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Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Blue Fang

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'Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species' Developer Diary #1

by Rainier on Aug. 24, 2005 @ 3:30 a.m. PDT

Zoo Tycoon 2 gives you the chance to build the ultimate zoo and enjoy it firsthand. You can explore your 3D zoo world as a zoo guest or even care for your animals as a zookeeper. The Endangered Species expansion pack will give you even more to love about Zoo Tycoon 2!

Q : How did you select “Endangered Animals” as the theme for the first expansion pack?

LC : The theme for this expansion was a direct result of brainstorming meetings held both internally and with our publisher, Microsoft. We did approach this one a little bit differently in that we first spent a lot of time discussing what core game features would make a great first expansion. We then sought to encapsulate those features, and the new animals that came with it, into a definable entity. This gave birth to the Endangered Species theme. From there we took a step back to take another look at the features and the animals and made some additional tweaks and adjustments to better suit the Endangered Species theme… sort of like coming full circle.

Q: What were your goals for this expansion?

LC : The primary goal was to provide content and game play that we knew to be high on the “wishlist” of Zoo Tycoon players. We had feedback from new Zoo Tycoon 2 players as well as players going back to the original Zoo Tycoon and we really wanted to introduce those things that we knew players have been wanting. In addition to more animals, we knew are fans wanted more building tools and game features, so we added things like elevated paths and vehicle tours which allow players to build totally new types of Zoos with this expansion.

We get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that players will get content and features in this expansion that they’ve long asked for.

Q: Were other options were considered?

LC : Yes, absolutely. Some of those other themes or concepts are still represented in the Endangered Animals expansion, sometimes to a lesser (or greater) extent than was applicable to the context that we originally talked about it in. Many of the ideas that didn’t make their way into Endangered Species have been added to our “war chest” and let’s just say that the odds are good that players will get to experience some of those concepts somewhere down the road as well.

Q: Who was involved in the decision process?

LC : Blue Fang management and design, and our counterparts at Microsoft, were all involved in establishing the theme.

Q: What new animals are featured in the expansion pack?

SS : We have 20 new animals in the expansion pack:

  • Giant sable antelope
  • Spectacled bear
  • American bison
  • Caribou
  • Fennec fox
  • Crested gibbon
  • Przewalski’s wild horse
  • Koala
  • Komodo dragon
  • Spanish lynx
  • Markhor
  • Orangutan
  • Scimitar horned oryx
  • Florida panther
  • Javan rhinoceros
  • Baird’s tapir
  • Galapagos giant tortoise
  • African wild dog
  • Gray wolf
  • Wolverine

We’re also adding in a few more ambient animals including:

  • North American Bullfrog
  • Toco Toucan

Q: How were these specific animals selected?

LC : I came up with a list of the coolest animals that I think our game needed. We kept the endangered animals on that list and even some of the most popular non-endangered animals on that list (gray wolf, koala). I then charted the number of animals that are available for each biome, world location and at each fame level. I prioritized the number of animals that we needed for each biome and location to better balance the animals in the game. I then did a search for endangered and critically endangered animals from those biome/location combinations. We decided on the animals on that list that were the most well known or represented conservation success stories.

Q: Are there any new animal behaviors, enrichment object etc.?

LC : There are a ton of new animal behaviors and enrichment objects!

On the behavior side, animals will now be more likely to do things at particular times of the day. For instance, crocodiles will bask in the morning sun and then be more likely to head to water in the midday heat. We have been using mother-child relationships in the game for some time (for nursing), but we’ve added a number of other relationships including sibling-sibling and father-child. There are a number of new interactions for the animals that use these new relationships and a new relationship panel that lets you track who’s related to whom. When animals are too crowded in an exhibit, they will now be more likely to fight non-family members. The canines may even wind up chasing the new tour vehicles, you know how dogs are . . .

There are several fun new enrichment objects as well. Ungulates kind of got the short stick previously. Now we’ve added a salt lick for the nutritional needs of the ungulates. Adding an orangutan to the game meant that we needed to add the durian fruit, a stinky fruit that the orangutans love. They and several other animals play with the spiky fruit. There’s an elephant log that the elephants can pick up and carry around and a tire swing for the primates to swing on. Who knows, there may even be a little something else to unlock for the animals too . . .

Q: What is the process for creating animals for Zoo 2? How does this compare to the original Zoo Tycoon?

LC : Once the animals are selected, we research each of them, noting the behaviors and interactions that we want the animal to do in the game. We use the web, books, videos and trips to zoos with the animals in our research. We prepare a 5 – 10 page report (yes, like you’d do in school) on each animal. With the list of behaviors and interactions complete, we create lists of all the animations and sounds that we will need to achieve these in-game. We then give the list of animations to our animators and the list of sounds to our sound designer/engineer. There’s a lot of back and forth about how things should look/sound.

Without getting too detailed, the artists and animators spend a lot of time creating each animal in Zoo Tycoon 2. They start out doing concept sketches until they finalize the look of the animal. Once the concept sketch is complete, the 3D wire frame model and model texture is built and tweaked. Our animators then take the model and meticulously animate each behavior and interaction – which can be upward of 250 per animal!

Once the art and sound is finished (weeks or months later), we put together the XML that makes up the AI files for the animals. We spend a lot of time tweaking the way things work and adjusting the balance of things, but eventually, we wind up with an animal in the game.

Compared to the development of the original Zoo Tycoon, the process is more streamlined. The biggest advantage that I see is that for Zoo 1, everything was in 2D which meant that we had to render all of the art for the game. That means, we take the 3D animations and basically take a ‘screenshot’ of the animation from all 4 angles at a certain rate of speed. This process was prone to hiccups that would require us to restart the process all over. If we found a flaw with the way the elephant looked (for instance), we’d have to repeat this process each time we wanted to adjust his look. Now, if we want to change the way the animal looks, we just edit the model, then re-run the game and we can see the results.

Q: In addition to the new animals, what else can fans look forward to in this expansion pack?

LC : I think that the new tours are awesome. I love hanging from the sky tram and taking aerial photos of my exhibits. The elevated paths give you a whole new way to build your zoos, it really makes the game feel fresh with new building possibilities.

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