasArts were the masters of all with their terrific Monkey Island series and the following one off games that accompanied them like Full Throttle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones, The Dig, et al.

Their success in triumphing over the text based and even simple graphics based games was the point and click mechanic. They created games that were as funny, as intuitive, as puzzling and as enjoyable as their predecessors but, with the simplicity of pointing and clicking along with great graphical content to accompany your controls. This was the game engine of gaming. Not just graphics, or physics or destruction modelling but actual gaming. This was SCUMM.

It stands for ‘Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion,’ which was the first game to use this invented language. The idea took the concept that you use your adventure by selecting the appropriate verb for the action you want or need to do, or want a humorous comment on behalf of your protagonist on. It replaced the typing of words with a clickable sequence of easy commands to advance through the game.

Of course there were others in the gaming world that used similar mechanics based on the success of this. Broken Sword, Beneath a Steel Sky, several Star Trek tie-ins and Discworld 1 and 2 (still my personal favourites). But as the PC market began to lose touch to a console era in the late 90s these games slipped away, unable to be played by a generation with snazzy 3D graphics and no mouse controller.

Recently a comeback of sorts has happened although in a very low-key way. The ScummVM PC software project has enabled the old games to be played on any operating system practically (that includes console and mobile). The recent indie release Broken Age is a great homage to this era, even being written by one of the masters of the game genre Tim Scahfer, the architect of so many LucasArts titles.

Broken-Age-Act-I 3In fact it is this release and the combination of easy to transfer developing code that is why we are missing the obvious. I don’t mean for nostalgia though. The amazing remastering of the Monkey Island games was amazing and successful, as I presume the Broken Sword remasters are too for nostalgic gamers. But we are missing new intellectual property, to coin some industry lingo.

What I mean is that there hasn’t been a new original series of games that has new characters, fun worlds or exciting things for use to point and click on. Sure there’s licensed games but practically nothing brand new. The tools are there, and it is relatively easy to develop, code and release. All it takes is a great imagination and the firing of some of those neurons around the sponge to start developing these titles.

Broken Age was developed though Kickstarter and is a large-scale project compared to my thoughts. But the fact that a small team could create an easily portable and enjoyable game means that publishers are missing a trick here, right? Well… Not all of them.

If you had any doubts that this wouldn’t be a viable option, that there isn’t an audience for this genre, that consoles won’t abide by it, that mobiles won’t let you play it properly and, most importantly, that it will gross income, then let me point you in the direction of Telltale Games and The Walking Dead series.

I rest this case and return to figuring out how Douglas Adams intends me to get out of my bedroom with only a dressing gown and a hangover. Don’t Panic.

[author]

Atychiphobia

I haven’t written a blog in a while. This is because of (un)employment, distractions and me being trapped in a self inflicted mental bubble. If you want the big life update, go and follow me on twitter.

I’m here to write about something else. Mostly because a few people, including myself, haven’t had the most encouraging time lately. I’ve spent the past weekend thinking about it and trying to figure out why.

If I’m honest, I’ve applied for a few jobs over the course of the past couple of months. Literally a few. This is because I’ve grown accustomed to the inventible rejection and failure that I can’t bring myself to do it. I cannot drum up enough enthusiasm to rework my CV, create a cover letter tailored to whichever area I’m trying to get in to and see it receive no reply, a stock reply after a month or just get to nowhere.

It is actually quite crippling how the rejection of jobs, not even interviews but the preliminary applications, affects you. I’m not talking one or two, I’m talking dozens. I’m nearly up to the magic century of jobs within a year. Of course most of the work I want to do involves working for free for a completely unknown amount of time (which is something I or any family sponsoring me cannot afford) or mass networking. The latter I can and have done but I don’t feel it to the shameless enough degree that I could ask anyone something. It’s a hard thankless and cutthroat world I’m trying to enter and the more you try, the harder it will resist you.

I think I sit in this room in front of my computer every day of every week. I have little physical socialisation and, apart from the times where I’m working a night shift here, I rarely accomplish anything. At least that’s how it feels. I’ve had two recent rejections for screenwriting submissions and these were encouraging. Mostly because I heard something back and it was actually proof that someone had read it. I’ll be honest, this was my first time out for a script and I was over the moon that at least I had got as far as I had. I should have been bummed out or angry and persistent to carry on. But I was happy and encouraged and this pleased me.

Then I realised I couldn’t share that enjoyment with anyone. I also realised I haven’t shared anything about my anxiety and fear with my friends. Not only do I worry that they don’t understand and that I’m a bit of a bum and a failure in their eyes (which I guess I am at the time of writing) but they can’t relate to what I’m experiencing or the work I’m attempting to do. And why should they? They don’t know anything really about what I’m attempting to achieve other than it’s quite hard. They don’t understand exactly how much my insecurity and, for lack of a better word, fear grips me and keeps me awake for hours, stops me moving when I wake up and how much I feel imprisoned.

I am lucky in my current situation but I am aware it’s stopping me from being forced to do things. With the last year, I had such a run of productivity that I genuinely yearn for now. The only post-uni blues I have is based around that sense of confidence, encouragement and excitement at the work I was yet to do, coupled with my location. I’ve always tried to move away. Not because I hate the place or anything, my friends have chosen to settle here and I respect that. But for me it’s like a weight. It’s hard to explain and maybe my words aren’t formed enough to do it justice. There’s a pressure on your body that you get when you suddenly brake your car from a high speed. It forces you into a position and makes you immobile. Not just your body but your mind as well. The adrenaline and sudden rush almost paralyses your brain of any thought and you live for a moment completely thoughtless and absent apart from your own body and what you see in front of you. That’s how I feel here.

This isn’t intended to be a whiney post to cultivate sympathy or support, although the latter is always welcome especially as I’m a needy twat sometimes. But it’s intended to speak to the people I know that also have problems, feel like dropping it all and giving in. Those of you who read this and recognise a bit of yourself in it. Whether or not a job you wanted hasn’t materialised or you just feel a bit lost and unsure where you’re heading, just read the following:

You aren’t alone. We are all in this together. It sounds silly but we are but young and naive creatures in a vicious environment. Regardless of what we’ve been prepared for, our age, our experiences, nothing could have exactly prepared us for how things have turned out. But they will get better if they believe they will. Because if we believe, then we will work at making our beliefs reality. As hypocritical as I probably sound saying this, there will be a time for us, all of us, and it will come when we least expect it because we are so busy trying to make it happen. But we all need to support each other and prop each other up. It’s hard and you need to pick and choose what you listen to and who you seek counsel in. Sometimes, people seem different and distant but that’s more because you have done the same to achieve your goals. Once you get there, they’ll understand. You need to find the people now who will completely support you and remind you that carrying on is better than giving in. Things will come together.

The title of this post means fear of failure in the sense that is is persistent and uncontrollable. Everybody will say they are optimistic but deep down, we all have this rooted in our psyche. Sometimes things happen in our lives that bring this to the surface much more predominantly, and that’s OK. We fear that we are wasting ourselves because we believe in ourselves that we should be achieving something. We are hungry for it, desperate maybe, and certainly willing to sacrifice for it. I’ve found that my fear of failure isn’t the fear of me failing, but the fear that if I do fail, I’m not sure where I would turn to be picked up again. Once I find that which picks me up, and you find that as well, then we all shall never fear again.