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Roller Coaster Blues

Monday, Jul. 10, 2006 1:13 AM

I am a somewhat of a roller coaster nut. I have a collection of photos, taken on various rides including the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and Six Flags Marine World's Roar. These photos usually show me with a maniacal grin on my face � and my wife hanging on for dear life.

Unfortunately, the bulging disks in my neck may preclude any further coaster adventures.

Over the years, there have been several coaster simulation games: Disney's Coaster was one of the first, followed by the Roller Coaster Tycoon series. The idea was basically the same � create the must-ride coaster and, thus, the money-making draw for your amusement park.

But if you're just into the design aspects, the hands-down favorite is a program called NoLimits Coaster. The program is several years old, but I found a link to a free demo (the full version costs $30), and � wonder of wonders � it works on both Macs and PCs.

Composed of two applications, an editor and a simulator, you still take on the role of designer, laying down track segments. Preset elements allow you to build more complicated structures with relative ease, but it's fun playing with the settings to see the effect it has on your finished coaster.

Choose from numerous styles of coaster - a traditional wooden roller coaster, modern twisted steel coasters, or even shuttle coasters (the rides that shuttle you back-and-forth over a fixed length of track). If you're building a wooden coaster, the program will handle the support structure for you; otherwise, you have to place supports on your own.

Launch the simulator, and you can go for a ride on your new creation.

Like to ride in the back? No problem! You can switch seats with a simple keystroke. If being a ride operator is your dream, you can do that, too � toggling the gates, safety restraints, and train dispatch.

The program also comes with several recreations of real-world coasters, and coaster enthusiasts on the Internet have some of their original creations posted online.

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