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25 years of thrill: A homage to Rollercoaster Tycoon

As a nine-year-old boy sat at the family's dial-up desktop Compaq Pesario PC, it took just seven simple words to make me smile, "This park is really clean and tidy".

A free 20-minute demo of the game Rollercoaster Tycoon captured my imagination like nothing else. So much so I had to buy the full version with the last of my pocket money. What I didn't know at that point is just how many endless hours of theme park management would trigger a career in the very same industry. Nor would I be writing an article celebrating its 25th birthday.

At this stage, it's worth pressing play on the Spotify playlist while you read the rest of the article! Nostalgia hits hard.

I lost myself in the world of creating wonderous worlds, fantastical rides and making some serious money from those poor little avatars that seemed to spend their whole existence on the park.

The ability to change ride names and colours, not to mention the addition of park cleaners, was a one-stop-shop to running a themed attraction. If you will, indulge in my typical Tycoon journeys from child's age.

Building from the entrance

What would I want from a theme park entrance? I always started pragmatically - a kiosk for guests to buy maps, plenty of toilets and chairs, and sometimes a random theming element - the Great Sphinx of Giza seemed to feature the most but I don't know why.

Of course the addition of entertainers was crucial too! Who doesn't want a polaroid selfie with a giant panda as soon as they get in the doors?

Ambience aplenty

Music was always really important in my theme parks. Merry-go-rounds were a favourite choice in most of my parks - the idea of listening to Johann Strauss with the sweet smelling candy floss wafting was a heady concoction. What a start to the park.

Lighting and flowers also became really important. I wanted every path and boulevard to be littered with ambient lighting, although the constant clicking of the mouse to add these to the park is what is probably to blame for my wrists repetitive strain injury. I'm sure the park looked good at night though...

Thrill seekers

I'd never call myself a speed demon, but even I pushed the limits on the coasters I added to my parks. Remember the Mine Train coaster at Dynamite Dunes? How about the Hypercoaster that reached 220 feet in the air? Or maybe the Twister coasters that used large loop track pieces to send guests to sickness in seconds?

Ahh good times. If you played it, that is.

A huge part of coasters was the clean up. As soon as green faces littered the pathway exits to the ride, it was a sure-fire message to get cleaners there ASAP. In sneakier times, I'd also add paid toilets near the exit of coasters to generate money from poorly guests. Naughty and profitable move, but then I grew a conscience.

Making the money roll in

It was the game's underlying mission to make players good at the game. No cash-for-access or super cheat options on Rollercoaster Tycoon 1 - players had to earn their success.

Armed with a small bank loan only (in the game), it became my obsession to get guests in, make them happy and generate revenue. Looking back, the nine-year-old me took the P&L very seriously. How could I generate more revenue? What can I do to get the most from my staff? Why is 'Pizza Stall 3' making a £37 loss every hour in the middle of my food court?

Rides, rides and more rides

The drip-feeding of ride availability throughout the game was a masterstroke by its creators. How I became encapsulated watching the countdown towards the Haunted House and Go Karts being made available.

With more ride availability brought the conundrum of where and how they should fit in the park. I loved creating mini zones for families with calm rides to enjoy together and water features to stare in admiration. The game didn't have the sophistication of guest attributes at that stage, but it didn't stop me having a go.

Playing Almighty Creator

Sure, being able to drop guests in a pond was fun for a while, but nothing gave me the sense of playing God than creating a rollercoaster design, from scratch.

Piece-by-piece this part of the game taught me and others about architecture, construction, propulsion(!), gravity, operations, budgeting and guest experience. Creating a rollercoaster wasn't just about how fast it went or what colour the tracks were, it was about maths and science. An early STEM lesson if ever I experienced one.

Today's Tycoon

There continues to be a core fan base of millions playing Rollercoaster Tycoon in various forms, you can even follow live park creations on Twitch. For the original groupies, just like me, you can even buy merchandise.

It isn't just me at Katapult that spent most of their childhood playing the game. Take a look at just some of my colleagues that enjoyed the game as much as I did!

A personal thank you

Logo and background image via Wikipedia

Although my time gradually dwindled for Rollercoaster Tycoon, I still crave those Sundays staring at my creation of Robbie-Land (my ego set in when I started to get good) and watch guest smiles rack-up. It played an unassuming role in my career in the themed attractions industry.

I may not build coasters or grab guests with a giant pair of tweezers any more, but I obsess about the guests' thoughts, feelings and actions. I obsess about the commercial performance of attractions and experiences - and I do it because I love it and I'm lucky it's my job.

I guess what I'm trying to say to the creators of the Rollercoaster Tycoon is, thank you and Happy 25th Birthday.

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