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.
Sandbox 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.
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.