Rollercoaster Tycoon

At the time this article is written, RollerCoaster Tycoon has had two released sequels, with RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 slated to come out at the end of 2015. Two other theme park games are also in development, Parkitect and Planet Coaster, and are slated for release in 2016. So the question becomes: “Why is RollerCoaster Tycoon still worth playing?”

Answer: “It’s just fun!”

RollerCoaster Tycoon

Release Date:

  • Original Game: March 31, 1999
  • Expansion #1 – Corkscrew Follies: November 15, 1999
  • Expansion #2 – Loopy Landscapes: September 30, 2000

Developer: Chris Sawyer

Publisher: Frontier

Where to buy: Steam and – $5.99

What’s the Premise?

Your job is simple: manage theme parks as best you can. The game gives you a long list of scenarios to play through, 81, each with their own goals. Most of the scenarios that shipped with the original game focus on growing a small park into a larger one while maintaining standards that contribute to your park’s rating. Scenarios added by the two expansion packs tend to be a bit more diverse; such as requiring you to build coasters that meet minimum ratings like length, speed, excitement value; or else the scenario locations themselves are more challenging.

Why Should I Play This?

At the time this article is written, RollerCoaster Tycoon has had two released sequels, with RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 slated to come out at the end of 2015. Two other theme park games are also in development, Parkitect and Planet Coaster, and are slated for release in 2016. So the question becomes: “Why is RollerCoaster Tycoon still worth playing?”

Answer: “It’s just fun!”

…And it starts at the menu screen. When it comes to video games, people generally don’t spend much time thinking about the main menu screen. It’s just an interface; a few buttons and some text that stand in the way between you and the fun stuff contained within the game itself. RollerCoaster Tycoon eschews boring menu screens and instead goes with a vibrant and animated screen that sears joy into your psyche before your brain realizes what happened.

The fun has already begun, even if you don’t realize it yet.

The core mechanics of RollerCoaster Tycoon haven’t aged out, and that’s what keeps it relevant 16 years after its original release. Building a park is still fun. Limitations of a grid-based construction system aside, there are no annoying technological hurdles or barriers to put a harness on your imagination. Once your brain buys into the unique visual palette of RCT, the sky’s the limit.

Some people would look at this and say it’s just a giant crater filled with water. I look at this photo and see a giant crater filled with water… and I’m going to build an amusement park in there!

A large part of RollerCoaster Tycoon’s charm is your park’s guests; commonly referred to as “peeps”.  Each peep has a unique “personality” containing ride preferences, nausea tolerance, how stingy they are with their money, and how easily they can be made happy. They’ll walk slow and droop their heads when they’re tired, they have a hilarious “potty walk” when they need to use the bathroom, peeps who are less than happy check their watches when standing in line for rides.

You can click on each guest to find out more about them. Here’s the information window.

It’s a testament to Chris Sawyer’s design that wandering peeps barely 20 pixels high (yes, I counted) can contain so much personality.


It’s hard to get a sense of their personality from a few still images, so here’s a look at how your peeps respond after experiencing a ride they absolutely love:

In-game there’s an absolutely charming cheering sound to go along with the leap

Sometimes, though, your peeps don’t make the best decisions for themselves. It’s a tragic comedy to watch peeps with low nausea tolerance repeatedly ride attractions that are wee bit too intense for them. Usually, the first third to half of the ride progresses with no issues, but after that point is when nauseousness sets in. By the time the car pulls into the station for disembarkation your poor peeps are straining not to spew and will run towards the nearest bench for a sit in an effort to calm the wave of  nausea.

Park design tip: Put lots of benches near the exits of your most nauseating rides.

If there’s one aspect of RCT that hasn’t aged as well as others, it’s the coaster designer. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still very powerful and capable of building intricate and thrilling rides, but improvements made by later games in the series are hard to ignore. It’s somewhat common for me to have to scrap an idea because I forgot it wasn’t until RCT3 that I could build what I had in mind. What you’ll miss most are options for special track pieces on diagonal runs, and relatively limited transitions on curves and banking.


Limitations aside, one can still build a beautiful park within the constraints presented. After a few hours of work, you can take a look at your park and be satisfied with what you built instead of wishing for the features found in newer games.

Tips for New Players:

  1. Have fun. This is a game about amusement parks, after all.
  2. The biggest learning curve is figuring out how not to run out of money. Where possible, start your park off with a number of flat rides to create a source for regular income. After those are in place, build one small roller coaster at a time and you’ll gradually start to see income levels increase.
  3. As soon as the scenario starts, set research to maximum funding and concentrate only on thrill rides. The other research options won’t pay off in the early stages of park-building.
  4. If your roller coaster designs always result in ‘extreme’ intensity ratings it’s probably because of excessive lateral g-forces; these are usually caused by taking curves too fast, especially so for unbanked curves.
  5. Be mean. If you can charge your peeps for something, do it.

    What? Ten cents is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for using the bathroom.
  6. Rename everything to make it your own.

    The reviews are in: Everyone loves Getting Sick!
  7. Pay attention to what your peeps are saying. They’ll tell you what needs to happen in your park.

    Believe it or not, charging admission for bathrooms does not cause what you see here.

The Final Raving – Full Endorsement

Anyone who plays video games should give this a try, even if this is a genre you’ve never been interested before. 

RollerCoaster Tycoon is one of the few older games where you can still revel in the fun it generates instead of constantly being reminded of its flaws. Buy it. You’ve no excuse not to.


  • Fun core gameplay that hasn’t become outdated
  • Addictive
  • Watching peeps is almost as fun as building rides


  • There are some features found in newer games that you’ll miss in this one, notably:
    • There’s no time acceleration of any kind. Met all your objectives a year (or two) of game time before the deadline? You have no way to skip ahead to the end.
    • There’s no “ghost” testing mode for roller coasters, so expect some trial and error when designing new layouts.
    • The closest zoom level feels too far out
  • Some of the themes are just a bit too garish to look good, but that’s more a matter of personal taste


  • Pixelated visuals can take a little while to get used to at first

Compatibility Considerations: 

  • Some minor tweaking may be necessary in order to get RCT working smoothly on modern operating systems. For RCT, this is limited to changing compatibility settings on the game’s executable.
    Here’s a link to a Steam Guide that describes how to get the game working properly (this will work for games installed via Steam, GOG, or physical discs): Running RCT on Windows 8.1

2 thoughts on “Rollercoaster Tycoon”

  1. The Rollercoaster Tycoon series is considered among some of the best and most iconic building simulation game series of all time.

    I’m glad that you made this your first post, though the second Rollercoaster Tycoon I believe is the one that is considered to be the pinnacle of the series, it is nice that you started with where it all began.

    As an interesting tidbit, these games actually have some of the best optimized codebase in all of gaming ; developed in assembly instead of a more complex and syntactically rich language, the games are tremendously optimized for the PC platform.

    I actually was completely unaware that a Rollercoast Tycoon 4 was in development, so I’ll have to keep my eye out for it!

    The review style on this article flows well, and I really like how in depth it was without being too wordy.

    I look forward to additional articles from the ‘Raving Luhn”. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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