Ah, RollerCoaster Tycoon.
Not the most original way to start an article about RollerCoaster Tycoon, but if you’ve played the game, you know exactly what tone I’m going for, and it’s exactly how you just read it. Fondness, nostalgia, and a little bit of surprise that the game released more than 20 years ago – God, do I feel ancient typing that – is still so fun and impressive today. While you may well go years on the internet without thinking about it, RollerCoaster Tycoon is one of the most famous PC games ever released. Very rarely does a game garner such a large variety of people in its audience, and in the case of RollerCoaster Tycoon, that audience was enormous.
I have played RollerCoaster Tycoon. My sisters have played RollerCoaster Tycoon. My friends who play video games have played RollerCoaster Tycoon. My friends who don’t play video games have played RollerCoaster Tycoon. My mother has played RollerCoaster Tycoon. There isn’t exactly a Venn diagram that can explain the audience of RollerCoaster Tycoon. It managed to capture the audience of the city-building Sierra games, the casual PC simulation games, and every child who ever daydreamed about building their own theme park, which it turned out was basically all of them.
But what is RollerCoaster Tycoon, and why is it so successful? And what’s with that random capital C in Coaster that I would ordinarily ignore, but Chris Sawyer has sufficiently earned the privilege for me to respect his weird, incorrect/inconsistent spelling? Well, RollerCoaster Tycoon is your standard city-building game, only instead of cities, it’s a theme park. You can build stationary rides like Carousels, Slides and Ferris Wheels, and also manually build rides with custom tracks, like Log Flumes, Water Slides, and many, many varieties of rollercoaster, along with more administrative tasks like setting prices, hiring staff to keep the park clean, safe and happy, and running advertising campaigns to boost your guest-count.
And to be honest, that’s about it. I could probably end right there. I’ve reminded you of RollerCoaster Tycoon, which is the sole purpose of this article. And if you haven’t played RollerCoaster Tycoon by now, you probably won’t (and you clearly do not have me as a friend on Steam or I would have rectified this mistake several Summer Sales ago,) but I feel like I can add more. The problem is that a standard review just wouldn’t work for me. The graphics are nice, the gameplay is really good, and… that’s about it. What else is there to say?
Well, I’m going to go all BuzzFeed on you and make this ’15 Things You’ll Remember If You Played RollerCoaster Tycoon!’ because the game has created so many memories – funny, awesome, and occasionally annoying – that I want us all to remember them and chuckle in the friendly warm glow of this extended nostalgia trip. Grab your Park Map and join me for the ride! It just might take a while; I was always a bit rubbish at building manageable queues…
15) It’s not a real park until there’s a Carousel playing that cheesy repetitive music
Even though the Carousel isn’t a very important ride, it feels to me like a vital part of any of the virtual theme parks I’ve built, or have yet to build. And they have to be near the entrance too; your guests have to know before they’ve even entered the park that yes, you have a Merry-Go-Round, and yes, it’s playing that stupid, glorious music at full volume. It’s just not a theme park until there’s a Merry-Go-Round there. I don’t care how many other rides you have, it’s just not a park. You could have dozens of award-winning rollercoasters, but unless you have at least one Carousel, you will never be a true RollerCoaster Tycoon. Carousels are the embodiment of the gentle, non-threatening rides that your less adventurous but just as loyal customers are dying (not literally, we’ll get to that) to see.
To be honest, this should be much higher on the list because the Carousel is such a recognizable ride, but if one of these nostalgia bites is going to be about music, I should probably put it at the beginning, where it can play for the duration of the rest of the article. I’m sure that won’t get annoying at all.
Also, I would like to point out that when typing ‘RollerCoaster Tycoon Carousel Music’ on YouTube, as soon as I got out the first three words, it suggested ‘RollerCoaster Tycoon Carousel Explosion’ to me. I’ve played the hell out of the first game and a fair amount of the second, and I’ve never heard of this. I know you can crash rides in RollerCoaster Tycoon – trust me, you didn’t think I would be writing this list without mentioning that, did you – but how do you crash a Merry-Go-Round?!? It’s actually fairly funny when they break down, because the music slows down and get really deep and low-pitched, and sometimes the opposite happens and the music speeds up and start to go crazy and the Carousel itself bobs up and down like it’s preparing for blast-off, but it never actually explodes. Does it? Was I just too good at the game to make it do that?
