‘Planet Coaster’ Impressions – The Return of the Roller Coaster Sim


Planet Coaster is a roller coaster and theme park simulation game being developed by UK studio Frontier Developments, which consists of several former members of the team behind genre classic RollerCoaster Tycoon 3. It’s been nearly 12 years since that game came out, so fans are clamoring for a robust theme park simulation experience for PC.

Planet Coaster Alpha (3)

I was recently given a demo of the game by John Laws, the Director of Art for Planet Coaster. Although the game is still in an early alpha state, from what I saw the developers have been making the most of their time since Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, and are looking to take some lessons learned from previous projects and use them to once again create a benchmark for the genre.

The goal of any good theme park sim is simple: Build a park that is fun and entertaining in order to keep your customers happy so that they spend us much money as possible. Use that money to upgrade your park to attract more customers who then spend more money. Make tweaks to maximize cash flow. Rinse. Repeat.

Planet Coaster Alpha (2)

There are two main components integral to games such as Planet Coaster: Creation and Management. Depending on the type of player you are, you will either be spending countless hours shaping and creating new worlds and attractions, or tweaking every aspect of your park down to the smallest detail in order to maximize profits. I tend to favor the latter, leaving the creation heavy lifting to devs or community members.

The demo I was given focused primarily on the creation side of the game, although Laws assured me that the simulation systems were being addressed in future builds, and that the game would be the deepest park simulation ever seen in the genre. He did walk me through a few early systems such as using signage to steer crowds toward concession stands and attractions, but for the most part, those systems are still being worked on.

The true money-maker of any theme park: concessions.

It makes sense that the early focus has been on getting the creation systems right, since you can’t manage a theme park if there is nothing in your park to manage. I can happily say that based on what I saw, that won’t be an issue. The demo build is already full of a variety of creation tools and assets that will allow you to sculpt every detail of your park, including lights, rides, concession stands, gift shops, and rides.

Even though Frontier has only implemented a fraction of the building materials and themes that will be included in the final product, the community has already been hard at work using what is available to craft some truly impressive buildings and other park features. 

Planet Coaster Alpha (10)

These community creations are a huge part of Planet Coaster. Players will be able to share their creations with other fans and trade things like scenery, buildings, and — the main attraction to many players — roller coasters. Anyone can download these creations and add it to their park as-is, or they can use the creation tools to give each item their own personal touch.

Alpha 2 - Neverland2
Second star to the right, and straight on until profits.

In addition to building your park structures, Planet Coaster contains what may be the most complex and robust terrain sculpting tools I have ever seen in a game. This voxel-based system allows you to reshape the landscape both above and below ground, and then weave your roller coasters and park walkways throughout the environment. These creations don’t necessarily need to obey the laws of physics, either. Laws showed me one pirate-themed park with several free-floating structures filling the sky.

Even though your creations are only limited by your own imagination, any good park still needs a way to get customers circulating throughout the park to stay happy and keep spending their money. All the floating islands in the world aren’t going to do you much good if nobody can reach them. Proper path and walkway layouts are vital to successful parks, and the dev team is spending lots of time revamping these systems in order to get them right. Laws showed me a few minor changes they had made to the tools which should open up a ton of new options for skilled builders, allowing them to use verticality in order to maximize space.

Planet Coaster Alpha (9)
The key to the success of any good amusement park is sidewalks. Who knew?

Given the pedigree of the studio, and the robust creation tools already on display in the alpha, Planet Coaster is shaping up (pun definitely intended) to be one of the most in-depth, empowering theme park simulation experiences of all time. The game is scheduled to be released later this year. In the meantime,  you can sign up and pay for early access to the alpha at the Frontier Store.

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