Designed and programmed by Chris Sawyer and released by Microprose in 1994, Transport Tycoon has come to be regarded as a true great of the strategy game genre. For a game that is now over ten years old and requires less than 10mb1 of hard-drive space, Transport Tycoon has both remarkably good graphics and a high level of complexity. The player has a simple objective: make profit and build up a company by using a variety of methods to transport resources. While planning bus routes and laying train track may not sound very exciting, Transport Tycoon can prove highly addictive.
The success of Transport Tycoon Deluxe, an update of the original version, has meant that few retailers now sell the standard Transport Tycoon release. With perseverance a new copy of the game may be found, but it is unsurprising that many fans now obtain the game second-hand from online auction sites or download it illegally, under the justification that the game is 'abandonware'.
Playing Transport Tycoon
Upon loading Transport Tycoon, the player has four options: begin a new game, load a saved game, play a multiplayer game2 or view a tutorial. To complicate this simple choice, there are also four levels of difficulty: easy, moderate, hard and custom. Factors influencing difficulty in 'custom' mode include:
- Size of starting loan
- Number and intelligence of opponents
- Vehicle reliability
- Economic climate
- Geography of the map
- Size of subsidies
A map is then generated by the computer. The player is asked to name their transport company, choose the colour of their vehicles' livery, select a gender and face for their transport manager and place their company headquarters somewhere on the map3.
Play takes place on a map of a large, square island nation, viewed from an isometric angle. The game begins with the date set to 1 January, 1930 and a loan of £100,000.
As a game that is now over ten years old, it is likely many of the copies of the game have become detached from their, probably unread, manuals. To those unfamiliar with the game, the row of 20 buttons along the top edge of the screen can appear rather confusing. Clicking on a button will often cause a drop-down list to appear, with a number of possible options. From left to right:
|Gold pause symbol||Pauses game|
|Floppy disk||Drop-down list, options: save or abandon game, quit to DOS|
|Station||Produces a list of each player's stations|
|Map||Drop-down list, options include: show map, available subsidies, town directory|
|Stack of coins||Finances of each player|
|Man in a top hat||Profile of each player|
|Coloured bar chart||Graphs, including: operating profit, cargo payment rates|
|Lorry||Road vehicle inventory|
|Magnifying glass||Zoom in/out|
|Railway track||Build: track, stations, signals, train depots|
|Roadway||Build: roads, general depots, bus stations, lorry stations|
|Dock||Build: docks, buoys and ship depots|
|Airport||Build: large and small airports|
|Trees||Allows a variety of attractive trees to be placed. Signs can also be placed on the map.|
|Musical note||A cheesy 'computer jazz' jukebox|
|Red question mark||Alter game settings, help options|
The basic aim of a player beginning a game of Transport Tycoon is simple: build up a profitable company by transporting resources. Money is made by moving raw materials, processed goods, mail and passengers from a supplier to an area in which they are in demand. The speed and distance of the transportation and the overall value of the cargo directly affects revenue.
Often a number of raw materials will be required to produce a single, more valuable resource. The production of this resource can have many positive effects, including higher revenues. For example, the production of 'goods' in a factory requires a complex chain of transportation:
- Iron ore from an iron ore mine is transported to a steel mill. Steel is produced, and must be transported to the factory.
- Livestock and grain must be transported from a farm to the factory.
- Goods output increases if steel, grain and livestock are supplied. Goods must be transported to a town.
- Goods cause towns and cities to grow, increasing the amount of passengers and mail generated. Passenger/mail profits and the demand for more goods increase.
Such complex systems, often involving several trains or road vehicles, foster a good deal of urban/industrial development and create revenue. For serious profits to be made, careful consideration of the distribution and management of resources is needed.
Although it is good fun to play, Transport Tycoon is by no means perfect. Playing the game for more than a short period will reveal several limitations, both in terms of graphics and gameplay.
It is not uncommon, for example, to see high-speed planes pass directly through each other. Unlike trains, which crash if there is even the slightest contact, aeroplanes are left curiously unharmed by mid-air collisions. The graphics are also rather repetitive, with only one type of tile design used for huge areas of ocean or grassland. There are no curves in the game, but merely square tiles. However, it is important to remember that Transport Tycoon is about business and, unsurprisingly, transport, not graphics.
