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‘SimCoaster’ is all business–almost

Coaster construction takes a back seat to the bottom line. Games hed: ‘SimCoaster’ is all business-almost dek: coaster construction takes a back seat to the bottom line.

Maybe you’ve never wanted to run your own business. Maybe you hate roller coasters. Both statements are true in my case, yet I got a lot of enjoyment (though not an overwhelming amount) from EA Games’ “SimCoaster” –a wildly popular game in which the player is put in charge of building and maintaining a huge amusement park.

SimCoaster is the third in a series of amusement-park-themed business simulators that began with 1994’s “Theme Park.” The main difference is that “SimCoaster” concentrates less on the fine points of ride design and more on the business aspects of running a park.

And those aspects are plentiful, to say the least. You will plan the layout of the park, hire staff, keep the books, deal with problem employees and unruly patrons–in short, all the glamour of running a real business. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? In fact, it really wasn’t for me; I encounter all the grown-up problems I care for during the course of the day. But my eight-year-old? I literally had to tear him away from “SimCoaster” after a long Sunday of play. Turns out playing grown-up can be fun-especially when it comes to things like firing a worker who’s not pulling his weight, or giving the heave-ho to a rowdy teenager.

That, among other things, makes “SimCoaster” great for kids. You begin play as a humble employee of a theme-park management company, and work your way through the ranks. In doing so, you get promoted, earn stock options, gain more responsibility, and pick up such perks as access to special rides. It’s hard to imagine lessons about the rewards of hard work coming in a more entertaining package for kids.

The main source of fun in “SimCoaster” is the construction of the rides-and around them, paths, shops, decorative features, and sideshows. And a key element in your success is what you put where–and in what portions. If you don’t figure out a way to divert people to the most profitable attractions–and figure out the right times to raise prices and increase staff–your little amusement empire could come crashing down. You want to make sure your guests are always on rides or spending money and that they always have an easy time getting from one fun (profit-generating) place to the next. To help you do so, you can use a “camcorder” feature to walk around and check out the happenings from ground level.

Another plus for beginners is the presence of a talking guide in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. The guide will pop up whenever there’s a hint she feels you should know about to make your park run more smoothly–such as putting a path between a ride and a concession stand. You can make her disappear if you want, but you might be sacrificing some valuable advice in the process.

But the rides to be built in this game are not as elaborate as the ones in its predecessor, “SimTheme Park,” a change that has roused the ire of some gamers. A conscious decision was made to play up the business-administration angle of “SimCoaster” at the expense of the rides. If you buy “SimCoaster” expecting the ornateness of the attractions to be ratcheted up from the level of”SimTheme Park,” you might be in for a disappointment.

In short, “SimCoaster” is a game that should be enjoyed by all ages, but might not be. There might not be enough action for some gamers, and the focus on dollars and cents might bore some youngsters. But for those with an entrepreneurial bent (and a passion for amusement parks), “SimCoaster” will offer a great ride.

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