The Definitive RollerCoaster Tycoon Experience

“OpenRCT2 is an open-source re-implementation of RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 (RCT2), expanding the game with new features, fixing original bugs and raising game limits.”. To put it another way, a dedicated group of fans have spent years voluntarily rebuilding RollerCoaster Tycoon and improving it in nearly every way.

RollerCoaster Tycoon takes the prize as my second favorite game of all time. So much so that it was the subject for the first post I ever published on this website. Since it occupies such a spot on my list, I’ve got some great suggestions for what your definitive experience with the game should be. Sure, you could just buy the game from Steam or GOG and play it without any modifications, but I don’t recommend it. Installed directly as purchased, the game is locked in a 4:3 aspect ratio that will be stretched to your widescreen monitor. In addition, there’s no way to play in windowed mode. No matter how long you play, it’s likely you’ll never quite get used to the squished perspective everything has. On top of the awkwardness of actually running the game, if you buy RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 you’ll be stuck with some ugly, ugly scenarios.

Here’s a screenshot of what the vanilla game looks like as installed on my PC and played on a standard widescreen monitor at a resolution of 1920 x 1080:

No, it’s not bad, but it’s just kind of awkward. If you don’t think so, compare it to the screenshot below:

The angle is better. The Ferris Wheel is round. The perspective shift doesn’t make things look quite so flat. Things don’t look quite so muddy. It’s an all-around improvement, I’d say. So what’s the secret to the change? OpenRCT2. As stated on the project’s website, “OpenRCT2 is an open-source re-implementation of RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 (RCT2), expanding the game with new features, fixing original bugs and raising game limits.”. To put it another way, a dedicated group of fans have spent years voluntarily rebuilding RollerCoaster Tycoon and improving it in nearly every way. All of these changes and tweaks are completely legal, since the source code to the game was voluntarily released years ago. The improved version of the game works on modern operating systems and is compatible with a wide array of hardware. It supports windowed mode or plays full screen at nearly any resolution. There’s a debug and cheat menu. And it’s quite easy to import custom scenarios. Ready to play yet?

To have the definitive RollerCoaster Tycoon experience, here are the steps you need to take:

  • Purchase RollerCoaster Tycoon 2: Triple Thrill Pack from GOG: https://www.gog.com/game/rollercoaster_tycoon_2 Install it on your PC.
  • Download the OpenRCT2 launcher from the website’s downloads page: http://openrct2.org/downloads Scroll down to the bottom of the page to get to the correct link:
  • The next page you’ll see has a bunch of different versions of the file to download. The one you want is the straight .exe file for windows:
  • Download it, and then run the installation process. Once the program is installed, remember that you want to run the program called “OpenRCT2 Launcher”, and not the installation of RollerCoaster Tycoon. They are very different!
  • To make your installation complete, you must download and install the scenarios from the first RollerCoaster Tycoon. They weren’t included in the retail release of RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, but the game’s dedicated fan base reconstructed them and assembled them in an easy-to-install pack. The link to the scenario pack is in this Reddit post: https://www.reddit.com/r/rct/comments/1h93gx/more_exact_recreations_of_rct1_scenarios_for_rct2/ The MediaFire link is the one to get.
  • To install the new scenarios, extract the contents of the file you just downloaded to the scenario folder created by the installation of OpenRCT2. The file path for that should be something like “C:\Users\YourUsername\Documents\OpenRCT2\scenario”

That’s all there is to it! Prepare to enjoy dozens if not hundreds of hours of one of the best PC games known to mankind! If you need any help with the install process, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to walk you through it.

Reviews Are Different From Recommendations

Casually browsing game review websites reveals that most contemporary games seem to be considered “good” in the sense that they’re well-made and don’t have critical errors that render them broken. So if most games are “good”, how do you know if a game will be fun for you? That’s not something a review score can tell you.

When I was a kid, I ate game review scores for breakfast. When I wasn’t playing games, I read about them. My brother’s subscription to PC Gamer enabled me to seek out which critically-acclaimed titles demanded my attention. Titles that scored ninety-four percent or better received their coveted Editor’s Choice award as well as my full attention. Thankfully younger me afforded a measure of grace to lower-scoring titles and I at least considered the possibility of games that scored a measly eighty-four percent. Anything lower than that just didn’t make the cut. Three out of five stars? Seventy percent? Please, I’d rather not waste my time on anything mediocre!

