During our recent trip to Los Angeles, we attended the world's first presentation on Jurassic World Evolution by Frontier Developments. It took place inside Stage 6 of Universal Studios Hollywood, which was filled with movie props including a Jurassic Park jeep and a giant T-Rex, both laid on especially for the occasion. Before and after our gameplay session, we had plenty of opportunity to talk to developers about their work on the upcoming business simulation game, which is exactly what we did.
As we noticed during our hands-on session, Jurassic World Evolution has similar UI and game mechanics to earlier games by Frontier Developments, such as Zoo Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. According to Michael Brookes (the game director), the game runs on "the same engine [as previous games] but it has been advanced in many places". The game allows the player to construct buildings for research and entertainment for visitors, while the park requires power lines, roads, and monorails to function. You research new dinosaurs to draw new visitors, then you sculpt the terrain to your liking, and you construct enclosures with the appropriate security fences to keep your dinosaurs and visitors safe. The objective of the player is to continuously balance attracting enough visitors to your park, investing profits in the development of new dinosaurs, and investing in safety to protect your park against rampant dinosaurs, power cuts, and natural disasters.
Michael Brookes and Andrew Fletcher (lead designer) told us that several characters provide a narrative to the construction of your park, for example by offering contracts to complete. Dr. Ian Malcolm (played once again by Jeff Goldblum) will function as the player's "conscience" in the game. Fletcher told us "he's sort of a narrator throughout and you'll definitely hear a lot from him throughout the game. [...] If you play more of the missions related to the different divisions, you'll hear more about him and he'll come in more about what's going on." He also stated Malcolm will be the "central character" of the storyline.
When we asked whether any other characters from the Jurassic films will be present, Brookes told us "[they're] not allowed to comment on that at the moment". We did see a couple of other fictional characters that were associated with the park though, such as a military-looking guy as the head of security. We also asked Brookes about the storyline's replayability, to which he replied: "It's not adaptive in the way that you can change it, but you can approach it in different ways."
Your experience playing the game will also change by unlocking new islands of Las Cinco Muertes Archipelago. According to Brookes, "each of the [five] islands has their own kind of mood and challenges associated with it. Then as you progress to other islands you get all of these new challenges; one of them is really narrow and thin so you have to distribute or manage your resources through the island, or there can be violent weather." They "mixed up the visuals and the challenges of the islands," so for example "with the really small island you have to choose which dinosaurs to keep, because there is only so much you have space for." The biggest island, Isla Sorna, is "800,000 m², which is slightly bigger than the entire Planet Coaster map".
So apparently the game's realistic weather effects come into play at the more difficult islands, as they're not only cosmetic but they also damage your park facilities. Heavy rain can impact your fences or cause power cuts that leave your strongest fences unpowered, for instance, and since you can also construct feeding stations with a goat, this means you can recreate that iconic part of the first Jurassic Park film.
Gameplay-wise we were told Jurassic World Evolution is aimed at "traditional management sim game players, [who] will enjoy the very management focused elements of the game, and there's also fans of the franchise and older games [by Frontier] as well." According to Fletcher "there's also a good market for consoles in particular for a management game that's got action elements as well; like when you can get into the 4x4 vehicle and drive around and take photo's of dinosaurs; and you can go around in the helicopter as well." During our hands-on session, we noticed there was also lots of extra information in a sort of encyclopedia on dinosaurs, dig sites, and other dino-related stuff to add to the immersion for franchise and dinosaur enthusiasts.
The "more than thirty" dinosaurs in Jurassic World Evolution are obviously a big focus point for the developers. Felix Ilsley (principal animator) and Matthew Simper (lead programmer) told us that "the locomotion of the dinosaurs is a huge challenge to the game [...] because we've got a Brachiosaur which is 25 or 30 meters long and then a Velociraptor which is only a meter or so; that difference in scale is very difficult and then there's also people and vehicles." According to Simper, they have "a history of doing decent locomotion: I remember years ago we had tried to make an elephant locomote [pre-Kinectimals] and we had loads of wranglings with that. And suddenly we were like: my God now we've got dinosaurs".
The terrain, which is adjustable by the player, proved to be another big challenge for the developers. Simper told us: "you can have a locomotion that looks really good and you have the weight and the timing right. [But] as soon as you have any kind of incline, it might just look horrible; [and] on top of that there's a layer that you want to be reactionary to what's happening in the game." As we witnessed in our play session, the dinosaurs will regularly fight each other, and making the dinosaurs connect on uneven ground was a lot of work, but we think the results looked great. The animators have avoided adding too much blood and gore in the fighting animations too. Dinosaurs can cause death and destruction but according to Ilsley it's "not glorified" and therefore still suitable for a younger audience.
So what kind of dinosaurs can players expect to house in their own Jurassic theme park? Simper told us "the initial dinosaurs we decided on come from the Jurassic lore, and we've adhered to the sort of rules set out for those dinosaurs by Universal. [...] And then there are extra dinosaurs where we would just look at actual real fossils and real mockups to find a bit of variety. We didn't go with any of the tiny ones." Feathered dinosaurs will not be in there, as they would conflict with the Jurassic lore, which follows more traditional scientific theory. When we asked about the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the developers told us they have in fact collaborated with the makers of the new film. Simper explained that they "have worked closely with Universal on what dinosaurs are in, [but] we don't want to spoil the film." Ilsley added that they "referenced the film in the game [...] but we're not announcing anything like that right now".
We also asked the developers about the dinosaurs' AI, as they have complex behavior that according to the developers is a step up compared to the animals in games like Zoo Tycoon. Their experience with previous titles such as Kinectimals gave them a lot of ideas on how to make the dinosaurs behave realistically, and they also looked at the behaviour of present-day animals. The dinosaurs look around for food, require social interaction and can get into fights with each other. It's possible to alter dinosaur behavior as well, as adding lion DNA to their genes will make them more aggressive at the cost of increased risk of disease. Adding variety to your dinosaurs is an essential part of the game in order to add to their appeal for visitors. For example, you can add patterns to their skin through genetic research. For the AI of the visitors, Simper and Ilsley regarded this as the "pedigree of Frontier, to know how these things work. It's been our bread and butter over the years."
Considering the game sticks to Universal's Jurassic franchise, it's unlikely we'll see really crazy stuff (no dancing or singing dinosaurs). The sounds in the game also fit within the Jurassic franchise. Matthew Florianz (lead audio designer) told us that they added new sounds by using present-day animals to capture roaring sounds, for example. The characteristic T-Rex effects were recorded by "moving heavy furniture across wooden floors", so let's hope you can unhear this the next time you hear a T-Rex roar in anger.
We had a lot of other questions that could not be answered yet as the game is still in full development. Multiplayer was one of the things the developers could not yet comment on, save for possibilities to share your in-game photographs. We asked about possible DLC as well, specifically whether players would be able to buy more dinosaurs after the game released. To this one of the developers replied that "if you look back at what we've done with previous games, you can probably extrapolate how that would unfold potentially." For example, Zoo Tycoon had some extra animals as DLC, while Planet Coaster had multiple DLC packages for purchase that added new themes and rides.
All things considered, we think Frontier Developments is committed to making this one of their best games yet. The gameplay will likely be familiar and comparable to games such as Zoo Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, while the general tone and atmosphere in the game will be heavily dictated by the Jurassic franchise as envisioned by Universal Studios, and if it reminds us even a little bit of Jurassic Park, that can only be a good thing.