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Planet Coaster is an interesting demon to behold. It’s vast, complicated and a little daunting at times. While the UI looks about as clean and tidy as a millionaire’s mansion, it doesn’t mean every little function and capability is as easy to pull off as you’d expect.
From the moment you open your park gates to the point where the simulation practically runs itself, you’ll be discovering new ways to build and new solutions to old problems. Let’s take a stab at some of the early ones.
We’ll start with one my favourite ones. Grab a shovel and get used to digging a few holes in the group. The terrain tool in Planet Coaster does a good job of doing most of the hard work itself. Terraforming with a custom ‘brush’ size and strength is strikingly similar to painting in Photoshop - only it’s much easier to get results when you don’t know what you’re doing.
Digging moats around plazas or simply adding a few water features around the park can be the easiest way to tip the scales of customer satisfaction in your favor. You start every Sandbox mode with a long field of nothing, and that’s a lot of room for some ponds for guests to relax around or maybe even a lake for a sea demon to call its home.
To pull of such a feat, you simply need to go tap into the ‘Terrain’ menu in the lower right corner of your screen (by the Path section) and hit the ‘Push’ button. Tweak the Intensity and size of your brush and just practice poking holes in the ground by keeping that left-mouse button pressed down on the unsuspecting dirt or pulling it up by holding the CTRL button as you click.
Once you’re happy with the damage you’ve caused, poke the ‘Water’ icon in the lower-left of your current terrain menu and toy around throwing some liquids in there. Drop a few trees, shrubs and rocks around the body, throw in a park bench and there you have it; a comfortable lake-side resting spot for your guest’s weary legs.
But that’s not even the best part! Thanks to Planet Coaster’s cunning terrain algorithms, you can turn any walkway, resting spot or coaster into an adventurous cave dwelling or twisting tunnel. Guests like a little more than just flying high and falling back to earth with whiplash and a perforated eardrum from the frightened lady behind, so grab the ‘Pull’ tool from the Terrain menu, crank up the size and intensity and make mountains out of those mole-hills. I know that’s not what the phase means, but in the literal sense, we’re lifting the ground up so high it reforms around the coaster rails to make a pretty daring mineshaft.
Pair it with some western-inspired props around the queue, paint the ground a nice rocky colour and you’ve got yourself a fast-paced ride through the mines. Drop the passengers off by a couple of skulls, revolvers and a few charred building props to give off the sense of a gold-rush scuffle and you’ll skyrocket that customer satisfaction chart in no time.
And you know what that means? They’ll pay more for the privilege. Crank up those prices and rake in the steady profits. Just make sure to keep a mechanic nearby. Any time spent waiting on repairs is money lost to the mine.
But forming mountains and lakes like a god needn’t always be for the satisfaction of the customer. Sometimes starring off into the barely-rendered distance can take some of the subtle immersion out of a park.
Some might opt to surround the park with crags like a canyon-based Six Flags, whereas others might simply raise the ground only to smooth it out to use as a plaza with a view. Crank out the ‘Roughen’ tool to turn those green hills into spiny cliffs; or get creative and use those rounded creations to make your park look like The Shire after one of Gandalf’s inebriated visits.
In my first few hours with Planet Coaster I had Hats Fantastic close its doors. My first gift shop - located on the top of a large cliff with several other park facilities - was seemingly just not getting business. Your contracted vendors have feelings much like the park guests themselves. And just how any normal human being might eventually want to move on with their life, so can the heroes of our concessions.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Sure, you can just go ahead and hire a new employee. There’s always someone willing to fill your spot in the crazy job market, anyway. But you’ll be starting with another trainee, when poor Sue, Frank or whoever it is that quit while you read this paragraph could have been your best salesman had you listened to their woes and kept them happy in their line of work.
