“When we did Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, we worked with a guy called John Wardley who built [Alton Towers’] Nemesis and Oblivion. One of the things he taught me was that whenever people queued up, he’d always make sure the queue was near where people got on the coaster, so they could learn how to put the harnesses on. That meant he got a 10 percent throughput increase, which resulted in millions of extra pounds. That’s the sort of ‘nerdicity’ I’m challenging our designers to put into the game.”
And challenged they are. With each visitor to the park needing to be rendered on-screen, and given some form of AI to lead them around paths and in and out of rides, the development team created an extremely sophisticated path-finding algorithm in order to stop the park from descending into chaos.
Visitors all have unique tastes too, some preferring the gentle rise of a ferris wheel, while others want to experience the mind-numbing thrills of a proper roller coaster. Even how you decorate the park, and what themes you use—so far just “Pirate” and “Planet Coaster” themes have been announced, but more are promised—affects the happiness of visitors.
Worse for Frontier is that there are curves. Lots of curves. Creating a path-finding algorithm on a grid is already complex, but players can create curves at near any angle they like, simply by dragging a slider control. Paths can go up and down too, allowing for theme parks to be constructed like shopping malls across multiple levels. There are no pre-built buildings either—flat rides and their entrances and exits excluded—with a powerful yet simple building tool allowing players to create buildings piece-by-piece, adding facilities and other paraphernalia like lights and signs to encourage visitors toward certain rides.
There are the other aspects of the park to manage, like the staff that need training and paying and being given the right shifts to avoid being overworked. Or the rides that need to be placed in just the right places, and priced at just the right level in order to attract customers. And yet, despite all this depth, Planet Coaster is pleasingly accessible. Despite having not played a theme park simulation game since 2002’s RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, I picked up Planet Coaster with ease. Paths are laid down with a simple click, and dragged out to make them longer. Misplaced items are erased with a right click. Buildings are just as easy to construct.
After just a few minutes building I’d made a passable theme park, complete with a few rides, a concession stand, and some conveniently placed toilets. I even constructed a wall with a bright neon sign pointing towards my freshly built “Star Wheel” ride.