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RollerCoaster Tycoon World's focus on freedom makes it exciting

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Play the way you want to

It's been a long time since we've seen a proper RollerCoaster Tycoon game.

The last one, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, was released in October 2004. Since then, Atari has published two smaller-scale entries in the franchise, both of which were panned: RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D on Nintendo 3DS in 2012, and RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile on Android and iOS in 2014. At the launch of the iOS version, Atari announced that it was working on bringing the franchise back to computers.

Atari unveiled RollerCoaster Tycoon World in August 2014, promising a game that would "[stay] true to the storied franchise." At the time, the publisher planned to release the game in "early 2015." Since then, Atari has ditched RollerCoaster Tycoon World's original developer as well as a second, following a negative reaction to a trailer based on that studio's work. Montreal-based Nvizzio Creations came on board in mid-2015 and got the project back on track, although after setting a December release date, Atari had to push the game back to early 2016.

Today marks a major step for Atari and Nvizzio with the first public release of RollerCoaster Tycoon World — in alpha form on Steam Early Access, with plenty of work yet to be done. Still, the skeleton of the game is promising, with all kinds of features that RollerCoaster Tycoon fans would likely expect from a modern entry in the franchise. In particular, RollerCoaster Tycoon World is marked by a spirit of freedom, making it more possible than ever to build the theme park of your dreams.

RollerCoaster Tycoon World screenshot 02 1920

RollerCoaster Tycoon World is broken up into three modes of play: campaign, scenario and sandbox. The campaign mode is designed to introduce newcomers to the basics of the RollerCoaster Tycoon series and teach them how to play. The scenario mode offers challenges of varying difficulty in which you have to meet specific goals, like turning around a failing park. But sandbox mode is the heart of the game, offering multiple settings where you can set up shop and start building whatever you want.

We saw a demo of RollerCoaster Tycoon World at Atari's offices earlier this month, with executive producer Matt Labunka walking us through an early version of the game. Labunka explained that after the disastrous trailer that Area 52 Games — the game's second developer — released in March 2015, Atari told Nvizzio Creations to go for an art style that "looks believable" but still represents "something you could only do in a game." The look of RollerCoaster Tycoon World strikes that balance well, falling somewhere near The Sims on the spectrum between photorealistic and cartoonish.

"There are no right angles in this game if you don't want them"

Labunka began on an empty map to note that while the starting area is small, you can buy more land around your initial park to expand outward. (Of course, you can go big from the beginning if you're playing with unlimited money turned on.) RollerCoaster Tycoon World comes with three maps in its $49.99 Standard Edition; the $59.99 Deluxe Edition includes two additional maps, a digital art book and other items.

The freedom we mentioned earlier is a fundamental facet of the game's toolset. We watched as Labunka dragged the mouse cursor around to place a walkway leading away from the park's entrance in whatever direction he wanted. Paths in RollerCoaster Tycoon World can curve — a first in the history of the series — and another change from previous entries in the franchise is that by default, the underlying grid is disabled. This allows you to place objects, paths, buildings and natural features wherever and however your heart desires; they won't snap to a grid.

"There are no right angles in this game if you don't want them," Labunka said, noting that players can choose to enable the grid if they prefer that guidance. (You can check out a clip of building a pond in the video below.)

Next, Labunka showed us RollerCoaster Tycoon World's terrain deformation tool. It works as you would expect, allowing you to adjust the ground upward or downward. It's easy to turn depressions in the land into ponds, since you can click to have water automatically fill in areas that are below ground level. Paths will stick to land wherever it goes, so you can make undulating walkways that change with the elevation of the land.

After messing around with those elements, Labunka began plopping down some attractions in his empty theme park. Categories of rides include "junior," "senior" and thrill rides, so yes, there's plenty of other stuff besides roller coasters. If you do want to construct a coaster, you'll have a dizzying array of options: 10 different types, like old-school wooden structures and more modern designs such as inverted roller coasters. And of course, you can customize colors for all the parts of these rides.

the free-form editor lets you build in 3D

The most significant innovation that RollerCoaster Tycoon World brings to the table, according to Labunka, is its spline-based track editor. Instead of the old method of building a track one piece at a time — this piece is straight, and the next one curves to the right — the free-form editor lets you build in 3D to create any kind of path and shape you can think of. It still has to abide by the laws of physics, of course; you can't have a 90-degree turn in the track. But the game does all that math in real time, visually conveying information such as how tight you can make a corkscrew across a particular distance. (The piece-by-piece editor is available if you'd rather stick with that method.)

You'll be able to test your rides with park guests, or "peeps," to see if the coasters can complete a run without any cars flying off the track. RollerCoaster Tycoon World offers a first-person camera for every coaster type, letting you get a rider's-eye view of your own creations. You can also get down to ground level and see your park from the perspective of a peep.

	RollerCoaster Tycoon World screenshot 04 1920

Peeps are a major part of RollerCoaster Tycoon World, with upgraded AI that makes them behave kind of like Sims. The game measures seven attributes like "hunger," "boredom" and "bathroom" for every single peep in your park. Individual peeps also have their own preferences for themes and cuisine, so some of them will gravitate toward sci-fi attractions and Italian food while others would rather enjoy Western-themed rides.

In essence, each peep has their own thoughts and needs, and you can take care of them with attractions, concessions, and even medical and janitorial peep services. If that's not enough data for you to consider, the game also offers graphs about your park finances and other managerial information. Labunka noted that much of those deeper simulation features are optional in the sandbox mode, so if you want to focus solely on building an awesome theme park, you don't have to sweat the small stuff.

"You don't really lose in this game," said Labunka. "You just do better if you partake in the micromanagement stuff."

"You don't really lose in this game"

RollerCoaster Tycoon World will offer social features like the ability to share your created roller coasters and even your full parks with other players. And a major element of the game is its support of user-generated content through the Steam Workshop. You'll need 3D modeling software that works with the Unity engine, like Maya or Blender, so this feature will require a bit of technical expertise. But once you've designed something, you can upload it for anyone to use.

At today's Early Access launch, the game supports user-made scenery objects like lampposts and benches. Eventually, Nvizzio and Atari plan to allow for user-created peeps and much more. The companies also have other plans for post-Early Access additions to RollerCoaster Tycoon World, such as tunnels, indoor dark rides (think Space Mountain), custom-built structures for the piece-by-piece editor, and weather.

Atari isn't setting a release window for the final game at this point, which is probably a wise decision considering RollerCoaster Tycoon World's tumultuous development history. The game will remain in Early Access until its makers feel that it's ready for prime time. The high cost of entry likely means that only die-hard RollerCoaster Tycoon fans will want to buy in at this point. But those who do will find something that already seems to be a pretty full-featured game, and it seems like anyone who's interested will be able to play the way they want to.