RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Soaked! Updated Q&A - Final Thoughts
With development of the expansion pack finished, we caught up with producer Jonny Watts to ask him about Soaked!.
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RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 Soaked! is the first expansion pack to last year's main game, which itself was the latest sequel in the popular and best-selling RollerCoaster Tycoon series. The original RollerCoaster Tycoon was one of the first major mainstream computer games, thanks to its universal appeal and addictively fun and charming gameplay that let you design the theme park of your dreams. After all, who doesn't like theme parks? RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, developed by British studio Frontier Developments, updated the series with a fully 3D graphics engine, as well as a host of new features and options. Development of Soaked! wrapped up recently, so the game is headed to store shelves soon. Luckily, we managed to catch up with producer Jonny Watts to ask some last-minute questions about the expansion.
GameSpot: Well, Soaked! is now finished. How's it feel? Any urge to go to a water park? How long did it take to put the expansion together, and when did you start? Were water parks a natural extension to the existing game, or did you winnow the idea from several other choices?
Jonny Watts: I always have an urge to go to a water park! Soaked! was started around a year ago, but the majority of the team joined the project once they'd finished RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 last fall. I think there are several natural, major extensions of the existing game, and after discussing it with Atari, we felt that water parks was the right first choice, especially as it ties in so well with the summer launch date.
GS: Obviously, water parks and water rides are just a part of the expansion. Care to briefly run down what other new rides, buildings, and features are in Soaked!? We understand there's a whole bunch of regular theme-park content as well.
JW: The thinking behind our expansion packs is that we want to give people more of what they liked in the original game, but we also want to extend the gameplay in a new, but relevant, direction. So we really are trying to put a tremendous amount of effort and care into the expansions, and I genuinely think that Soaked! is much more than any expansion pack from this or any other game has ever been. It's almost a new game in its own right. So as well as the water-park content (swimming pools, diving boards, Jacuzzis, loungers, waterslides, and other water rides) there are, of course, new roller coasters and new types of roller coasters, including some really cutting-edge ones. There are new-to-RollerCoaster Tycoon flat rides, and there are two new water-based scenery themes (Paradise Island and Atlantis), more wall sets for building, the ability to create waterfalls, dancing fountains, laser/water shows (including drawing lasers), whale/dolphin shows, customizable aquariums, water-transport rides, passports, a new VIP, entertainers and lifeguards, widescreen support... I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea.
GS: What was the general reaction to the main game? Are there any features in Soaked! that have been included as the result of user feedback from the main game? Were there any fixes or features in particular that the community clamored for or desired?
JW: Overwhelmingly positive. It's interesting, actually, because before we released RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, we were deliberately keeping "radio silence" with the game's community. We are all fans of Chris Sawyer's original game, so we were pretty sure that what we were doing was on the mark. But since the release, we've been going out of our way to interact with the community via the official Atari forum and by offering our own customer support. Literally, almost all the comments are prefaced with, "Love the game, but have you considered XYZ?," so we think we did something right in the first place, and we have been--and will continue to be--engaged with the wider community to keep things on track.
So as well as looking at people's wish lists regarding what new rides to add and so forth, there are general improvements, such as being able to use the mousewheel (where available!) to scroll menus. We've introduced the ability to use the Ctrl key to place building pieces at the same height automatically, and we have introduced tunnels (that is, the ability to construct your coasters underground), which were always going to be introduced into this generation of the franchise. But they weren't within the scope of the main game release. Finally, there are many new cheats, including that if you rename a peep "M Brookes," you can place wall pieces and other scenery items on the edge of path tiles. This may not seem like a big deal, but believe me, the phrase "often requested" doesn't begin to do it justice! (For the curious, "Michael Brookes" is a member of the development team who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in his efforts to support the community.)
Getting Soaked!GS: Did you do much modification to the peep behavior in the game to enhance or improve their behavior? Each individual peep remains unique, correct? And each has his or her own wants and needs. But one of the concerns with the main game originally was that they seemed awfully finicky and hard to please. Do peeps exhibit more-logical behavior now?
JW: We didn't think they were illogical in the first place! I think one of the big transitions for players when they moved to RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was the peep behavior. In the previous games, peeps had been somewhat like automatons, whose only purpose in life was to flock to every ride available to them. With RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, as you say, each peep is an individual and can be part of a wider family group. So there are many more (entertaining) behaviors open to them. And so, for example, they do spend some time waiting for the other members of their group, pretty much like in real life. The game is balanced to allow for this, but I think it still came as a shock to people to see the difference. And it may have frustrated some.
