Planet Coaster (Beyond the Pixels)

Were you a fan of RollerCoaster Tycoon 1, 2, and/or 3? Do you enjoy making beautifully landscaped and thematic theme parks, creating insane roller coasters, and watching from your park visitor’s point of view as they ride rides and navigate your park? Look no further than Planet Coaster, created by Frontier – the same company that brought us RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 (RCT3).

While RCT3 was a pretty big change from what made RCT1 and RCT2 great, it was still a generally well regarded theme park simulator. However, RCT3 was published all the way back in 2004 and computer games have done a lot of evolving since then. The tycoon craze wore off and theme park and roller coaster building games died off with it, much to the dismay of the roller coaster building enthusiasts – including yours truly.

Then, recently, a few theme park games started generating buzz – Roller Coaster World (created by Atari), Parkitect, and Planet Coaster. While Roller Coaster World has generally been regarded as a complete flop and money grab, and Parkitect is a fairly low budget indie project, Planet Coaster has made huge waves and has been met with high praise from most reviewers.

Planet Coaster makes you the park owner and manager of a theme park and it’s all on you to make it successful. There are challenge modes where you must fix up a park and complete specific objectives, like a certain number of rides or park visitors, and there is a sandbox mode where you can do whatever you please with your own fresh park. You can build gentle, calm rides such as the Rocktopus, the Teacups, or the Whirlygig, or move into thrill-seeking rides like the Cube or the Forge. There are shops for burgers and drinks, toilets, information kiosks, and more. Scenery options are fairly extensive and leave a lot of room for creativity, and the hope is that more and more scenic elements are released as downloadable content.

Can you guess what the picture below is?

This game is on the Steam platform and gives access to the Steam Workshop as well, so other players have created their own blueprints of parks, buildings, and coasters. This means that there’s always beautiful scenery, parks, and crazy coasters that you can download and use in your own park. So, if you guessed that someone recreated Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in that picture above, you’d be correct. The community has taken this game to amazing heights.

You can even ride the rides you create! Below is a picture of a track ride that goes through an underground kraken lair.  The pirates are fighting off a tentacle through that cave mouth you’re about to ride through.

The game really shines when it comes to coaster building. Multiple types of coasters are available, from inverted to wooden to power launchers and tons more. You can make your own hills and drops, loops, inversions, set up dueling coasters, and do so much more that I can’t even begin to describe it all here. Check out tutorials or playthroughs on YouTube for more information, because there are a ton of ways to build incredible coasters.

So, how does this apply to teen programming? Well, the physics engine in regards to coaster building is pretty slick and can help teach teens about the forces generated on roller coasters. G-forces, speed, and airtime are calculated based on the design of your coaster and help influence the coasters ratings for excitement, nausea, and fear, which affect how many patrons are willing to ride it. If it’s too intense or dangerous, no one will ride it. If it’s too tame, only small children may have any interest in it, and then it may not generate the income your park needs.

The management portion of the game is fairly light but still requires some thought put into it. This game can help teens learn how to manage finances as there are multiple financial responsibilities they have to watch out for. They need to make sure that their park staff are paid well enough, manage prices for food and drink stalls, and price their rides to get the maximum profit from each guest without being off-putting to potential customers because of the high price. Players even have to conduct research for new rides and craft marketing campaigns to increase their park’s popularity!

Besides those educational bits, the game is just plain fun. It’s a nice change from the yearly re-hash of the most popular genres of games, and brings back a popular, niche game in a big way.

If you’ve played Planet Coaster and have any thoughts on it, let me know in the comments!

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