The player is also limited in the number of buildings and vehicles that may be purchased; presumably, this is to stop the game being overwhelmed by having to control too much information. In Transport Tycoon, the player is limited to 250 stations (although it is possible to merge together stations of different types) and 250 vehicles. If these limits are reached, the player should probably consider playing the game on a more challenging level of difficulty.
Perhaps the most annoying of all Transport Tycoon's faults is the computer-generated opponents' complete lack of artificial intelligence, which makes them very easy to beat. When creating transport links, computer opponents will often build roads and railways that are excessively winding, taking a highly convoluted route to their destination. Vehicles will often become lost if unchecked, especially on more complex routes. It is highly frustrating when vehicles are simply unable to follow the simple instructions that have been given to them.
Perhaps the main advantage that Transport Tycoon has over other strategy games is the wide variety of vehicles that the player can purchase for their transport business. Unlike games such as Railroad Tycoon, where only trains are managed, players are able to use all four major forms of transport - road, rail, sea and air. Such a wide choice of vehicles requires the player to create a transport monopoly that utilises each form of transport to its best potential.
A skilled player of Transport Tycoon would make good use of the different features of each type of transportation. For example, a well-advanced game would see the development of short-distance bus routes and steam train branch-lines working alongside cross-country express TGV trains, hovercraft and supersonic jets.
When the game begins in 1930, only a limited range of vehicles are available. As time passes, often somewhat slowly, new vehicles are developed which are faster, more powerful and with greater carrying capacities.
In the earlier stages of the game, trains form the backbone of your transport company. While buses and lorries can provided moderate revenue on short-distance routes, it is rail haulage that creates the most lucrative profits. Trains are both fast and efficient at transporting large loads over a wide range of distances. This makes them useful for running anything from 'commuter' services between closely situated cities to large freight trains carrying important resources across long distances, making a considerable profit.
Over the course of the game over 20 different trains become available. The variety of different engines adds a good deal to the excitement of Transport Tycoon, as the player must carefully select the most appropriate train for the task intended. While the 8000hp, 150mph A292673 may be the best train for transporting mail and passengers across the map, for example, it would be a foolish choice if only a small quantity of iron ore or grain needed to be transported across a short distance.
Some of the game's most notable trains include:
|BR '8P'||95mph||One of the fastest steam trains in the game.|
|Metro-Cammel||70mph||Similar to the real life 'Sprinter' train. Useless on long distances, but can carry 76 passengers.|
|BR '87'||110mph||One of the most useful electric trains. Fast and powerful.|
|BR 'IC125'||125mph||A useful diesel train, modelled on the Intercity 125.|
|TGV||150mph||A fantastically fast train with almost instant acceleration. Massively profitable if used effectively.|
In 1930, the beginning of the game, it is important to identify transport routes that will produce future profits and create early rail links. Coal - a resource which needs to be transported to a power station - will often provide only limited revenue in the early stages, but greatly increases in production later. Therefore, it is important to monopolise access to such resources before your opponents.
As cities grow and industry develops, it is likely that individual trains will be unable to transport all the resources waiting at a station in one journey. In order to make maximum revenues, the player will be required to purchase even more trains to transport resources. In turn, this will necessitate the building of more railway track, larger stations and signalling systems that will prevent trains colliding. As the number of trains operating within a limited area increases, complex systems of tunnels, bridges, crossings and signals are constructed in order to allow the efficient transportation of goods. Much like in the real world, creating a railway system that causes minimal delays and few accidents is a highly difficult task, with total success being very rare.
By the later stages of a game of Transport Tycoon, road vehicle earnings often represent only a very small proportion of overall profit. However, road haulage is still a major factor in the success of your company. As well as providing a modest income early in the game before complex rail and air services are developed, local bus services, within or between towns, can provide a stimulus for the growth necessary for the success of more capital-heavy services, such as long distance express trains or supersonic jets. Furthermore, well-run bus and mail services do much to raise company popularity, increasing the amount of traffic that stations and airports receive.
All road vehicles are produced and serviced at road depots. Buses transport people between bus stations, while lorries, tankers and vans transport resources between lorry stations. Some typical examples of vehicles available:
|AEC Regal Bus||35mph||The staple of any player's early bus services.|
|Bedford Coal Truck||30mph||Useful on short journeys.|
|Renault Mail Truck||70mph||Almost as good as a train over moderate distances. Not available immediately.|
While roads do need to be created to link cities, many towns' road networks expand automatically. Road vehicles also automatically wait at junctions and form queues, meaning that complex systems to avoid crashes do not need to be created. However, the poor AI of the software running the game means that road vehicles on longer routes will often become lost or cause traffic jams, and should not be totally ignored.
