Vegas: Make It Big

a game by Deep Red Games Ltd.
Platform: PC
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See also: Simulator Games

Gambling’s a mug's game, innit? You only need pop in the local bookmakers on a Tuesday lunchtime and look at the faces of the washed-up detritus inside to see that. Take fruit machines - a recent Emulation Zone expose revealed how the damned things are rigged to steal your cash. And with more chance of lightning striking your bell-end than of you winning the jackpot, we all know the national lottery is stupidity tax: the more stupid you are, the more you pay.

All of which points to the fact that the way to make a fast buck is to open up some kind of gambling establishment. Provided the Mafia doesn’t take you out into the desert and beat you with baseball bats for muscling in on their patch, surely it’s a licence to print money? Time to find out.

City Of Angels

Vega$: Make It Big gives you the chance to be an entertainment mogul in that hedonistic Mecca, that neon oasis of depravity, that Taj Mahal of tackiness known as Las Vegas. But this is not just about gambling. Remember, the City of Lights is the home of neverending appearances by Elvis and Tom Jones, exotic dancing and heavyweight boxing events, as well as monolithic casinos. So your job is to offer the whole shebang - you’ve got to build the hotels, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, shops and other facilities that will not only bring the punters to your lot to haemorrhage money, but will then keep them there. The choice of buildings to construct is vast. Although not the easiest to get to grips with at first, the panel of buttons, tabs and scroll bars that squats at the bottom of the screen does a decent job of making finding what you want as easy as possible. Though it’s a little workaday and lacking in invention, at least this interface is logical and offers few irritating inconsistencies.

The Golden Fleece

Any tycoon game worth its salt presents you with important decisions from the word go. As your buildings go up in Make It Big. you already have to think about connecting them to each other and the crowded streets where the punters await with paving. Flashy, expensive stone is used to chaperone visitors from bar to restaurant to casino and then back to the hotel.

Bog standard tarmac suffices to provide your cleaners, mechanics, security staff and electricians access from their offices and workshops you’ve cunningly built away from the glossy facade of eateries and watering holes so the noise and smell from their activities won’t upset Joe Public. While you can build purely for your own aesthetic pleasure, even these apparently minor opening concerns illustrate the interrelating factors that need consideration if you want to be a real player on the strip.

Pretty soon you’ll have gigantic, garish signs advertising your attractions (lower-end customers can’t resist bright flashing lights), and extravagant gardens and rows of palms around your art gallery and museum (increased beauty and calm levels help please more sophisticated visitors roused by the cultural attractions). Your hotel now has a bellboy and high-roller suites (a must to lure passing VIPs), while overpriced magic shops lurk beside your ever-popular magic show (those families are so easily fleeced, aren’t they?). Getting the hang of it yet?

Customer Service

Success comes from knowing your customer. And since there can be up to 5,000 punters divided into 20 types of citizen wandering the strip at any time, this is easier said than done. From trailer-trash hicks with a handful of dimes, through casual tourists and families, up to European aristocracy and Japanese businessmen, each individual is rated for a number of feelings, the most pressing of which is denoted by a thought bubble hovering over their heads. But more useful than the individual stats are the aggregate information screens.

Here you might find that there is a preponderance of stag parties in town, meaning strip shows (no. you don’t get to see any norks!), bars and nightclubs would be a wise investment. Or maybe you’ll discover most people leaving your resort are complaining of lack of access to vital facilities - time for some re-routing work.

But none of this punter-luring occurs in isolation. In most scenarios you will be up against other developers, all vying for those fun-seekers' bucks. So why are hardly any of those families that are in town visiting your lot? Maybe that flashy dolphin show and rollercoaster combo up the road is proving a bigger draw. Why has that retired basketball star taken a room up at your rival’s hotel? Maybe it was the lure of the wave pool and sports betting suite. It’s not exactly like playing a multiplayer game, but it does lend an angle of community and competition that many games of this ilk lack.

And to further keep you on your toes, random events and unforeseen circumstances crop up every now and then. An earthquake might wreck power supplies for a period of time or a famous and exceedingly wealthy Texan oil baron might arrive in town with his fortune burning a hole in his fat wallet. Have you got the facilities to appeal to his opulent tastes?

Interior Decorating

And to think that all of this is to talk only of what goes on outside the casino. MIB is almost two games in one. as unlike any other building in the game, you have to build your casinos both inside and out.

Which is where, for a while, Vega$ begins to overwhelm. There you are. just having finished constructing an elaborate plot of retail outlets and entertainment facilities that would provide enough for a standalone game in most quarters, and you’re being asked to do the same again in microcosm inside your casino.

Almost as many options as any available on the surface are also available for the insides of your gambling dens. Slot machines, poker and blackjack tables, roulette wheels, sports betting lounges - practically every form of gambling known to man, short of cockroach racing, is available.

All manner of furnishings, bars, buffets and entertainments - not to mention the cleaners, cooks, cashiers, croupiers and mechanics that keep them operating - have to be attended to. And this is where the less hardcore of tycoon game fan will probably get his coat.

