People love roller coasters. Billions of us ride them every year, and die-hard fans organize online to share travel tips and plan vacations just to cross more coasters off their list. Planet Coaster, a new roller coaster and theme-park management sim, is tapping into that passion. Many of the more-than 44,000 pieces of player-created content already shared online are intricate and beautiful, but none are as interesting as those made by a Denver-area architect under the name Joey Designs.
"[Working as an architect is] significantly different in the game, obviously, but I do it because it gives me joy to create something," Joey told me over the phone. In his day job, he focuses on commercial buildings and urban planning projects. "In my day job, I use different skills and follow different rules, and even though the outcome is different, I use these tools in the same ways."
Browsing pages and pages of player-created designs posted online, you'll find Jurassic Park paraphernalia, recreations of the Disneyland castle, and lovingly designed replicas of Star Wars icons. Far less common are full-size recreations of real-life coasters—probably because these things take a hell of a lot of work. Joey estimates that he spends around 48 hours of work on each coaster, usually spread out over a couple of weeks. Here's a side-by-side, first-person comparison between the real Superman roller coaster, and Joey's in-game version.
"A lot of it is research," Joey said. Theme parks aren't generally in the habit of publishing blueprints for their rides, so it takes some detective work to determine the overall shape and height of each structure. "You can use Google Maps, you can use YouTube POV, you can use images. Images are really, really important. I get so many different angles that way."
In addition to making sure that the height, angle, and speed of each roller coaster is accurate, Joey adds extra elements like loading areas and colored tracks and support beams. Planet Coaster's graphics are a big step up from the pixelated cartoonish style of Rollercoaster Tycoon, and that visual accuracy helps show off these tributes to real-world icons.
"You can really immerse yourself into it [because of the graphics]," Joey says. "If you're going to call it a 'recreation' it has to have integrity and be accurate to the real ride, to the best of my ability. I don't feel right calling it a recreation if there's any type of variance from the actual ride."
Six Flags Magic Mountain's X2, a steel roller coaster with independently swiveling seats and train cars, was Joey's most difficult project. "The seat spins in a particular way at particular points in the ride, so I had to use a lot of different videos to get that one right." After the track itself was complete, Joey added timed triggers to the ride's track, choreographing the seats to get every sim guest at virtual theme parks the authentic experience.
The Planet Coaster editing tools are more or less limited only by imagination and basic physics—state regulations, available space, and budgets have no sway here. Some players are using these tools to make insane hot dog stands and impossibly dangerous launch coasters. So why is Joey more interested in slavishly recreating coasters that already exist?
"There's a real emotional attachment to a lot of coasters that people have ridden," Joey said. "That stuck with me, and I decided I'd rather recreate coasters that people are already familiar with [than make original roller coasters]. These are rides that have some strong emotions attached to them."