My spouse would be the first to tell you (because she sure isn’t shy about telling me!!) that I belong in government. Not because of any type of political acumen or a professed willingness to perform altruistic services for my fellow citizens, but because of the typical means used by government in pursuit of their feel-good altruism: spending money that I don’t have on bright, shiny, fun objects. Of course, the big difference is that government can either take more money from citizens as they need it, or simply print more. Or, as is often the case, both. I, on the other hand, have to either scrimp and save, spend on credit, or satisfy myself vicariously by playing games that use fake money.
Which brings us to Adventure Park, a Sim City-ish building management game published by bitComposer Entertainment and developed by B-Alive. As the name implies, the scope of the game is quite a bit narrower than the planned development of an entire city; in Adventure Park, you are responsible for the building and management of a theme park. The benefit of the vastly more restricted scope of the theme park versus an entire city is that you will have to manage at a more micro level, down to and including the proper procuring and placement of trash bins. No detail is too small to fit in your bailiwick - you will decide the type, number, and location of even the smallest decorative plant.
That level of detailed management would, of course, be impossible to maintain as a single person. Plants need to be watered, machines break down and/or require preventative maintenance, and the inevitable trash needs to be cleaned up after a swarm of sloppy patrons have tramped through your lovingly crafted, pristine park. For these menial tasks, you hire staff. Now anyone that has ever held a management job can tell you, hiring and managing staff is by no means a hands-off, set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. Thankfully, this is a line that Adventure Park does not cross. Other than periodic repositioning of staff, they pretty much manage themselves, although you do need to ensure that they are kept busy - they get paid, and you have to watch every penny.
At its core, Adventure Park is a simulation of a business. Despite its glossy appearance, compelling graphics, and cleverly designed and attractive theme park rides (we’ll get to that soon), the idea is to design and manage a park in order to make a financial profit. This is done, or in my case not done, through the normal tried-and-true process of setting prices to maximize profits or minimize losses. Not surprisingly, the capital outlay for a world-class roller coaster is quite sizeable, as is the cost of the requisite maintenance staff. To offset the expense, the price charged to ride the coaster needs to be high enough to meet and slightly exceed the acquisition and maintenance costs, but not so high as to drive away frugal patrons. Note that this is also true of the gate price visitors pay simply to gain access to the park. If you were to build an amazingly attractive park with the precisely calculated optimum prices per ride but set the gate admission price so high that no one even enters the park, you would likely find yourself quickly bankrupted. If I’m honest, I would say that it really isn’t “likely,” it’s more like “certainly.” I know this through unhappy experience.
To assist you in managing the various factors that go into profitability (customer satisfaction, costs, revenue, etc.), Adventure Park provides both relatively simple financial analysis reports and direct feedback from customers. To help with the sheer volume of things that need to be managed, there are also high-level summary screens for each of the categories. For example, there is a screen that lists all of the equipment (rides, vending machines, etc.) in a single list to allow for a quick scan to find broken machines. There is also a summary screen to provide feedback from patrons.
Probably the most common complaints that I saw were “needs more decoration” and “I can’t find a trash bin.” Fortunately, those were easily rectified. Less common, and eventually eradicated entirely once I learned what I was doing wrong, were complaints about the inaccessibility of a vending machine. “It’s RIGHT THERE, you IDIOT!” verbal responses on my part did nothing more than startle my dog, so I had to dig deeper. As it turns out, it is possible to zoom down so close that you are actually at the same level as the patrons. From that close-up view, I could see that I had carelessly installed the machine backwards. The patrons are well-behaved; they will not stray from the paths to go around to the back side of a vending machine.
The comments will also give an indication as to the correct price to charge for any given attraction. They will range from “I can’t believe how cheap this is,” which is your hint to raise the price, to “You gotta be kidding!”, the response to which is pretty obvious. The trap here, however, is that there is a lag between setting a new price and getting customer feedback; this lag is what doomed my park.
Besides the fun and educational business management side of the game, there is the even more enjoyable design part. Sure, many of the rides, decorations, plants, trees, shrubs, food stands, vending machines, rest rooms, and restaurants are simply “put in place and let it go.” It is the coasters and other “path” rides that are the most fun (and expensive, so pace yourself!) to build. Basically, you place the gate and the boarding area just as you would any other attraction, but then the fun really begins: you get to lay out the track/path. This is done with a nifty and intuitive mouse interface that makes it easy to change the direction and elevation just by moving the mouse around. This freestyle design method is orders of magnitude more fun than having to select fixed-shape parts from an inventory. This was, in my opinion, the best feature of the game by far! It does require some planning and forethought, though. It was not uncommon to get stuck at the end of a great deal of expensive track that then had to be ripped up and replaced with a more realistic path.
At the end of the day, Adventure Park perfectly straddles the line between fun-to-play and challenging-to-play-well quite nicely. It is easy to learn the mechanics involved in creating the attractions and decorating the park, but making sure that the park becomes and remains profitable takes a bit more brain work and constant attention to detail. It is very professionally designed and implemented, and well worth the time investment in learning how to maximize the profits earned from making judicious adjustments to costs and revenue.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.