From the very beginning, the idea behind Theme Park Studio was to give coaster and theme park enthusiasts an extensive "toolset" for constructing complete theme parks. When I first heard about the title, the word Studio indicated that this was exclusively for theme park design, and not some game. This is actually a dream come true for those that simply want a giant sandbox featuring extensive tools to design an entire theme park. You know what kept RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 alive long after Atari abandoned it? A community of creative people who decided to bend the program beyond its limitations. I know firsthand, as I participated. We went beyond the two expansion packs using tools written by a few talented members, but it wasn't an easy task, as RCT3 was not designed with user modification in mind.
Pantera was aiming to fill in a void, by developing the first true theme park creation engine. One of the major draws is its open arms approach to user modification, allowing creative minds to go wild. As months progressed, more and more fans of this genre jumped on the bandwagon, with interests ranging all over the map. Features that weren't originally planned were starting to creep in, like having peeps interact in your park, or a UI that would appeal to a much wider audience. This in turn caused a lot of rethinking and changes, and would push the release date much further away. Most felt it would be worth the wait, while others became inpatient, and wanted something done yesterday.
What came out of this was the decision for an Early Access release. This would mean, instead of backers waiting much longer for a finished product, they could ride along with the developer as each planned phase gets implemented and activated. Early Access would introduce the community to one of the main aspects of Theme Park Studio: Landscaping and Scenery.
The landscaping tool in Theme Park Studio is quite impressive. A simple, yet powerful tool set allows you to make instant mountains, rolling hills, deep valleys, rivers with flowing water, or even the glaciated rocks of Yosemite. You can concentrate on small areas, or plop down huge terrain maps and watch as it molds the landscape before your eyes. In addition, new textures can be loaded in to simulate all kinds of terrain that go way beyond the default grassy plains. You can also change bump and diffuse maps to add further realism to your park and its surrounding. Top this all off with an equally capable environment editor featuring modifiable skyboxes as well as fog and light vector adjustments, and you're talking endless variations for your massive land.
One of greatest features of Theme Park Studios is its path making tool. Aspiring designers can simply click and place walkways that curve and stretch any way desired, as the ground automatically adapts to each section planted. Paths can be easily be set to be very wide or narrow, and have automatically generated content like trees, park benches and much more magically adhere to one or both sides; you curve your paths, the tress curve with it! Textures can easily changed from a quaint cobblestone walkway, to a massive stretch of tarmac or concrete. The wrench will be your best friend as you bolt down your paths and everything else you've worked on in the game, to avoid accidently moving things out of place.
The heart of any theme park is its scenery, and with TPS's scenery builder, anyone can put together all types of structures for their parks. The built in primitives are simple shapes that can be scaled, moved and combined with other shapes, while the copy and paste function reduces repetitive building. Add one of the many built in materials, and you can have some very impressive results. Those with no knowledge of 3D modeling programs will finally have a chance make their own scenery. You can even save and share your custom made pieces.
Speaking of 3D modeling, Theme Park Studio will give advanced desingers all the tools they need to import and export highly detailed scenery, whether it be modular building blocks, or complete structures like cafes, shops, bridges and so much more. The flexibility for most of the tools in this game is mind boggling.
There are many other features in Theme Park Studio, like advanced lighting, colorizing, material editing, and much more.
TPS's early release does not include working flat rides or rollercoasters. There are some, flat rides included, but they are static. The upcoming flat ride designer is set for the next phase which with bring these rides to life with animation. Get set to see an influx of flat rides designed by the community such as recreations of real world rides, along with new inventions that could be the next best thing!
The heart of TPS of course, will be its coasters. Expect to see the same flexibility of Theme Parks Studio's other features to apply hear as well. Pantera is working hard to make sure coaster building is approachable for everyone without forfeiting realism like RollerCosater Tycoon 3 did with its odd physics and questionable track choices on certain coasters. The first person experience was hindered because of this.
It's really fantastic to be in with Theme Park Studio from the ground up. Early Access users get a head start, and can report any further bugs while also suggesting new features or changes that will make this the ultimate theme park simulator. While waiting for each phase to commence, we can take our time designing wonderful landscapes and create all kinds of scenery to share among the community. Trust me, that alone is a lot to tinker with.
And finally, it irks me when I read any negative reviews which complain about missing features or an "incomplete" product. These folks may either not know what the idea behind Early Access is, or are simply the type who add something to their shopping cart without reading or doing any research. It's like being allowed on a movie set, then attempting to review it before production is complete. Speaking of production, this review is a wrap..
Oh, and heads up: Custom Scenery is already beginning to flow!