Not only is this second tier of management going to be too much faff for a fair few, but after the razzle-dazzle and visual splendour of the great outdoors, having to come inside and choose wallpaper, tell cleaners to pick up litter and wall off toilets so the smell doesn’t perturb your customers all over again can feel a little mundane.

Did You Notice The 3d Visuals?

We’ve steered clear of it for as long as possible, but it's time to talk a while about Make It Big's prized asset - the visuals. Now this is one engine that really does its job well.

Easy to manipulate, with zooming, panning and rotating an absolute breeze - and without any stuttering or juddering - the engine can handle up to 5,000 individuals wandering around simultaneously. They sit on benches, they play slot machines, they gather round poker tables - and you can get your camera right in their faces. Shadows from every structure follow the course of the sun as it nses and sets. Cars meander through the traffic system, stopping at red signals. Lights illuminate their surroundings when night falls - your decision to use all red lamps around your infamous nightclub lending it an impressive seedy hue.

Celebrities arrive at your resort complete with their entourage. Buses stop and disgorge another wide eyed cargo of willing tourists Helicopters take off and land from your helipad - it captures exactly the right feel for the game. You feel like you are in a little digitised Vegas - a pixelated patch of non-stop hedonism A jamboree of bright lights, luminous colours and gaudy structures. It wouldn't cut it in the world of first-person shooters, fair enough, but it does a magnificent job here.

Leaving Las Vegas

So it looks good and it plays good. But as we've alluded to, the imagination and flair of the 3D engine are matched by a slight lack of the same in the gameplay. Yes. it's a thorough and detailed sim, but it rigidly sticks to the principles of the genre, lending it a familiar feel.

This is sure to have an impact on longevity for tycoon fans, already jaded from having to place too many litter bins, construct endless kilometres of walkway, and form carefully positioned toilet facilities in the vicinity of dnnks vendors.

And though the wonders of the 3D engine are sure to entice a more mainstream audience in. many of these are bound to be left baffled by the uncompromisingly in-depth gameplay. But provided you fall somewhere between jaded tycoon veteran and impatient newbie (and we've got a feeling most of you do), this is certainly worth a punt.

Save Your Favourite Casino Designs From The Sandbox Mode For Use In The Main Game

As far as game structure goes, there are two modes - Campaign and Sandbox. Sandbox gives you free reign to simply build. The added attraction here is that any casinos constructed in this mode can be saved and then bought as an out-of-the-box fully functioning facility in the campaign game.

The Campaign mode gives you tasks in competition with the other magnates on the strip. These goals - attract a certain amount of VIP visitors, break a certain profit margin by a certain point, build a certain amount of structures before a time limit - are, to be frank, a little run of the mill and will be over-familiar to genre veterans. And with only a dozen or so scenarios in the Campaign, it’s a little on the short side.

Download Vegas: Make It Big

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

What's the easiest way to win a million quid? Play the football pools? Enter the lottery? Cheat on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Nah. The odds of hitting the jackpot on any of those are about the same as pulling a supermodel at bingo. The only true way to get seriously wedged is to head into the Nevada desert. We're talking showgirls. We're talking Elvis. We're talking gangsters. We're talking heavyweight boxing championships and heavyweight wads. We are of course talking Vegas.

But there's a twist. If you think the millionaires are the ones gambling - you're wrong. The only way to earn a cool million (and much, much more) here is to physically own the town. The only winners in Las Vegas are the people who run the place. And that means you.

A Human Zoo

Vega$: Make It Big is the tycoon game to end all tycoon games. By actually giving players the opportunity to rebuild the planet's most gaudy goldmine, developer Deep Red Games (Monopoly Tycoon) and publisher Empire Interactive feel they have something that's a little bit more than your average casino simulator.

"I think we offer the whole Vegas experience," muses producer Ben Wilkins, "I don't think there's another casino game that's gone outside the casino and onto The Strip the way we have. There are rollercoasters, dolphin shows, swimming pools, hugely detailed shopping malls - and all of these things are side by side, competing with each other."

Fact is, VegaS is clearly more than just chips, slots and neon lights.

"There certainly isn't another tycoon game that has everything so close together," continues Wilkins, "in Zoo Tycoon for example you wouldn't get three zoos lined up next to each other shouting 'we've got more penguins! Come over here!' You might see some kind of message saying that New York Zoo has a new tiger - but you'll never physically see it. In Vega$ you can see the competition right there and you can see exactly how many people are going through the door."

There can be no doubt that Vega$ looks like being an incredibly audacious attempt at empire building. With more than 100 different upgradeable buildings including hotels, casinos, strip clubs, restaurants and the aforementioned shopping malls - where you can even specify the type of boutique and the prices on offer - the game allows you to mess round with virtually everything that you'll find in the real vegas.

Equally you'll find the same type of people. There are 22 different kinds of punters in all, ranging from the absolute down-and-out pond life who do nothing but feed the slots with their buckets of quarters, to the Texan whales marking their territory at the poker table.

