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David Braben Talks About Rollercoasters

Highs and lows

Featured post Mate, I don't know what you're on about. It's clearly a dinosaur.

“Can I play as the dinosaur?” I ask a slightly jetlagged David Braben as we discuss the just-announced Planet Coaster [official site] after the PC Gaming Show at E3.

“Mmmm. Not at the moment but it’s a nice idea.”

He pauses then adds, “You do realise it’s not actually a dinosaur? It’s a bloke in a suit.”

“We’re done here.”

I consider making good on that and leaving the theatre but I have a few more questions to ask and so we carry on talking. It’s clearly a dinosaur, though.

“We’re very excited about it,” says Braben. He’s talking about the game, not the dinosaur. “We’ve loved the genre, really enjoyed it and want to take it forward.”

His studio, Frontier Developments, was responsible for Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 which came out just over a decade back. He explains that the game is still selling. “We’re still charting ten years later because we really hit it out of the park then and we want to do it again. It’s such a lovely type of game.”

What’s on show in the video isn’t gameplay as that’s only just starting to come together but the reveal uses game models so you can get a feel for the cheery style even if you don’t remember or didn’t play the previous game. As an aside, I also swear I’ve seen at least eight iterations of that main guy wandering the pop-up shops of Dalston and Hackney.

I ask how the game deals with disaster. For the most part this is because I’d put my success level in rollercoaster building games at an optimistic fifty percent (and a realistic thirty twenty eight percent) so it’s directly relevant to my own game experiences. But I’m also asking because rollercoasters periodically feature in headlines and recently this has been for all the wrong reasons. If I remember correctly, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 took the approach that nothing terrible can happen to your guests. It sounds like Planet Coaster will be doing more of the same. “It’s supposed to be friendly,” says Braben. “It’s not going to be a mature game.”

Braben doesn’t want to talk too many specifics but it sounds like the Planet Coaster team are looking at generating different experiences depending on the length of the coaster and where the riders choose to sit.

“One example which I wish we’d done before is you get a very different experience if you ride in the front of the train or if you ride in the back. If you’re doing a loop-the-loop if you’re towards the front you go fast into the loop and then slow down. It’s actually quite a nice experience. If you go in the back you go into the loop and you slow down on the nice flat bit then you whip round. It’s horrible. I hate it!

“The worst is the power lift hill ones where you go up and suddenly it starts picking up speed. If you’re on the front that’s great – slowly over the top and then you accelerate. If you’re at the back you can’t see where you’re going then you suddenly start accelerating and then you’re thrown up against the rests and you’ve lost your bearings by the time you get down the hill.”

“The great thing with that from a design point of view is the length of the train affects the things I’m talking about. You could have one or two cars and then everyone in them gets much the same experience, or you can have wider [coasters] rather than longer.”

Lastly I ask about VR. Rollercoasters have that combination of fast movement and a stable, seated position for the player which suits VR and seems to eliminate a lot of the nausea problems people might experience.

“It’s absolutely something we would look at,” he says, but adds that there are no promises on that front because of how virtual reality technology might develop or alter in the coming months. It’s probably a good idea to hedge bets at this point. I mean the man can’t identify what is CLEARLY a dinosaur so how could I believe a word he says about the future of virtual reality?

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Philippa Warr

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