Home Tech RollerCoaster Tycoon at 25: ‘It’s mind-blowing how it inspired me’

RollerCoaster Tycoon at 25: ‘It’s mind-blowing how it inspired me’

by Elijah
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RollerCoaster Tycoon at 25: ‘It’s mind-blowing how it inspired me’

‘I I remember coming home from school just to play RollerCoaster Tycoon,” recalls John Burton, senior creative manager at Merlin Entertainments (the owner of UK-based theme parks including Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures and Legoland Windsor) and man to design the upcoming 72 meter (236 ft) Hyperia roller coaster at Thorpe Park. “I would go to sleep dreaming of becoming the next Walt Disney.”

When thinking about the game, the adult Burton speaks with the enthusiasm of a teenager high on sugar. “I learned so much about how roller coaster systems work with their blocking zones, or even the little tricks of the trade at theme parks, like adding side queues and strategically placed toilets” , he continues, confirming my suspicions that the Jumanji-themed jungle world he helped design for Chessington has what he calls “subconscious similarities” to the classic PC game’s Jolly Jungle storyline. “If I have to go to a theme park overseas for work, I always load the original game on the plane and sketch out ideas. I never really stopped playing.

John Burton at Chessington World of Adventures…he grew up playing RollerCoaster Tyoon and now designs real-life rides.

Released 25 years ago today, RollerCoaster Tycoon (the best-selling PC game in 1999) enjoyed viral success before online virality was an established thing, inspiring countless geo forum communities -sites where users could share designs and recreations of their favorite real lives. mounted. These communities still persist today, with one designer recently creating a nightmarish existential roller coaster that took a sickening 12 years to complete. complete.

Selling 700,000 copies in its first year, the 1999 theme park strategy game RollerCoaster Tycoon helped keep its publisher Atari alive. Today is its 25th anniversary. RollerCoaster Tycoon not only gave millions of fans an endless toolbox of fun to build the theme parks of their dreams (more on that later), but also helped demystify the entire industry adjacent theme parks and make it less dominated by men.

“For years and years, I remember being the only woman working on roller coaster projects,” says Candy Holland, executive creative director of Legoland Resorts and an industry stalwart who helped design the first world’s largest vertical drop roller coaster, Oblivion, at Alton Towers. “But when RollerCoaster Tycoon came out, we suddenly had a wave of young women applying for jobs. They were using RollerCoaster Tycoon to better understand what I guess was previously considered a niche industry.

One of these young women was Flora Lui, senior project manager for Merlin’s “creation magic” team in California. Unlike many games of its era (Resident Evil, GoldenEye 007), she claims that RollerCoaster Tycoon traded fantasies of death and destruction for joyful creativity and therefore attracted both male and female players. “Playing RollerCoaster Tycoon was radical,” she says.

“The graphic style is now seen as whimsical and unique instead of outdated and restrictive like it was back then,” says Chris Sawyer, designer of RollerCoaster Tycoon. Photography: Atari

“I remember changing the colors so all my rides were pink. I spent a lot of time creating lines that were more like mazes, which hilariously confused customers, and I also showed all the designs to my parents. As a project manager, I have to consider the pushes and pulls of a budget; the effect of increased attendance; security; manage the flow of guests and provide magic. Sometimes when I’m in meetings, considering all these things, I remember how RollerCoaster Tycoon led me down this path.

From the tranquil Leafy Lake to the more exhilarating Haunted Harbor and Diamond Heights, each of the game’s 21 scenarios was all about finding quick solutions to dilemmas and creating a theme park capable of giving pixelated punters the time of their lives. “The success of the game really kept Atari going,” admits Atari CEO Wade Rosen. “I think the fact that you could build this really complex roller coaster, or completely ignore all that and throw (customers) into a lake or see how many of them you could make nauseous, was really the genius of it .”

Everyone who played it had a “different experience,” Rosen says, and he says the canvas of creativity present in RollerCoaster Tycoon was practically a prototype for later Minecraft. He was a ruthlessly capitalist actor, he said. “I really liked the business side… When it rained, I quickly increased the prices of the umbrellas. I would say, now it’s $20. And then you would bring in a lot of money.