Each guest has needs of course. If you are familiar with games like RollerCoaster Tycoon, Theme Park and the rest, it will come as no surprise to discover that what Cledus from West Virginia wants is not necessarily the same as what Madame Richebiche from Paris wants. Whether your delightful guests feel the urge to eat, drink (large amounts of alcohol), gamble, sleep or piss in a pot, you have to provide them with the means to do so. And from what we've seen it looks like part of the strategy is ensuring that certain types of people circulate and remain in specific areas so that they and the entertainment they seek doesn't offend guests of a different class.

A family of four for example will not appreciate staying in a hotel boasting strippers on tap. A dinosaur-themed locale with wave pools and burger bars will suit them much better - apart from dad of course who's likely to sneak off into 'Massage Mahal' the moment the kids and the missus are in bed. Meanwhile, an excitable gaggle of Japanese businessmen would have no qualms in diving straight into the local jazz bars and jizz parlours. What's petty cash for after all?

To keep players on their toes and to add a touch of glamour to the seedy proceedings, there's also a host of Vegas-type celebrities. Famous boy bands, crooners with more than a passing resemblance to Tom Jones, heavy-weight boxing champions and suave British secret agents can all be found pounding The Strip.

Insider Trading

The nightmare/fantasy world (depending on your point of view) of the real Vegas is a fairly difficult atmosphere to mimic -but it hasn't stopped the developer having a bloody good try. And with the capacity to accommodate up to 5,000 people and 200 cars, it's no wonder there's a certain energetic buzz about the game. As you scan around the full 3D landscape, zooming down to watch weddings conducted by Elvis and pan through spectacular fountains, you really cannot help but be impressed at the effort that's been put in.

All this and we haven't even stepped into a casino yet. In fairness this is the one area of the game that didn't impress as much as we'd hoped. But that's not because there's anything particularly wrong with it as far as we can tell. It's just that with Casino Inc and Casino Empire both offering an internal gameplay perspective; the impact is not particularly new or exciting. From a gameplay point of view it's a complete contrast to the exterior part of the game, which is wholly unique.

Nonetheless there are elements here that aim to improve upon what we've already seen in both Empire and Inc. For a start, the level of micromanagement is nowhere near as intense. All the blackjack tables, bars, security guards and everything associated with the day-to-day operations of the casino will manage themselves if you leave them alone.

"We give the player a choice," says Wilkins, "if you want to go into intricate depths of micromanagement and adjust payout ratios, decide who you want to eject and all the other stuff then you can. But if you don't want to, the place won't grind to a halt without you. We want the player to have fun. For some people that means paying a croupier a certain wage, for others it means building stuff."

Creating the perfect gambling environment will be an integral part of the game. You will have to choose where to put the poker tables, the roulette wheels and everything else that you find in a casino. You can even decide which kind of car you want to have as a star prize on the slot machines. Again, it all depends what type of punter you want in your casino.

A Bit Whiffy

One interesting tool used in the design process is the 'aura' - a kind of visual depiction of invisible elements that will affect your punters. So, if you want to create a pleasant place for a bit of poker then you'll need to check your noise aura chart and build a nice quiet comer to give your players a chance to think. If you want to get people to stick around the roulette table then it might be an idea to move it away from the toilets: checking your smell aura can quickly replace the aroma of sewage with the reek of cash.

Ambience is also important if you want to attract high-rollers into your casino. By installing expensive marble floors and ostentatious walls and ceilings you can make the place fit for a king.

The ability to save your casino should also prove highly popular. If you've spent the best part of a day creating what you believe is the best gambling den in Vegas, you can save it and use it later in the game. It's a bit like saving your rollercoaster designs on Rollercoaster Tycoon, and you don't need us to tell you what a godsend that is. You can also trade your casinos on the Internet if you so desire - admittedly, not everyone takes it so seriously, but you just know some smart arse will actually construct an identical replica of Caesar's Palace.

Disaster Strikes

Disasters are another feature that are part and parcel of tycoon games, and VfegaS is no different. Droughts, torrential rain, lightning, earthquakes and more form just some of the difficulties you will encounter.

Ultimately though, the question is, will this type of game prove to be a disaster in Britain? If the success of Casino Empire and Casino Inc are anything to go by, the odds are VegaS's neon lights may struggle to shine. The truth is us Brits are a bit less inclined to embrace the whole gambling thing in the same way the Americans do. Sticking a couple of quid on the dogs and the nags is more our style.

From what we've seen so far, VegaS deserves more respect. It is more than just a casino simulator - that much is obvious. If you mixed up SimCity, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Monopoly Tycoon and Casino Empire in a big pot you'll be much closer to what VegaS is all about. Needless to say, we were extremely suprised by the scope of the game. Clearly, the ante is about to be seriously raised on the tycoon management genre.

Lights Alive

Gambling Is Not A Turn Off...

One of the weirdest things about Las Vegas is the lack of clocks. Casino managers don't want you to know what the time is in the hope that you'll forget about the world around you and just keep throwing away your cash. So, when you think it's just gone midnight and you walk out of the casino to find the sun rising over the red mountains of the Nevada desert it can sometimes be a bit of a shock.

VegaS manages to relay this shock effect to the player by including a full day/night cycle. This also means that when the sun sets and the lights of Vegas are switched on you also get the full-on dazzling neon effect. Very impressive.

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