Also, apologies for switching between Merry-Go-Round and Carousel at a moment’s notice. I do the same thing when I’m naming them too.
Speaking of which!
14) Coming up with an original name for every ride in your park because you’re not an uncreative swine
Have you ever looked at someone else’s park and thought ‘Oh, this is nice! Lots of shops, different scenery than I would have used, but a fantastic rollercoaster for a centrepiece. I wonder what it’s cal-‘ and then you see that the amazing, awe-inspiring name that they have chosen for the central attraction in their park is ‘SMALL STEEL ROLLERCOASTER 1’ and you have to leave immediately because you can’t even begin to think about trying to pretend that you’re still friends?
The weird thing about this one is that I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have incredibly low standards for names. I will accept ‘Pirate Ship’ with no hesitation whatsoever, but if I catch a glimpse of ‘SWINGING SHIP 1’ then we can no longer be associated with each other. In some of the scenarios, the park you’re building already has a few rides, and some of them have fairly creative yet fitting names that wouldn’t be out of place in an actual theme park. And then right next to them, you’ve got ‘SPIRAL SLIDE 1’, when you know perfectly well that it would take minimal effort to change it to ‘Slider-Man: Into the Slider-Verse’.
I can definitely see why people would get tired of naming their rides, but to me it’s just something that you have to do. It can get tiring, especially since nearly all of the scenarios are practically identical, just with a change of scenery, so it’s probably the seventh time you’ve had to come up with a funny name for your Observation Tower, but you just have to do it, you know? The park names usually help – as I write this, the last scenario I replayed was Dinky Park, so I just put ‘Dinky’ in front of all the ride names. For some of them, it worked (Dinky Dodgems) for some of them, it didn’t (Dinky Boats) and for some of them, I was just having fun. I changed the name of my Drink Stall to ‘Dink Stall’, just because I could.
But it’s a necessary chore. Name your rides and name your stalls. The weirdest things to rename are probably the bathrooms, because most of your shops are only built once – maybe twice if it’s a really big park and your guests are complaining that the Burger Bar I hilariously name ‘Bob’s Burgers’ every single time is too far away – but you’ll build bathrooms much more frequently. I used to just add extra o’s, so my park would be filled with attractions such as ‘Bathroom’, ‘Bathrooom’, ‘Bathroooom’, ‘Bathrooooom’ and ‘Bathroooooom’.
Speaking of which!
13) Finding out you can charge people to go to the bathroom and choosing not to because you’re not that much of a monster
I hope I don’t get banned from the unofficial RollerCoaster Tycoon Group of Fans on the Internet, but you know that whole thing about building Death Parks full of traps that murdered your guests? I never really got into that. It’s not exactly challenging to build a half-finished rollercoaster that helps your guests achieve their dream of flying into the sun à la Grizabella the Glamour Cat. But some people really enjoy that, and that’s fine! Some people took the game a little less seriously and had a lot of fun playing with their guests in ways that weren’t exactly intended.
But there’s a line you just don’t cross.
Setting prices on all of your rides can be a bit tricky, but the shops were mostly straightforward. I played it safe by using all of the prices that the shops started with, minus 10 pence, because I wanted my customers to know that I was cool and hip and one of them, like an elderly high school teacher who says things like “Lit!” in front of their students. But while it offers a service, I wouldn’t really call a bathroom a ‘shop’, which is maybe why that category of ride is classified as ‘Shops and Stalls’ instead. And then, like every other shop or stall, you realise that the Bathrooms you can build… have a price.
A price which is automatically set to £0.00, but a price nonetheless. And it’s possible to raise this price. You can charge people for the honour of not having to piss themselves in the queue for your Go Karts. And I know that there are plenty of video games that allow you to take a more overtly villainous role – Overlord, Fable, Postal, Cooking Mama – but I don’t know anyone evil enough to actually do what this game is letting you do. You don’t charge people to use the bathroom. What do you think this is, a train station within 50 miles of London? You don’t try to pull that on people, especially when the main reason they’re probably queueing up is so that they can vomit somewhere private instead of on your nice clean paths, after taking a test-ride on one of your experimental rollercoasters that ended up with an intensity rating of 37 and an excitement of 1.2.
Speaking of which!
