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Park Beyond is a different sort of project for Bandai Namco, a company known better for its arcade classics, licensed kids games, and anime-style brawlers, RPGs, and mech games. It’s an amusement park management sim, the first for developer Limbic Entertainment.
This isn’t Limbic’s first foray into management sims. It worked with Kalypso on Tropico 6, a more ambitious entry in that long-lived franchise. For 505 Games, it did Memories of Mars, an open-world survival game with a lot of building and management elements. It also did one of my favorite RPGs of the past decade, Might & Magic X: Legacy. The German studio has more than 20 years of experience in co-development and making games.
This led to Bandai Namco acquiring a minority stake in the company earlier in December, after Limbic had already started work on Park Beyond.
“From the get-go our collaboration with the talented teams at Limbic was amazing: More than just a publishing deal, we quickly understood we shared similar values and game making ethos to create new IPs,” said Pierre Tartaix, a brand manager at Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe, over email. “We decided to reinforce this natural fit to make sure we could support Limbic’s production capacities as best as possible while strengthening our long-term partnership to continue our IP creation strategy. And while Park Beyond is our core focus at the moment, we are already preparing our future content together for the years to come.”
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Considering that management sims are outside Bandai Namco’s catalog, I wondered why the publisher decided to pursue this project, and what market opportunity it saw here.
“We don’t just want to publish any amusement park sim; we want to publish an impossified one!” Tartaix said. “When Limbic Entertainment approached us with this bigger-than-life concept for a park game built on solid management foundations, we immediately understood we had a clear path to offer players a very different kind of sim, one that could bring together diehard management fans and creative ride designers around a unique ride impossification feature.
“Moreover, Limbic Entertainment’s expertise in storytelling and tutorial crafting makes us very confident we can onboard a brand-new audience that will get acquainted with the genre through a fun storyline and player-tailored missions during our campaign mode.”
One of the hallmarks of Park Beyond is how you “impossify” rides, making them twist and transform into bigger, louder, and flashier versions of themselves. A standard Ferris wheel may spawn three or four wheels … or nine or 10. A carousel rises from a sedate ground-level ride into the air to become a three-story attraction. A roller-coaster may shoot a car out of a cannon across an empty space, and the Kraken dunks your submarines in-and-out of the water.
Intrigued, I set up an interview with Limbic and chatted with studio CEO Steve Winter and creative director Johannes Reithmann. We talked about getting into the amusement park frame of mind, their approach to designing for fun, and how what they’ve learned in other games carried into something new.
And puke. I had to ask them about throwing up on rides, too.
This is an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Considering your development history, why make an amusement park simulator?
Stephan Winter: When we came to the end of the production of Tropico, we had to come up with something fresh, something new. After almost four years of working on a city-builder, the team was very happy to not directly do another city-builder game. If we pushed our programmers to do another city-builder, I don’t know what they would have done.
There were a lot of internal discussions about what’s next. Fairly early we had a small group who came up with a theme park builder. Two guys from the team are real-life theme park enthusiasts. They travel a lot and have tons of fun with it. They brought up the idea. It was a good one, because it’s not a city-builder, but it’s still a building game, a management game. It’s still close to what we’re used to, what we’re good at. We could transfer a lot of know-how. It was still fresh enough to excite everyone, especially them. The team came up with this “impossification” idea that clicked, and that’s how it developed. Then Bandai came on board, and here we are.
Johannes Reithmann: We had a lot of fun. Kicking off the project back then, we took the whole company and went to one of the big theme parks. This was really exciting for everyone, and a good inspiration to start off the project. We saw what’s already doable in a theme park. It’s some crazy stuff already. We were pushing our limits to invent even more crazy things and take it even further.
GamesBeat: What sorts of rides or adventures or whatever did you see that made you think, “What could we do with this?”
Reithmann: It’s been a while, but what they had back then was a virtual reality chamber, actually, where you went in and got your headset, and they had somehow installed it so that you could walk around. You got a full VR headset on your face, but you could walk around. I was really blown away by that, the free-walking VR. It felt really awesome, pushing you to another planet. That was one thing that inspired our game. We have similar things that push you into totally different levels.
GamesBeat: For the first-person viewpoint of the rides, can you export that as video to share with people?
Reithmann: Not yet? It was discussed. We had a couple of discussions. One was about actually enabling VR riding. We have all the VR stuff here in the studio obviously, but let me put it this way: It is fun the first time you do it. But honestly, if you do very tough rides with looping and curves and all this stuff, it’s not necessarily the fun experience that you might imagine it could be. It’s easier sold than actually experienced. We didn’t put the VR mode in yet. We have the first-person cam, which is enjoyable, looking around. But it’s something that might be on the list.
GamesBeat: What about just standard video? Can I make a roller coaster and export video from the game of that, or do I have to capture that myself?
