A (probably incomplete) History of Roller Coasters & Theme Parks in Videogames, Part 1: 1983-2001

1994: Theme Park

Theme Park is the first Tycoon-Style game set in the name giving Theme Park and Amusement Industry. It was developed by Bullfrog Productions and originally Published by Electronic Arts for MS-DOS in 1994. Ports to various other Systems, including but not limited to the Sony Playstation, Super Nintendo and Sega Saturn where released in the following years, development and publishing of these Ports was handled by various other companies. Theme Park was received generally very well by Critics and was a commercial success in both Europe and Japan, however it didn’t sell nearly as well in the US-Market. Console Ports where often criticized for a lack of mouse support despite some of the Systems, like the Super Nintendo and Playstation, having a official Mouse Peripherals available.

The game begins with an empty plot of Land in the UK and the goal is to develop a Theme Park on it to the point where it makes enough money to be sold off and to buy the next area in a different part of the World. The ultimate goal is to do this on every available piece of land around the world. Even though Theme Park is the first of it’s kind it already features most of what you would expect in this Genre. Players have to create the overall Layout of the Park, build rides ranging all the way from simple slides and carousels to custom build Roller Coaster, Shops for Food and Drinks have to be build and supplied with goods, a workforce of handymen, security guards, entertainers and mechanics has to be created and research into things like improved- and new rides needs to be done. It also has features that even newer games tend to ignore like having to negotiate wages for staff or how expensive the goods you have to buy for your shops are. Certain aspects of shops can even be modified, i.e. it is possible to adjust the amount of salt on the fries. This can have an effect on Guest behavior, the aforementioned salt adjustment can result in more drinks being sold, but overdoing it might cause guests to become unhappy.

Availability of certain rides can differ between the versions, i.e. the Playstation version is missing a Dolphin Show. Features can also be different between releases, the Playstation version allows to walk through the Park in 3D from the Guests Perspective and Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive / Genesis Versions feature either a grass, desert or snow landscape depending on where the Park is located while most other Versions have only the grass setting.

1997: Mad Panic Coaster

Released only in Japan on the Sony Playstation, Mad Panic Coaster is arguably the most obscure game on this list. It was Published by Hakuhodo, a company specialized in advertisement. The actual developer is unknown, however it can be assumed that it wasn´t developed in house since the only other game published by Hakuhodo wasn´t.

Mad Panic Coaster is a Horror Themed Arcade Style game based around quick reactions and shooting enemies. The premise is that a insanely mad man turned bio mutant attempted to design the world´s best Roller Coaster. He came up with 15 designs, but they aren’t build with any safety regulations in mind to the point that they don´t even feature proper rails. Gameplay has the player controlling a Minecart Style vehicle, turns have to be taken manually, obstacles and enemies need to be avoided. Sitting in the cart are a Boy and a Girl, both can throw projectiles, the Girl at a longer distance and the Boy at a shorter range. Survive 3 laps on any given Coaster and you advance to the next one, every 3 levels you have to fight a Boss. Either reduce their health to zero or survive yet another 3 laps and a Boss is considered to be defeated. Difficulty ramps up quickly and the speed increases to the point where you have to remember the stages and their hazards to beat them. Mad Coaster Panic truly feels as if it was designed to be a Arcade machine and suck money out Players pockets, though there is no proof that a Arcade Versions ever existed, or was planned for that matter.

1999: RollerCoaster Tycoon

The Original RollerCoaster Tycoon was developed by Chris Sawyer and published by Hasbro in 1999. Before starting development on the game Chris didn’t even like Roller Coasters much, however while traveling the World and visiting Theme Parks after his previous game, Transport Tycoon, was a success he slowly but surely became a Coaster Enthusiast. He saw developing a game based upon Theme Parks as an excuse to visit more Parks for “Research” purposes on the rides to be featured in the game.

RollerCoaster Tycoon took what was great about Theme Park and improved upon it while making the actual Tycoon part arguably more accessible to a wider audience by simplifying a few things like having staff wages fixed without the need to ever renegotiate them. Compared to Theme Park it features a wider variety of rides and most notably different types of Roller Coasters that please different audiences. The base game has 21 Scenarios while the Expansion Packs add 30 Scenarios each for a total of 81. Scenario goals can vary and can include, but are not limited to, things like having a certain amount of guests in the park, reach a specific park rating and having a certain park value. Scenarios often have multiple of these goals and a time limit in which the goals need to be achieved. Despite generally getting low age rating, RollerCoaster Tycoon does have fatal ride failures like brakes on a Roller Coaster not working. When something like that happens both the park rating and visitor numbers take a hit for a while.

As already mentioned, two Expansion Packs, Added Attractions (known as Corkscrew Follies in the US) in 1999 and Loopy Landscapes in 2000, many releases of Loopy Landscapes also include the first Expansion. In addition to new scenarios they also include new rides and coaster types. In 2003 a Port for the original XBox was released, it included the base game and both expansions. The PC Version was both a critical and financial success, while the XBox version got more mixed to even negative feedback from critics.

1999: Coaster Works

Known in Japan as Jet Coaster Dream, this Dreamcast exclusive game is Roller Coaster Simulation. It was developed by Bimboosoft and Published worldwide by Xicat, with the original Japanese version in 1999, the North American release in December 2000 and Europe following in June 2001. Because the European version was released after the console was already discontinued, that release is somewhat rare nowadays.

Coaster Works has six levels, the first five require the player to create a coaster with certain stats, while also explaining the controls for the CAD-Style coaster Editor. The sixth level is a more open sandbox where the player is free to create whatever coaster design he likes without having stats to meet. The editor is easy to use, especially considering the limitations in precision of controller and how complex the editors in later PC Coaster Simulations would become. A Test run can be started at any time to check if the currently build layout works and how guests react to it. This is important because while it is possible to adjust any part of the track at any point, it will move the entire track that comes after the part that is moved, minor adjustments can result in drastic changes to the rest of the Layout and it is often easier to just delete everything that comes after the part that needs changing. Because of the low level count and easy to achieve goals Coaster Works can easily be completed in one hour less, even on a first play through. While International cover art for the game suggests that both Steel- and Wooden Roller Coasters can be build, only a generic Steel Coaster is available in the game, however different train types can be used.

Despite the lack of content Coaster Works still received mixed to positive feedback from critics. A sequel was released in Japan for the Dreamcast in November 2000, one month before the first game saw an International release.

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