Beverley P is stuck in a maze. She's spent the last 50 years toiling away near its entrance. Starving, thirsty and exhausted, Beverley ekes out a desperate, endless existence, alone and without hope. If she were able to talk, she might whisper: "kill me".
Regina F. managed to make it past Checkpoint 1, and is currently circling Checkpoint 2. 47 years after she began her journey through the maze, there is a sliver of hope that she may find the exit. But she still has a long way to go; there are five checkpoints in total. Miserable, exhausted and desperate for a drink, Regina soldiers on. Maybe, in another 50 years, she'll have reached the half-way point.
Is this the most evil RollerCoaster Tycoon creation ever? Probably.
It is the brainchild of a particularly mischievous fan who created a park that's home to just one attraction: a massive maze - and let 16 AI guests inside to see if they could find their way to the exit.
Over the course of 50 in-game years, none of the guests have managed to make it out the maze. In fact, some seem stuck in endless loops, destined to toil away forever in a virtual purgatory.
Just A Walk In The Park is the work of "RogueLeader23", a 28-year-old from the east coast of America who recently got stuck into the excellent mobile game RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic. He tells me he used to draw mazes to pass the time as a child, and the name of his park was inspired by Jurassic Park "and how it relates by going through hell to escape".
A couple of years ago, after downloading RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 from Steam, RogueLeader23 had the idea to construct a maze to see how long it would take for a basic, 15-year-old AI to successfully navigate. "There was no cruelty involved, as every guest who entered the queue (maybe?) knew what they were up against," he says.
But the devilish plan was shelved as real-life took over. It only became a reality after RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic came out in December 2016. Classic is a mix of RollerCoaster Tycoon 1 and 2 - the brilliant originals designed by Chris Sawyer - ported to iOS platforms. "The idea again immediately surfaced and I began making plans to construct a maze that fit just about the entire park."
What resulted was "an abusive, 14 hour project", RogueLeader23 says.
The maze was created with the ultimate goal of directing one unlucky maze-goer through the entire park. Checkpoints were incorporated just as a way to keep track of the progress of the guests. It took 20 in-game years of cutting through a massive hedge to build Just A Walk In The Park. It is as enormous as it is complex. To give you an idea of just how enormous and complex, 36 pathways become available at Checkpoint 1 alone.
"The only design challenge when creating a maze is to always remember to keep a route open," RogueLeader23 explains. "If you close off every route, your maze cannot be completed. And, when near completion (especially with RCT), keep track of where you're building. One slip up could mean that your long and windy route to the finish is countered with an unexpected 'shortcut' you were unaware of."
The experiment began with the injection into the maze of just one AI guest, to see how long they'd take to fully navigate it. The first guest to walk through the entrance to Just A Walk In The Park was Beverley P. RogueLeader23 observed her behaviour, using the mobile version of the game's accelerate time option to speed up proceedings.
"At first, my findings were that the AI chose a completely random direction to take at every intersection," he explains. "Bev had 'decided' to wander close to the entrance after two in-game years, so I decided to open the flood gates and let an additional 15 guests in.
These additional guests seemed to behave according to RogueLeader23's "random direction" theory until, about 15 in-game years later, a couple of guests made it to the first checkpoint. This sparked a thought:
"Now, it could definitely be a correct number of random choices that brought them there, but once the guest Regina F. made it all the way to checkpoint two, leaving most of the other guests in the dust, I either thought it was a huge random guess that was made correctly, or something else was up."
Was something up? RogueLeader23 struck upon a theory.
"Anyone who's played the Rollercoaster Tycoon series is aware that every guest has a certain preferred ride intensity. In order to please every guest in your park, it's necessary to include both your 'merry-go-round' and your 'I think I might die' rides.
"Allow me to use our sweet Beverley P. and Regina F. as examples. Beverley has a tolerance and preference for more intense rides. She came looking for rollercoasters, but she all got was a lousy hedge maze. She continues to linger around the entrance, possibly hoping someone will let her back into reality.
