Theme Park

Atari Jaguar

from AEO Magazine's Special Jaguar Edition - E3

 |||   Theme Park
 |||   By: Mark "Stingray" Santora
/ | \  GEnie: AEO.4   Delphi: SANTORA

An entire genre of computer gaming was crated with the release of
Bullfrog Ltd's Populus, back in the early eighties. Populus was a
"God" game in which you look down over an area and help your
worshipers to move up the evloutionary ladder and kill off your
opposing "God's" worshipers. Since then many games have gone onto
improve upon ideas set forth by that classic game. Most notbaly the
"Sim" series which took the computer world by storm. Now Bullfrog is
back with its latest take on the "God" style gaming - part of their
"Designer Series" - Theme Park.

//// The Game

Theme Park is not so much a "God" game, but more a simulation of how a
theme park of your own creation would hold up in an economy with
competing corporations with their own parks. The game is presented in
an three quarter overhead view so you see as much as possible. You
build rides, hire staff, control every aspect of the park from the
price of admission to the amount of salt you put on the fries. There
are far too many options like this to mention here, but if you can
think about it happening in a park - it most likely will in this game.

I am one of those "let's plug the cart in and see what happens" type
of players. I like my action fast and furious, but I also enjoy a good
thinker (I play lots of chess when not in front of a tv/monitor tube).
But in the case of Theme Park, you really MUST read the instruction
manual first. It is 65 pages long and at first I thought it was a
multi-lingual manual with the first twenty or so pages in English and
the rest split up into French, Spanish, etc. However this was not the
case. This encyclopedic tome was daunting at first, and even after
several reads, it was difficult to find certain things, like the game
"save" - but we'll get into that later.

Luckily there is a tutorial section built into the game. This will
help walk you through the beginning part of the game. It shows you the
basics on how to place rides, walkways, hire people, etc. This is very
helpful even after going through the manual.

So you start up, and you've got a small park going. Now you think you
can handle it so you move onto the real game without the tutorial. It
gets a lot harder. You have to watch for everything from the amount of
money you put into reasearch on new rides and restaurants to ordering
ice cream, colas, burgers and fries when you run low.

You also have to look out for your customers. Are they happy? What
will make them happy? Most people in your park have a small cartoon
like bubble above their head, a "thought", which is a symbol of
happiness or sadness. On the screen for crowd response there is a
breakdown of which thought bubble means what. Pay attention to this.

There is also a small cartoon like figure that looks like a Carnival
Ring Master who prints little notes for you on the bottom of the
screen for help: "People think you make too much money." "You should
raise the price on the french fries by 8." "People are having a hard
time finding their way to the exit, place more signposts down." He
tries to be very helpful, especially at times when your stock runs
low and you forget.

Control is handled from an arrow which remains fixed in the center of
the screen while you manuever around the park. While this was a bit
annoying at first, it worked just fine. I can't help bit wonder how
much better this handling would have been if there had been a mouse
instead of the control pad. But, when you want to check on the staus
of an item or move to an order/hire screen, the pointer moves freely
around the fixed screen. The Status menu for anyone or thing in the
game is a pop up menu which is filled with icons you press
respectively for each individual item.

The staff is a very important part of your park. You need to hire many
individuals as your park grows larger. First and foremost you must
hire handymen to clean up after your very messy guests. They throw
their garbage on the ground, their unwanted items, and even their
lunch sometimes. This is followed by the appropriate sound f/x.  You
will also need to hire security people to watch out for those who wish
to make the park less safe. Another important group to hire is the
mechanics. Your rides will smoke and blow up if you don't have
mechanics to fix them. The rides do this far to often for me, but...
Also, there the required characters that stand around the park and
entertain people. You know, the guy in the bear suit, the shark man,
the buy who steals your wallet(just kidding that's not in the game).

