Premature Evaluation: Parkitect

After a couple hours of tinkering and revising, I’ve almost got a decent amusement park in Parkitect, Texel Raptor’s pseudo-remake of Rollercoaster Tycoon. Most of the rides are full or at least half-full, I have a cool rollercoaster or two that are drawing a lot of customers, and I’m turning a handsome profit every month. It’s a good-enough park, and the customers who walk back out through the gates feel like they got what they came for, but with a little more care and convenience it could be great. Not unlike Parkitect itself.

Parkitect takes most of its cues from the original Rollercoaster Tycoon, which means it’s effectively two games in one. On one level it’s a lighthearted, lightweight business-management game about building, maintaining, and expanding a profitable theme park. On another level, which only tangentially relates to that first game, it’s a rollercoaster construction kit, where you build a variety of different rides in a variety of different styles, customizing each twist, dip, and dive to make sure it’s giving riders the experience you—not necessarily they—want.

There are, of course, the kind of weird, macabre touches you’d expect from a game that works so hard to channel Rollercoaster Tycoon. The first person to ride my Alpine rollercoaster was a little bald kid in a blue shirt and baseball cap that looked almost exactly like that awful Caillou character, which meant I hated him on sight.

Fortunately, I hadn’t done any safety tests of the new coaster, which was really just a test of my own ability to design and build my own coaster using Parkitect’s layout tools. It wasn’t a great ride, limited both by the simplistic engineering of the Alpine design template and my own inexperience with the tools, but it had a few big drops and steadily built-up speed through a series of downward corkscrews on the back-half of the track. Caillou Two started making little cheering noises as he went through one of the long banked turns at over 40 km/h.

Something I hadn’t noticed, while I was building my coaster, was a cryptic little rectangular button with a red dot on it. Later, when I hovered over it, I would discover that the button was for “braking” segments to slow the ride down. But I’d just been focused on making sure that the end of the ride connected with the start so that the loop would close neatly. I figured that the ride would simply end when the car pulled back into the boarding station. Which, in a manner of speaking, it did.

I don’t know how fast Caillou-Two was going when he entered the final turn and then hit the final, steep dive back into the boarding station (I’d miscalculated my slopes and needed to shed a few more meters of elevation in order to complete the circuit). What I do know is that the car slammed violently into the loading area at full-speed. With a loud pop, Caillou disappeared.

The ride’s holy mission now complete, I added some braking near the end of the ride which ensured that all future riders, who were good people and not insufferable toddlers, were able to complete their rides safely and get back to spending money in my amusement park. Editing the ride, however, further underscored the fussiness of the construction interface that had caused my first design to go so lethally astray. It’s possible I missed some nuances to the system, but the coarse-grained elevation controls meant that the slightest change in one segment usually throws-off the the rest of the track as you attempt to re-connect the new section with the old. Even when it looks like you’ve succeeded and the model looks seamless, the game will register a break in the track and you’ll watch rollercoaster cars inexplicably derail time and again. I would have killed for some kind of automatic “splice segments” button that could have done the job instead.

Still, there weren’t any repercussions for killing a rider. In fact, I didn’t get the sense that the game had even taken note of the fact that a character appeared to have perished on one of my rides. I understand that a game like Parkitect cannot and should not punish the slightest error with immediate reprisals, like a fully-justified wrongful-death lawsuit, but I also feel like after watching Caillou Two wink out of existence like he’d just been Raptured, people would have at least thought twice about staying in the queue.

In fact, Parkitect has an overall problem with push-back that I find in a lot of modern sandbox construction games. Again, it’s understandable: death-spirals aren’t fun (unless they involve a trainload of helpless rollercoaster passengers) and it would be easy for players to paint themselves into a corner.

It is perhaps more satisfying game design for most people to avoid punishing players in favor of lavishing rewards on strong play, but I found the feedback vague enough that it made it hard to assess my own efforts. The people visiting my theme park were only too happy to waste time in mediocrity. It didn’t really matter where I was putting the trash bins, or where the mechanics were assigned, or whether there was a decent flow between the rides. When my park really sucked, people were moderately bored and peeved. When it was mildly crap, people sort-of enjoyed themselves. When it was decent, they spent a little more money. In any case, visitors seemed to stick around, and park attendance continued to rise.

I think one reason that Cities: Skylines turned everyone into a planning-obsessed traffic engineer is because gridlock was one of the few ways the game really highlighted failure and inefficiency. For the most part, people didn’t seem to much care where they lived or where they worked, and would continue to arrive either way, but you could at least tell when businesses couldn’t move their goods out of the industrial districts, or when nobody could reach the shopping districts because congestion was too bad. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it at least gave players something to strive for: effective transit.