Ships are by far the least useful form of transport available in Transport Tycoon. As well as having terrible AI, necessitating the annoying placement of regular guidance buoys4 to keep them on course, ships are extremely slow, greatly reducing revenues. If at all possible, it is wise to consider using rail or air transport before investing in shipping.
Ships are produced and serviced at a floating ship depot, and carry resources between docks. As the below table indicates, shipping is ludicrously slow:
|Ship type||Speed and Capacity||Comments|
|Oil Tanker||15mph, 200 tonnes||Very slow.|
|Passenger Ferry||20mph, 100 passengers||A train is faster and carries a similar number of passengers.|
|Hovercraft||70mph, 100 passengers||A lot faster. Looks cool.|
Air services are the easiest service to create in Transport Tycoon: planes fly unguided between airports by the shortest possible route, and require little player intervention. It is not uncommon for swarms of aircraft to be left circling above busy airports waiting for the runway to be free in order to land; such situations should be avoided, as journey length is considerably increased, decreasing revenue.
In the early stages of the game, only small aerodrome-style airports that accommodate just one aeroplane are available. While considerably faster than trains, the limited carrying capacity of the aircraft available means that profits are low. Air traffic should not be totally neglected in the game's early stage, however, as building airports before cities expand can cause them to be in prime central locations later.
In the mid-1950s, larger airports - with terminals capable of holding three planes and a longer runway - become available. This allows air transport to become much more profitable, as individual airports can handle more traffic and larger planes. Rather than relying on light aircraft, huge jumbo jets or supersonic aircraft can now carry large numbers of passengers rapidly across great distances, providing huge profits. It is not uncommon for the most successful planes to produce individual revenues greater than those of 20 or 30 road vehicles combined. As well as helicopters, many different types of aircraft are available in Transport Tycoon, such as:
|Junkers JU52||296mph||25 passengers, four mail bags.|
|Boeing 747||592mph||250 passengers, 50 mail bags.|
|BAC-Aerospatiale Concorde||1, 448mph||110 passengers, 20 mail bags.|
At the start of the game a new island country is generated, complete with forests, offshore islands, hills and lakes. A number of small towns and industries are also scattered around the map. If a game of customised difficulty is being played, it is possible to dictate the map's topography and the distribution of settlements and industry.
Towns and Cities
The majority of towns have rather stereotypical names relating to the player's choice of English, European or American naming in the 'Game Options' section. A typical English-named town might be called 'Canington' or 'Chontbourne', while a European one would be named 'Heidelhausen', or 'Fort Trindson' if American. At the start of a game, the majority of towns are isolated, with poorly-developed road networks and populations of just a few hundred. Over time and with the continued provision of transport services, towns may become sprawling metropolises of over 5000 inhabitants, producing vast numbers of passengers and mail and demanding an almost insatiable amount of goods. Sports stadiums and commercial areas may also appear, indicating increased prosperity.
In each town the player's transport company has a reputation, ranging from excellent to very poor. This reputation is influenced by the quality of transport services available and lowered by the demolition of buildings to make way for station construction. In cities that provide a valuable source of revenue, it is important to maintain a good reputation. This can be achieved by planting trees, funding commercial building construction, paying for advertising campaigns and erecting a statue of the company owner, but primarily reputation should be maintained by providing good services.
Tunnels, Bridges and Landscaping
In the construction of the Great Western Railway, Isambard Kingdom Brunel went to great lengths to avoid gradients. The same principle applies to railway construction in Transport Tycoon: avoid hills at all costs. Although tunnels and bridges may be costly to construct, they bring huge long-term savings as trains are not significantly slowed when negotiating them.
As with many things in life, the quality of the bridges available in Transport Tycoon is directly related to their cost. Wooden bridges can be constructed cheaply, but greatly slow crossing traffic. Conversely, large 'lattice girder' bridges - which often end up looking like the cantilever Forth Rail Bridge - are expensive but do not slow down trains going less than 150mph. Bridges are also limited in their length, although it is possible to reclaim small islands of land in the middle of lakes or the sea, allowing longer expanses to be bridged.