12) Scenario: Ivory Towers
A few of the scenarios themselves are so memorable that I’m just putting them on the list as is. I feel like Ivory Towers would be the sleeper on the list, because the name itself doesn’t bring back memories of a particularly unique park, compared to… well, there’s no point listing the more memorable ones if they’re coming up next on the list. But even looking at the screenshot above, what’s so important about Ivory Towers?
Well, that’s an image taken from my completed version of the park, after 3-4 years of building new rides and stalls, maintaining the scenery, and, first and foremost, cleaning the place up. Why cleaning the place up? Because this is how Ivory Towers starts.
Starting this park gave me a feeling similar to walking into a trap in I Wanna Be The Guy, but one of the really funny traps that you didn’t see coming and you’ve only been playing the game for five minutes so you haven’t learnt to hate it yet. When something goes wrong, but it’s a minor enough irritation and it’s humourous enough that you can just laugh at it instead of feeling annoyed. That’s the feeling I got when I started this scenario; which, by the way, has the greatest description in the entire series. “A well established park, which has a few problems.”
That’s just fantastic. You think ‘Hmm, I wonder what the problems they could be referring to are? Maybe the prices are too low or the path is really confusing, or maybe there’s an over-abundance of gentle rides compared to – *click* – nope, the place is literally flooded with vomit. It’s like the aftermath of a Chick-fil-A festival over here; vom city. Last Night at the Voms. RollerCoaster Tycoon dot vom.’ And I laughed long into the mandatory fifteen minutes that you have to spend hiring a dozen handymen and setting their patrol areas, including the essential spot right outside the one high-intensity rollercoaster responsible for the sea of vomit the few guests you start with are drowning in.
Speaking of which!
11) Drowning your guests
I know I talked earlier about not building Death Parks designed to kill off your guests as explosively as possible, but obviously I did occasionally set the Powered Launch Mode on a Steel Rollercoaster a little too high and watch people fly out of my park and into, let’s say, a better place. And I still remember innocently placing a little bump in the track of a Water Slide, at which point the game reminded me that rubber dinghies are not actually connected to any sort of track, which was embedded to memory as I watched two people and a small yellow inflatable boat crash into my Merry-Go-Round and inexplicably explode.
But the most intentional death in the game is drowning. It’s still possible to commit by accident, by deleting a section of path directly above a lake, and I recall occasionally getting messages apropos of absolutely nothing stating that one of my guests had somehow just drowned off-screen, but the main reason your guests will drown is that you realised you could pick them up and thought it would be funny to drop them again in the water. Which it is.
It’s mostly amusing just because you can see your guest’s thoughts flashing above their location if you’ve selected them, and there’s something strangely hilarious about seeing the following string of internal monologues. “Shuttle Loop looks too intense for me! This Candyfloss is really good value! I want to go on something more thrilling than Hedge Maze. Help, I’m drowning! Help, I’m drowning! I want to go on something more thrilling than Slider-Man: Homecoming.” And we all dropped someone in a lake, and we all saw their thoughts (and life) flash before their eyes, and… then they went under. Usually very quickly. And I don’t know about you, but getting the message ‘Guest 408 has drowned!’ actually made me feel a little bit rubbish. I just thought it would be funny to drop you in a lake for a few seconds, Guest 408. I didn’t actually intend for you to drown, leaving behind a grieving family of Guest 409, Guest 612 and Guest 1138. It was just a prank, bro.
I suppose it didn’t make you feel quite as guilty when their names were just the word ‘Guest’ followed by a number, but you could always rename them.
Speaking of which!
10) Renaming your guests (and then drowning them)
Cheats and tricks have been a part of my gaming habits ever since I found out that holding Alt+2+Enter unlocked the menu in Commander Keen 4 that allowed you to press G+F10 for God Mode. It’s no surprise that, as one of the most successful PC games of all-time, RollerCoaster Tycoon also has a few tricks up its sleeve. But rather than helping you to instantly win scenarios that honestly aren’t particularly difficult to win, Chris Sawyer elected to just throw in a few goofy secrets, like the genius that he is.
If you want one of your guests to be twice as fast as all others on the Go Karts, go ahead and name him after the famous British racing driver, Damon Hill. If you want him to travel incredibly slowly, name him Mr. Bean. If you want him to go even faster, go for Michael Schumacher. I actually did discover one of these by accident due to a very boring childhood including a mother who was extremely interested in Formula 1 racing. I was always less interested in boring, un-manly things, like fast cars, and extremely interested in cool and interesting things, like PC management simulation games and the annual turnover from my fictional Pizza Stall in Diamond Heights.