My reliance on critical acclaim allowed me to shun any gaming experience that wasn’t guaranteed to be enthralling in every way. This attitude stuck with me through my college years, and my gaming catalog became very one-dimensional. Critically-acclaimed games and nothing else. Eventually I noticed I owned quite a lot of “good” games that I’d never played through to completion. As good as they might have been, they just didn’t drag me into their world. Editors Choice or Game of the Year; accolades didn’t matter if I wasn’t interested in playing it. That’s when it dawned on me: Just because a game is considered “good” doesn’t mean I’ll have fun with it.

But everyone will have fun playing this, right? Right!?!

While the quality of a game might be able to be quantified with some objective measure, a player’s response to said game will be subjectively variable. One man’s compelling adventure is another man’s exercise in tedium. Let’s look at Alien Isolation for a case study. I personally consider it to be one of the best video games ever made. The atmosphere and tension hooked me into an immersive, stressful, and unforgettable experience. One of my friends played it recently and shocked me with the following statement: “Sure Alien: Isolation is a good game, but it just wasn’t much fun for me.” He couldn’t bring himself to finish it! It took my brain a few minutes to process this information. My initial reaction was that there must be something wrong with my friend. It’s him right?

After all, Alien Isolation is indeed a well-made game that perfectly encapsulates the experience being hunted by H.R. Gieger’s Alien. It received mostly positive reviews from gaming critics and fans alike. Yet in spite of all those things, it clearly wasn’t a game for him. The same can be said for a lot of people! Being chased around a space station by a scary xenomorph for twenty hours is my idea of a good time. The same was not true of my friend. One game. Two people. Great reviews. Two very different reactions.

My version of “play” and his version of “play” are two different things, I think.

And therein lies one of the cold truths about game reviews: A statement of quality is not a prescription for fun. And that’s the key, isn’t it? Games are supposed to be fun! Thankfully, we now live in an age where most games are “good”. By that I mean we don’t usually have to worry about developers releasing unfinished, buggy, messes of code; which was surprisingly common twenty years ago. Casually browsing game review websites reveals that most contemporary games seem to be considered “good” in the sense that they’re well-made and don’t have critical errors that render them broken.

So if most games are “good”, how do you know if a game will be fun for you? That’s not something a review score can tell you. For that matter, I find myself valuing review scores less and less as time goes on. Is a game that receives four stars so different from one that receives four and a half stars? Ultimately, it seems that almost all games can be divided into two major pools: “worth playing” and “waste of time”. The difficult part about placing games into either category is that the reasons for each are subjective, because no two gamers are exactly alike. A good review, therefore, is one that will help players of all types decide if a game is for them or not.

But if you’re not interested in Homeworld, there’s just something wrong with you. Seriously.

I still read a lot of game reviews. It’s one of my favorite things to do. More and more I find myself reviewing game reviews. When I do so, I notice that some are more helpful than others. I want RavingLuhn to be helpful. To that end, I’m refocusing how I make game recommendations. Each review I write will have my final call about whether or not a game is recommended:

  • Full Endorsement – A defining moment in gaming history. Everyone needs to play this for at least an hour to see what the fuss is all about.
  • Qualified Recommendation – If you’re a fan of similar games or enjoy other defining characteristics contained in this title, there’s a chance you’ll love it. If you’re not a fan of similar games and genres, consider skipping it.
  • Don’t Bother – I have a hard time justifying it to anyone.

Each one of those recommendations must be accompanied by appropriate justification. This might include:

  • A description of a typical gameplay cycle. What is it like to play?
  • Identification of some core characteristics that make the game worth playing. What is its hook?
  • What are some reasons why people might not like playing this game?
  • Are there similar games to the one being reviewed that might indicate if a game is a good fit for certain players?

Hopefully this will help give a more accurate picture of what each game is like, so you can decide for yourself it it’s something you’d have fun playing. In the end, that’s why we play games, right?

RavingLuhn Recommends: Steam Summer Sale 2017

Summer is only four days old and we’re already being bombarded with deals from Steam. This annual event exists for seemingly no other reason than to ensure your backlog of games grows ever larger.

It’s June 26th, 2017. Summer is only four days old and we’re already being bombarded with deals from Steam. This annual event exists for seemingly no other reason than to ensure your backlog of games grows ever larger. Nearly every game in their digital store is discounted, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options. With another ten days left in the sale I humbly offer a few tips to help your wallet and your gaming library:

  1. Set a budget and stick to it. You can get a lot of gaming goodness for not much money, so figure out what you want to spend and work within that limit. It will help you prioritize what you really want versus what you’re attracted to just because of the discount.
  2. Check the price history. Sometimes sale prices are something special, sometimes they’re not much of a deal. Use tools like SteamPrices and IsThereAnyDeal to check the price history of the games you’re interested in.
  3. Remember that the games you want will go on sale againJust because something is on sale now doesn’t mean you have to buy it right this moment.  Be patient and stick to your budget. You and your wallet will be much happier if you can control yourself.
  4. Buy something you wouldn’t otherwise. Good prices mean it’s prime time to try something different. Take a risk; you never know what kind of gems you’ll find.

