MicroProse's RollerCoaster Tycoon is a combination of two somewhat popular PC games: Coaster, an older game from Disney in which you design roller coasters, and Bullfrog's Theme Park, about the trials and tribulations of running an amusement park. Now, Chris Sawyer, the developer behind the very addictive and somewhat zany Transport Tycoon, has developed a brand-new amusement park simulation, with an emphasis on creating funky new roller coasters. Since Theme Park is pretty much the only real competition, RollerCoaster Tycoon has the potential to capture a pretty good niche market - and for the most part, it succeeds.
The premise is pretty simple: You must run a successful amusement park. RollerCoaster Tycoon offers a selection of 21 different scenarios, as well as a tutorial, for building your empire. In actuality, only five of the 21 scenarios are available at start-up - as you complete a portion of the initial scenarios more will become open to you. The scenarios typically involve either open or prebuilt amusement parks, challenging you to accomplish an objective, like achieving a certain attendance or profit goal.
Like many games of its ilk - Sim City 3000, Transport Tycoon, even Theme Park - RollerCoaster Tycoon uses an isometric angle to view the overall map. The map has multiple zoom levels and can be rotated 90 degrees in either direction. A grid is superimposed on the terrain to provide a structured area to determine definite sizes of buildings, sidewalks, lakes, and so on. Manipulating the terrain and building or destroying structures costs money; these costs, along with other amusement park-related costs, are balanced against the revenues brought in by customers.
You have the option of building a number of different structures to please your customers: thrill rides, roller coasters, mild rides, water rides, food vendors, souvenir stands, and even bathrooms. The big rides are the most interesting, and of course, most players will probably go straight for the roller coaster. Laying out the rides and concourses requires some skillful planning - you must place not only the rides, but the queuing area and entry gates as well. Lines for rides that spill out onto the concourse are not good for the moving traffic, and vomit-inducing rides (should you choose to keep them) might need a few strategic stalls nearby. At the outset, you only have access to the basic rides and vendors, but money and time put into research will earn you new types of amusements and technologies.
As mentioned above, roller coasters are a big part of the game, and would-be designers will not be disappointed. You can custom-build your own coasters - including your own twists, turns, dips, runs, and so forth - to your heart's desire. Well, almost to your heart's desire. The problem, if you can call it that, is physics. RollerCoaster Tycoon uses a real-world physics algorithm to model its coasters accurately. If you build an all-wooden coaster track, with an 80-foot drop and a hairpin turn to the left, without angling the track properly, the cars will go flying off the track, and you can expect a reduction in attendance in the near future. Of course you can prevent all that by testing the tracks, which provides all sorts of statistical goodies.
Like similar games, RollerCoaster Tycoon lets you access any number of the attendees wandering throughout the park. With this feature, you can tell if your arrangements and layouts are working or if a ride is just too much or just plain boring. All sorts of employees are available for hire. Rides will break down, requiring handymen. People hate standing in line, so you must hire entertainers. Crowds typically bring petty crime, requiring security. Another nice little feature is customization, which lets you name practically everything in the park to your liking. The sound effects are really good: People scream on roller coasters, and little motor cars sound like little motor cars. The sound is even positional, so when coaster passengers go from the left to the right side of the screen, their screams go from the left to the right speaker.
Unfortunately, such a big and somewhat complex simulation doesn't come without problems. Graphically, RollerCoaster Tycoon is pretty good, with only a few clipping problems between animated objects and the terrain behind them. Some may find the depiction of elevation hard to cope with, and strangely enough, the game only runs at two speeds - stop and go - so when you're trying to manage your newest amusement park, time is ticking by, perhaps faster than you'd like. The roller coaster physics model is nice, but you must have a completed track to test it out properly. Finally, there are only 21 scenarios and no way to make more, and there's no generic "start from scratch and build till you drop" scenario either.
RollerCoaster Tycoon is another fun management simulation from the mind of Chris Sawyer. One can only hope he continues to make games in the future - and with less time between them.