Rollercoaster Tycoon, and the joys of murderous capitalism

Rollercoaster Tycoon, and the joys of murderous capitalism
Samuel Riley Updated on by

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Here’s the thing about roller coasters. I personally can’t stand the things. Now as to the question of why I don’t like them… well, I suppose that might have something to do with the fact that they’re essentially just violent death machines. I mean really, If I’d wanted to be forced into an overly-small container, then shaken about for a bit, I’d have been born as a blood vial.

Now you may just say that I simply don’t get it, and on that I heartily agree. But here’s the other thing about roller coasters: you don’t necessarily have to ride them in order to share in the fun. For my part, I’ve always gotten a kick out of seeing the enjoyment these rickety old things can and do give to others, as I siphon off their mirth like a cheery Nosferatu.

Call it a defense mechanism if you like, developed over long hours of holding the coats and drinking in the atmosphere, but there’s an almost Christmassy sense of cheer that accompanies these sawdust-strewn fun zones. It’s a dichotomy I’ve been pondering a lot lately, what with the release of Frontier’s Planet Coaster title, a spiritual sequel of sorts to what may well be the greatest sim of them all.

Planet Coaster Pirate Ship

Yes folks, I’m talking of course about RollerCoaster Tycoon — Chris Sawyer’s isometric masterpiece, that earlier this year celebrated its 17th (count it) anniversary. For me, the true genius of this title remains the way in which it brought home that aforementioned sense of place, quite literally in this instance. It achieved this feat in a way that few other sims, prior or since, have ever been able to replicate. Nor would they wish to in some instances, with Theme Hospital’s general sense of whimsy much preferred to any true-to-life medical centre, what with their germy geriatrics and exhaustion-mad nurses. But I digress.

Booting up this beauty, there to be greeted by the dulcet tones of clanking chains and fairground ditties, is as powerful a piece of audio nostalgia as I could ever imagine. Well, outside of the PS1’s ‘tingle-baaaoow’ opening at least. Now here was a game that welcomed you in from the off, encouraging both pragmatism and creativity, whilst also finding time to impart lessons on the cruel nature of supply and demand — namely that if I kept on killing my voucher holders, the promotion might not work out as planned.

Which brings me, rather neatly, on to the one element of RCT that has endured beyond all reasonable expectation — its deliciously dark sense of humour. Now, whether this was ever truly intended by the developer, or just taken to the nth degree by fans, I suppose we’ll never know. Whatever the case, Sawyer’s decision to allow players to rip off and/or murder their punters effectively opened up a whole new avenue of play, much in the same way that the Sims created an entire generation of literal homewreckers.

Roller Coaster Tycoon Desert

Like a zombie survival plan or a creme egg technique, everyone who has played the game has their own distinct methodology. Some will launch two coasters directly at one another, or ratchet up the speed on a vertical tower. Then there are those who will gouge their guests according to how much cash they carry. Think professor X as a used car salesman. Others, meanwhile, will delight in hustling their irate guests out onto a flimsy boardwalk, not unlike that ferry scene in War of the Worlds, except with Tom Cruise and company replaced by a horde of waving Pandas.

But to remember the game in this way, and only this way would be to do a disservice to one of the finest games of its generation. RollerCoaster Tycoon is a title that has stood the test of time, even where its ongoing license has not — just look at the mess made of Tycoon World. And that’s probably what delights me the most about the recent rise of Planet Coaster, a game built by fans and blessed by an eagerness and attention-to-detail that only true fans can muster. But then, RCT was always the type to create ravenous, life-long enthusiasts. 

It remains today as the consummate rainy day video game — addictive, but never cloying, gentle but underlined by a wicked sense of wit — a game so good in fact, that even someone as deathly afraid of its subject matter could still find something to love. Now, who’s up for testing the Widowmaker?