Though they might not scream for help in the general notice tab like the rest of your regularly scheduled park duties, they’ll certainly give you an earful should you pay them a visit. Increase their pay rate a little and shell out for their own career advancement. A well-trained employee can shoulder more tasks with ease and ultimately make more profit for the whole operation. Just make sure to meet their rates following a good promotion. You wouldn’t like to be given more responsibility without being compensated for the expectations, would you?
This rings especially true for major mark maintenance staff, too. A single janitor can’t keep a whole park clean, but after a little training, he’ll certainly be able to manage a little extra trash. But as the park gets bigger, it’s generally easier to shoulder a little more of the weight on an additional employee. Click into your worker’s tabs and figure out a ‘Work Roster’ to keep the whole team happy. Keep the workload spread out, fair and easy to handle. They’ll thank you with their loyalty in the long run, and you’ll hopefully have less micro-management to handle.
Loans - Economics 101
Despite what your parents taught you through your adolescent years, loans needn’t be a death sentence. Sure, a lot of people use them to keep float only to be eaten alive by high interest rates and essentially biting off more than they can chew. But in Planet Coaster, you’ll come to realise a business loan is oftentimes a necessary evil - or a godsend.
Within Planet Coaster’s finance menu, you’re given the option to borrow the big bucks. While you certainly won’t be needing this function in Sandbox mode - thanks to the unfortunate oversight that is the static unlimited money situation - challenge missions and scenarios often drop you into situations requiring you to manage a park with very little funding at your disposal.
While a simple $1,000 loan might not look like much, it could mean the difference between satisfying your attendees’ need for sustenance or losing them to the KFC joint across the road. Fried chicken is a powerful magnet, and any hungry park walker certainly won’t be opening their purse for a go on the Whirligig on an empty stomach. People go to theme parks to throw up, right? That has to be it.
So don’t be afraid to dip your hand into the proverbial cookie jar once in a while. A small life-line could mean the difference between a park full of customers willing to throw that money back at you 10-fold or a ghost town where even the Chief Beef gal’s smile cracks under the silence. Donald Trump started off with a small loan of $1,000,000 and now he practically rules the world. Funny how things turn out, huh.
Picturesque Props and You
Cast your mind back to the last theme park you visited. Heck, think of any theme park you’ve ever visited. Notice how there’s dozens upon dozens of plastic and mesh props scattered around the place? They all help in that sense of excitement and thrill you feel when you’re walking around a top-quality park. Break open the props menu and start filling in all those blank spots left between your buildings and pathways.
The good thing about Planet Coaster’s people is that they simply don’t care what they’re looking at so long as it’s something a little more exciting than a field off in the distance. There’s dozens upon dozens of props all centered around a number of different themes, and so long as your park denizens have something to look at as they queue for your latest ride, they’ll be much more willing to pay through the nose for the quick hit.
And while it’s absolutely fine to fill out that Queue Satisfaction percentage with a slew of scattered clutter around a ride entrance, for the sake of caring for your own creation, chose a theme and stick with it.
Take the minecart idea from earlier. Though hastily put together within the first few hours of me booting up the game, the wooden coaster took its Western theme from a similar ride from my childhood. Though such a ride doesn’t lend itself to a higher queue rating, the western theme allowed me to break out the caravans and camp fires to decorate the walkway. By the end of my efforts my queue rating was borderlining 50%, allowing me to charge considerably more for the bone-breaking experience for little more than a bout of creative object placement.
And don’t forget to treat the rest of the park in a similar fashion. It might not affect a particular ride’s approval rating, but simply filling in lose gaps around your park’s pathing with trees, rocks and shrubs is sure to help customers feel a little more at ease when it comes to resting their legs with something more than a toilet entrance to look at off in the distance. Take pride in your work, and show off your park’s personality.
The Joy of Movement
Planet Coaster isn’t like a standardised FPS or fast-paced MOBA title. It’s a relaxing venture into the world of business and an exciting apparatus when it comes to flexing those creative muscles. So as your park starts to grow in size, you’ll likely start to feel the on-screen experience grow a little sluggish as time goes on. Those stable frame rates might start to buckle under the pressure of your growing business venture, but that needn’t mean your everyday operations need to slow down with it.
