It has been 18 years since our first encounters with the T. rex and velociraptors of Isla Nublar, the setting of Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Jurassic Park. Today at E3, we got a chance to talk to Joe Pinney, designer on Telltale's upcoming Jurassic Park game, and we came away impressed by the way the title seems to be staying true to the spirit and style of the film while telling its own new story.
Despite the tone of the Jurassic Park game, which is more serious than the games Telltale is best known for, such as Sam & Max and Back to the Future, Pinney stated that Jurassic Park will have the focus on story and character that fans of Telltale have come to expect. He said one of their desires with Jurassic Park is to bring players back to the experience of seeing the film for the first time, to strike the balance of wide-eyed wonder, tender character moments, and intense thrills that the film managed.
Rather than the inventory-based puzzles that are common to the adventure game genre, Pinney said that Jurassic Park's puzzles would be much more about direct environmental manipulation. He then launched a demo of the game, letting us see for ourselves how it actually played.
One of the first things we saw was a woman climbing up a ridge. As she climbed, left and right shoulder button prompts appeared, which Pinney pressed to keep her climbing. It reminded us powerfully of Heavy Rain. The character was Nima Cruz, a smuggler who had come to Isla Nublar to find the extremely valuable Barbasol can containing dinosaur embryos, which the ill-fated Dennis Nedry dropped in the film. Nima had a no-nonsense toughness to her that made her immediately likable. Her partner Miles, on the other hand, immediately came across as shallow and selfish, a man more concerned with the possibility of a big score than with his own safety or anyone else's.
Nima and Miles soon found the vehicle Nedry had been driving. There were button icons displayed on the vehicle's driver's side window, the windshield, and the door handle, indicating anything that could be examined or interacted with. It seemed that this was how you would interact with the environment throughout the game. The absence of any inventory icon or other interface cluttering up the screen made the visuals more cinematic, and not needing to fumble around screens with a cursor to see what can be interacted with should make the pixel hunting that bogs down some adventure games a nonissue here.
As soon as Nima opened the vehicle's door, a creature leapt out and pounced on her before scurrying off into the jungle. At this point, Nima, who wasn't told that she might encounter dinosaurs on the island, started to suspect that this was no ordinary zoo, and a sense of dread started to build. But she still had to find the canister. A nearby section of the jungle was too dark to search in, so Pinney returned to the vehicle. Here, he showed off what he called picture-in-picture navigation, calling up small images of each of the nearby environments and immediately warping to the one he wanted to go to. This, he said, was not only for player convenience, but also to support the cinematic feel; editing out the downtime helps keep the pace moving.
Upon getting back to the vehicle, the adjustable lights on its roof had a button prompt. Pressing the button made Nima tilt the lights to illuminate the dark section of jungle. This beam of light momentarily caught another small dinosaur, but it, too, hurried off immediately.
Under Pinney's guidance, Nima demonstrated some ingenuity to figure out where the can of Barbasol may have landed when Nedry was attacked by the dilophosaurus swarm. Having recovered what they came for, Nima and Miles were ready to leave. But of course, before they could make their escape, a dilophosaurus (often referred to as a spitter) emerged from the foliage and hit Miles square in the face with its blinding spit. This was a comical and satisfying moment, since we felt Miles had it coming, but things soon became perilous as a number of spitters surrounded the characters. Here, we picked up the controller and were able to play the following section ourselves. From a number of dialogue choices, we chose to suggest that Miles create a distraction. This proved to be a bad idea, as his "distraction" was pushing Nima to the ground and encouraging the dinos to feast on her. He soon paid the price for this, though, and became the distraction for our escape instead.
In the ensuing action sequence, the Heavy Rain influence was unmistakable. Responding to button prompts, we made Nina leap, run, and drive in a frantic attempt to get out of the area alive. It was a fast-paced and cinematic sequence that paid off on the tension that had been building up during the preceding scene. Not every missed button press spelled instant death; at one point, we missed a prompt and Nima stumbled and fell but was able to keep going. At another point, we did miss a crucial prompt and perished, but the game wasn't punishing; continuing put us right back at that moment.
Our demo came to an intriguing end when Nima suffered a bite from an unseen dinosaur that Pinney said hasn't been seen in any of the Jurassic Park films. He said that this creature's venom is toxic and that it attacks the brain and can make people relive traumatic moments from their lives. This sounds a bit far-fetched, but it might also have some interesting story potential.
Pinney informed us that over the course of the five-episode season, players will take the roles of a number of characters, some of them with very different agendas, and we're intrigued to see how the relationships between these characters develop when they have to work together to survive. Pinney also said that we would see previously unseen parts of Jurassic Park, including the tunnels and other behind-the-scenes areas, as well as a marine exhibit.
We enjoyed Jurassic Park's cinematic presentation and the way it seems to faithfully replicate the distinctive building of suspense that makes many of the film's sequences so memorable. For more on the game, check out our earlier coverage. Jurassic Park is scheduled for release on the PC, Mac, PSN, and XBLA this fall. We look forward to bringing you more details on the game as its release approaches.