You can also name your guests Melanie Warn and Katie Bradshaw to make them extremely happy and wave at everyone, respectively, but other than the Go Karts, no names have a big effect on the game, unless you go with Richard Branson, who apparently makes all of your other guests richer, but presumably he then opens a terrible airport out of your park and the service is non-existent but you have to stick with it because what other choice do you have, Ryanair? But anyway, while these cheats were a fun little diversion, the main reason you renamed your guests was so that you could name someone after your best friend/worst enemy/least favourite Teletubby and drop them into a lake. And the fact that the guests exclaimed “Help, I’m drowning!” with the same level of enthusiasm with which they would say “I want to get off Ferris Wheel” remains quite funny.
Speaking of which!
9) Never building Ferris Wheels once you realise that they are incapable of letting guests off
Variety is the spice of life, and while you could easily win every scenario in the game by building several Steel Rollercoasters of the ‘Shuttle Loop’ variation, it’s a lot less fun, and subtracts from the personal joy of building your very own park. There’s no point solely building the most intense rollercoasters you could think of, because a lot of your guests like to take things slower. And there’s no point filling your park with Boat Hires and Hedge Mazes because there are bound to be some adrenaline junkies who want to go fast. A good park should contain a balanced mixture of exciting, high-speed thrill rides, and slower-paced gentle rides, which handily come in separate categories. And even if they’re not the most exciting, it’s always worth putting a Carousel or Haunted House in your park for those who aren’t a fan of loops or dives.
With one exception. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, build a Ferris Wheel.
I’ve played RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, and it’s… alright. It’s basically just RollerCoaster Tycoon with a few more rides and scenarios, which is how I would make a sequel to RollerCoaster Tycoon. But the only major improvement they made that I can think of is how Ferris Wheels work. See, in real life, people go on a Ferris Wheel in pairs, and it rotates to let more people on, and then it does a few full rotations with everyone inside, and then it slowly rotates again with frequent pauses to let everyone off.
In RollerCoaster Tycoon, Ferris Wheels have to a full rotation between letting off guests, which, may I remind you, are seated in pairs. So when a Ferris Wheel is full up and lets two guests off, then there’s an entire rotation before it will let two more guests off, then another rotation, etc. Taking into account the rate at which more guests get on, this means that if a guest embarks on a trip on your Ferris Wheel, they will remain there for multiple in-game months, long enough that it is guaranteed that they will start to think “I want to get off Ferris Wheel!” RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 fixed this by letting all guests board/depart the ride at once, but you should never, ever build one in the original, because as long as a Ferris Wheel remains in your park, one of the most frequent thoughts of your guests will be a burning desire to disembark the circular equivalent of Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride.
Two of the scenarios with pre-made rides come with Ferris Wheels; Bumbly Beach and Dinky Park. I would strongly recommend you demolish them as quickly as possible.
Speaking of which!
8) Scenario: Dinky Park
Dinky Park is the first park you encounter that teaches you (or tries to teach you, I’m sure some challenge-seeking purists have beaten this the hard way) about the importance of buying land, and when you can’t buy land, the importance of buying building rights on land, i.e. you can’t build directly on the ground here, but anything over the ground, like a pathway or rollercoaster track, is fair game. Dinky Park teaches you this by, as the name suggests, being hilarious small and only containing six small rides, two of which are ‘thrilling’, four of which are ‘gentle’, and one of which is the dreaded Ferris Wheel.
There’s room for maybe one or two more small rides, but you won’t be able to build any rollercoasters, and you’ll barely have room to path anything out. The only way to succeed is to build on the land opposite the road next to the park. But you can’t build on the road, you can only build over the road by buying construction rights. It’s not particularly difficult, but when I was nine, this was a pretty big difficulty curve; mainly because it took me a very long time to figure out that you could even buy land. Especially because it’s never mandatory to buy land to win a scenario again, although there is one late-game park which is a lot more difficult if you don’t (although the land is nine times as expensive as normal. I’d say “Curse you, Mothball Mountain!” but it’s honestly still a lot of fun because you have to get very creative) so essentially Dinky Park teaches you a skill that you need to utilise in order to win Dinky Park and nothing else.
