Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion

A blend of top-class man­age­ment sim tin­ker­ing And dino-ram­pag­ing Ac­tion, Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion finds A way

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Fron­tier takes us be­hind the scenes of its lat­est sim.

It’s the ul­ti­mate fan­tasy about the ul­ti­mate fan­tasy – a park sim­u­la­tion videogame, ac­tu­ally done well, based on the world cre­ated by late au­thor Michael Crich­ton. Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion – named for the re­cent Pratt turn in the fran­chise, but ow­ing more than its fair share to the orig­i­nal Park and its se­quels – feels like such a per­fect mar­riage, it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine what could re­ally go wrong with it. Maybe it will have been rushed in or­der to re­lease at the same time as the up­com­ing movie, Juras­sic World: Fallen King­dom. Maybe it will rely too much on its celebrity ap­pear­ances, like the glo­ri­ous Jeff Gold­blum repris­ing his role as Dr Ian Mal­colm. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But from some time with Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion, plenty more with Fron­tier’s pre­vi­ous park man­age­ment ti­tle Planet Coaster, and with the knowledge of just how many games the stu­dio has made over the past cou­ple of decades fea­tur­ing parks, an­i­mals, or a mix of the two, it’s dif­fi­cult to see the ‘maybes’ hav­ing any real legs. Of course, this might all be a re­sult of the in­tox­i­ca­tion that washes over a per­son when they are smack bang in the mid­dle of the ul­ti­mate fan­tasy about the ul­ti­mate fan­tasy. Time will tell. For now, it’s all about what Evo­lu­tion might bring us, what we’ve seen of it so far, and how much Evo­lu­tion man­ages to be its own thing in the face of the ac­cu­sa­tions that will do the rounds this is merely a Planet Coaster re-skin. Michael Brookes, game di­rec­tor on Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion, ac­knowl­edges Fron­tier’s last game had a big im­pact on the new one with the ter­ri­ble lizards: “Ob­vi­ously [Universal] said they’d seen what we’d done with Planet Coaster and var­i­ous other things, so they knew that we could do a man­age­ment style game,” he says, “How­ever, we very much wanted to not do a re-skin of Planet Coaster. We think with Juras­sic World there’s an op­por­tu­nity there to go deeper with the man­age­ment. You’ve got [to think about] much more with the di­nosaurs, the ef­fects of di­nosaurs, things like that, so they had to be stars of the show, not the cre­ative tool. Even though Planet Coaster is a man­age­ment game, it’s also this re­ally amaz­ing cre­ative tool, so we wanted to kind of not divorce the two and make sure that with Juras­sic World we fo­cused on ac­tu­ally look­ing af­ter your di­nosaurs and the im­pact of what look­ing af­ter the di­nosaurs means.” From the out­set it’s clear the di­nosaurs do mat­ter a good deal more than you might pos­si­bly ex­pect. Start­ing out on the rel­a­tively calm is­land of Matanceros – first men­tioned in the Lost World novel – play­ers get used to the sys­tems be­ing thrown their way in a rel­a­tively calm, straight­for­ward fash­ion. Place an en­clo­sure, at­tach a com­plex in which you can breed new once-dead crea­tures, don’t for­get to power it all up, build your other re­quired fa­cil­i­ties (ranger stations, re­search labs etc) from there – and all that be­fore you’ve even thought about the re­quire­ments of your guests. Af­ter all, this is a game about run­ning a park, not a pri­vate, closed-off re­search sta­tion, so at times you will have to think about things like ham­burger shops and sell­ing mer­chan­dise with as much of a mark-up as you can with­out up­set­ting folks.

“We very much Wanted to do a re-skin of Planet coaster”