"On the flip-side, Regina came looking for less-intense rides. Hedge mazes are clearly her specialty, as she's already navigated to the second checkpoint."
But are hedge mazes really Regina's speciality?
The hedge maze in Rollercoaster Tycoon is the only ride a player can build that allows guests to navigate themselves. Would the developers have taken the time to code the AI with less-intense ride preferences just to navigate mazes easier? RogueLeader23 doubted this was the case, but remained curious.
He checked the preferences of the other 14 maze challengers, and, it turned out, those who had a preference for more intense rides were trapped closer to the start of the maze, and the guests with a less intense preference were able to work their way through it.
The question was, could this all be a coincidence? Could it be an unexpected byproduct of the AI's programming, something even the developers were unaware of?
Whatever the case, the guests cannot simply give up and disappear from the maze. Unable to die, they are trapped in a kind of virtual theme park purgatory until they reach the end. While their hunger and thirst levels can drop to minimal levels, and they do show signs of fatigue (although, curiously enough, the guests all have steel bladders), they must soldier on - theoretically forever.
It's not all doom and gloom. A total of 3857 umbrellas have been sold since the park opened, and the information kiosk at the entrance has seen a total of 20,039 guests come through (although only 16 guests were allowed in the maze itself, with over 200 crammed into the queue). In order to accommodate guests further, the park has added a delicious seafood stall, accompanied by a hot chocolate stand. "A delightful combo for guests during those hazy summer days," RogueLeader23 says.
RogueLeader23's Just A Walk In The Park experiment is now at year 70. Essentially, every guest is only able to crawl around, so exhausted are they by their unending plight. Their only chance to get out is if the player pulls the plug by closing and editing the ride. This would trigger a purge, forcing every guest to the exit.
Or, the guests could succeed by reaching the exit.
So, what will RogueLeader23 do? Will he put his guests out of their misery?
"I am a man of science," he says, "and I must see the experiment until the end. So reaching the exit is their only chance of hope."
At the time of publication, Regina F. is closest to escape, but she's really not that close. She's been in the maze a total of 48 real world hours, or 47 years of in-game time. Currently, she has been circling around Checkpoint 2, possibly checking off every wrong route she follows. There are five checkpoints in total.
As for poor Beverley P, she's still wandering close to the start of the maze, some 50 years after she began her journey. "We assume Beverley has lost all hope as she circles around the same familiar pathways," RogueLeader23 says. But her effort has not gone unnoticed. A Walk In The Park has designated a month every year to sell yellow umbrellas as a tribute to Beverley being the first and most likely oldest guest in the hedge maze.
"I believe, with enough time, someone will successfully navigate the maze," RogueLeader23 says.
"I honestly couldn't tell you how many routes there are to take throughout the maze or the chances of succeeding (a Reddit user said the chances were quite astronomical), but I will keep the internet updated every 25-ish in-game years on the progress of our maze challengers (about every week)."
While we wait for a year 100 update (previous updates can be found on Imgur here and here), I thought I'd check in with Chris Sawyer, creator of RollerCoaster Tycoon, to see what he thought of RogueLeader23's handywork. In short, he was impressed.
"Just when you think you've seen everything in RollerCoaster Tycoon something comes along like RogueLeader23's jaw-dropping maze spanning an entire park," he told me, over email.
"I'm not sure what I admire most, the amount of patience and dedication needed to design and build this massive maze or the trudging determination of the poor little guests exhausted from years of desperately and hopelessly trying to find their way out."
(I also asked Sawyer about the RollerCoaster Tycoon AI programming, in a bid to shed some light on how it operates in a maze, but he declined to comment.)
As for RogueLeader23, once - if - a guest reaches the fifth and final checkpoint, he plans to stream RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic on Twitch. The problem is, he doesn't know when that will happen. It could be anything from a week to five years from now.
"It's all up to Beverley P., Regina F. and the other 14 guests who thought they'd be taking Just a Walk in the Park..."
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