It’s not too often that you see the hopes of an entire fanbase wedged between a couple of games. The wide world that is gaming typically offers up a lot more choice than that.
But for fans of theme park builders, fans are putting their weight behind three future titles, although the weight of expectation is really behind two: RollerCoaster Tycoon World (RCTW) and Planet Coaster.
Guess which one just pulled ahead.
The inadvertent competition came from the fact that Atari and Nvizzio jumped out of the gate with a new trailer just ahead of an hour-long stream for Planet Coaster. It played to perhaps RCTW’s biggest strength: user-generated content, native Steam Workshop integration, and a plug-in that allows users to import assets directly from Unity.
I spoke to RCTW’s director Matt Labunka about it last month and he was pretty proud of the feature. And it’s kind of a no-brainer, really: if you want any kind of builder-type game to succeed in the modern market, your UGC integration needs to be on point.
But there are a few problems with what Atari opted to show off above. It’s difficult to get fans excited when the frame rate on your promotional videos is sketchy. It’s a bit of a running theme, with their video for the Alienware Coaster Contest suffering similar hitches.
Atari and Nvizzio are continuing to optimise the game, mind you, so what’s currently published might not be indicative of the final build. But if you’re showing off less than buttery smooth footage in your promotional material, what are fans going to expect? And that’s on top of some of the scathing criticism from the first beta phase, which included NerdCubed describing the game as “a piece of shit cash-in, much like the mobile [RollerCoaster Tycoon game]”.
So that’s the RCTW footage. Roughly an hour later, Frontier Developments uploaded the VOD of their Planet Coaster livestream. It’s basically an hour-long Q&A with the game’s art director, John Laws, and community manager Edward Lewis.
Things aren’t all rosy with Planet Coaster yet, of course. For an hour-long livestream, Frontier didn’t show off a single unbroken sequence of gameplay, only pre-rendered videos. They did qualify that the footage was all in pre-alpha, but it’s still hard to praise the quality of something until you see it live in action.
That might not be too far away though: Laws made a comment about how the alpha of Planet Coaster was being designed to be robust enough for people “to really enjoy playing with”. Access to the alpha is currently being sold as part of the Early Bird pass through Frontier’s website, although after what happened with the Elite: Dangerous conversion users might be advised to wait until they can purchase the game through Steam.
The real kicker in the teeth — and differentiator — for many will be the optimisation, though. Some users have speculated that RCTW’s struggles with Unity aren’t too dissimilar from the performance issues Kerbal Space Program had early on, thanks to the amount of physics that needed to be calculated in the back-end.
It’s impossible to say whether that’s affecting RCTW at all, although the calculations affecting rides and the AI of the peeps obviously wouldn’t be done in a heartbeat. Planet Coaster’s dealing with the same issues too — feature wise, it’s very difficult to split them apart at this stage — but Frontier does at least have the benefit of Frontier’s in-house Cobra Engine, which was also used for Elite: Dangerous.
That engine works well. But we haven’t seen it working live for Planet Coaster yet. And that’s why the headline isn’t the more pun-happy “knocks out of the park”. RCTW isn’t due out before the end of the quarter either; Planet Coaster is expected to ship towards the end of the year, with Frontier scheduled to make an announcement about the game on March 15 Australian time.