Q: What are “sky trams” and how are they used in Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species?
Linda Currie : Visually sky trams look a little like the chair lifts you might see at a ski slope, only cooler (especially when you earn the upgraded seats ; ). Guests will use your sky trams to take tours of your zoo or as transportation to get from point A to B.
Q: Why did you decide to include this sky trams in Endangered Species? What were the initial goals?
LC: In addition to the cool animals that Endangered Species includes, we wanted to provide players with more options in building their zoo “infrastructure”. It’s not uncommon to see zoos with some form of aerial transportation so we felt it was a good feature that would allow players to create zoos with even more of the features they’d find in a real zoo.
Q: How will sky trams impact how players build their zoos and/or play the game?
LC: Sky trams have a lot of impact on the options open to you when building a zoo. Guests use sky trams to take tours of your zoo if entertained guests like to give you tour donations. In addition to the animals, guests like to see interesting things while on your tour (wait until you see the very cool tour objects… : ) so in addition to striving for a 5-star zoo, you can also shoot for a 5-star tour!
Guests also use them to get places. Taking a sky tram is faster than walking so your guests can get around to see their favorite animals faster (and hey, the more animals they see, the happier they are and you know those happy guests = $$$).
You can also use sky trams to create zoos that would have been impossible before. Now you can make an island zoo where you have land masses separated by water with no bridges or paths. But your guests can still get around by getting on your sky tram at one station and getting off at another.
And of course there are the Conservation Areas (don’t worry, eventually we’ll be talking more about those!). These areas have some restrictions on what you can build in them but one thing you can do is build sky trams over them.
Q: What was the process for developing this feature? (who is involved, how long did it take, what were the major development steps)
LC: Like the elevated paths that we covered last time, this feature was also a pretty big undertaking that involved design, art and engineering. And we basically followed the same routine. It started with design talking about what we wanted to be able to do, then working with engineering to help determine what we could and couldn’t do, and with art to work out what they are going to look like and how they are going to be put together, not by the player but by the game engine itself.
And just like elevated paths, it gets implemented piece by piece, the graphical look gets refined, the user interface (UI) gets polished and the kinks (aka bugs) get worked out. It’s a process that goes from the inception of the idea, to the day the game gets released for gold master.
Q: What was the biggest challenge implementing this new feature?
LC: When the feature was first implemented and we started actively playing with it, we realized that you could create configurations that we, um, hadn’t originally planned for. So in a way we ended up with some “unplanned” elements in the feature. On the plus side, we discovered this “extra functionality” pretty early on.
For example, when we were working through the look of the stations and how the sky tram chairs would travel through them, we decided that we wanted to let you run a wire on each side of the station so that you could create what we call a return trip (this is where two wires run in parallel very typical to what you see a ski slope). This sort of configuration is ideal when using sky trams to transport your guest from A to B… to a remote food court for instance. Of course you also have the option to run a single wire through a station making a single loop that travels in one direction only and this configuration is great for creating a tour. But we hadn’t exactly planned on the fact that now you could create two separate loops… imagine the wings of a butterfly... and when you created something like this, not only could you not really control where the sky tram chairs ended up when you purchased them but the guests became sort of confused.
So we had two choices… either prevent you from creating something like that… or let you create it but make sure we handled it so that you had control over it and so that the guests were smart enough to evaluate what you built. The latter was a little more work but gave the player more flexibility. So that’s what we did. We still consider it to be a more advanced way to build a sky tram circuit but it’s a fully functional way to do it.
The downside was that it introduced extra work to support this unusual configuration that we hadn’t completely counted on. The plus side of course is that they’re more convenient to build and there is more flexibility for the player. Fortunately we do incorporate time to polish and iterate on new features in the planning stage so in the end it all worked out fine. We were able to make the improvements that we felt were important and still get it done on time.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of sky trams now that it’s in the game?
LC: Well, I really do love how they turned out visually (the upgraded sky tram seats that you can earn as a reward look particularly cool). It’s also fun to be able to ride them in first person and see the animals and objects as you glide around your zoo. The new tour objects are very fun to watch. I think the geyser is a favorite of mine… or maybe the bat cave… you know I can’t decide : ).
The opportunistic, money hungry builder part of me also likes the fact that I can use sky trams to give my guests new views of different things in my zoo and a good tour means good tour donations!
Finally, once in a while I get the urge to build strange zoos and sky trams are just one more thing I can use to create something unique. As a matter of fact I’m having an urge to build a zoo where the guests never step on the ground and between elevated paths and sky trams I think I just might be able to do it!
More articles about Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species