Reithmann: You’d have to capture that yourself, export your ride through a standard capture.
GamesBeat: You talked earlier about how two people came up with this idea for doing a theme park. Are they just theme park fanatics themselves, going across Europe or other places going to theme parks?
Winter: Yeah, basically. It’s a private thing, actually, a private hobby. They even do tours of very small theme parks, not the totally big ones. The fun is going to a very specific park that might only have one roller coaster, and then they check it in their book. “Hey, we’re riding this specific roller coaster.” I wasn’t aware, I didn’t know when we started the project — I wasn’t aware that there was this whole real-life community. It’s the same way people go crazy about trains and enjoy trains all over the world. There are people who enjoy these rides and go to theme parks and do the coasters and share photos. It’s really cool. We have two guys at the studio who do this.
GamesBeat: Phil reminds me of Willy Wonka, and Izzy looks like Amanda Waller from Suicide Squad. How intentional is this design?
Winter: Phil is designed to be a somewhat out-of-fashion showman. He has this irresistible pull and charisma but is constantly brought back to the tough reality of the park industry. There have been many inspirations for him, and the various renditions of Willy Wonka were part of them, but it’s not the only one.
As for Izzy, our designers used various real and fictional characters as inspiration, but Amanda Waller wasn’t part of the list.
GamesBeat: What’s the market opportunity you see with this game? There are amusement park sims on PC, mobile, and console. You have Planet Coaster, which is more focused on roller coasters than the park. From your point of view, what’s the opportunity here to make a game and find engagement and make money?
Winter: First and foremost, to tick off a couple boxes — you have the entire creative community, a community that loves creating and sharing and producing customizable content experiences. It’s a form of expression. It’s not necessarily the people who dig into the management part of the games. They have something in mind, and we give them tools to express their vision. That’s the idea. There’s a lot of those players out there. During early playtests, we were inviting playtesters for three or four hour sessions to test the game. We had people who basically spent three hours just decorating the entrance area and telling us, after three hours, “Oh shit, I didn’t get to playing the management.” They’d built an entire entry, this crazy big thing in a Wild West setting. OK, why not? If you want to do that, do that. If you want to spend your time like that, do it. It’s fun. That’s a box to check.
The second one is basically the one we’re coming from, what we enjoy, which is building complex management gameplay. Tropico is a super-detailed in-depth gameplay experience that works for many hours. Park Beyond is going to be another crazy deep management experience. We’ll tackle all those people who want to build a business, manage a business within a game. Our theme for this is a theme park. I think we tackle those people as well. Those are the core audiences.
Reithmann: What we definitely see as well is a need for proper onboarding and accessibility for these types of games, which are very complex, but also even for the creative players — a game that has a lot of editor features to offer, it’s crucial, and this is somewhere Park Beyond can shine quite a bit — it’s crucial that we have a good onboarding experience for players, so they don’t get lost in this complexity, both on the editor side and the management side. This is something that I think will make it stand out in this space.
GamesBeat: When it comes to your studio, you’ve done some good work with Tropico and Might & Magic. But what made you think you could do the amusement park genre well?
Winter: What we bring to the amusement park genre, or what we will achieve — the team set-up here, the colleagues we have, most of them, they enjoy doing games with a lot of feature set, games where you can spend a lot of game time. It’s not a game where you play just 8 hours and you’re done with a storyline. Just the mission storyline is going to be way beyond 30 hours in Park Beyond, with handcrafted content. People have built maps, scripted things, created events, created characters, created audio. They’re telling a story within the theme park genre. That’s something that the team enjoys.
You shouldn’t ever hire us for a racing game. It wouldn’t work. A sports game is probably not a good idea. But it’s these same guys who’ll sit down in the evening and play Magic: The Gathering for 6 hours, because they just like complex stuff. They play super-big board games and enjoy having these multiple hour sessions on the weekend playing board games. I don’t know what’s the right term for this. I honestly think that after some years, there’s a bit of DNA in terms of the people we attract as a studio. That’s cool. That’s fine. That’s why I think we will have something that’s pretty deep within this genre, hopefully.
GamesBeat: One thing that’s always been cool about Tropico, no matter the studio that works on it, is that it’s funny. How are you going to bring the comedy skills you have as a studio into the amusement park setting? Is that something we do as people who are modifying the parks, or will you be giving tools that show that, yes, this is a funny game.
Reithmann: I think there are two aspects. There’s an aspect of who creates the comedy. Is it the player or the designer? I think it’s actually both. There’s an inherent comedy, I think, in theme park games, where you can create your own coaster and then stuff can go wrong. This is something that’s inherent in the genre. We definitely wanted to make sure that this was also coming across in our game, especially if you’re going with — the impossification theme is crucial. It has to be over the top. You’ll also see this when we reveal more of the impossification topics in different aspects of the game. That humor will continue to shine through. The story, also, is very important for us. The story is carried a lot by the humorous characters we have in the game and how they interact with each other. Everyone has a very specific trait, and especially a different type of humor. Some characters have a very British humor, for example. This was always important for us. If you’re doing this theme of impossification, going over the top, it can’t be that serious. It has to be light and comedic in a way.
