Hands-on with Coaster Crazy - Frontier's latest roller coaster ride
Crazy in love with Frontier's ace new iOS coaster-building title
When it comes to theme park games, no one does 'em quite like Frontier Developments.
With a decade of experience tinkering with the acclaimed Thrillville and Rollercoaster Tycoon franchises under its belt, it's fair to say that what the Frontier team doesn't know about roller coasters isn't worth knowing.
Unbelievably, it's been almost five years since Thrillville: Off The Rails was released, which makes the upcoming arrival of Frontier's next title, Coaster Crazy, even more pressing.
Due for release on iOS platforms "this autumn" (or, fall if you're that way inclined), this freemium title brings the theme park genre to the touchscreen generation, with a wonderfully intuitive interface that lets you draw the puke-inducing tracks of your wicked dreams.
As Frontier CEO David Braben explains, the aim in Coaster Crazy is to make the ultimate coasters, ride them in full 3D, and then make them even better.Dive in
Once you're fully clued up on the rotate-and-zoom basics of touch-based control, you're ready to dive into one of the game's 30 challenges.
In each of these, one of the game's big-headed, boggle-eyed 'Crazies' will demand that you satisfy his particular needs. So, you have to design that particular course with a set of objectives in mind.
"There's a puzzle element to it," Braben explains, "But, what that's doing is highlighting all the different aspects of the game to satisfy different kinds of people."
"The speed freak just wants fast coasters, whereas the old lady is probably a little bit more timid, so might not like to do loop the loops or something like that," chief creative officer Johnny Watts says.
"What ends up happening is that you have to balance their needs, and that's where the challenge comes in - making sure that you have a coaster that satisfies whoever's sitting in the car," Watts adds.
Breakfast time, again
In addition, you have to be mindful of keeping overall excitement levels as high as possible, while also ensuring that your passengers don't regurgitate this morning's breakfast en route.
But, the watchword of Coaster Crazy is undeniably 'accessibility', as Braben says. "It's the whole pick-up-and-play thing. You can have the game in front of you, and literally a few minutes later you're comfortably making quite impressive coasters given how little you knew only a minute earlier."
It's a point that Frontier chief operating officer David Walsh picks up on: "I think every roller coaster game that we've made has always been a progression to accessibility, and we've put a ton of work into this game. I think we've got a new type of coaster game."
As a result of this "sweet" accessibility, Coaster Crazy will be a tinkerer's paradise, OCD types will be pleased to learn. "It's surprising how rewarding tinkering is, just to get that slightly higher score," Braben says.
"You can just draw the shape you want, and you can adjust it after the event. This way, you can get very very close to do what you want. You can say, 'I want that bank a tiny bit steeper, or just that little bit faster down there'. So that you get the timing just so," he adds.
But, these fine adjustments won't just help you obtain a better score - they'll make you the envy of your friends, thanks to the game's online leaderboards.
Furthermore, you will be able to download and ride one another's coasters to find out exactly how your buddy managed to pull off such feats of physics, and then go back and keep tinkering with your own creation until you're happy with it.
Like any socially minded game these days, you'll also gain financial benefits from visiting and riding one another's creations.
The whole process of creating coasters is remarkably straightforward. Laying down tracks is as simple as just drawing whatever circuit you want with your index finger - a process that takes seconds.
And once you've got the basic shape down, all that's required is for you to make simple adjustments by touching the relevant on-screen icons, such as height or banking angle.
The genius of this approach means anyone can do it, and it makes it nigh-on foolproof. The way the game's automatic camera zooms out to give you the best possible view when you're building takes a lot of the guesswork out of what you're doing, too. As a result, the incessant tinkering required to make a profitable, successful coaster becomes a fun part of the process, rather than a tedious, fiddly chore.Wild wood
According to Watts, Coaster Crazy will also boast a fair bit of depth and longevity beyond solving the game's challenges.
"Once you've completed [certain] levels, it unlocks new types of coaster. Then, you can go through those levels again building your wooden coasters - [these] are a little bit trickier to build because the cars can't stay on the track round some of the tight corners, and so you have to tweak all your designs and things like that, so the complexity gradually increases," Watt says.
The game will also deliver a series of daily challenges. "These can be anything from building a coaster of X length, or using a certain special piece," Watts adds.Money talks
Since Coaster Crazy is a freemium game, Frontier is acutely aware that it needs to strike a fine balance between actually monetising the game and providing enough content for players to happily part with their cash when required.
"When you play a game and fall in love with it, you want to be able to play it," Braben says.
"If you compare some of the games out there, things like DragonVale, for example, what I like about those is although it is monetised, it's not in your face. So, there's a delicate balance.
"But, ultimately, from the perspective of a developer, we need to be able to make money from it, so we're doing it in a way that is most comfortable for the user, and happens at a time when the user is happy to pay.
"I mean, I certainly am happy once I've got a lot out of the game. Some games I play an awful lot and think, 'Oh, I haven't paid anything yet'. There's a balance there and I'm hoping we will get it right and it's not in your face, so that a lot of people will play," Braben adds.
With Coaster Crazy entering its final few weeks of iOS development, thoughts are already turning towards porting it to other platforms. Although Braben stopped short of confirming it for Android, he did state, "If it's successful [on iOS], obviously we'll look elsewhere."
Coaster Crazy is coming to iOS platforms "before Christmas". Check back soon for more news on Frontier's new title.
In the meantime, watch our video interview with the entire Frontier team below. And watch our one-on-one interview with David Braben just below that: