Abandoned Theme Park Blues

I was reminiscing about the golden days of Super Nintendo ownership the other day, thinking on how much I loved playing Bullfrog’s Theme Park. My memory is somewhere between trying to create the perfectly functioning park and fulfilling some irrational need for symmetry. I had a kind of signature entrance design which featured a tasteless amount of gold fountains and a money trap of one way streets forcing customers past every shop and eatery on their way to and from the gates. I did this exactly the same every time. I learned from a trip to Alton towers to have all the rides exit on to a shop or burger joint to maximise profits. Between the ages of eight and twelve I had the leanings of a brand manager.

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What’s all that rubble doing where the merry-go-… Oh god.

It occurred to me, since Theme Park is a pretty old game now I could probably snaffle a copy online somewhere and indulge in some nostalgia (and teach my childhood self a thing or two about amusement park design). I’d heard the PC version had more rides and better graphics, more gameplay elements. I found it, abandoned.

For those not privy, Abandonware started as an offshoot of videogame conservation and is a kind of catch-all term for games long out of print and no longer watched over by their creators or publishers. Archives of games from the DOS era and beyond exist online, waiting to be downloaded and enjoyed anew. Copyright is pretty shady in this arena since most of the creator’s rights are still well within expiry. But for whatever reason, whether it’s too hard to trace a specific owner or a studio has shut down, copyright is sort of ignored in a kind of gentleman’s agreement. Whether you remember the title or not it is pretty amazing looking back at the history of the technology and the kinds of graphics and mechanics that were considered cutting edge.

Theme Park was a nightmare.

The PC version of the game seemed not to be the frivolous park creator I remembered but in fact a ruthless business game where you get to engage in fun activities like micromanaging stock orders and negotiating wage conditions for the union that represents the men in shark costumes. I failed to reach terms for my workers because of a baffling mini-game where you tentatively reach across a darkened table to shake the reluctant hand of a hired trade union goon before the biscuits run out and no one can bear to go on.

Something about this seems pretty shady.
Something about this seems pretty shady.

This meant that the handymen stopped cleaning up vomit which reached such levels that visitors to the park needed only look at it before adding their own contribution.

Add to this the fact that every two minutes or so the game throws you into a yearly appraisal screen where it judges you on mysterious criteria, adding insult to injury.

Aerage park

Within minutes my rides began exploding and the park’s share values dropped so low they began being bought up left and right by shady characters like “M.Thatcher” (she probably appreciated my approach to the unions) and “Prof. Moneybags” presumably a drug dealer. I got myself into more debt to keep the park open, hoping people would be attracted by the ghost train long enough to drop some cash on my ludicrously expensive foodstuffs. Needless to say my plan failed and I decided to give up the ghost once a storm began raging and I couldn’t bear the pathetic fallacy.

I felt like someone had reached into my childhood and done a Star Wars special edition. Gone was the simple pleasure I had once enjoyed, replaced with ‘extra features’ and a depressing realisation of time passing. “How the hell did I enjoy this game when I was a child?”, I wondered before remembering that I used to play a stripped down console port, souped up with the ‘loads of money’ cheat. More worrying was the thought that the real Theme Park was always this cut-throat ordeal bafflingly themed around light-hearted children’s amusements and I was spared its true form but for the space on a 16Mbit cartridge.

Kids like graphs right?
Kids like graphs right?

Demoralised and bankrupt I left the original Theme Park as I found it, abandoned. It sits there still, rusting in the wind, cracked lurid paint and faded mascots with ‘attitude’. A washed-out memorial to lost dreams and the folly of the nineties.



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