After Civilisation and Sim City had given PC gamers an insatiable appetite for building worlds out of pixels, strategy games began to splinter into increasingly obscure sub-genres. One of the biggest was theme park construction, and while Theme Park (1994) was a pleasant enough log flume it was Rollercoaster Tycoon that delivered 'Nemesis' levels of realism and fun.
Like any great strategy sim, Rollercoaster Tycoon's appeal lied a highly geeky and sophisticated game engine. Unlike Theme Park, it featured real-word physics that made building the perfect corkscrew a real labour of love. There were even nods of approval from the theme park industry, echoing football boss validation of Championship Manager.
Perfecting the layout of dozens of coaster types was the game's draw, but you ignored less daring guests at your peril. A good variety of log flumes, go-kart tracks and carousels was essential if you were to garner park-wide approval and unlock the next theme park 'scenario'. Only highly skilled designers would make it to the promised land of 'Mega Park'.
Put in the painstaking days required to construct a family-friendly park, though, and you were rewarded with time to indulge in a white-knuckle masterpiece. Tweaking the height and steepness, adding corkscrews, doing test runs and garnishing with on-ride photo stations could take a player real-world hours. But hearing guests' delighted screams and watching them trot off to rejoin the queue was up there with seeing the emergence of your first Sim City skyscraper.
And the series is far from dead. Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 may have arrived back in 2004, but Atari revealed in September 2010 that it's 'thinking hard' about a fourth instalment. Stop thinking and start building, we say – our team of tiny mechanics and entertainers are ready to come out of retirement.