It's no secret many coaster simulator fans long for the old days of theme park management games. Chris Sawyer's original RollerCoaster Tycoon games are considered classics, with multiple revivals and a passionate community (opens in new tab). Recently, the 3D style popularized by RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 and NoLimits has made a comeback. Those looking for a revival of the retro style, however, need look no further than Parkitect.
As a classic RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 fan, Parkitect looked exciting to me from the moment I saw its Kickstarter. Now, coming up on two years in Early Access, the game has grown from a simple recreation of the isometric rollercoaster sim to an evolution of it. Reviving such a classic genre is no easy task, but with the current, fifth beta release, indie studio Texel Raptor are getting close to opening their little theme park to the public.
Parkitect developers Garret Randell and Sebastian Sebioff Mayer told me setting their new theme park sim apart was a goal from the beginning. "People were unsure whether we were only trying to recreate older games or if we were going to add anything meaningful and new," they said, speaking jointly via email.
The biggest changes lie in the park management systems. In Parkitect effective management means building facilities to keep staff happy as well as utility corridors to ensure stores across the park are stocked. If a staff member isn't performing or guests are leaving trash and breaking scenery, the game's tools let you know why. Also in the name of transparency, the finance management tools are clearly laid out. When taking a loan, you're given a list of banks with discrete interest rates and finance timelines, making the process of keeping your park funded feel more grounded in reality.
The expanded management toolset is accompanied by an incredible variety of rides. Parkitect's current beta has practically every flat ride you can think of and a massive selection of coasters, including newer developments like B&M's wing coaster and Rocky Mountain Construction's innovative monorail coaster. Building these feels almost exactly like you remember from RollerCoaster Tycoon, though Parkitect has also added tools to make newer designs like RMC's impossibly inverted hybrid coasters possible.
Once your ride's built, simple-to-read visualizers help you determine what sections are providing the most excitement and where efficiency can be improved. You can even see how guests are reacting to the scenery along the ride's route thanks to systems that allow detailed creations to actually impact guest perceptions.
All of this feels fleshed-out in the latest beta. What takes it above and beyond is a combination of massive community output and new graphical tweaks. Thanks to a revised visual system, it looks better than ever with gorgeous lighting that brings parks to life when the sun falls. Players can incorporate lights throughout their park's scenery, and flat rides come to life with flashing, colorful animations that look just like they do at the county fair. Those contributing to the extensive Workshop can even have their own creations tap into that new lighting engine. Examples include a recent mod adding catwalks (opens in new tab) to the game, allowing players to build true-to-life lighted walkways to the sides of their massive coaster hills, and a mod adding cars (opens in new tab) as scenery, all with their own working headlights.
Team Parkitect has its eyes on that community, and is very excited to see players stepping up. "Some very impressive custom scenery sets have been released recently," they told me, "and there's also really crazy stuff like on-ride cameras (opens in new tab) or completely new types of coasters (opens in new tab)." Community challenges set players loose on a particular kind of ride each month and the winning creations are added to the game. This kind of community outreach has allowed Parkitect to fill in what gaps remain in its arsenal, like default blueprints and a scenario system.
That scenario-based campaign mode, Team Parkitect said, is their next major target. "The next big update we're working on right now is the campaign and a tutorial, which should be the best starting point once that's done." For now, the scenario designer has allowed hundreds of players to create and share fun starter parks, from extensively decorated landscapes (opens in new tab) to recreations (opens in new tab) of classic levels (opens in new tab). Approaching the game myself after a long time away, the first thing I did was take a crack (opens in new tab) at this month’s community challenge. Jumping into a sandbox and playing with the tools feels great, and there's a lot of fun to be had in just poking around parks made by other players.
Though it might look and feel like a classic, Parkitect uses new tech and exciting community tools to create a game that feels super fresh. Even for long-time fans of the genre, there's twists and tools that augment the experience in exciting ways. I only hope I won't have to wait in line too long for the game's official debut.