All set? My recommendations for 2016’s summer sale still stand, so check those out if you have a moment. Here’s what I suggest for this year:

DOOM – $14.99
This is the only title from last year’s list that gets a repeat appearance. It was a steal at $60. It was a steal at $36. It’s worth every bit of $15. In the past year id Software have added bots for multiplayer, a fully-fledged arcade mode, and greatly expanded the options available in SnapMap. If you love shooting and over-the-top violence, this is the game to buy.

Wolfenstein: The New Order – $9.99
If DOOM is the best-playing shooter available today, The New Order gets my vote for the #2 spot. Spectacular, gut-wrenching, surprisingly heartfelt, bloody, incredible fun. Shoot Nazis in an alternate historical 1960. Shoot Nazis in the sky, on the ground, on the moon. Use silencers, shotguns, throwing knives, and lasers. It’s a blast. Buy this to get caught up for the sequel coming out in fall 2017.

Far Cry – $3.39
Before the Far Cry series became too self-aware, it was just about running around a bunch of tropical islands blowing stuff up. No pretense, just explosions.

Cities: Skylines – $7.49
The modern city-builder for the modern gamer. While it’s still not as deep or challenging as the Sim City games of old, it definitely offers a similar experience. You can spend as much or as little time as you want detailing the traffic, zoning, tax rates, or community restrictions of your custom cities.

RollerCoaster Tycoon II – $3.39
RollerCoaster Tycoon played via OpenRCT2 is, in my opinion, still the best theme park sim out there. Period. I’ll expand on this a bit more in the next month or two.

Black Mesa – $7.99
Remade or remastered games always have the potential to be a disaster, especially when they’re made by fans. Black Mesa is a project that does everything right. If you’ve seen the original build of Half Life recently, it’s quite obvious the game hasn’t aged well. Black Mesa subverts the effects of aging and presents Half Life to you as you remember it. It’ll get better later this year when the long-awaited Xen levels are released!

Enter the Gungeon – $7.49
I haven’t played this. I don’t know if I’ll like it. But I followed my own advice when buying it, specifically tip #4 from above. It’s a “bullet hell dungeon crawler” top-down shooter, and people I know really love it. We’ll see. Consider my recommendation of it to you an act of gaming spontaneity.

Steam link – $14.99
Bring the gaming goodness of Steam to your living room TV! It works exceptionally well, but you’ll probably need a wired Ethernet connection to avoid lag. It’s great for games that work well with controllers.

Homeworld: Emergence – $9.99
No, it’s not available on Steam. And it’s not on sale. But come on, this is a game that nobody expected to see available in digital distribution. This weekend Gearbox and GOG.com shocked people everywhere with the surprise announcement of the game’s availability. It’s a mix of real-time strategy, space combat, and horror story elements that comes together in an incredibly atmospheric package. It’s Homeworld. Buy it. Now!

So there you have it. I recommend these games because I myself like them. That’s not a guarantee you’ll feel the same way. But if you don’t like them, well… then I’m afraid there’s something wrong with you. Because I’m normal. Totally.

What I Learned About Live Streaming

Streaming and creating video content is a lot of fun, but it isn’t for everyone. If you don’t possess the capability to create a technically sound stream, you’ll probably cause nothing but frustration for yourself and your viewers.

Have you ever made a commitment to something before you knew whether or not you could actually follow through on it? That was me a few weeks ago when I seized a friend’s invitation to join a gaming marathon to support Extra Life. My job was simple: Play video games during a certain time slot and live-stream it all, interacting with anyone who happens to be watching me. Record video. Broadcast it. Be entertaining. How difficult could it be?

Step One: Record video.

Contrary to what you might think, capturing gaming videos doesn’t have to cost you a cent. If you own a PC, you already own the required hardware. All you need in addition to your PC is a software program capable of capturing, recording, and encoding video. There are a handful of free, open-source options. The most widely used application I know of is Open Broadcaster Software. It’s a program that gives you a virtual canvas of sorts, where you can compose various elements together into one video output. Their newest release, OBS Studio, does have a slight learning curve but becomes more intuitive over time. There is a bit of trial and error involved in finding the best settings for recording, but you can save as many different configuration presets as you like.

