If the months I spent playing RollerCoaster Tycoon taught me anything, it's that the general public are idiots.
Make a path a little bit too wide and they'll stop, scratching their heads with confusion. They'll potter a couple of steps to the left, then to the right. Then they'll proclaim that they're lost and that they want to go home.
Or maybe you've created a nice, pleasant area filled with eating establishments. There's a burger van, a pizza place, somewhere to get an ice-cream and a stall selling candyfloss. Mr. Idiot General Public will stand around for a while, then wander up to the chip shop, angrily protesting: 'I don't want to buy any chips!' as his happiness rating begins to plummet.
Most alarming, though, is their haphazard attitude to theme park safety. If there's been a bit of an accident on a ride, no one will ever go near it again, even after you've painstakingly fixed the problem and any variations of it you could possibly envision. However, build a rollercoaster with an enormous gap in the track and punters will queue up round the block, merrily trotting on towards certain doom. 'I've never seen a roller-coaster like that before,' the fools are probably thinking. 'Sounds like fun!'
Then again, that's sort of the best bit.
RollerCoaster Tycoon is an enormous, intricate management sim from Chris Sawyer - master of the Tycoon games - in which you take control of a variety of theme parks and try to earn yourself a ludicrous sum of money. There are reams of variables to consider, there's plenty of research and development to partake in, and there are crowds of horrible members of the public to appease. But, for me, at the absolute centre of RollerCoaster Tycoon's appeal was the joy of exploiting its many little quirks.
The first time you build a horrifically unsafe ride, it's probably been by accident. You were too eager to open it to the public, perhaps, so you didn't bother sending a train round in test mode first. You didn't realise that you'd forgotten to join those two sections of track, or that it was possible for a train to get stuck on a hill, roll back down the way it came, and smash into the front of the one hurtling down the last drop. And you look on in horror as those screams of ecstasy become ones of mortal terror, before falling silent, a mass of smoke and flames billowing in the place where 32 happy lives used to be.
But after a few of these mishaps, you realise it's quite funny. So you start to plan for them. You remove that section of the track quite deliberately. You construct that hill so that the train will reach its peak, almost pull itself over the top, then slowly roll backwards towards its fate. You remove a segment of path in a busy area and watch any nearby guests starve to death, because you know these people are utterly unwilling to walk across the grass.
You make the launched freefall ride - an enormous tower that blasts its passengers skywards - a little bit too short for the speed at which it travels. You watch the car fly through the sky, tumble downwards, and splash into the lake where people were riding pedalos without a care in the world until you came along and ruined everything.
RollerCoaster Tycoon is a game with a marvellous, twisted sense of humour. It knows it's ridiculous. It knows you can bounce off its foibles to wreak havoc in a hundred different ways. And it's fine with that. It would have been easy for the game to prevent you from picking up a smiling family and dropping them into a mass of water, for example. But it doesn't. Instead, the game simply pops up a notification informing you that, sadly, a few of your guests have drowned.
These memories have been etched into my mind forever, I'm sure. But returning to RollerCoaster Tycoon recently, two other things particularly interested me.
One: it's now horrendously unintuitive to control. Its fixed-position camera can only be snapped to four different viewpoints and three levels of zoom, none of which are entirely helpful. And you have to manoeuvre it not with the mouse, except to move the camera around, but via the bulky and intrusive user interface. I kept going for my scroll wheel, only to find it useless.
Two: I was fascinated by how much of the actual game I recalled. You know - the bits where you're not pretending to be an evil overlord, hell-bent on world destruction.
Park objectives tend to ask you to do something along the lines of 'earn X amount of money by Y year', or 'have a park rating that never drops below Z'. They're sometimes invigorating, but they're mainly a means to an end. Because the completion of each one unlocks a new park - bigger, or stranger, or with more available funds than the last one. And it's with this newfound freedom that you can get stuck into the really awesome bit of RollerCoaster Tycoon, which is of course crafting the most enormous, dazzling and ludicrous rollercoasters you could possibly care to imagine.
So, to my surprise, I remembered how best to clear the opening levels. In Forest Frontiers, it's sensible to start small, place a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round near the entrance, then gradually expand back into the available space, lobbing in a wooden roller-coaster and a smaller one that kids will like as you near the end of your year-long objective.
Leafy Lake's customers will appreciate some swan boats to sail around in, but it's best to place some medium-intensity rides at the front and the back of the park too. In Diamond Heights you might want to introduce a few new attractions for the thrill-seekers, but its sprawling, duelling rollercoasters keep most people rather happy. You just need to sort out the toilet situation a little bit.
Later scenarios are increasingly difficult, with oddly shaped parks requiring more careful thought about how to use the environment to your advantage. And as the landscapes change, and the parks become more complex, you've to faff around with more facilities and maintenance staff. But your reward for the hard work is access to newer, faster, bigger and better rides should you pour enough money into research. The early wooden rollercoasters give way to rides where your legs dangle beneath the track, and where loop-the-loops seem to be the size of the sun.
While the game allows you to position default track designs on your park, so much of the fun comes from wrestling with your own ideas. The temptation is to make the rollercoaster with the biggest drop, the fastest speed or the most inversions, but it's not the right way to go. Most theme park-goers are after thrills, certainly, but they don't want to come away battered, bruised and nauseous.
It's all about finding that balance: about removing this bend, adding some banking to that one, making the first drop just a few metres shorter, or adding some brakes where the train would otherwise reach mind-boggling speeds. You learn that the ride's surroundings play a role on its potential for enjoyment, too: add trees and scenery near sharp corners, and it becomes more exciting, with passengers hanging on tightly as they're whisked away just before they slam into the branches.
Finally striking that perfect middle-ground, creating the impressive ride that's entertainingly frightening instead of just plain unpleasant, is a wonderful feeling. Watching those idiots finally queue up for your masterpiece of rollercoaster design, instead of moaning that they can't find the toilet they're standing right in front of, is the game's reward.
In those moments, funnily enough, you don't feel like murdering them all anymore.