Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 - The Impact of Creative Freedom
Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Like many who enjoy video games to a greater extent, I find myself from time to time feeling nostalgic towards the games I would get lost in when I was younger. This is by no means to say there aren't modern games I find myself getting lost in, but rather to suggest that the nostalgia is reflective of a meaningful impact that a gaming experience had in the past. For many, it's simply an experience that shaped their deep-rooted love for video games. For game developers such as myself, these games holding nostalgia are many times some of the core experiences that sparked the drive to be involved in the creative process we call game development. I'd like to bring attention to one important game in my nostalgia, Roller Coaster Tycoon 2, the amusement park management simulator which I believe has a huge impact on the player's creativity.
I've sunk hours into many similar games including other amusement park based titles, such as Planet Coaster and other installments in the Roller Coaster Tycoon franchise, so why this one specifically?
Funnily enough, there exists a loyal base of players who feel a great amount of nostalgia towards the game as well (which resulted in the open-source expanded version of the game, OpenRCT2 Project). There's so much to discuss if looking for specific features that draw players back to the game, but I'd like to attribute the bulk of the game's appeal to its underlying system of crafting parks. Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 offers more flexibility than the first title, and gives players significant freedom of grid-based building through isometric projection. Later, Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 shifted the series' building mechanics "off the grid", allowing for a looser freedom of positioning objects within your park. While important to the genre as a whole, I believe the restrictions of grid-based construction are what led me to be so quickly hooked on the game, as well as grow in a creative sense that I've only started to acknowledge through my nostalgic reflection of the game.
In the time I heavily played Roller Coaster Tycoon 2, I was a young kid who also very much enjoyed playing with Lego (My Lego obsession wasn't exclusive to just this age, but no reason to dive into that here as it would derail this post to an in-depth Bionicle thesis). Looking back, the similarities between Lego building abilities and construction along a grid-based system was a huge translation from non-digital activities to game mechanics.
When considering the translation of skills inside and outside a game, the first thought is usually ways in which mechanics can instill real-life skills and/or knowledge to players. This is especially important in the design of serious games, as engaging gameplay can leverage important topics for the player to utilize outside the experience. I believe that the translation of players bringing skills from outside the game into mechanics is equally as important though when designing any engaging game. Much of this ties into really knowing your target audience when designing a game. While it's unlikely Chris Sawyer, the developer of Roller Coaster Tycoon, established a target audience of young kids who asked only for Lego sets on Christmas, he definitely designed the "Tycoon" experience around a love for creativity in utilizing set pieces to construct something bigger. This is apparent through the persistent players who still eagerly show off custom rides and parks to others, and in the way I was able to so quickly immerse myself in the game at a young age of enjoying Lego building.
If you've read this far, you hopefully remember me mentioning the notion of gameplay experiences from the youth inspiring some to journey into game development. So how did pouring hours into Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 play a role in my drive to design games? It's quite simple - designing in-game parks was a way I could digitally engage in level design and the iterative process that makes up the practice. Level design in game development requires blocking out areas that you can then put in front of players to gauge their enjoyment, which is very similar to building up pieces of a park and evaluating in-game guests' enjoyment of your creations. Giving this creative freedom to players is especially significant and is a huge reason for the success of games such as Minecraft, Fornite and Roblox among a younger audience.
The main conclusions I want to draw from this reflection are the importance of translating skills from gameplay to real-world abilities (and vice-versa), and the impact of giving players creative freedom. The opportunity to craft in-game elements driven by players' creativity has proven to be effective in building engagement (especially important in the design of serious games). Additionally, gifting that freedom builds a sense of trust between the designer and players. This isn't to suggest that building mechanics are the most effective route for every design goal, but rather a very significant one that can be utilized in engaging the player. Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 was definitely effective in that area and I can't thank the game enough for the huge impact it had towards my youth in both giving me a platform to express creativity, and greatly contributing to my love for crafting digital experiences.