GamesBeat: Do you get any sort of bonus or achievement for making rides that make people throw up?
Winter: OK, we need to cut this question into pieces. No. 1, yes, you can create rides in the game that will make your visitors very uncomfortable, with consequences that will require your staff members to do a lot of things to get your visitors back in shape. That’s No. 1. If you necessarily get a bonus for this — I’m not sure. I don’t think so. [Laughs] What actually happens, if they all get sick on the rides, I don’t know what happens.
Reithmann: You mean all of them? That seems like quite an achievement. I don’t know. We can definitely think about adding an achievement in that line, these kinds of funny, humorous achievements: “Congratulations, you made all your visitors sick.” That’s totally doable. But we haven’t completely designed the game to cater to people who want to make their visitors sick.
GamesBeat: When it comes to customization, say I’m doing an Old West level or a candy level. Can I make it spawn and appear where I can remove all of one element? Say I want an Old West theme with no guns, or a candy theme with no peppermint. Is that something I can do?
Reithmann: All the assets we have in the game, or most of the assets, are built out of smaller assets. For example, of these houses you saw in the videos I showed, in the coaster editor, you can go in and say, “Hey, I’m removing all the strawberries because I don’t like strawberries in my park.” If you’re very radical and really want to only have a park built out of certain materials or whatever, certain objects, then you can go for it. You can do it your way. All the freedom we provide to the player in terms of how the park should look. This is catering to our core fans, the ones who want to build the park of their dreams. If you hate strawberries, there should be no strawberries.
Winter: We had a playtester actually who was building a coaster and was decorating all around the coaster with ice cream cones, different colors of ice cream, because you can change the color settings. You have different cones and all this stuff. Basically, he created a tunnel of ice cream around the coaster track. Why not? It’s a ridiculous amount of time sometimes that people spend on these things, but at the end you have something to show that no one else has done. It’s yours. That’s pretty cool.
GamesBeat: When it comes to themes, can players use the tools in the sandbox to make their own themes, or are you just working within themes that come with the game?
Reithmann: The themes are mainly only a way to categorize assets for us. We revealed these two themes, but there will be more in the future. We chose these themes to be as different as possible, but still having as many combination possibilities as we could. We didn’t choose any themes that are very close together. We expect players to mix-and-match all these individual objects. You can already imagine what you could do with, I don’t know, a wooden house you take from the Wild West theme, for example, and then you put — what is this called in English? Gingerbread! A gingerbread kind of thing on top. You can build the witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel. You can make up all this stuff and combine them, mix-and-match those together. That’s really what we expect players to do. They have so much creativity, which we’ve seen in our playtests. Sometimes they’ll just take one plank, even. They recolor the plank, make it green, and then build a house simply using that green plank. It’s crazy, the creativity of the players we’ve seen so far.
GamesBeat: Will there be modding, and can people make their own assets for the game?
Winter: We’re not revealing too much about that right now. I can clearly say that we’re very much aware of the community and how we want to enable the community and build the community all around the content. But that’s going to happen — we’ll talk more about it in the future. Sooner rather than later.
GamesBeat: Do each of you have a favorite theme park?
Reithmann: For me it’s more of a nostalgia thing. There’s a small theme park that I think nobody knows, but it’s close to my grandparents’ house. It’s the first theme park I’d ever been to. It was fairy tale themed. There were all these little fairy tales. All the rides were themed to a fairy tale. I have perfect, awesome memories of all this. It’s not something you would think about as thrilling or anything like that. I think my grandparents might have had a bad time going with us. It might have been super-boring for them. But as kids we loved this place.
Winter: It’s almost the same for me nowadays, because I have two sons, and they’re now at the age where we’ve started going to a theme park, a year or two ago. It’s a medium-sized one. It has one roller coaster called The Wild Mouse. No loops or anything, but it’s good. It has this sound and this shaking you get from a wood coaster. They have a ton of these really — I don’t know, a bit cheesy kids’ rides. But if you have a 4-year-old, for a 4-year-old, even a cheesy pirate ship — it’s a pirate ship! You can take a water cannon and blast away. It’s not Disneyland or whatever, but for him — the last time we went he told me, “Papa, this was a super day.” “Papa, das war ein super tag.” “Daddy, it was a great day.” He was telling me about some cheesy stuff, but for him it worked. That’s the imagination. That’s what I like nowadays about theme parks. They’re smashed all day, and then in the evening they still have — they have this naivete in their head. That’s cool.
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