Do you see what’s hap­pened? You’ve for­got­ten about the di­nosaurs, be­cause there’s so much else to fo­cus on should you let your mind wan­der. We bring this up not to crit­i­cise, as Evo­lu­tion does a good job of in­tro­duc­ing things piece by piece, but be­cause while we were busy faffing about try­ing to per­fectly place a t-shirt shop, one of our her­bi­vores broke through a non-elec­tri­fied fence and went to work ter­ror­is­ing the hu­mans loi­ter­ing about out­side. Look­ing af­ter di­nosaurs mat­ters more than any­thing else, de­spite what some voices in your ear might shout as they’re de­mand­ing you up se­cu­rity lev­els or squeeze more profit from the at­tend­ing pub­lic. And we hadn’t been pay­ing at­ten­tion to our lone Ed­mon­tosaurus. It wasn’t sur­pris­ing she be­came un­happy, lack­ing in any so­cial con­tact as she was – what with be­ing the only one of her kind to ex­ist in the last 66 mil­lion years. That’s a level of lone­li­ness sure to make any­one mad. It sounds like mi­cro­man­age­ment, but it re­ally isn’t – hover over your at­trac­tions, and you’ll see me­ters mea­sur­ing hunger, thirst, so­cial hap­pi­ness and other such el­e­ments. Keep an eye on it, and you’ll al­ways – well, usu­ally – be able to nip things in the pre­his­toric, giant bud be­fore they get out of hand. But you do have to re­mem­ber all the time that these are an­i­mals with their own wants and needs, their own in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties – to an ex­tent – and there’s no one-size approach to the dif­fer­ent species. “To progress through the game you need to be fairly sen­si­ble with what you do,” Brookes says, “Be­cause if you went and opened the gates in your pad­docks then the di­nosaurs would walk out. They are dangerous to hu­mans. Even the her­bi­vores are a threat to hu­mans – they will tram­ple peo­ple into the ground.” Keep­ing gi­gan­tic lizard/birds happy could be an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity – and Evo­lu­tion does cater to those want­ing to just mess things up and re­live the movies on their own terms, though more on that later – and it will take some learn­ing to get things run­ning smoothly: “You could have all kinds of causes,” Brookes ex­plains, “If you’re not feed­ing them; if they be­come sick; if there aren’t enough oth­ers of their kind – many of the di­nosaurs are quite so­cial. They ex­pect to see oth­ers of their kind. Oth­ers worry if there are too many other di­nosaurs close to them, so if you get over­crowded that can be a prob­lem. And then they can just try and es­cape!” Of course, what would a Juras­sic World – or Park – game be with­out the pres­ence of the Tyran­nosaurus Rex, the ‘should-be-deinony­chus’ Ve­loci­rap­tors, or any of your other meat-feasting bipedal bas­tards? Noth­ing, and of course you can clone your­self any num­ber of car­niv­o­rous di­nos to pop­u­late the park. In fact, you’ll find your­self want­ing to do so, as they’re more ex­cit­ing for vis­i­tors to see, and so bring in more money. They also bring in more dan­ger. “The more dangerous di­nosaurs will ac­tively seek to try and es­cape their en­clo­sures if they’re not happy,” Brookes laughs. The ba­sic point be­ing made is that Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion has a lot of lay­ers to it, and a lot of ways in which it can appeal to play­ers. There’s those who might just want to breed and main­tain di­nosaur pop­u­la­tions, as Fron­tier knows: “That’s some­thing we re­ally wanted to be aware of, is be­cause, yes, it’s good to have a chal­lenge to the game, but you don’t want to make it frus­trat­ing,” Brookes says, “I mean, there are a lot of play­ers who, to an ex­tent, they pre­fer just to have a sand­box game just to see that they can man­age a large num­ber of di­nosaurs. So for that, they can stick with Matanceros. They can ex­plore the other is­lands and start get­ting the other un­locks, but they can keep com­ing back and build­ing on Matanceros, to do what it is they want.” But this is a game in the Juras­sic Park uni­verse – there’s a story be­hind ev­ery­thing, and with­out the in­trigue, the push-and-pull be­tween sci­en­tific break­throughs and eth­i­cal dilem­mas, the un­mit­i­gated greed of a wide-eyed in­vestor with dol­lar signs on the hori­zon, it wouldn’t re­ally be fit for pur­pose. John Zuur Plat­ten is the lead writer on Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion, and has cred­its on the likes of Fear Ef­fect and The Chronicles Of Rid­dick: Es­cape From Butcher Bay. His job was to in­te­grate a fit­ting, grip­ping, dip in-and-out-able sto­ry­line to

“there Was this big ele­ment of trust that We’re Work­ing With some­thing very valu­able to them”

