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

1999: Theme Park World

Like it’s predecessor, Theme Park World was developed by Bullfrog and published by Electronic Arts. It was released for PC, Mac and both the Playstation 1 & 2. The North American version was released as Sim Theme Park while the Playstation 2 version was called Theme Park Roller Coaster in North America. For the first time in a Theme Park management game a full 3D Engine is used, this also allows for rides being viewed from the first person perspective.

While it’s main competitor RollerCoaster Tycoon had a more realistic approach to it’s visuals and ride physics, Theme Park World went with a more cartoony artstyle. This however does not mean that the underlying gameplay was made easier. Rides can now be upgraded and improved to increase speed, capacity and reliability along with unlocking special elements like loops for Roller Coasters or Tunnels for Racetracks. In order to do research you need to have researchers in your staff. Players can also earn golden Tickets and Keys to unlock special rides and new Parks. Each of the four Parks available have a different Theme to them, these are Lost Kingdom, Wonder Land, Halloween World and Space Zone. The Playstation 1 Version of the game has certain rides and sideshows available as playable mini games such as races or puzzles.

All three versions of the game generally received equally good scores from critics, however it didn’t match the success of the original Theme Park game. Despite this a sequel was released in 2001.

2000: Jet Coaster Dream 2

The Japan, and Dreamcast, exclusive sequel to Coaster Works was released in late 2000. Like the first game it too was developed by Bimboosoft. It features 4 Tutorial Levels that are similar to what the first game was. Here players can learn how to use the Coaster Editor.

New to Jet Coaster Dream 2 is a mode where players can build up a small Park, earn money and build Roller Coasters, however only one Coaster can be in the Park at any given time. While building a Coaster in this mode only money and space are limited, otherwise there is a high level of freedom when it comes to shaping the track or creating elements. Different Train types are available with more expensive models allowing for higher Speeds and Forces. Other Rides and Shops can be build, but only Coasters can be viewed from a first person perspective. It is possible to get in debt in this mode and the game ends when the player is in it for too long.

There is also a Mode that let’s you ride hundreds of pre-made Coasters. Jet Coaster Dream 2 also had Online functionality back in the day, however due to the Servers long being Offline I don’t know what this mode offered.

2000: Legoland

Developed by Krisalis Software and published by Lego Media, Legoland is a simplified Theme Park management game targeted at a younger audience. It was released only for PC and some design choices are similar to RollerCoaster Tycoon.

It opens with a couple of unskippable Tutorial Missions, which given that it is a management game for children, does make sense. In Legoland’s Story Mode helps to rebuild a Legoland Park that was destroyed by a malfunctioning time machine. In 10 Missions players get access to more and more rides, shops and scenery objects. There is also a Free Mode, however some Items can only be used when unlocked in Story Mode. In Free Mode players have no money restrictions, but they have to decide what they want to be able to build before opening a Free Mode Park. Legoland offers very little in terms of customization, but some rides like Race Tracks, Roller Coasters or some Water Rides can still be custom build, but the options available are much more limited than in other games in the Genre.

Legoland received generally good reviews, reaching an average of 80.5% on the defunct GameRankings Website.

2001: No Limits

While the first version of No Limits was released in 2001, it’s development was finished a decade later with the final version 1.8 in 2011. It is available for PC and Mac. The main distribution method for No Limits are digital only sales on the official website, but boxed copies where available at least in Germany, both with- and without the No Limits branding. No Limits is a very deep and accurate Simulation of Roller Coasters and it allows the user to build, ride and operate Coasters. Later versions began to feature licensed rides from companies like Vekoma, Zamperla and Gerstlauer, many other Coaster Models are however unlicensed. According to Olaf Lange, head of the development team, the Software was used by several companies to showcase new designs to potential customers. No Limits comes as a package of 3 different pieces of Software: The Simulation itself, a Editor and a Terraforming for creating Landscapes with hills, water and trees. The Terraformer however was not developed by the No Limits team itself and is considered a 3rd Party Tool, despite the fact that it comes with the official package.

The Editor is pretty much like a serious, professional tool and has no game-like simplifications like Coaster Works. Creating a Track is based on nodes that can be manipulated by rotating them in any direction without limitations, and while this system is hard to master and get realistic, smooth tracks from, it does allow for unlimited freedom for shaping the track. The User is also not limited based on what real life Coaster typically do, it completely possible to build a Wooden Coaster with insane Inversions or a Arrow Looping Coaster with the height of a Giga Coaster. Even though there is indeed a lot of freedom when creating a Coaster, there are still some limitations. Some special elements like Elevator Lifts, Drop- and Tilt Tracks can’t be created within the Engine. The Editor is capable of Auto-Generating supports for Wooden Coasters, for Steel Coasters they have to be placed manually. It is also possible to import and place scenery Items into the Editor.

The Simulator allows to ride Coasters from any seat of a Train or view it either with a free cam or fixed cameras following the train from the outside. By default every Coaster operates in a continuous automatic mode, but it is possible to manually operate a Coaster. During manual mode No Limits will follow the safety oriented protocols of a real life Ride System, it is therefore impossible to do things like dispatching a Train with open Restraints or sending a Train into an already occupied block.

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