A trip down memory lane with Roller Coaster Tycoon 3

Image by labanex

Image by labanex

Sooo… those of you who follow me on Twitter (@CheeeseToastie) might know this already, but I’ve been playing Remember Me. In fact I started playing it a couple of weeks ago, which would normally mean that right about now I’d be putting it away on my shelf and typing up a review of it for you reading pleasure (or pain). Usually, once I start a story-based game, I tend to focus on it until I finish it. This time, however, I’m only about 2/3 of the way through the game. Why? I blame Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. I never would have imagined (ok, I lie, I had an inkling) that it would tear me away from the fairly new game that I’d been looking forward to playing and make me as obsessed with the franchise as I was when I played the first RCT when I was about 9 or 10. After all, a lot has changed since 1999. Games have become more complex and mature. Graphics are so realistic and detailed that next to some of the trailers of next gen games, RCT1 is pretty laughable visually. And of course, I’m older and somewhat more mature too. I’d like to think my tastes are a little more sophisticated and wide-ranging than my Pokemon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles days. In a way, of course that’s true, but to my surprise, I found that RCT3 captured my heart and imagination in just the  same way as the first one did, with the added spice of nostalgia to add a little more flavour to the game. This isn’t going to be a straight-up review of the game. It’s more of a discussion about what it is that I love about the RCT franchise and what it represents to me about an age of gaming gone by.

The first game was developed by Chris Sawyer and MicroProse in 1999 and the third one by Frontier Developments in 2004.  For those of who played anything from this franchise, the RCT games basically allow you to build and manage your own amusement/theme parks, complete with roller coasters, thrill rides, water rides, safaris and pools with wave machines and more. There are 2 modes: sandbox, which gives you unlimited time and money to do whatever you want and career, where you have set objectives and scenarios for you to work through and that will unlock more scenarios for you to play. Although I haven’t played RCT2 I heard it was criticised for being too similar to 1. 3 has had its fair share of criticisms too, mainly do to with its multitude of bugs. I didn’t experience too much of this myself. The only thing that really irritated me was that a few files were missing if you bought it off Steam for some reason, but it was easily fixable.

Image by labanex

Image by labanex

The thing I love most about RCT3 and the franchise in general is its perfect blend of strategy and sandbox. It’s creative and expansive like Minecraft and allows you to build things you could only dream of building in real life. Sandbox mode will allow you to build without limit for those of you who just want to create your own amusement park without having to be tied down with considerations like money and balancing your budget. Career mode allows those gamers who appreciate having goals to play with some guidance and structure, but how you achieve them is completely up to you. Whatever mode you play in, you’re sure to find yourself releasing your inner child in no time. At the same time, at least with career mode (the one I’m most enamored with), you’ll also find that, like the first game, it’s both simple and surprisingly complex.  While the controls and interface are fairly simple and easily accessible, the strategy involved in building up and successfully running your own amusement park goes pretty deep. With my first attempt, I immediately started plonking down rides and attractions left, right and center and hiring people like there was no tomorrow. After a while of playing this way, I quickly realised that I was going to lose money. Fast. Sure enough, I was soon almost completely out of money and I didn’t seem to be getting any profit even though I had put in all the things I was ‘supposed’ to and there was a steady influx of people. Then I checked my finances. Then I checked the graphs showing park value and guest numbers. Then I checked guest thoughts, movements and general statistics. Ah. It all came flooding back to me. Despite its cheerful, almost childish exterior, to play this game ‘well’ or at least to keep your park afloat, especially once you move onto bigger and more complicated parks is no easy task. It’s a matter of balancing a mass of major and minor factors affecting your park. It’s basically a micro-manager’s dream come true. While accessible, like the Sims franchise, both in concept and controls, RCT’s complexity lies beneath that, in the game mechanics, like Sim City.