Just as an ego boost, I’m going to pop a screenshot of my own finished Dinky Park here.
Also, I was going to make fun of the silly Americanized name of this park, because when I looked it up, I was told that its original name was Pokey Park, which sounds like a park specifically built to antagonise the kids from Earthbound, but I can’t make fun of that exceedingly silly-sounding name because it turns out that Pokey Park was the original English name and Dinky Park is the American one. Oh well. Dinky is still a silly word. Take that, America.
At least Dinky Park is only a 2-year scenario. Even with all of the construction rights and extra land bought, it’s not exactly large. And since you’re only there for two years, you can keep all of those original rides (except for the Ferris Wheel, of course) because they won’t go down in value too much.
Speaking of which!
7) Demolishing and rebuilding all of your Gentle rides every two years because that’s how value works!
Much like the prospects of a career on the internet talking about video games, any non-rollercoaster ride in RollerCoaster Tycoon has a very brief shelf-life, and after the expiry date, they’re basically worthless. This is something you don’t learn in the first few scenarios, where you only need to be in control for one or two years, but if you regularly check up on your rides, or if you just so happen to spot a queue that has been completely empty for some time, you can always check the ride’s statistics to find out that – surprise surprise – nobody has paid to enter this Haunted House in the last few months, meaning it is currently running at a spectacular cost of £49.60 per month, for a total profit of £-49.60 per month.
So, why did your interest in your ride drop so fast? Well… nothing! Nothing really happened, and your ride – most frequently the gentle ones but the stationary thrilling rides are also affected by this – has just grown old over time. A year has passed, and your guests, many of whom have been in the park for that entire in-game year, are tired of your old, creaky, broken down Carousel. So you demolish it and replace it with someone shiny and new and exciting, like a… Carousel!
There are so many 3×3 tile buildings in RollerCoaster Tycoon that I like to shift them around when interest wanes in my attractions, like the Carousel, Twister (also known as ‘Scrambled Eggs’ but that’s even sillier than Pokey Park,) Haunted House and Observation Tower. I suppose it makes sense that people get tired of your rides the longer they’ve been in your park, but there’s still something undeniably silly about how people will refuse to go on your £0.50 ‘Limitless rides per person’ Spiral Slide, but if you demolish it and rebuild a functionally identical Spiral Slide, they will happily fork over £1.50 to try it out just once.
Maybe Chris Sawyer was trying to say something about society. Maybe Chris sees the future, a generation of people incapable of seeing the value in what they have now, but forever chasing at the skirts of something new, even if it’s of identical value, or worse. More than likely it was there to make sure that you can’t just quickly build a bunch of gentle rides and win any scenario you like. Now you have to build a bunch of gentle rides and then demolish them and build them again when you reach Year 3. Honestly though, what does this say about the intelligence of your guests?
Speaking of which!
6) “Guest 2064 is lost and can’t find the park exit!”
I know you’re doing this on purpose, Russell. It’s not my fault Sabrina left you. I didn’t even know you two were an item, I swear. And you know I’m telling the truth because I hate you, I hate you with every fibre of my being, and if I had known you two were together, I would be bragging about her choosing me over you. Because I hate you so much, Russell. Because of what you do to me and my park every single day.
Every day, you walk into my park, straight past the Information Kiosk I helpfully put for guests to check into as soon as they’re inside. You ignore the Park Map that I’m selling for £0.10 less than the recommended price, because I’m just nice like that. You ignore the five other Information Kiosks strategically stationed throughout the rest of the park. None of them are particularly profitable, and some of the obscure ones are even operating at a loss of revenue, but it’s for the good of my guests. Guests like you. Russell.
Every day you ignore my maps. Every day you ignore my Information Kiosks. Every day you make it your mission in life to pay me back, and every day I resist the urge to pick you up and drop you in the lake. The last thing you see will be me and Sabrina sharing a ride on ‘Swan Lake’ before you drift beneath the waves forever. But your current victory will remain in my head forever. You’ve won, Russell. You can give up. You can drown. You can die. You can do anything other than what you’re doing now. All day. Every day.
Paying £40.00 to enter my park and taking a direct path straight to the middle of one of the busiest intersections, the part between the food court/seating area and my main attraction, the park-spanning rollercoaster with the jumping fountains in the queue. Looking left. Looking right. And then shouting so loud that at the desk of the CEO (me) an alarm goes off that reads,
“Guest 2064 is lost and can’t find the park exit!”