Evo­lu­tion in a way that fits the se­ries’ ethos while at the same time not over­whelm­ing things. “What I look at my job as be­ing,” he ex­plains, “is sort of set­ting the ta­ble, pro­vid­ing con­text for the player, for what they’re about to ex­pe­ri­ence, but the in­di­vid­ual story-beats, they cre­ate those. Ev­ery game that I write, I al­ways imag­ine that I’m col­lab­o­rat­ing with the player, be­cause the player is re­veal­ing that story the way they’re play­ing the game. Many games of Evo­lu­tion, you’re cre­at­ing your own story, so it’s a balanc­ing act – but, there are also lin­ear nar­ra­tive story beats that hap­pen through branches you can ex­plore.” Those branches – sci­ence, en­ter­tain­ment and se­cu­rity – of­fer up mini-mis­sions for the player that fo­cus on the dif­fer­ent el­e­ments and pro­vide boosts to tech­nol­ogy and dis­cov­er­ies as­so­ci­ated with them. Fo­cus on se­cu­rity, for ex­am­ple, and you’ll end up with far fewer Ed­mon­tosaurus ram­pages un­der your belt – but the park will feel more like a dino-prison than some­where vis­i­tors ac­tu­ally want to spend any time. Each branch brings its own philoso­phies to the ta­ble, and it’s a balanc­ing act to keep ev­ery fac­tion as happy as it can be in or­der for ev­ery­thing to be run­ning smoothly as you go. It’s al­most as if some­one’s watched the orig­i­nal movie and no­ticed one Dennis Nedry was a sort-of fac­tion within the story who wasn’t kept happy, and so who moved against his em­ployer to sab­o­tage the op­er­a­tion. And it’s al­most as if that kind of thing might hap­pen in Evo­lu­tion too, given enough ne­glect to­wards one or two fac­tions. Oh, and re­mem­ber not to for­get about the di­nosaurs. This kind of com­plex­ity re­quires a baby steps approach to things, and Fron­tier is em­brac­ing the fact that, even with the ro­bust sto­ry­line push­ing play­ers through ev­ery­thing, there is the chance to me­thod­i­cally work through things, to re­turn to pre­vi­ous parks and up­grade them, to concentrate on the dis­tinctly gamey as­pects of Evo­lu­tion. “The main approach taken was that we have the pro­gres­sion through the is­lands, as you progress then you un­lock new game­play, but you also un­lock new chal­lenges,” Brookes says, “So you’re slowly build­ing up this li­brary of tools that you can use to re­spond to emer­gen­cies, or pre­emp­tively plan ahead for them… Then we en­cour­age you to go back through the is­lands to try and com­plete them fully, us­ing all the new things that you’ve learned, and to try un­lock ev­ery­thing.” As you work your way through the is­lands, the chal­lenge builds in nu­mer­ous ways – one ob­vi­ous way be­ing the weather, which be­comes far harsher on other is­lands and ne­ces­si­tates storm warn­ing cen­tres and prepa­ra­tion for weather events.

“the de­vel­op­ment stu­dio be­hind it has been mak­ing games about an­i­mals, Parks, and an­i­mals in Parks for just about two decades”

