Already a big hit in Germany, Koch Media will be releasing a new and exciting management game worldwide shortly. Wildlife Park will let players design and manage their own zoo as never before, with a wide range of creatures to manage in their own animal kingdoms. Gamer's Hell got the chance to interview Matthias Koranda, one of the game's developers, and find out more information about this wild sim title...
First of all, thanks for taking time out to talk to us about the game. Can you introduce yourself and explain your role in the game development?
My name is Matthias Koranda and I developed the game design for Wildlife Park. I was also responsible for the project lead, later in development.
It seems that Wildlife Park has been in development for some time now. How long exactly have you been working on the game?
The initial game idea was thought of in the summer of 1999. The publishing contract was signed in April 2000, and like any good parent, I have stayed with our ‘baby’ until it was ‘grown up’ enough to venture out into the big wide world.
Give us a brief outline as to what the game involves.
The game invites the player into the wonderful world of wild and exotic animals from all over the world. The challenge is to keep the animals happy, design and manage parks with different species and maintain the interests of the human visitors, while respecting the rules of Mother Nature and economy.
What kind of animals feature in the game, and what kind of attention does each creature require?
I hope everyone will find his or her favourite animal in this game. We included and animated 45 species spread over the whole bandwidth of mammals, birds, fishes and reptiles. Some animals like the galapagos tortoise or flamingos are very easy to handle, but the greater the animals intelligence, the more complex are its needs. The apes or cats i.e. want to satisfy up to 15 different food, social, landscape, movement and climate needs. That’s a lot of looking after!
Do you have any favourites?
The gorilla, tiger and giraffe because of their versatile and outstanding animated movements. And I’m best amused by the baby cats or by a herd of ostriches because of their sphere-like body and extremely long necks.
It sounds like there's a good variety of creatures on offer. What new features can players expect to see in Wildlife Park which make it different to games such as Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon?
I think Wildlife Park has the deepest and most realistic animal simulation. For this product we worked together with zoo biologists and it was a big challenge to make it as realistic as possible, without receiving boring game play, but that’s the art of game design.
If you play the game, you will realise that it is not just building items for the animals, the animals need to interact with them, play with them, climb on it or jump over it to satisfy their growing needs. We included several food types and separate movement types like jump, climb, swim or hang overhand so you have to put the right mix of interaction items for the special animal. And if you keep animals in herds, they will start social activities.
To manage all the different tasks in a park with hundreds of animals and visitors you can employ up to 10 different employee types, to manage the various areas.
For example the gardeners helps you water the plants to avoid withering. And the animal trainer makes your animals performing a special feat. Each animal can make a little show for you. But this is not so easy, because the animals need to be completely happy of their needs.
And with our realistic water simulation system you can interact with water directly, build channels and even generate waterfalls. Just terraform ditches as you like and set water pumps.
I'm guessing that making a zoo management games must require a lot of research. Was there a lot of information that you needed to find out about to help you with the development of the game?
Sure, especially if you want to generate a realistic atmosphere. We used books, photos and videos from wildlife parks and zoos all over the world and we were so happy about the input of our biologists, especially of Dirk Petzold, a German zoology professional.
What about the management side of the park? Does the player get much control over this aspect?
The goal is to make all the animals and visitors happy. Beside the huge choice of building options to reach this, you need to define the prices in the shops and control the finances. The happier the visitors are, the higher prices they will be willing to pay. And it’s important to employ the right amount of employees. You find all the important financial information within the statistic panels.
From what I've seen, Wildlife Park is very pleasing on the eye! How much control does the player get over the design and appearance of the park?
The game gives you a huge choice of decoration items and plants. And with the ground materials, water system and fountains I think, you can create each landscape, as you want to see it.
I've heard Wildlife Park has a free mode as well as being a mission-based game. What kind of challenges does the player await in these missions?
The 4 tutorials and 16 missions are placed all over the world and lead you through a career of a zoology professional. It’s not only to build and manage zoos; many missions are about keeping and breeding special animals. You will start in a camp in the African rainforest where you have to take care of a strange species found in the jungle. Later you have to organize a self-supply park for mammals. One mission is about a crazy oil sheik, which would like to fulfil his childhood dream: a zoo in the desert with polar bears and penguins.
It sounds as if the game has a lot to offer to all different types of people, but what different kinds of people visit the parks?
We included i.e. a man in a wheel chair and a mother with her baby. All guests have different needs: The boys love ice cream and the grandmother needs benches to rest. And if you neglect the animals, demonstrators will attack the park.
With guests having their own tastes and preferences, it sounds as if the game has a good sense of AI. What kind of AI does the game include? Is there complex coding behind the lives of each animal and guest?
We implemented a special need-model for the animals, a little bit similar to The Sims. The animals try permanently to optimise their life parameters. They search for objects in their environment to interact and satisfy the most urgent need.
The guests AI are similar but in the meantime, they go along the walkways and scan the environment for special parameters like cleanness, decoration, and view especially over the animals. To perform all these simulation processes on today’s pc hardware was really a complex challenge.
One of the reasons that games such as The Sims and Zoo Tycoon have proven so popular is their large fan bases, due to the commitment after the game releases. Can we expect any add-ons, editors or bonus material for Wildlife Park?
A little to early to give official statements about the release of add-ons or other materials, but I assure you we will evolve Wildlife Park as far as possible and reasonable.
As an experienced developer of life games we want to provide our customers a whole spectrum of games concerning the animal subject, therefore we are currently looking forward to finding strong partners for collaboration as regards funding these projects.
Thanks to Matthias for taking part in the interview!
"Wildlife Park" is set for release in September in the UK and October in the USA. We already feature screenshots and review of the game here at Gamer's Hell.