“Guest 2064 is lost and can’t find the park exit!”
Another brief moment of respite.
“Guest 2064 is lost and can’t find the park exit!”
I pick you up, and I drop you into the lake. The jovial helium balloon you bought – to spite me, I’m sure – isn’t enough to carry you out again. Goodbye, Russell.
Speaking of which!
5) A rainbow of balloons floating away when you win a scenario because your guests let go of them to applaud you
One of the funniest/neatest little touches I’ve ever seen in a video game is that one of the many items you can sell to your guests are colourful helium balloons that they will carry with them throughout the park, and while there are plenty of things they can buy – candyfloss, burgers, novelty hats – that graphically appear on their person, there’s something special about the balloons. See, when you finish a scenario in RollerCoaster Tycoon, then provided you actually fulfilled the requirements necessary to win instead of just flinging everyone into a lake and launching explosive dinghies out of the map, all of your guests will cheer and applaud for you. And if they happen to be holding a balloon when they applaud you, it will float out of their hands and soar into the sky for about a minute before popping, or you can click on them to pop them sooner.
A lot of the features on this list are jokes or references meant to elicit a small chuckle, but I genuinely, sincerely loved this feature as a kid. Not only are the fictional guests you were trying to please with your bizarre, poorly-planned rides actively clapping the effort that you went to, but a rainbow of balloons floats into the sky to commemorate your victory, and if you follow the balloons up, watching them all start popping is the closest virtual equivalent to popping bubble wrap that I’ve ever found.
It gets a lot better if, like me, you build a few different balloon stalls selling balloons of a different colour, and for once, you won’t have any trouble coming up with names. The red balloon stall obviously has to be named ’99 Red Balloons’ and then you might as well name the rest of them ’99 Blue Balloons’, ’99 Green Balloons’, ’99 Turquoise Balloons’, etc, to keep the theme going. Depending on the size of the park, you can have anywhere between four and ten balloon stalls running, and all making a profit, just to ensure that your victory is as sweet as possible. And after beating some of the game’s more challenging scenarios, it feels well-earned.
Speaking of which!
4) Scenario: Rainbow Valley
Rainbow Valley is both the second-last scenario in the original RollerCoaster Tycoon, and easily one of the most memorable, because after maps upon maps of easily building your dream parks and passing all requirement with flying colours, provided you’re capable of building two gentle rides and a pre-designed rollercoaster, this is the scenario which unexpectedly pushes the difficulty up to eleven.
Rainbow Valley, like most scenarios, is covered in hills and trees and uneven ground that would make it difficult to prepare rides and paths. So, just like in every other scenario, you go to raise/lower the land and delete a few trees and discover that… you can’t. It’s not allowed. In this scenario, and this scenario only (in the original game, at least) then you’re not allowed to alter the land or delete a single tree.
This turns the entire map into essentially a maze, where rather than positioning rides based on where you think they would fit best, it’s now basically just a matter of whether or not it’s possible for a ride to be placed there at all. Empty 3×3 squares are rare enough that your Carousels and Haunted Houses will be fighting each other for the right to exist, and trying to build custom rides with actual tracks becomes a nightmare where rather than trying to craft the ride of your dreams, you’re really just looking to design something that fits into the scenery and doesn’t crash halfway through.
This is the final ‘Scenario’ entry on the list, so this is my last opportunity for an egotistic “Look at my beautiful park!” which you can probably tell is not the kind of thing I would usually design. But despite being a lot more difficult and, when I was younger, more off-putting than any other scenario, I have grown to like Rainbow Valley. It forces you to re-evaluate your personal preferences in favour of bringing you back to the basics; in this case, whether or not it’s simply possible to build a ride, rather than overthinking the placement and the price and whether or not your Candyfloss Stall is too close to your Ice Cream Stall.
Also, your guests will genuinely appreciate the scenery in Rainbow Valley, and while I try not to leave my parks completely bereft of plants in my maps, it’s usually my lowest priority, right after coming up with a funny name to give my 3D Cinema. And guests enjoy good scenery in your parks, whether it’s trees, flowers, fountains, statues, or just freshly mowed grass.
Speaking of which!
3) Having to un-tick ‘Mow Grass’ from the duties of every Handyman you hire
Who can make the sun rise?
Empty out the bin?