A stray light­en­ing strike on a power sub­sta­tion with­out enough re­dun­dan­cies in place, and you’ve got your­self fences a great deal eas­ier to chew through than they were mere sec­onds be­fore. It’s a par­tic­u­larly game-y ele­ment, of course, but an­other way in which Fron­tier has man­aged to weave some­thing from the world of gam­ing with the core con­cepts of the movies on which it’s based: chaos. Now, you’re not go­ing to see a Chaos-o-me­ter at the top of the screen, nor is Jeff Gold­blum’s job in-game to tell you when some­thing chaotic is about to hap­pen. It’s not that ob­vi­ous. But you are look­ing at a se­ries of com­plex sys­tems layered on top of each other, where weak links can form. If one breaks – it might be the afore­men­tioned sub­sta­tion with no re­dun­dan­cies – there’s al­ways the chance this chaos will cas­cade, lead­ing to more ill ef­fects on top of more prob­lems, sprin­kled with more is­sues. Of course, this sounds like hell and the kind of thing that could re­sult in many a con­troller thrown at a wall – but it’s en­tirely in keep­ing with the Juras­sic se­ries’ ethos, and the way in which one leads to an­other, and onto more bad shit. There’s also the fact that some will play for this chaos – we’ve been do­ing it since pur­pose­fully caus­ing earthquakes and Godzilla ram­pages in the orig­i­nal Sim City – it’s un­likely to stop now we’re on the verge of what could be the best park build­ing sim­u­la­tion the Juras­sic fran­chise has ever seen. Some­times you just want to see truly an­cient na­ture clash head-on with the prod­ucts of mil­lions of years of evo­lu­tion. That’s just Juras­sic World, Juras­sic Park, the Juras­sic fran­chise – ev­ery­thing Michael Crich­ton and, lat­terly, Universal has al­ways been about with this world. And park. Ev­ery­one work­ing at Fron­tier is full of high praise for li­cense hold­ers Universal – “They re­alised what we could do with one of their huge fran­chises,” Brookes says, “So there was this big ele­ment of trust that we’re work­ing with some­thing very valu­able to them.” The stu­dio pro­vided the team ac­cess to au­dio, 3D mod­els, an­i­ma­tions and more to make the job of cre­at­ing a park-cre­ator as ac­cu­rate as it can be. But there al­ways has to be some­thing about a game based on such a block­buster fran­chise that of­fers at least a vig­or­ous nod to­wards its (part-)ac­tion roots. For­tu­nately for Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion, this nod fits – and it’s fun. What it is, is direct con­trol – say a di­nosaur be­comes out of con­trol, and you need to send in a team to tran­quilise the beast for its own good (and to pro­tect prof­its). You can do this with a few clicks or but­ton presses and let it be car­ried out by the AI. Or, you can dive right in to the ac­tion, con­trol­ling the he­li­copter as it makes its way to the ram­pag­ing an­i­mal and the se­da­tion sniper as they hang out from the chop­per’s side – a mini-game of tar­get prac­tice to calm na­ture’s fury, no less. There’s also the chance to con­trol Jeep-bound rangers to ad­min­is­ter cures to ailing di­nosaurs, and likely other el­e­ments we weren’t privy to with our time on the game so far. It ini­tially feels like an odd ad­di­tion, but it does work – and you can see why it’s in there. “The direct ac­tion thing, I think, was a con­se­quence of ac­tu­ally com­ing from Juras­sic World,” Brookes says, “Where they have these hero mo­ments, where the per­son ac­tu­ally starts run­ning around in her high heels, and just ac­tively do­ing some­thing about it. We wanted to in­clude that in the game. Plus it gives you a new per­spec­tive on how you’re look­ing at your di­nosaurs, when you’re driv­ing around in a four-by-four for one, look­ing at the Bra­chiosaur walk­ing past, that’s quite an im­pres­sive sight. “It gets you that hu­man scale in­ter­ac­tion as well, but also it means that when these dis­as­ters hap­pen, that you can ac­tu­ally re­spond to it. And if you know what you’re do­ing, you can re­spond much quicker than the AI can. You can use re­search to im­prove your re­sponse teams, but some­times you just want to jump in, that you’d rather do it your­self.” It’s just one of those things that wouldn’t work were it a less ex­pe­ri­enced de­vel­oper be­hind the ac­tion – that would prob­a­bly re­sult in a game fo­cused on ac­tion, de­mand­ing in­ter­ac­tion from the player and pe­nal­is­ing them for not get­ting their hands dirty. As Fron­tier presents it, you can help, and it is fun, and it works well – but you ab­so­lutely do not have to if you don’t want to. Frankly, Juras­sic World Evo­lu­tion could well turn out to be a missed op­por­tu­nity. Maybe. We can’t keep that thought off the ta­ble from just a short amount of time with the game at a well or­gan­ised, showy press event. But at the same time there’s very lit­tle work­ing against it as a project – the fran­chise it’s based on is strong and the game isn’t be­ing lim­ited just to the re­cent movies, with the clas­sic orig­i­nal (and its two barely watch­able fol­low-ups) fea­tured and ref­er­enced with aplomb. The de­vel­op­ment stu­dio be­hind it has been mak­ing games about an­i­mals, parks, and an­i­mals in parks for just about two decades now, and its jump­ing off point of Planet Coaster – while it’s keen to dis­tance Evo­lu­tion from ‘just be­ing a re-skin’ – is a brilliant one. And it’s got Jeff Gold­blum in it, mut­ter­ing his sweet, stac­cato streams of con­scious­ness into your ears. If it all comes to­gether, if na­ture – and Fron­tier – finds a way, we could well end up with a truly rare sight in the gam­ing species: a gen­uinely great movie tie-in.

Your initial park is in a large area for you to ex­pand into, but those who get bored of the start­ing is­land will be pleased to know there are plenty more – with their own chal­lenges – to tackle.

You can keep as few or as many dif­fer­ent species in a sin­gle en­clo­sure as you see fit. Do you want con­ve­nience, or safer an­i­mals? It’s up to you.

As new tech­nolo­gies are re­searched, op­por­tu­ni­ties to recre­ate spe­cific, mas­sive fea­tures from the movie se­ries make them­selves known. This is beg­ging for a sys­tems fail­ure…

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