Assuming you want to contribute some voice commentary, you’ll need a microphone. I use the mic from my gaming headset, a Sades 810S that cost me less than $20 on a Lightning deal at Amazon.com. It’s not the highest quality item but it is good enough for casual sessions. Any audio sources in addition to the game capture will need to be manually added to your setup in OBS. Helpful tip: use OBS’s built-in audio presets to help to minimize background noise and accidental transmissions.

obs1

If you’re the type who wants to superimpose a headshot video of yourself over one corner of the gameplay, you’ll need a webcam. Or do you? No webcam, no problem. Use the Kinoni EpocCam app on your smartphone along with the companion webcam viewer on PC and you’re good to go. In my experience it tends to be a bit picky about starting up – start the desktop application on your PC first, then the app on your phone. Be prepared to repeat this a few times until the two devices see each other. Once they’re connected, you’ll have a window on your PC that shows the live video feed from your phone. This window can be added into your composite layout in OBS Studio for your “talking head” feed. The feed freezes when task switching, so start your game, make sure the feed works, click record and then start playing – but do not task switch away from the game again.

It’s not a perfect solution; I had issues with the feed freezing when task switching between my game and the desktop. After a few cycles of this, I realized there’s a specific sequence needed to keep things functional. Start your game, then switch to the desktop. Make sure the EpocCam Viewer shows a live webcam feed, then click record / stream in OBS and play away. Do not task switch away from the game again, it’ll cause EpocCam to freeze up and the entire process will need to be restarted. It’s kind of a hassle, but it’s free. kinoni

Step Two: Broadcast video.

With your video output taken care of, you now need a place for that video feed to be broadcast to the masses. Twitch and YouTube are the major players here. Create an account at either website and you’ll be given a streaming key. This is a unique link that, when plugged into OBS, tells your video feed where to go. Before you rush out and try to share your content with the world, you have to find the answer to one question that will make or break your dreams of live-streaming video games: what’s your upload speed? Perform a speed test of either speedtest.net or speedof.me and take note of the results. Plug that number along with some other information about your computer into the handy OBS Stream Settings Estimator, and see what your recommended settings are. You might be tempted not to trust the results of the estimator. You may see your results and think, “surely my internet connection can do better than that!“. It can’t. Uploading a constant stream of video is very demanding of your internet connection. Respect it. In my case, the OBS estimator told me I might be able to stream at 30 frames-per-second at 480p. Even that was optimistic. What the estimator should have told me was, “Sorry, but streaming video isn’t for people with your kind of internet connection.”

speedtest

Low upload speed spawns two major issues: Quality of image and timeliness of image. While you will be viewing pristine and crisp gameplay, anyone watching your low-quality stream will be seeing a very different picture. They’ll see compression artifacts and loss of detail, as well as dropped frames or “skipping”. Another odd effect of streaming with a slow upload speed is a delay between the live pictures and what my viewers saw. Though I was connected to others live via voice-chat, the stream they were watching lagged as much as six or seven minutes behind real-time. The end result was disorienting as their comments only applied to gameplay decisions I’d made multiple minutes ago. Part of the appeal of live-streaming is that a host can interact with their audience in real-time. If your stream quality is so low that there’s a time delay, that opportunity is gone.

rct2
CLICK TO ENLARGE. This is a side-by-side comparison to display what my stream showed (left) to what I saw (right). Major difference. There are more comparisons posted at the end of this article.

Step Three: Be entertaining.

The thing that surprised me most about live-streaming gaming videos is just how fun it is! But, it’s also more work than you’d expect. While there’s a wide range out there in the types of gaming videos available, I prefer to watch a host make insightful comments about either the game or their thought-process while playing it. How much narration is required depends largely on what kind of game is being played. Action games lend themselves well to video format because it’s usually very apparent to the viewer what you, the game are doing. There’s enough happening on screen that it’s obvious what you’re reacting to and why you’re making decisions. Slower paced games like Rollercoaster Tycoon, SimGolf, or Company of Heroes, typically require more thinking on the part of the player. It’s not always apparent from gameplay what the host is thinking about a given situation, so it’s up to the host to communicate his thought process to the viewer. A good host can make up for lackluster gameplay, but some games are better watched with the help of editing and condensed length.