Clean up all the paths and water flowers with a grin?
The handyman can!
Oh, the handyman can!
You know, provided he hasn’t wandered off somewhere and started mowing the grass, a Sisyphean task which he will never, ever finish, because in the time it takes to mow all of the grass, more grass has grown over the grass he initially mowed, and meanwhile your park is covered in trash and vomit and benches/lamps that have been smashed by vandals who were understandably infuriated by the disgusting condition of your park and who are in no way assuaged by the assurance that somewhere very far away, a small patch of grass looks very nice right now.
Along with fixing the Ferris Wheel, this is one of the few design choices that could charitably be described as ‘funny’ to be fixed in RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, in which every Handyman you hire has ‘Mow Grass’ turned off by default. Which is a shame, because while I’ve definitely been instilled with some kind of Pavlovian conditioning at play that makes me shout “Oh for GOD’S sake!” every time I see a tile of freshly mowed grass due to years of Handyman mismanagement, it’s not a bad feature at all, and it makes your park more pretty, and it’s a feature you should definitely look into, provided that you’re two to three years into the development of your park and the Handymen you have are already taking care of all of their other duties.
But until then, treat your staff the same way a disgruntled pensioner in a Saturday morning cartoon treats the rowdy neighbourhood children; by shouting “You damn kids get off my lawn!” at every opportunity. None of your other staff have this problem; security guards prevent vandals from smashing up your benches and bins, entertainers raise the guests’ happiness wherever they go, and mechanics check up on your rides and fix them when broken. Not that a broken ride is ever too much to worry about. Unless…
Speaking of which!
2) Station Brakes Failure
I’ve mentioned the death parks and we should all be familiar with the kinds of rollercoaster that you can crash; practically anything with a customizable track, and also that ride that goes by ‘Launched Freefall’ and also ‘Whoa Belly’ (?!?) that launches people up into the air. But while it’s easy to design a rollercoaster that’s intended to crash for your own twisted amusement, you sicko, it’s just as easy to design a rollercoaster that isn’t intended to crash, and which does. And the reason is usually ‘Station Brakes Failure’.
Whenever a ride breaks down, you can always check its settings to see exactly what’s wrong with it, and most of them are as self-explanatory as they are harmless. ‘Restraints Stuck Closed’, so the rollercoaster can’t depart from the station. ‘Vehicle Malfunction’, which only affects Go Karts and just means that one of the Go Karts isn’t living up to the ‘Go’ in its name. But then there’s ‘Station Brakes Failure’, which is when a rollercoaster arrives back at its station following a ride, and you would normally expect it to slow down as the ride comes to a halt and your guests happily depart, but instead, it keeps going at full speed, ploughing right into the back of another rollercoaster, and-
Suddenly, 32 people are dead, your park rating has taken a massive hit, and unsurprisingly, nobody wants to go on your rollercoaster any more. The reason this stands out as so memorable to me is because when you’re playing the game – I don’t want to say ‘seriously’, about a game for children about building theme parks – with the intent to win, then you’re not expecting this kind of thing at all, and it’s genuinely shocking and an absolute disaster. There are some levels in the expansion of the first game where your goal is to expand the park while never letting your park rating drop below a certain level; ‘Station Brakes Failure’ will absolutely destroy your best efforts unless you have a recent save.
Thankfully, it’s not very difficult to combat. You can set the ride to be checked by mechanics every 10 minutes to make sure it’s in full working condition, or set one to patrol directly by the ride exit in case any quick fixes are needed, or the easier and more permanently solution of just building a ‘Brakes’ section right before the station platform, so that even if the station brakes fail, your ride won’t explode because it’s only travelling at a piddling 9 miles per hour. But the initial shock – that moment when out of the blue, while you’re busy coming up with a funny name for your 3D Cinema (I like to take the names of recent films and put ‘Chuck Tingle Presents’ before them,) or putting jumping fountains on all of your paths – when a ride you weren’t thinking about pops up on the screen with an explosion and you get the news that people have died, is a feeling that will stay with you for a while.
It doesn’t help that in some of the scenarios (Diamond Heights, Katie’s World) there are pre-built rides that you may assume would have these safety precautions in check, but do not. Of course, you only need to worry about your rollercoasters crashing if you can build any which those picky little guests are comfortable to go on.
Speaking of which!
