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ZT2: Designer Diaries

Curious about the new expansion pack for ZT2? Here you will find sneek peeks and behind the scenes info on the making of the expansion. There will be six installments total between now and September....

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Designer Diary #1

Name: Linda Currie
Title: Lead Designer
Responsible For: Overall design, economy
Name: Shawn Stone
Title: Game Designer
Responsible For: Animal AI design, animal selection, animal AI implementation

How did you select “Endangered Animals” as the theme for the first expansion pack?
(Linda)
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.

What were your goals for this expansion?
(Linda)
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.

Were other options were considered?
(Linda)
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.

Who was involved in the decision process?
(Linda)
Blue Fang management and design, and our counterparts at Microsoft, were all involved in establishing the theme.

What new animals are featured in the expansion pack?
(Shawn)
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

How were these specific animals selected?
(Shawn)
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.

Are there any new animal behaviors, enrichment object etc.?
(Shawn)
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 . . .

What is the process for creating animals for Zoo 2? How does this compare to the original Zoo Tycoon?
(Shawn)
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.

In addition to the new animals, what else can fans look forward to in this expansion pack?
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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Designer Diary #2

Name: Linda Currie
Title: Lead Designer
Responsible For: Overall design, economy

What are “elevated paths” and how are they used in Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species?
(Linda)
Elevated paths are pretty much what they sound like… pathways that are elevated in the air. This allows you to provide raised walkways for your guests that are above your exhibits, giving them a completely new vantage point to view animals from. They also allow your guests to travel over areas that they otherwise couldn’t walk on… rivers, mountains, etc….

What were the initial goals for this feature? Why did you decide to include this feature in Endangered Species?
(Linda)
On the most basic level we wanted to expand the content in Zoo Tycoon 2 to include more of the features that you might see when you visit a real zoo. By doing so, we introduced additional building options that players can use in their zoos. Aside from our interest in giving people the tools to make more varied zoos, the elevated paths are a feature that fans have long asked for. We were delighted to be able to answer that request!

How will elevated paths impact how players build their zoos and/or play the game?
(Linda)
Elevated paths really open up a lot of doors when building zoos. Now you can make large pools for your crocs or hippos and create elevated paths to extend over the large body of water. Before you might have had to divide the pool into two separate areas to make sure your guests had a good view. Another benefit to using elevated paths is that animals will be less aware of guests who are viewing them from elevated paths. Because of this, they’ll likely spend less time hiding out in shelters or tall grasses and the more of the animals the guests see, the more the guests will donate!
We’ve added a new terrain feature called Conservation Areas. These areas have some restrictions on what you can build in them but one thing you can do is build elevated paths that travel over them. This expansion also introduces ground vehicles that you can use to tour through you exhibits. You can make bridges using the elevated path feature so you can have vehicles travel on bridges over guest pathways or have your guests walk on overpasses over your roads..

What was the process for developing this feature?
(Linda)
This feature was a pretty big undertaking that involved design, art and engineering. On a simple level it started with design talking about what we wanted to be able to do on, and with, elevated paths. For example, things like, “Do we want you to be able to place buildings on elevated paths?” (yes) or “Do we want you to be able to build entire exhibits on elevated paths?” (no).
Engineering works with design to help determine what we feasibly could and couldn’t do, and this helps refine the design further. And art works with design and engineering to figure out what they are going to look like and how they are going to be constructed, not by the player but by the game engine itself.
Then 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. This process started from the moment we began talking about the expansion after Zoo Tycoon 2 was completed, and continues as I write this while we make sure it’s bug free and working smoothly. .

What was the biggest challenge implementing this new feature?
(Linda)
The user interface (UI) has been a challenge since we really wanted the player to have a lot of flexibility when building with this feature. We had some choices where we could have made a simple system that only gave you the ability to build the basics. Or we had the option to go down a more flexible route, which is what we did. Building a simple bridge or small elevated surface is easy. But with our system you can also make complex path networks that take you up, down and around, over and under in multiple layers, etc… and a more flexible system like this can also be one that takes a little more getting used to. To build these complex elevated path networks you need to feel comfortable moving the camera around and viewing your zoo from different angles since you really are building in 3D. The challenging part of all this was polishing the feedback that the player has when using the elevated paths. We’ve spent a lot of time making sure that the player could assess where guests approach the elevated paths from, see how they connect to other elevated paths, and have good control over ramping up and down, etc.

What is your favorite aspect of elevated paths now that it’s in the game?
(LInda)
They look very cool. ; ) I’m one of those convoluted path builders so I like making intricate and interesting networks that take guests from one exhibit to another and over one exhibit to another. And it’s very fun to be able to make my vehicles drive over bridges. I also really like the challenge of building around terrain whereas before I might have simply used to terrain tool to bulldoze things flat. Ultimately elevated paths add a lot of interesting options to your zoo layout and more than ever, no two zoos look alike. .


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Deisgner Diary #3 - Sky Trams

Designer Diary #4 - Conservation Areas

Designer Diary #5 - Jeep Tours