Tunnels are available in one style, as only their entrances can be seen by the player. In older versions of the game, it is possible to gain massive amounts of money by building tunnels that stretch the entire distance across the map. This is because the cost of building such tunnels is so large that it is beyond the capability of the game's accountancy, meaning that money is erroneously added rather than subtracted.
It is also possible to raise and lower land, providing that it is undeveloped. Reclaiming land from the sea can be horrendously expensive, with major reclamations often costing more than the price of several new supersonic aircraft or high-speed trains. Careful consideration is needed, therefore, of the expected benefits relative to the high cost of such measures.
As well as a wide range of vehicles, Transport Tycoon features many different industries. These seem to be scattered randomly around the map, meaning that suppliers of a cargo are infrequently situated close to an area of demand. As rail technology improves, it becomes increasingly profitable to run freight trains over long distances. The industries featured in Transport Tycoon are:
|Oil rig||Oil, Passengers||Nothing|
|Iron Ore mine||Iron Ore||Nothing|
|Steel Mill||Steel||Iron Ore|
|Factory||Goods||Steel, Grain, Livestock|
|Towns||Passengers, Mail||Passengers, Mail, Goods, Valuables|
With each stage of production, value increases. For example, transporting steel to a factory will earn more money than the revenue gained by transporting iron ore to a steel mill.
Towns that are not served by a transport company will often offer subsidies to the first company that provide a passenger service. Subsidies last for one year, and multiply revenue by varying degrees (according to game difficulty).
When playing at a hard level of difficulty, disasters regularly occur. While entertaining, the subsidence of a coal mine or the bombing of a factory by secret government aircraft can seriously damage revenues in the short term.
Legacy of Transport Tycoon
Although by no means the first seriously popular title in the transport-strategy genre, Transport Tycoon has become to be seen as one of the best-loved and highly-regarded games of its time. Perhaps its achievement is best illustrated by the success of many other games of a similar nature that were released after Transport Tycoon, often bearing the word 'Tycoon' in their title5.
In early 1995 an add-on pack for the game was released, going by the name of Transport Tycoon: World Editor. Owners of the package were, unsurprisingly, able to design their own maps and in a 'Martian' landscape. A version of the game is also available for the Playstation.
Transport Tycoon Deluxe
In 1995, Transport Tycoon Deluxe was released. It featured many of the original aspects of Transport Tycoon while introducing several different map themes, more vehicles, increased economic abilities and a wider range of industry. While Transport Tycoon Deluxe is more widely played than the original version (the subject of this entry), purists often regard it as being unnecessarily complicated.
The popularity of the Transport Tycoon and its deluxe update have lead to the creation of the Transport Tycoon Deluxe Patch. This free patch, created by fans, fixes many of the official version's bugs, improves graphics and allows newer operating systems to run the game. The limitation on the number of vehicles allowed is considerably relaxed: players may own 240 vehicles of each type, with a great deal more carriages available for trains.
Roller Coaster Tycoon
Also created by Chris Sawyer, the Roller Coaster Tycoon series has proved immensely popular. In the very early stages the game was planned as a sequel to Transport Tycoon, and many elements of the original game can be seen in the Roller Coaster Tycoon series.
Many other releases have included the word 'Tycoon' in their title, although such games' content often have only a limited similarity to Transport Tycoon. Titles in the 'Tycoon' genre include:
- Zoo Tycoon
- Monopoly Tycoon
- Pizza Tycoon
- Casino Tycoon
Simutrans is a free game created by Hansjörg Malthaner, a German designer, that is very similar to Transport Tycoon. As well as having similar graphics, players also use trains, road vehicles and ships to transport resources and earn money. Versions of the game are available for BeOS, Linux and Windows.
Locomotion, the long awaited sequel to Transport Tycoon, is intended for release in late 2004. It is likely that the game will combine elements of Transport Tycoon with the superior technology developed for Roller Coaster Tycoon 2.
Transport Tycoon enabled a new era of strategy gaming. By combining the best elements of previously successful games such as Railroad Tycoon or SimCity with high quality graphics and a more wide-ranging field of player control, a fantastic new game was produced. Ten years after its original release, Transport Tycoon is still widely played by both old and young players. This, perhaps, is the greatest testament to the game's success.