With the help of a few shortcut keys, you won’t have to drag your mouse around the UI quite so much. And the increased speed of your out-going keystrokes can make arduous activities like duplicate prop placement feel a little more tolerable.
For starters, if panning across your park is getting a little tiresome with WASDQE keys alone, you can toggle ‘Free Look’ with a press of the ‘T’ key to unlock heaps more control over the regular park view. Holding ‘Shift’ will grant you vastly superior camera speed allowing you to quickly travel through one side of your park to the next like an eagle soaring overhead, and tilting that mouse wheel only makes it quicker.
It’s not a bad idea to pitch the view a little further down while you’re at it; just to have the trip double-up as a scouting mission through a view similar to that of a park guest. You might just catch something you would have otherwise missed in your usual sky-high view of the land.
And remember, when you’re placing prop big or small, you can use a combination of the Shift/Ctrl keys and mouse movement to rapidly control prop height and positionals. Both the Z and X keys can be tapped multiple times to go into a more detailed ‘World Axis’ mode, earning you precise control over the angles at which your props will ultimately be placed. Mix this with the duplicating props, and you’ll soon be able to quickly slide additional objects like seaweed and barrels to easily slot side-by-side together without having to carefully align and rotate each individual piece.
Pathing, Plazas and Priority Queues
As time goes on, you’ll start to realise just how important the pathing tool really is. Peeps won’t step outside a paved perimeter; so should one not line up perfectly to an expensive new ride or much-wanted new concession stand, they won’t tread on uncharted territory to get there. That’s why it’s best to grow accustomed to the pathing options available to you as soon as possible.
While not a smooth ride by any stretch of the imagination, Planet Coaster’s pathing tools try their best to accommodate every situation you may find yourself. Should you find yourself in a position where your only exit opportunity would have your guests walk over a track like a level-crossing, it’s time to go up - or down - to ensure that danger zone needn’t be entered.
When placing any path in Planet Coaster, simply holding down the placement key allows you to move your mouse up and down to create either gentle slopes or steep staircases in either direction. Pair this with the toggled angle selection, length/width choice or even a placement grid and you’ll be free to create plenty of solutions for any pathing issues you might come across. Having your customers go over or under the tracks it still a viable answer, so create a viewing deck for them to reflect on their experience or have them travel deep into a prop-filled cave for one last thrill.
But if that coaster of yours is truly attracting the crowds, look into setting up a second queue for those willing to pay a little more for the VIP experience. Set up a ‘Priority Queue’ elsewhere and have your Information Booth charge a double-digit sum for families looking to skip the long waits. You’ll grant yourself more reason to appease that Queue Satisfaction Rating and squeeze a little extra coin from both the pass holders and regular attendees.
Unfortunately, those coming from older coaster management sims like Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 might, by now, have noticed the absence of ‘Plazas’. These centralised points would once lend themselves to being the perfect spot for your peeps to rest their legs, take a breather and settle down with some food in a spot secluded from the high-pitched squeals of thrillseekers and rumblings of a coaster overhead. But that doesn’t mean you need to go without. Thanks to the very same pathing options, you’re able to adjust angles, length, width and shape to create something akin to a town square ready for some fancy waterworks, lighting and vendor opportunities.
There’s a rough example of how to pull this off above, with a finished prototype which took around 15 minutes to form through the tips dished out today. Of course, there’s limited room for groundbreaking design when you’re running off a few short hours with a brand-new game, but hopefully the work shown will give you a slight idea of what to expect when it comes to splicing together your own quaint square.
And there you have have! Rome wasn’t built in a day, but there’s no reason you can’t take a good stab at crafting the theme park of your dreams.
There’s bound to be a long road ahead of all of us when it comes to mastering the fine art of coastering, but it’s one we’re all embarking on together. Planet Coaster lends itself to the idea of sharing community creations, and that’s likely what we’ll be doing for a long while yet.