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Rollercoaster Tycoon 3

We've always loved rollercoasters here at PC Zone - from Martin Korda's legendary scrotum-bursting plummet at Six Flags in California, to my own vomit-inducing experience on the Dragon Kahn ride in Barcelona. However, recreating the thrill of a 100m dive on a 17-inch monitor is always going to be difficult, even with the graphics advances we've seen over the past year or two.

Despite this, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is making a gravity-defying attempt to become the most realistic fairground ride simulation ever created. Chris Sawyer's well-known franchise always owed a huge amount to Bullfrog's Theme Park and Wil Wright's Sim City, but the third incarnation has been passed on to David 'Elite' Braben's company Frontier Developments, who produced the Wacky Worlds expansion pack for Rollercoaster Tycoon 2.

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Obviously a Rollercoaster Tycoon game wouldn't be much cop without a collection of decent rides, so the team has spent a lot of time researching new attractions, which you can now climb aboard in 3D using the new Coaster Cam. Based around five themes - classic, spooky, western, sci-fi and adventure - rollercoasters include the Thrill-lift and Tilt-coaster, and classic 'flat-rides' such as the Zipper and Skywheel. Each coaster has a wider range of components and you can now add animatronics, triggered by the ride, including a T-Rex attack and an oil tanker bursting into flames.

All The Fun Of The Fair
"There are whole new components to the game such as a day/night cycle, so you can lay out fancy night-time lighting, or make rides extra scary," continues Braben excitedly, "and you can now design your own spectacular fireworks displays." These show-stopping visuals can also be synchronised to the in-game music or your own MP3s imported into the game (see 'Fire In The Sky', right).

Of course, the people who'll hopefully benefit from all your hard work are the thousands of fully-animated park visitors that you'll have to keep happy with spectacular attractions and state-of-the-art facilities. "The technology for the people is new, based on a principle we first used in the game Frontier," says Braben, "where different body components such as clothing, hairstyles, and faces are put together to make a huge number of different possible combinations. We have thousands of visitors in RT3, all different, with facial expressions, each doing their own thing, telling jokes to each other, arguing - even bursting into tears."

You'll be able to create your own characters with the People Editor, so you can put family, friends, work colleagues and celebrities into the game as park visitors - we'd personally relish the opportunity of seeing TV saleswoman Linda Barker throwing her guts up in terror. Also, if you group people together as a family, the AI will change their behaviour accordingly.

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"You First." "No, You..."
"When we first included groups, we found that very few people were going onto the rides," continues Braben. "This was because when a particular group member wants to go on an extreme ride, the others may not, so it ended up with big crowds of people just standing around waiting next to the extreme rides. To fix this we added another factor - 'peer pressure' - where the guy who really wants to go on the coaster would try to persuade the rest, which now means that groups go on the ride together more often."

Another important aspect of the Rollercoaster Tycoon games are the extra ways of persuading visitors to open their wallets in your park, so you'll be able to augment the rides with numerous shops and stalls. Sneaky ways of improving profits include offering free chillis on the burgers, which will have visitors gulping down drinks and syphoning money straight into your pockets. However if you'd prefer to just concentrate on building the biggest and most hair-raising rides, the Sandbox mode allows you to unleash your most ambitious ideas with unlimited funds.

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