//// The Graphics

They are sharp and very well animated. Each charater has his/her/it's
own animation. The colors are right on and feel like you are running a
theme park. Unfortunately, I would assume, as this is a port of the PC
game, that it was most likely done strait to the 68000 chip in the
Jaguar. I say this because of the slow down you can get when you have
too many rides and too many people and too many variables running at
once. The AI on this game has to be really good and because of all the
complexities of the game I am sure that it contributes to the game's
periodic slow down. Also, while I am sure that this wasn't done on
purpose, on some of the data screens, checking your stock price,
graphs on attendance and ticket pricing, it is very difficult to read.
I assume it was due to the fact that the game was most likely
programmed and play tested using a computer monitor. But when played
on a television, the text is very difficult to read. I have checked
this on my ACER 7015 and several televisions and found that the
monitor was obivously the sharpest image of them all.

One obvious ommission to the game is the lack of the rendered graphics
sequences. I know that the cartridge format has limited space, which
is why these were most likely left out. However, there are times I
wish that they had made Theme Park a CD instead. This would have also
helped with the save game feature.

//// Save What?

I guess this is as good a place as any to mention this. There is no
"save game" feature in Theme Park. It will save the amount of money
you currently have, but that's only after you auction off your park at
the endof the year. This is a major pain in the ass. You play for a
good hour and then have to sell your kickin' park because you have to
sleep, or go to work, or something worthless like that. I mean don't
people know you play video games??? Seriously, this does make any
lengthy game close to impossible unless you can put aside a few days
or pause your game and turn off your television to go to work. And
this little note about saving games is located in the "Auction"
section of the maual. This would be fine, but it doesn't tell you
"Save Game Information Here." That's on page 61. If you weren't
looking for it, you could skip right over it. The manual is like this
at many times.

//// The Sound

Theme Park is fair defficent in this area. There is music in the game
when you are looking at a ride in progress and there is amibent crowd
noise while you are not, but it just seems so, flat sounding. Even the
music on th rides just seems to be kinda bland. There is nothing
special here. There is also no sound whatsoever from the Atari logo
until the game actually starts. Then you get a few "pings" until a
ride is there and the crowd arrives. The title screen is a complete
deaf wasteland.

//// Overall

I know I have only touched the surface of the game. There are far too
many aspects of the game to include in a review(but not a 65 page
manual!). The game is fun if you enjoy a good simulation style game.
You will need patience as sometimes there really is nothing for you to
do as you wait for someting to happen that requires your intervening
powers. The graphics work, but the text is not so good. And the sound
is average. I know, a cartridge has limitations and you can't have a
megabyte of sound samles in the game, but some tweeking couldn't hurt

My biggest hope about games like Theme Park is that when Ocean finally
runs out of cartridges, perhaps they will think of releasing it for
the CD player with the save feature re-written to take advantage of
the Cartridge back up. With a large space to save your game to, this
would make Theme Park a game with much long game in playablility
instead of futility.

//// Final Ratings

        Title: Theme Park                      JagNet: No
       Design: Bullfrog                       Players: 1
 Published by: Ocean                        Cart Size: 2 Megabyte
       Retail: $69.99                     Availablity: Now

 A Summary of ratings:
        "*" is a whole
         "+" is a half
       5 stars maximum

 Graphics - ***     Characters are nicely animated and the colors work for
                    the game.  Too bad you can't read the text.
    Audio - **+     Average.  Could have been much better.
  Control - **+     It works for the game.  Don't expect that it will
                    revolutionize anything though.
 Gameplay - **+     That save game "feature" really keeps a great game
                    from getting above average.
  Overall - ***     If you can spare the time, and you like the "sim"
                    games, then this is for you.

Pts Stars  AEO Ratings
""" """""  """""""""""
 10 *****  GAMING NIRVANA!!! - You have left reality behind... for good.
  9 ****+  Unbelieveable GAME!! - Your family notices you're often absent.
  8 ****   Fantastic Game!! - You can't get enough playtime in on this.
  7 ***+   Great Game! - Something to show off to friends or 3DOers.
  6 ***    Good game - You find yourself playing this from time to time.
  5 **+    Ho-hum - If there's nothing else to do, you play this.
  4 **     Waste of time - Better to play this than play in traffic.
  3 *+     Sucks - Playing in traffic sounds like more fun.
  2 *      Sucks Badly - You'd rather face an IRS audit than play this.
  1 +      Forget it - ... but you can't; it's so badly done, it haunts you.
  0 -      Burn it - Disallow programmer from ever writing games again.

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