RollerCoaster Tycoon Creator On New Mobile Game And Franchise's Legacy

Q&A: We speak with the creator of RollerCoaster Tycoon about the new mobile game and a lot more.


Just in time for the holidays last year, Atari put out RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic, a mobile game that combined RollerCoaster Tycoon and its sequel. While Atari hasn't shared any download figures, the response has been positive, series creator Chris Sawyer told GameSpot in a new interview.

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We recently had the opportunity to speak with the veteran designer about the impetus for releasing the game, what went into it from a technical perspective, and whether or not it will get any further updates or expansions in the future. He also told us about why the game has no microtransactions.

Additionally, Sawyer opened up on why he backed away from the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, taking a more hands-off, backseat role, and he shared his thoughts on the poorly received RollerCoaster Tycoon World.

You can read our full interview below--learn more about RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic here.

The release of RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic was a surprise to some. Can you talk about the reasons behind making the game and releasing it now?

It’s been an ambition of mine for many years but it was only recently that everything finally came together to make a mobile/touch-screen version of the original game feasible. Having worked with Origin8 on the mobile/touch-screen version of Transport Tycoon a few years ago we knew that the latest mobile platforms had the power to also handle the complexity of a PC-style game like RollerCoaster Tycoon, and the success of Transport Tycoon showed that there was a market for older-style games like these on a mobile platform. The newer versions of RollerCoaster Tycoon had moved on in terms of their graphical style and the type of gameplay they contained, and I felt this left a gap in the market for bringing back the original games in the series with their stylised but characterful graphics and their more simplistic gameplay. My hope was that RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic would appeal to those players who remembered the original games from so many years ago, but might also appeal to new players who appreciate the solid gameplay and the amount and depth of content you get in the game.

From a technical perspective, what did it require to bring the game to smartphones? On PC, RCT games are best with mouse and keyboard, but obviously you can't do that on mobile.

The main reason there has never been a full conversion of RCT or RCT2 to other platforms before now is that I wrote the originals in x86 Assembler Code, which while allowing the PC games to run very efficiently even on low-end hardware it meant a conversion to another platform would require an entire re-write from scratch, not an easy prospect when the source code stretches to over 500,000 lines of code! Origin8 however were up for the challenge - they had already worked with me extensively on Transport Tycoon and were familiar with my style of x86 Assembler Code files.

Transport Tycoon also showed that a mouse-based PC style game adapted well to a mobile touch-screen environment and we used that experience to develop RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic’s interface to make the most of the touch-screen while still being as flexible and easy to use as the original PC games.

What kind of feedback are you hearing now from fans since release? And are you planning future updates in terms of new content or other adjustments?

There has been a lot of positive feedback and it's heartening to see that modern-day game players appreciate the game for what it is--a fun game--and that the old-style graphics and more simplistic gameplay are actually appreciated for what they are rather than dismissed as being out of date. We have no plans for adding more content or expanding the game further but I’d never rule it out. I think the game has a really good balance of gameplay and depth at the moment and expanding it further wouldn’t necessarily make it a better game.

A lot of mobile games have microtransactions, but RCT Classic does not, beyond the expansions. Can you talk about why you took this approach?

There was never any question of trying to monetize RCT Classic with microtransactions. I wanted to bring the authentic classic RCT game experience to mobile platforms without compromising the design or changing it to suit a different financial or sales model, and the only way to do this was to make the game a paid-for app without microtransactions. We have in-app purchases in RCT Classic, but they are purely to purchase expansion packs for those who find that 95 parks just aren’t enough, or who want to get really creative and build their own park scenarios, experiment with ride designs and import/export parks.

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You have sort of taken a backseat to the RCT series development these days, with Atari leading the way. Do you ever see yourself getting more hands-on again?

I took a backseat from RCT3 onwards because I felt I was the wrong person to lead the games forward and take them in new directions. I just wasn’t personally interested in re-designing the games for projected 3D and adding more detail or making them more immersive, as I felt that what the games would gain in some areas they would lose in other areas, not necessarily making a better “game”. Much better to let those who had the inspiration and interest develop the new games I think. And the same applies now too – While I admire many features of the newer RCT games I don’t feel any inspiration to become involved in their development.

The newest game, RCT World, has had a mixed reaction--have you played it?

I have played RCT World briefly, but probably not enough to really get to grips with it. I think the thing that strikes me most about the game is how big its ambitions are, and from a programmer's perspective I appreciate how challenging it is to achieve those ambitions and it's heartening to see that every update is bringing the game closer to what it should be.

The game seems to be getting better with content updates that introduce more features and content. The way games can be continually updated today is quite different from how things used to work. Are games ever really "finished" in today's landscape?

It does open up a whole different way of supporting and keeping a game fresh doesn’t it. From a general perspective I think there are pros and cons. From a developers viewpoint it can be costly to add features and new content for existing players if it doesn’t generate additional income, and maybe it could also lead to unfinished games being published prematurely in the knowledge that they will be updated and improved later on?

Kind of a wider question here. You are an industry veteran with three decades of experience--what are some trends in gaming today that you are enthusiastic about and some that maybe keep you up at night or make you nervous?

The thing that bothers me most about gaming today (and worries me for the future) is how games are funded. It’s already extremely challenging for developers to recoup their development costs by selling a game for an up-front charge, and the only alternatives seem to be in-game advertising and the microtransactional model. Advertising can be intrusive and might become ever-more regulated and restricted, and the microtransactional model is only successful if the game is designed from the outset primarily to make money rather than to be a fun game. It worries me and I don't have any answers. Players often won't even look at a game which has an up-front charge these days.

RCT is one of the most enduringly popular games, with a core group of dedicated fans. What do you think has contributed to RCT's continued appeal?

Hopefully it’s because fundamentally RollerCoaster Tycoon is a fun game! Perhaps also nostalgia plays its part, and we all tend to look back with fondness at the original of something. Personally I think RCT’s long-lasting appeal is because the game was all about building things and nurturing things, two basic human instincts we all have. Most people get some enjoyment or satisfaction from building something, whether it be a giant multi-inversion roller coaster or just a neatly designed landscaped garden, and most people instinctively want to look after their little guests in the park, ensuring they’re happy and safe and enjoying all the rides you’ve created for them. It helps that the game is all about amusement parks too, which are fundamentally fun places to be in.

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