I also love the concept. Who hasn’t dreamed of building their own amusement park? What kid hasn’t imagined how they’d build their own roller coasters with crazy loops and twists and possibly with sections that go backwards or through mountains? The game plays on a theme that’s at once appealing to the masses and every feature is lovingly targeted at everyone. There are a huge range of rides, attractions, scenery, terrain options and different ways to customise your park. There’s sure to be something for everyone. When I was a kid, one of my favourite parts of the game was creating giant parks with tons of different themes, whether that be a water park for the younger park-goers, a park with tons of extreme rides and roller coasters or beautiful parks full gentle rides that took advantage of acres upon acres of garden and scenery. It’s this versatility that keeps me going back for more.

Unlike many modern games, the original RCT didn’t have flashy graphics and oodles of money to spend on talented and artists. There weren’t huge teams of programmers working on it. It was what it was. An amusement park construction and management simulator that gives you tools to create your own game and have fun in the way that you wanted. The focus was never on realism or making a ‘perfect’ game with great graphics, narrative, characters and gameplay. It was to create something fun, something that people wanted to play.  The creators never expected the success it achieved, but it’s now a true gaming classic. I think that’s because it focused on the essence of what makes people want to play games – it’s fun. It’s clear that everything in the game, whether it be the type of rides you can build or the water guns you can place on the side of paths that peeps can use to shoot each other with is all about maximising fun. The makers of the game accurately picked out what people enjoy about amusement park and just gave it all to us. There’s no grinding or boring tedious tasks you have to complete, it’s all pure unadulterated enjoyment.

Image by labanex

Image by labanex

Sure the updated 3D graphics were great, as well all the new additions like being able to design your own fireworks shows and the coaster cam, which allows you to actually ride on your rides. But what I really love most about RCT3 are the same things I loved about the first game. It’s difficulty, its focus on strategy and the fun factor. Like 1, RCT 3 can sometimes be frustrating and it can take a while to figure out how to do things. There are tutorials, but like with the first game most of it is left up to you to figure out. Playing this reminded me of what gaming was like when I was a kid. Games were challenging, even frustrating and sometimes opaque and difficult to figure out, but you persevered and you kept experimenting until you finished the game or did what you set out to do. Even though I was definitely less patient as a kid, there were very few games I ditched because they were just too hard, even when walkthroughs weren’t very popular. It was about the experience of playing the game and the satisfaction you got when you finally did it was unparalleled. Nowadays, with an ever expanding audience and more and more money being thrown into the industry, we have higher expectations of our games. We expect certain things from games of this generation and we expect even more from the next generation. We want and demand continual improvement of graphics, story, gameplay and so on. Controls have to be tweaked until they’re as smooth as butter and intuitive. We want massive open worlds with seamless borders. We want more realistic, as well as more imaginative weapons. At the same time we don’t want our games to be too hard. Even the hardest difficulty in most games should be achievable by a large percentage of the people who will play your games. In the face of all of this, RCT3 was like a breath of fresh air. Unlike a lot of games now, RCT1 and 3 are quirky, fun and humorous and don’t take themselves too seriously. It doesn’t shy away from being difficult and complicated and it didn’t try to dumb it down so that everyone could play it easily straight off the bat. While it was updated in many ways, RCT3 stayed true to what made RTC1 so appealing back in 1999 and I applaud them for it. I only wish that there were more games like this now.

Despite playing tons of great games recently, like the Witcher 2, Journey and The Walking Dead, RCT3 was refreshing its simple concept, complex mechanics and the pure fun to be had. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but I think a lot of game companies could learn some valuable lessons from the success of the RCT franchise. Although I’m not sure how well a RCT4 would fare in the current gaming climate and while I do love the advancing tech and game development processes evident in games today, it would be nice to see a few more RCT-like games – challenging, unique and not afraid to just have some fun.

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One response to “A trip down memory lane with Roller Coaster Tycoon 3

  1. Interesting…I’ve never played a game like this, but you make it sound very entertaining…on another note, I’ll be interested to read your opinion for Remember Me to see if we share some of the same thoughts about the game. 😀

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