1) Pouring your heart and soul into designing the perfect ride, only to be told “This looks too intense for me!”
There are many ways I could have worded this. Spending hours (well, ten minutes) making the ride of your dreams only to find out that for some reason it has an Excitement Rating of 1.4 and an Intensity Rating of 32. Being rejected by a heartless soon-to-be-drowned guest who doesn’t care about the emotional journey that you’re on right now. Or just the down-to-earth pain-in-the-ass-ness of trying to design something for yourself, and failing.
RollerCoaster Tycoon exists to let you live out your dream of being a tycoon of rollercoasters, so naturally, you will try to build some yourself. Some of them will be small and twisty and self-contained so they don’t take up a lot of room, and some will be large and extravagant and less about fulfilling the needs of your guests and more about constructing a monument in honour of your own boundless imagination, as if to shout to the heavens themselves, “My name is Ozymandias, tycoon of tycoons! Look upon my rides, ye mighty, and despair!” So, when you go to such great heights to create a thrilling rollercoaster – a personal expression of your own creativity – then it’s kind of hurtful when the test results come back and it turns out that it’s far too intense for any guest to ever want to set foot on.
This used to happen to me constantly when I played the game as a kid, and while I’ve gotten a little better at designing rides (it turns out that those curved-track turns you can build are actually about reducing the rate at which the passengers will be flung painfully from side to side, which understandably detracts from their enjoyment) then I still build an absolute stinker from time to time. And it wouldn’t bug me so much if it wasn’t for some of the pre-built rides in some scenarios being far, far bigger and faster and harder and better and stronger than the tracks I’ve built, only for guests to adore them and completely ignore my own. And then I drop them in the lake.
But the weird thing is this; a while back, a video popped up in my YouTube recommendations that promised to explain the inner workings of RollerCoaster Tycoon and describe exactly how the game calculates excitement and intensity, so that you could build perfect rides every single time. And I remember thinking that unless there’s a version of the CATS film adaption where every single character is played by James Corden and Rebel Wilson, then I can’t think of anything in the world that I would want to see less than a video revealing the magic behind RollerCoaster Tycoon.
Because it’s annoying and disheartening when you try and fail to make something great, but it’s because of this that when you finally manage to create something that people love, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something. After more than a hundred hours of play – only counting the time since I re-bought the game on Steam – I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can semi-consistently build good rollercoasters (although I still occasionally include a rough turn for the sake of convenience sometimes, which raises the Nausea Rating from 2 to 15, and just live with it by placing lots of benches nearby and hiring a Handyman to exclusively patrol the exit) but I’m still pretty awful at Car Rides, and I have no idea how the Go Karts work. I always build two Go Karts tracks, and one is always ambitious and rambling and twisty, and the other is a very small recreation of the Mario Kart track ‘Baby Park’, and guests always find Baby Park more exciting. But the point is, I still have stuff to learn, and I couldn’t be happier. And even when I’ve learned it all, I’m sure I’ll still be happy to replay these levels over and over, trying to beat my records by building the best parks and rides that I possibly can.
I’m aware that I’m leaving some things out. Getting a message that one of the boats on your boat hire hasn’t returned yet, and checking out the ride only to see that all of the boats are somehow clogged in the exit. Feeling a competitive disdain whenever you start a scenario that has some pre-built rides, because you don’t consider them your rides and therefore, they are not as good. I used to make really difficult hedge mazes that exited into secret areas with a bunch of shops offering free stuff as a reward to the guests who made it there! Then I’d get upset because the guests would never seem particularly happy to have discovered this sacred hideaway, instead thinking “I’m lost!” and “I want to go home!” and pretty soon they would mysteriously turn up in the lake.
But the great thing about RollerCoaster Tycoon is that there are so many shared memories we have of it that it would be impossible to list them all. I’m sure that nobody will read this and feel a strong connection to every single point on this list, but I also hope that you found at least one or two that reminded you of your time with this game.
Because all winks, nods, jokes and the endless bringing up of this game on my Twitter feed aside… I genuinely, wholeheartedly and completely sincerely love RollerCoaster Tycoon. It’s one of my favourite video games of all-time, and it’s one of my go-to choices whenever I’m feeling a little burned out and need a quick pick-me-up. And I’m sure it will remain that way for a long time to come.
So thank you, Chris Sawyer, for fulfilling a childhood dream of mine well into adulthood.