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Ultimate Ride

Ultimate Ride

New PC Game A Rockin' Roller

by Jim Bray

Roller Coaster nuts have a new virtual best friend, thanks to "The Ultimate Ride."

A product of Disney's Imagineering Inc., the Windows 9x/XP game lets you design and build your dream coaster and then virtually ride it until you lose your virtual lunch.

Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

According to its makers, "Ultimate Ride is the only real-time 3D ride attraction for the true roller coaster fan." I don't know about that, but it's pretty addictive and it really does let you design, customize, test, and then ride a variety of roller coasters that either come in the box or that you create from your own "twisted imagination."

There are two modes of play: Imagineering and Build. Build lets you indulge your fantasies to your heart's content, mostly, while Imagineering forces you to confront such mundane issues as the laws of physics and the number of gravities a human body can take before it becomes a soggy bit of jam on the coaster seat.

In Build Mode, you can also take such things into account, or you can damn the torpedoes and create nearly any kind of coaster your fertile mind can dream up. You can also customize your coaster with various characters and props.

I started things with a couple of trips on pre-created coasters that come with the game. This whetted my appetite for action, so I went straight into Build mode to unleash my own creativity on the theme park world.

After you've chosen your "world" (including asteroid, grid, or mountain area) you pick a "station", the place where your unsuspecting customers get onto and off of the coaster. Then you can start laying track, in my case the steepest and highest hill I could build into the setting. Alas, the area of your coaster is strictly limited by the software, but that only means you have to be more creative with your curves and hills.

After a long and steep hill (you can customize the length and steepness, too), a longer and steeper downhill was in order, followed by custom-banked curves, a few loops and/or corkscrews, and back into the uphill work of returning the roller coaster to the heights of ridiculousness.

A good, and needed (and fun), feature lets you test the coaster as you design it, even though it doesn't yet close on itself to make a full track. Using this you can find out if your train has enough velocity to actually make it up those incredibly steep hills you've built. If it doesn't, you can change the hill, or add accelerators onto the track that'll speed the car up to something more approaching that of light itself.

The game keeps an eye on things for you, too, so if your track strays too close to another piece or to the edge of your "world" you'll get a warning and have to change the configuration.

You can build a non-traditional traditional wooden coaster, a steel rocket, or one of those ones where the train hangs below the track (until you loop over onto your backs, of course).

There are also some animated props you can put around your coaster to make it look interesting, but since I don't have a lot of time to play games I stuck to the task of trying to optimize the "WOW!" factor of the ride itself.

Imagineer mode requires more thought, but is better if you're keen on building a realistic coaster.

The graphics and sound are pretty good, and you can watch your coaster ride unfold from a variety of camera angles, the best of which put you on board the coaster train and let you experience the ride. I was using a 19 inch monitor and it was pretty neat; when I get around to it I think I'll output the video to my 57" TV and see what kind of a rush that gives.

Oh, and when you've created your Ultimate Ride, you can show it to the world by e-mailing it to your friends (who also have the game, of course) or posting in on the coasterXchange web site where you can compete for the rank of ROLLERGOD.

My favorite tracks were the steel ones, but you can put together some pretty interesting rides no matter which of the three types of coaster you choose.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006