Streaming and creating video content is a lot of fun, but it isn’t for everyone. If you don’t possess the capability to create a technically sound stream, you’ll probably cause nothing but frustration for yourself and your viewers. Streaming may not be a good fit if you’re not comfortable talking about your gaming or laughing at yourself. Aside from the three points mentioned above, my only advice is to relax and have fun with it. In my case, I lack the upload speed to make streaming feasible, so I’m going to make videos offline and upload pre-recorded material to my YouTube channel. Stay tuned!

Bonus: Screenshot gallery comparing live stream to direct recordings:

coh

soma dark-souls darksoulsb

 

 

Giving Peace a Chance

[…] I’m going to try and avoid “video game violence” for a month. It’s not my goal to make any kind of a statement by avoiding any particular games. Rather my pledge is simply a response to an observation that most of my preferred games focus on destruction. I want to go a month focused on construction. I want to build some worlds instead of tearing them down.

In my previous article, I pledged to go the month of September avoiding games where “acting as an agent of violence is not the main focus.” As August rapidly draws to a close I now have to figure out what exactly I meant. Working off the assumptions most people make, avoiding violent video games should be a pretty straightforward affair. Especially after some informal polling revealed the common perception of what constitutes a violent video game: guns, explosions, blood, and guts. Four things I love in in a video game and I’ve got to go a month without them. But perhaps it’s more complicated than that. Before I can go a month without something, I have to define exactly what it is I’m supposed to avoid. My pledge is to avoid violence, not just shooters. To help in my quest I turn to the ever-present Google to help me define what, exactly, violence is:


Violence
vi·o·lence
ˈvī(ə)ləns
noun

  1. behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something


So as it turns out, virtual violence can involve quite a bit more than pulling the trigger of a virtual gun. There are scores of games that not only allow, but require and encourage the player to engage in willful acts of violence in order to progress through the game. The majority of games which I tend to play operate off some setup where the player is directly responsible for violent actions within a game. That is to say, the player exhibits control of an in-game entity to inflict some kind of action at a one to one ratio with the control scheme. First-person shooters are a good example of this, where specific control inputs from the player result in weapon discharges. Controls in fighting games result in various kicks, punches, or other methods of attack. The same principle applies to games where the player controls a vehicle, be it a combat simulation or an aggressive racing event. Defined as such, Burnout: Paradise qualifies as violent since the player is actively encouraged to use his vehicle to damage, disable, and destroy his opponents. But what about games where the player doesn’t directly carry out violent acts? Is a first-person shooter any more or less violent than strategy games which allow you to control scores of troops in large-scale battles? Is it still violence when clicks of a mouse order dozens or hundreds of digital soldiers to go and wipe out dozens or hundreds of enemy troops? If violence can be simply defined as willful intent to cause damage to something, then the vast majority of video games can be classified as violent.

COH2 Generic
“Virtual men, go blow some stuff up!”

Perhaps player intent, and not just the intent of the game developers, can make the difference between certain games being violent or not. When I was a teenager I used to play a licensed NASCAR racing game. NASCAR done right is about as non-violent as you could get. Big blocky cars get on a track and make left-hand turns for hours. No violence there! My teenage brain grew bored of such things very quickly and soon demanded that I drive against the flow of traffic and try to wreck as many cars as possible before my own was battered beyond repair. Because I abused the intention of the game, I turned a non-violent racing game into a carnage simulator. Kerbal Space Program is a sandbox universe where you build giant rockets to explore. Sometimes, you just want to see what happens when you crash a rocket ship into a building! Instruments of science become vehicles of destruction. Even the bright and cheery Roller Coaster Tycoon, one of the more joyous games I’ve ever played, contains death and destruction. Roller coaster crashes, resulting either from poor design or malevolence, fill your screen with large explosions and numerous deaths.

And I’m going to try and avoid all that for a month. Not only am I going to shun games which encourage violence, I’m going to play non-violent games properly in order avoid causing violent events if at all possible. It’s not my goal to make any kind of a statement by avoiding any particular games. Rather my pledge is simply a response to an observation that most of my preferred games focus on destruction. I want to go a month focused on construction. I want to build some worlds instead of tearing them down. I want to discover a story, not shoot my way through it. After many years of training my brain to know that video games are all about blowing stuff up, I’m giving myself a reminder that gaming is also about creating and exploring wonders.

openrct2 2016-08-29 07-02-14-15
Building a roller coaster with a jump in the tracks and naming it “Death Trap!” does not qualify as an act of non-violent creation.

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 GOG.com – $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!” Continue reading “Rollercoaster Tycoon”