The game eventually sold over 6 million copies worldwide, becoming the launchpad for a successful franchise – despite the fact that at the time its 2D isometric graphics stood out as a sore thumb among the rapidly improving 3D graphics that characterized the big hitters of 1999. “The graphics style is now seen as gimmicky and unique instead of outdated and restrictive, as it was back then,” explains the game’s Scottish creator, Chris Sawyer. “And, perhaps because there was much less emphasis on graphical detail and immersion, it was possible to add more depth and detail to the gameplay itself.

“One of the few games that’s almost entirely positive: you’re rewarded for good design rather than destroying things”… Chris Sawyer. Photography: Atari

“From a very young age, I always loved building things with Lego, often trains or mechanical machines, but always with this freedom to do things my way and try things to see what works . Perhaps the roots of RollerCoaster Tycoon come from this: a desire to have something computer-simulated where you could create your own designs from scratch and try things out, and generally just learn what works and what doesn’t. doesn’t work, and what’s fun and what’s not fun. to go up.”

After creating the critically acclaimed but commercially lukewarm Transport Tycoon, Sawyer began researching RollerCoaster Tycoon around 1996. Ironically, he grew up terrified of roller coasters after being convinced that his cart on the wooden ride The Scenic at Great Yarmouth would go off the rails during a childhood visit. At first, he thought a theme park game might be “too niche,” but after finally falling in love with thrill rides as an adult, he knew he’d come up with a special idea . He began visiting the world’s biggest theme parks and taking notes.

“Perhaps the game’s enduring appeal is because it appeals to players’ nurturing instincts – we all like to build or create something of our own, then take care of it, improve it, making sure it looks good, works well and grows well, and that’s the crux of this game,” he says. “The other aspect of the game that perhaps stands out is that it remains one of the few games that is almost entirely positive: you’re rewarded for good design and good management rather than destroying things, and basically, The game is about keeping your little guests happy.

Huge sales aside, Sawyer said he knew RollerCoaster Tycoon had made an impact on the world when he visited a theme park in the United States in the early 2000s. a series of food stalls in a small theme park that resembled RollerCoaster Tycoon. food stalls, with giant objects of food or drink modeled on top – it was quite strange. When I talk about the actual roller coaster designers I spoke with for this feature, they seem a little surprised. “I would be quite proud if my games had actually guided some of them towards their careers,” he replies.

The 72 meter Hyperia ride, designed by Burton, is under construction at Thorpe Park.

Yet even though RollerCoaster Tycoon started Burton and Him on their career paths, they are both keen to point out that the game doesn’t have it all figured out when it comes to theme park design. “Actual roller coasters are not arranged in a grid; you can be a lot more flexible,” says Burton. “In the game it costs £50 to place a piece of trace. I wish it was £50 because I could build the longest roller coaster in the world. The reality is that these are multi-million pound investments. Roller coaster speed isn’t possible in real life either: G-forces would kill a real person.

Liu, meanwhile, says that if she dared to recreate some of the zigzag queues she did in the game as a child, she’d probably be fired. “The best attractions are the ones that tell a story,” she says. “The reality is there are hundreds of people from different departments putting on a roller coaster.”

If you’ve visited a real-life roller coaster recently, they might have been designed by a millennial who grew up playing RollerCoaster Tycoon. According to Atari’s Rosen, the series will soon expand with a new 3D entry, but the game’s original creator Sawyer says he has no interest in remaking the original two games with next-gen graphics . Whatever the future of the series, Burton of Merlin is just happy to have been drawn to RollerCoaster Tycoon in 1999, rather than the other paradigm-shifting game: Pokémon on the Game Boy.

“The game just gave you complete freedom; there were no rules,” Burton says. “It’s crazy, because one of the things that helped me get a job at Merlin was recreating the Alton Towers Nemesis ride on RollerCoaster Tycoon and showing it during my interview. Now I’m working on the new Nemesis Reborn roller coaster. It’s mind-blowing how much a video game inspired me to become a true roller coaster designer.

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