Right now, I’m not sure Parkitect really has a similar hook for the perfectionist. Visitors enjoy bad coasters and good ones alike, so there’s not much incentive to fine-tune a design unless you’re really obsessed with lowering a ride’s footprint or unleashing special torment. Visitors will find their way to shops, and employees will find their way to their jobs provided you have enough of them, so the business kind of runs itself. In its sandbox mode, at least, Parkitect is an enjoyable game about planning and design undercut by systems that don’t require enough of either.

Parkitect is available on Steam, but your stack must be at least this tall for this ride: £13.59 / $24.99. My impressions are based on build 1154835 on 14 June 2016.

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  1. tehfish says:

    I do feel really sorry for these guys.

    Had they have gotten to this stage about a year or so ago, i’d be following this with great interest. But comparing this to the other theme park sim in development, planet coaster, this looks incredibly half-arsed and basic in comparison…

    Reasonable game here, but legendarily bad timing for it.

    • froz says:

      One major difference I’ve seen is that it seems to be extremely easy to add new items to Parkitect (as in modding), because the game’s graphic style is so much simpler then the realistic-looking competition. And I like that art style, it’s a little nostalgic (but it is full 3d nevertheless). For some reason Planet Coaster seems very bland in comparison.

      Other difference, as far as I can tell without playing any of the games, just watching videos and so on, is that Parkitect is going to be more focused on the management side (things like maintenance paths, delivering goods to shops, more advanced stuff management etc.). Planet Coaster seems to be focusing so much on visuals that don’t interest me that much, I haven’t seen anything about management side about it (yet). There might be more planned for that part of the game too, it’s just my impression so far.

      • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

        @froz Well I can tell you from someone who has played both games, Planet Coaster is a million miles from bland. The level of detail and customization that can be put into the decorations is ABSURD. There is only one overarching theme at the moment (Pirate, YARRR) I’m guessing that since it’s in alpha there will be more themes added, rides will follow, but even what the game has now is just bananas. Once this game has a full release, it will be by far and away the best park management sim, if not THE best management sim ever created. I have enjoyed Parkitect, it’s a very cute game with a wicked sense of humour, but PC blows it out of the water in every other way (imho of course).

        And for balance: No I don’t work for Frontier, Elite was shit :)

        • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

          Oh and it’s worth mentioning that micromanagement hasn’t been implemented in Planet Coaster yet, which is why you don’t see comparable features in that area between the two games. But it will have them next phase of the alpha which I guess will be out in around a month.

    • Hobbes says:

      It’s not basic, but it’s still very much a work in progress, this one is still very much in Alpha. One big difference you’ll find between this and Frontier’s offering is this one you can play without being permanently tethered to the internet. I’ve managed to get it running in Wine on an Nvidia shield (My Shield runs full fat Kali as opposed to android), so it’s pretty much something you can run on anything anywhere.

      Great fun for when I’m away from the PC or otherwise not located near a Wi-Fi spot I can tap into. After the smoking wreckage that was Elite Dangerous I’m more of a mind to go with games that are more modest in scope and -deliver- as opposed to ride high on the coattails of nostalgia and then come out somewhat underbaked.

  2. froz says:

    From what I know, those things are simply not yet implemented in game. At least I hope so, the game does look very good so far.

    • Sebioff says:

      Yup, challenge/scenarios/balance are pretty much the biggest areas that need more work, just about to get started with that . Thanks! :)

  3. Lightbringer says:

    So … why exactly should I play this and not just fire up the original RC3?

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      cpt_freakout says:

      Or RC2, for that matter…

    • Sebioff says:

      Because it adds a bunch of stuff the RCT series didn’t have of course :) Just like RCT was inspired by Theme Park and added new elements to it this game extends on what RCT1/2 offered.

    • The First Door says:

      The reason I’m keeping an eye on it is because of the promise of having more interesting staff management. Stores need to be restocked with someone picking up the stock from the front gates and delivering it to individual stores, for example, and I believe they are putting in staff rooms and things like that.

      What I really like though, is the idea employee only paths, so you can design a park where employees can sneak around behind the scenes without ruining the magic of your park by reminding your visitors of the poor, tired people working there!

  4. Laini says:

    I definitely have had problems with the coaster tracks not lining up quite right.
    It’s pretty frustrating when it looks like it should work and just doesn’t but actually fixing it can take ages, especially if you have something specific in mind.

    Still even at this early stage it’s a lot of fun. I think I’m looking forward to Planet Coaster more and RCT3 is probably my favourite of the three original games but more theme park sims is never bad in my book.
    Plus it’s just funny how both of them blow RCTW out of the water =p