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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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Ups:Fun-filled cross between RR Tycoon and Theme Park; excellent design tools, colorful graphics, engrossing gameplay.
Downs: Would have been cool to have sandbox and first person perspectives available.
System Reqs:
P200MHz, 32Mb RAM, 8XCD, 50MB hard disk, 2MB accelerated SVGA card
rct1.jpg (5163 bytes)When I first heard about Roller Coaster Tycoon, two different thoughts entered my mind: "Is this a cheap Railroad Tycoon ripoff?" and "Maybe it’s like Theme Park". Well, as it turns out, if you cross the two games together, you have a pretty good idea of what Roller Coaster Tycoon is like. Happily, it takes the best aspects of both games and blends them into a challenging, addictive and downright fun combination.

The object of the game is to build a successful theme park using a combination of architectural and managerial skills to please your customers, and grow your amusement park into a bustling, thriving business. Factors you must consider include ticket prices, ride placement, advertising, promotional activities and, of course, roller coaster design. Like SimCity, you must carefully plan your budget to generate a positive monthly income so that you can fund improvements to your park; this can be quite an undertaking in its own right. There are dozens of factors to consider when building a new attraction in your park. Placement, novelty and ticket price are the most important ones; you want your rides and businesses to draw patrons into your park, exposing them to all your attractions and wringing every last dollar out of their pockets. By placing your big attractions (read: roller coasters) at the back of your park, you will draw most of the people through the rest of your buildings and rides if you’ve designed your pathways correctly. New attractions draw more interest, so you can set the ticket prices higher and make more money initially, but as time goes on and the novelty wears off you may have to decrease pricing to keep people lining up. Your coasters will be the cornerstones of your park, in both a financial and popular sense, so make sure they are well-placed and well-designed.

rct2.jpg (4480 bytes)Speaking of design, that is one area where the game excels. The design tools are like a three-dimensional railroad construction set. You can choose from several different types of coasters, ranging from the old wooden supports to suspended steel designs to log flumes. Track is laid down one section at a time, starting with the station. To lift cars to the top of humps, you add chains to the track sections. In addition to inclines and declines, you can add turns of several different radiuses and even banked turns on some rides, including corkscrews and loops. There is a limit to the maximum height you can go above ground, but you can tunnel through hillsides and below ground. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, funding and space. One great feature is the ability to save your coaster designs and import them into future parks. You can even upload them to the Roller Coaster Tycoon site and download designs from other tycoons. If you’re not feeling particularly ambitious, you can just choose the pre-built designs and start raking in the bucks, but designing layouts is one of the most entertaining aspects of the game, and you’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t try it.

rct3.jpg (4638 bytes)A happy customer is willing to spend more time and money in your park. To keep your customers coming back for more, you must cater to all their needs. Setting up food and drink stands, restrooms and information booths throughout the park will insure that no guest will get too hungry or lost. Be careful about placing food and drink stands too close to your highly nauseous rides, though, or you’ll have a lot of sickness to clean up. You’ll also want to place trash bins, benches and lampposts liberally throughout your park. A clean, bright park is more attractive than a dim, dirty one, of course.

To keep things running smoothly, you’ll have to hire personnel to help you. You’ll need handymen to clean away debris, mow lawns and water plants. Mechanics will inspect your rides to keep them in top working order and repair any that break down. And security guards patrol your park, preventing vandalism and keeping order. All these workers will cost you a pretty penny, but they are essential to your success, so hire them and treat them well.

rct4.jpg (4606 bytes)Visually, Roller Coaster Tycoon is a feast for the eyes. The graphics are crisp and colorful, with great detail and two levels of zoom, allowing you a birds-eye view or a close up perspective of your park. The colors used for each ride can be adjusted to suit your tastes, so if you want to create a park with a particular color scheme you can. The animations show the individual patrons as they wander through your park, getting in line for your rides, using your facilities and enjoying themselves on your masterful creations. The sound is also excellent, with different music for each type of ride, from a cheerful melody for the merry-go-round to a pounding beat for the bumper cars. Sound effects are good too, though there is no support for EAX or A3D. DirectX 5.0 is required, and is included on the game disc. The manual, though not fantastic, is adequate and contains some useful tips on getting the most out of your rides and funds.

Two other things are worthy of special mention. The terrain is quite varied, ranging from grassland to desert depending on the scenario you are playing. If you want, you can make any modifications to the terrain you want, from adding trees and water to creating or leveling hills and valleys. The tools are quite powerful but take a bit of time to become proficient with. They are also quite expensive to use – moving earth is a pricey undertaking. Also, if you run out of space in the park with the land you’re given you can use some of your money to buy more so you gain room to expand, but again, this is quite expensive.

rct5.jpg (4718 bytes)There are two things I would have really liked to see in the game. The first is a sandbox mode, similar to Railroad Tycoon 2, where you can build and test rides without time or money restrictions. As the game stands now, you are limited to the scenarios that come with the game. Even though they are quite varied and can be different every time they are played, I would have liked a bit more variation. The other thing I wanted is the ability to climb into the roller coasters and ride from a first-person perspective. This would require a sophisticated and powerful 3D engine, however, and would have added a lot to development time. Nevertheless, it would have been a wonderful addition to a fine game.

Overall, Roller Coaster Tycoon is an unexpected gem in a sea of mediocrity. While visually appealing and quite detailed in many areas, the game’s biggest asset is that it’s fun. I found myself engrossed for hours, watching the park grow and operate, tweaking the terrain and business factors, and designing novel roller coaster layouts. Few games have kept me up till the sun rises in the morning, but Roller Coaster Tycoon managed to do just that. Gamers who like simulations and anyone who wants to build roller coasters or theme parks should pick up this game immediately. Congratulations, Microprose – you have a winner here.

--Derek Meyer