I write some weird sentences in this industry. Here's one: It's 2014, and Atari is working on a RollerCoaster Tycoon sequel. I got an in-depth (but hands-off) look at the game recently, and here's what I noticed.
A greater focus on presentation
In order to explain how Atari's approach to RollerCoaster Tycoon World has sharpened, I'm going to start by referencing something totally unrelated: 2K's sports games.
2K has an uncanny ability to focus on the presentation of sports rather than simply the core facets of the sport itself. Take a look at NBA 2k14, for instance. The game is constantly interrupted by camera cutaways, shots of the benches, et cetera that add nothing as far as the core game is concerned, but change the mood—it's far more like watching/playing a TV broadcast of an NBA game than watching a real basketball game.
Now obviously you don't want to watch a TV broadcast of an amusement park. The point, however, is that the new RollerCoaster Tycoon focuses on aspects of your park beyond just the bare bones of a ride. Like Disney, like Six Flags, like that weird off-brand park your parents took you to because it was cheap and local, RollerCoaster Tycoon is now concerned just as much with your park feeling cohesive and planned rather than a muddled collection of rides thrown together just to make money.
There are four themes planned for RollerCoaster Tycoon, each with its own mascot—a pirate area, science fiction, Western, and then a Disney-style 50s small-town America. Each theme has its own set of rides, and each of these rides features music and imagery tied to the theme. Sure, you could just throw every ride together in any configuration, but it's clear the point is to have the experience gel like an Animal Kingdom or Epcot or Tomorrowland.
Whether that ends up a good thing or feels unnecessarily limiting to players, it'll take more time with the game for me to know.
Easier coaster creation
As much as I love old-school RollerCoaster Tycoon, I don't think it's unfair to say that actual coaster construction in previous games has been janky. Making a simplistic rollercoaster was an awkward affair, while creating something complicated might as well invoke the seven labors of Hercules.
So I was glad to see the construction tools in this latest iteration get a complete overhaul. RollerCoaster construction is now tied to a grid and node system. You just draw in some track, then go back and adjust height and curve by way of the nodes. Don't like part of the track? Select those nodes and delete it.
Unfortunately I didn't see how this system will work with loops and other complex structures—we basically built a single oval of track with one major hill and a few curved pieces. On the plus side, it only took us about a minute to draw in an entire rollercoaster.
It's also still possible to jump in and edit pre-made rollercoasters, if that's more your style. Also, to build Mr. Bones' Wild Ride. I hope.
You can also ride anything you build, which seems like a natural fit for virtual reality...but Atari wouldn't confirm whether that'll make it into the game.
Play online (but only if you want)
"There's an offline mode too!" the developer showing off the game is quick to clarify. He's telling me how the new RollerCoaster Tycoon can be played with up to three other people, but only if you want. There's no always-online requirement here. Also, unlike certain other games, your park isn't dependent on the success of your friend's park. Nothing actually ties you together, except that you're playing in the same space.
Your park is essentially four separate enormous areas, connected by a monorail. You can take over one section of the park while your friends take over the rest or play offline and construct one gigantic park that utilizes all four sections. You could easily imagine, for instance, using each separate section for one of the game's four themes.
No microtransactions, an offline mode, easier coaster creation—somehow I'm oddly excited about RollerCoaster Tycoon World. It's got a lot of work left, as evidenced by the small-ish selection of rides I was shown, but it looks like the finished product will give players both a lot of options and a lot of freedom.
Whether you use that freedom to distribute free soda and make people pay to use the bathrooms like a monster, well, that's up to you.