It’s semi-inevitable when previewing a game that your brain will end up drawing links to similar titles, whether you want it to or not. Thus Singularity gets likened to BioShock, The Witcher 3 gets compared to Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Shadow of Mordor is put up against Assassin’s Creed.
But what surprised me while playing RollerCoaster Tycoon World this week at PAX is that a single title kept coming to mind, and it absolutely wasn’t one I expected—Cities: Skylines.
If you didn’t play Cities: Skylines earlier this year, first of all: You should, provided you like city builders.
Cities: Skylines is a surprisingly good basis for comparison though. There’s the obvious, “Both games involve building,” link to be drawn, of course. But it goes deeper, into the fundamental approach Cities: Skylines and RollerCoaster Tycoon World take to creation.
What makes Cities: Skylines so great is that it makes it easy (and fun) to create a beautiful, vibrant city in a matter of minutes. Lay some streets, throw down some highways, zone a few neighborhoods, drop in a police station and a hospital, and you’re on your way. It’s not threatening, and it’s not overly time-consuming. You play, and you learn by playing.
Even more important—there’s depth when you’re ready. Underneath its seemingly-simple façade, Cities: Skylines packs dozens of different simulations from water to traffic to pollution. Sure, you can make a livable city in a matter of minutes, but making an amazing city? That takes both patience and no small amount of skill.
Now, keep in mind I’ve only had about half an hour of hands-on time with RollerCoaster Tycoon World. But from what I’ve played it feels similar. After a quick walkthrough of the tools by one of the developers, I jumped into a blank park and started building, and it’s easy.
I threw down some paths, I put in a couple of trees, and then I decided to test my hand with the new rollercoaster constructor. Last time I saw the game, all rollercoaster construction was done on a grid. And it worked really well—much better than the old RollerCoaster Tycoon games.
Nevertheless, that system is completely gone—and it’s replaced with something even more intuitive. The final game will feature the ability to snap to a local grid if you’d like straight lines, but normal coaster construction is now entirely spline-based. In other words: You draw a line, each line is constructed of a bunch of nodes, and then you push/pull/raise/lower/twist those nodes at will. It feels like sculpting rollercoaster-shaped clay.
Not to harp on the same comparison, but it’s almost identical to building roads and elevated roads in Cities: Skylines—except with some additional coaster-specific features. Obviously rollercoasters aren’t merely flat, so you can change tools to either bank a turn or create a twist/loop in the track. Then you can go back in and add chains, boosters, and bumpers to the track where necessary.
Within minutes I’d built a massive rollercoaster in my empty park. One that terminated in mid-air, of course, launching the cars off the end and killing everyone inside. It’s still a RollerCoaster Tycoon game.
The same coaster in a grid-based system would’ve taken two or three times as long though, especially because I kept screwing up the physics and needing to widen a curve here, stretch a loop there, et cetera. In a grid-based system I would’ve had to delete that section of track and start over. With the new build it’s as easy as clicking the affected node and pulling it or pushing it in the desired direction until all systems are go.
I’ll make my own theme park
Another thing RollerCoaster Tycoon World has in common with Cities: Skylines? It’s one of the most mod-friendly and community-focused games I’ve ever seen.
There’s the really simple side: Blueprints. Building a massive rollercoaster and you can’t quite afford the last hundred meters of track? You can now finish building the coaster, save your track design, and then come back and build the whole thing later when you can afford it. Blueprints are also your main means for sharing coaster designs with the community.
And how do you do that? Built-in Steam Workshop support. Like, actually built-in. Pull up the pause menu in RollerCoaster Tycoon World and there’s a tab just for browsing Steam Workshop. You can check out popular mods, subscribe to and enable them on-the-fly, and they’ll show up in-game in the appropriate categories.
At launch there will be some limitations—mod tools will pretty much support aesthetic tools only, i.e. scenery. Support for modded rides and modded rollercoasters is planned, but just not at launch.
Still, it’s the easiest (as far as you, the player) method I’ve ever seen for accessing Steam Workshop and will hopefully make the idea of “mods” less intimidating to people who’d never check out Nexus Mods or any of the more hardcore niche sites. And it opens up all sorts of themed park ideas, from your very own Fallout 4 theme park to full-scale recreations of Disney World (provided someone models the basic assets).
I took a meeting with RollerCoaster Tycoon World wondering what had gone wrong. The email asking me to come check it out at PAX specifically mentioned the game had switched to a new development team—which, years into development, is almost never a good sign.
But it worked, here. The RollerCoaster Tycoon World of 2015 demolishes what I’d seen from the game previously. The team has ditched the faux-cartoon aesthetic, the unrealistic rides, and even the grid-based rollercoaster constructor. In its place: A faithful RollerCoaster Tycoon update that seems to embrace the depth long-time fans would want while using modern tech to smooth some of the rougher edges.
It’s looking great. I’m ready to get on Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride.