Summer Overlord: Val d’Isere Ski Park Manager

Waiting patiently for his final year at college, Declan is in the midst of a four-month summer holiday. He is quite bored. Unemployed and at home, to stave off insanity, he is playing through fifteen management/tycoon games from the last decade in a series of articles in which he will attempt to become the ultimate Summer Overlord, master of routine and efficiency and pro hirer of vomit-sweeping janitors. Join him every Saturday on a journey which will take you through some of the best and the worst that the obscure genre has to offer. 

*  *  *

Bad for Your Health

I wasn't lying, this game does really exist.

Let’s be clear, straight off the bat: this is the most obscure game I own. It takes a special kind of Rain Man to find management games appealing, and an even more special kind to get excited over managing a ski resort. Luckily for you, I am that special kind of Rain Man.

Val d’Isere Ski Park Manager (I shudder even typing it) was developed in 2001 by the French team Lankhor; rather unsurprisingly, it was the last game they ever developed. As the name suggests, the player is tasked with building and managing a ski resort, coping with all the nerve-shredding thrills along the way like not having enough money to build toilets. In fact, Ski Park Manager was, believe it or not, my second choice in ski park management games. About eight or nine years ago, I had been tempted by the snowy vistas of Ski Resort Tycoon – which still looks better than Ski Park Manager, after a quick, bitter Googling – but alas, I was unable to find it. In perhaps the strangest HMV on Earth, I finally stumbled across this bastard of a game, ignorant of the fact that I was on the verge of installing one of the worst games I have ever played in my entire life. There’s truth in the maxim “never settle for second best”.

Before I started this series, I was adamant that Ski Park Manager couldn’t have been as bad as I remembered. In fact, I was certain that the reason I had such terrible memories of it was because my eleven-year-old brain was simply incapable of grasping the intricacies of a well-crafted management game… right?

Wrong.

If you can get Ski Park Manger to run, you’ve accomplished something worthy of a royal commendation. A knighthood, perhaps. Reaching the main menu is like finishing a marathon, and even then, you’re likely to be plagued with a blinking cursor that pops in and out of existence. Itching to create the world’s most amazing black level ski run? Tough. You’ll play when Ski Park Manager wants you to play.

Is This Real Life?

Ski Park Manager, the evil, conniving shit that it is, expects you to be instantly familiar with not only management games, but ski resort management games as well. There is no tutorial. At all. Starting a new game relies on you picking completely randomly from a menu of ninety identical French and Italian locations. Some of these locations are destined to crash in the first five minutes, whilst others, sneakily, will let you play for an hour or so before exploding dramatically to the desktop. It’s when this deceptively unstable game crashes that you begin to question your own sanity: why are you playing a game about ski resorts? This isn’t fun, you weird, strange person. This is torture! Wait, am I a masochist now?

If you made a resort look this nice, well... well, I wouldn't believe you.

Say, for example, you successfully run the game menu gauntlet and reach the snowy mountaintop of what, you believe, is destined to become your luxurious ski resort: what next? Good question. Without a tutorial, a new player is left with absolutely no idea what to do. Uh… I guess I’ll place a few chalets? Add a few toilets here… a restaurant there… How do I employ people? Oh, I double-click something, I see. I have to manually assign them to their buildings and their tasks?! Christ!  Before you’ve even managed to open your resort (good luck figuring that one out. Tsk, click the small red circle on the entrance, idiot!), you’ve sifted through innumerable, unintuitive menus, alternating wildly between left and right clicks, because hey, that’s what the games feels like making you do, okay?

I Fancy a Cigarette

Your resort’s ‘clients’ are the pickiest, whiniest, most infuriating gits in ski park management history. They arrive with a frown and leave with a frown. If they have to walk more than five metres to anything, they will erupt in anger and start towards the exit.

Running out of snow is supposedly one of the game's challenges. The real challenge is playing long enough to encounter it.

“Your clients are looking for ski shops more suited to their social standing”, whinges the advice ticker at the top of the screen. I’m sorry: if the game allowed me to build them a tuxedo rental shop, I would. “Your clients are bored. Try varying their entertainment!” – again, I apologise, but the only ‘entertainment’ building you’re allowing me to construct is a “children’s Park”(sic),   so forgive me if I’m having difficulty catering to the over-fives. Besides, this is a damned ski resort! I’ve made you three awesome runs, one of which is practically vertical, and you’re complaining because your juices aren’t being stimulated enough? But wait! A fully green, happy face has popped up from a snowboarder on my Xtreme Death Defier run! Fina— oh, wait, red and angry again. That three metres of level terrain was enough to put him in a terrible, wife-beating mood. At least I tried.

If you can last more than an hour with Val d’Isere Ski Park Manager, you are a braver, manlier man than I. Everything is broken. I can imagine the developers got together after a fantastic weekend away tearing up the slopes (I’m hip and with it), thought it would be awesome to make a game about running a resort, then realised half-way through  development that they had been possessed by some evil trickster god of wintersports and put absolutely no effort into finishing their product. The tiniest niggles and glitches combine into such a huge mass of errors and design flaws that they are impossible to overlook. Ski lifts clip through mountains; medics and instructors will take minutes to appear and tend to their tasks; money is scarcer than keeping a client happy for more than a nanosecond; indeed, clients are so mentally handicapped that they will literally ski off mountains and break their legs if it means getting to an attraction that requires taking more than a few lifts. I laughed the first time that happened (the satisfying thud made it especially appealing to the misanthrope in me), but by the fourth, fifth, and sixth times, I realised that this was beyond an isolated episode of Lemmings, and instead a depressing, rather tragic bug.

The resort locations are massive, but good luck finding the money/patience to expand further than your first few pistes.

Save or Delete?

To concisely sum it up: Ski Park Manager makes me want to drink.

The saddest part of this melancholic tale is that the potential was there. The back of the game’s box is smattered with impressively built resorts with a blurb that proudly claims that the player will “experience the thrills and spills of creating and managing the ultimate ski resort”. Alas that it is all spills. Despite the occasional, mildly exciting avalanche (which I prayed would completely wipe out my miserable little resort, burying everyone inside for eternity) and that weird pulse of warmth that only the people who build train sets experience when I was allowed to behold a few placid moments of my skiers and snow-ploughs in motion, Ski Park Manager is not worth the pain. (Unless you are a masochist of course, in which case, this is right up your twisted alley.)

Delete, install, then delete again. Then ignite copy of game. You’ll be doing the world a favour.

<- Last week: Zoo Tycoon                                                                    Next week: Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis ->


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