Sim Dino Theme Park? Oh yes...
Vivendi Universal decided to stay clear of this years ECTS; instead hosting their own ‘mini’ show at an attractive venue in nearby Parsons Green. The expansive event previewed many of Vivendi’s upcoming titles, including The Lord of the Rings, The Thing, Judge Dredd vs. Death, No One Lives Forever 2, and Jurassic Park. The latter was of particular interest, the idea of a ‘Sim’ Jurassic Park proving more than a little alluring. So with John Williams’ rousing theme in my head, I made a bee-line for Universal Interactive’s area to get the lowdown. What I saw wasn’t so much perfect, or complete, but it was certainly promising. I was lucky enough to be given a guided tour by the game’s Producer, Steven Elwell of Universal, who’s enthusiasm for the project was evident from the beginning of our meeting. First things first; the graphics. Wow. Whilst the build I saw had a number of bugs including the rain, among others, there was still more than enough to really excite the eyes. The water effects, including near-perfect reflections were among some of the best I’ve seen, whilst the detail of the various Dinosaurs and their terrain was outstanding. Whilst it could be argued that the landscape is a little flat in places (perhaps a design decision to make construction easier), the power of the engine is clear as you’re given a great deal of freedom to zoom in close on individual creatures or take an overview of your Park. The animation was another highlight, too, the fighting T-Rex looking more like an extract from one of the films than a computer game. All in all, a very polished effort, albeit an incomplete one at this stage. Which leads me to my only concern regarding the graphics. The draw-distance. Whilst Steven explained to me the detail of what was shown, it was still niggling that the draw distance was quite so near and noticeable, though Elwell did suggest that this was being worked on and would be shrouded better and possibly pushed back a little further. So what do you do in the game? Well, your given a variety of technical options to develop your park including the ability to research more species and new technologies, whilst you create the physical side of your park – the Visitors Centre, a Balloon ride, enclosures, Recovery Buildings, etc. etc. Its all very similar in this respect to traditional city simulation, albeit in a rather lavish 3D environment. There’s a huge range of creatures to choose from, all of whom will require you to build appropriate enclosures and habitat for them. Ellie Satler from the films is on hand to offer advise on this – whilst instruction on your Park’s infrastructure is handled by John Arnold. There’s an emphasis in the game, it would seem, on keeping things simple and easy to play, perhaps as a result of the younger audience the game is targeted at. This is also reflected in a number of questionable simplifications made to the game, such as the exclusion of certain buildings such as Hotels. Perhaps the main bulk of gameplay, however, will come from maintaining order in your Park once its up and running. A number of eventualities are included; such as a Storm bringing down your power (the weather effects add wonderfully to the atmosphere), at which point your safety planning will be tested to the limit as you struggle to knock-out and recover escaped dinosaurs, or if things are getting desperate and the body-count is rising, kill them. A helicopter is employed to tranquillise and capture the creatures, and a number may be required for a larger park. A hands-on approach of piloting the craft is available or alternatively you can play commander and oversee the situation. The AI is another focus, with eerily realistic Raptor attacks promised, though at this stage in the game this was not implemented. The soundtrack as Elwell explained, is a totally rerecorded version of the original, boasting a number of new pieces inspired from it. The music will be environmental too, changing to reflect the action on-screen. All in all, what I witnessed was very promising taster of what’s to come; a ‘quite’ involving Park building game, but not one quite as involving or deep as some may have preferred. More as we get it on this visual-stunner. Jurassic Park will be out on PC, PS2 and Xbox come Christmas this year; though all of what I’ve described was only seen on the PC thus far.