In Soaked!, peeps are still very much individuals, but we've given the player more feedback about what's going on. And, yes, we've tweaked behavior somewhat to be a little more tolerant. We've allowed the peeps to make decisions more frequently (which will reduce the frustrations of people who see peeps that are bursting for the loo stroll past toilets, for example), and we've improved other areas, such as the use of transport rides. In fact, I'd say that the artificial intelligence was already very good, and in Soaked!, it's truly excellent. For example, you can catapult a peep off a waterslide and into a pool 100 feet away. He or she will know he or she's landed in water; he or she will swim to the side and get out; and then he or she will go and rejoin the rest of his or her family, which is just getting off the transport monorail. That's particularly impressive given the hundreds and thousands of peeps you can have in a park.
GS: The graphical effects are extremely impressive, especially with the way you model the fluidity of water. Were the water graphics difficult to create, and do they increase the system requirements for the expansion? Or can you get by with the same system requirements as the main game? And aside from water effects, are there any other graphical enhancements?
JW: Thanks for the compliment. Of course it was hard. Otherwise everyone would be doing it! We had to smile to ourselves when we saw Sony's PlayStation 3 "duckies" demo. We are doing water just as good, if not better than that, with Soaked! on a GeForce3 graphics card with a whole game running in the background. A lot of effort has gone into the Soaked! water experience, from the interactivity where you can stir peeps in the pool to the caustics and refraction. Furthermore, there's how you can knock peeps off their feet with a water cannon; how it all blends visually with the time of day; and how it looks when you are underwater with the wavy screen, bubbles, and little shoals of fish. There are the droplets on the camera when you have been in water; and how all the whole interacts when, for example, you put a glass tunnel underwater. In terms of system requirements, you will be able to get by on a system that can run RollerCoaster Tycoon 3. However, as always, the better your system, the better the result will be. There are indeed also many other new graphical effects, such as laser light shows that write out your own text or drawings, colored lights in the pools, fire, steam, and smoke special effects, objects, and so on.
GS: Does Soaked! have any improvements in terms of sound and music? Did you throw in new audio cues or musical themes? We know about the new laser light and water shows that you can choreograph. Anything else?
JW: Sounds have been tweaked for a lot of coasters and rides and peeps; ride events now have sounds; and they obviously have lots of splashes! We've also added loudspeaker objects, so players can play whatever music or sounds they want at whatever point in the park they want it, including the ability to synchronize speakers so they play the same thing at the same time. There is new original music in Soaked!, which spans very different but fundamentally water-related musical genres (that is, surfing music, whale song, and so on). In terms of being able to choreograph stuff, as you say, you can now have a combined firework-laser-water show if you want, and you can also choreograph the dolphin and whale shows with the same mixmaster interface. So you can "scrub" back and forth to forward and reverse the animations of the animal in question, which is pretty cool.
GS: Could you describe what some of the new scenarios are? What will some of the challenges be? Obviously, your role as a park director is to create new parks from scratch or to restore grandeur to aging, broken parks. But do you have any particular favorites in the bunch?
JW: There are nine new scenarios in Soaked!. Rather than just carry over exactly the same gameplay from the main game, we also thought hard about how this could be extended too, and we came up with the idea of fun challenges that are optional for the player to accept. But if accepted and met, they give an in-game reward. A good example is, "A space exploration agency wants a coaster that produces several seconds of weightlessness (air time) to run some tests on volunteers, and it's looking to hire roller coaster creators as a cost-cutting exercise. The free marketing generated by this high-profile cooperation will attract many guests, as well as a substantial cash bonus." So if the player designs such a coaster, he or she gets more guests and some cash. My favorite scenario is Captain Blackheart's Cove, in particular for the spectacular sea battle that is enacted in it.
GS: What kind of "research" do you do for something like Soaked!? Do you get to spend lots and lots of time at various water parks, or is reality a lot less fun? Were there any real-world parks or rides that served as an inspiration for Soaked!?
JW: We did indeed draw from the personal experience of going to theme parks generally and water parks in particular, but clearly, we would get no work done whatsoever if we had to go visit a real park every time we had an idea we wanted to check out or to see something! In cases like that, the Internet is our friend. I would say Soaked! is inspired by an amalgam of all the high-profile water parks worldwide, with a dash of our own imagination thrown in.
GS: Finally, what's your favorite part of Soaked! so far? The new rides? A spectacular new park that you designed? Or perhaps some unexpected behavior by some of your peeps?
JW: I think it's difficult to isolate one feature, because the whole is so impressive working together. Screenshots just don't do it justice; you have to see it move. But if pushed, I'd say the interactive water in the swimming pools, where you can make waves, stir the peeps, and splash them (and get a reaction, of course!).
GS: Thank you.