Though you might not realize it, nearly a dozen Jurassic Park-themed games have been released for PCs, consoles, and arcades in the 10 years since Steven Spielberg's original dinosaur flick hit the silver screen. And though they've ranged from fighting games to platformers to light-gun shooters, none have been particularly memorable, with the exception of DreamWorks' Trespasser, though most people remember that first-person shooter for all the wrong reasons. It's funny that, of all the games based on the Jurassic Park series, none have focused on the premise of all three movies: the creation and maintenance of a commercial theme park. None until now, that is. Vivendi Universal and Blue Tongue, the developers of Starship Troopers for the PC, are currently putting the finishing touches on Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (previously Project Genesis), which is a park-building game in the same vein as SimCoaster and Zoo Tycoon. We recently had the chance to take a first-hand look at Operation Genesis, and we gleaned some new details about its gameplay and overall structure.
In designing Operation Genesis, the developers at Blue Tongue wanted not only to differentiate this game from other Jurassic Park games, but they also wanted it to stand out from the admittedly saturated park-building genre. To do that, they've made Operation Genesis completely 3D, and they've added an action element not typically found in these types of games. In addition to simply building and maintaining various structures in Operation Genesis, you'll also be able to take control of a number of vehicles in order to take a more hands-on approach to the art of designing the perfect theme park. Most of this action-oriented gameplay will originate at the ranger station, which is a structure that comes standard with a jeep and a chopper. You'll use both of these vehicles to chase and coral loose dinos, tranquilize them if they're on a rampage, or give them a dose of medicine if they become sick. These sequences add driving, flying, and even first-person shooter elements to what would otherwise be a straightforward park-building game. When you choose to tranquilize a dinosaur, for example, the game will switch to a first-person perspective, and you'll actually have to aim and shoot as you would in an action game--certainly not something that you would find in a typical strategy game.
But Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is very much a park-building strategy game, and the action-oriented sequences that you'll run across don't detract from the overarching theme of having to build a dinosaur-laden complex intended to draw large crowds. As in typical park-building games, you'll start Operation Genesis with a clean slate--or, in this case, an empty island. The game uses a random terrain generator to create an infinite number of islands that you can customize by altering one of four variables: its shape, the density of its forests, the number of rivers, and its overall height above sea level. You'll adjust these parameters using four slide bars, and once you've created an island of your liking, you'll jump into the game. From here, you'll need to build your park entrance, which is the primary structure of your complex. It's with these massive wooden gates--which feature the recognizable "Jurassic Park" in bold orange lettering--that you'll be able set the entrance fee, set park hours, and choose when to open the park to the public and when to close it off for maintenance.
Chaos Theory Revisited
Initially, you'll be able to exhibit only a single species of dinosaur, though the game has 25 different land-based dinos that'll eventually be available to you. You "unlock" new dinosaurs by researching their respective DNA strands, and you acquire their DNA strands using the game's "fossil hunt" menu. This world interface lets you send a team of archeologists to one of numerous digs scattered around the world, and as you earn more money in the park, your team of scientists will be able to extract DNA from fossils at a faster rate. Once you have the necessary DNA, you can choose to research it further in order to produce the highest-quality strand possible. Good DNA strands lead to dinosaurs with lower mortality rates, among other hereditary advantages.
Your dinosaurs will eventually hatch at the hatchery. Interestingly enough, a single hatchery will be able to produce all 25 of the game's unique dinosaur types, but doing so probably isn't advisable. That's because each dinosaur has unique AI that's completely unscripted. Carnivores will prey on herbivores, aggressive dinosaurs will fight over territory, and weaker species will band together in packs for protection. As in the movie, the dinosaurs in Operation Genesis have to be compatible with each other in order to be placed together. Otherwise, you'll have to construct separate pens for each of the species, lest they wreak havoc and create a PR nightmare for your park. And if you don't upkeep and upgrade your fences, some dinosaurs will eventually be able to break through them. Luckily, using either the aforementioned helicopter or the jeep from the ranger station, you'll be able to chase down rogue reptiles with ease.
As you'd expect, the game will have more than 30 different structures--each with a unique characteristic--including kiosks that sell food and beverages, bathrooms that provide relief, and attractions like jeep tours and balloon rides. Operation Genesis will let you build and maintain a park of your choosing at your own pace, or you can take on one of its 12 objective-based missions. One such level tasks you with rescuing Jurassic Park entrepreneur John Hammond from a pack of hungry raptors, while another is like an unscripted version of Pokémon Snap, in which you're tasked with driving the jeep around the island and taking photographs of a specific group of dinosaurs, who'll be busy interacting with their environments. Operation Genesis will also have a third mode called site B that will let you drop as many dinosaurs as you want on an empty island in order to watch them interact with each other. You'll see them form herds, attack each other, sleep, eat, drink, and even poop.
The designers at Blue Tongue have said that there won't be any airborne or aquatic dinosaurs in Operation Genesis--they've got to save something for the expansion pack--but the game's 25 dinos and 35 structures should provide endless hours of building, researching, and maintaining for the closet builder, researcher, and maintenance man or woman in all of us. Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is scheduled for release on the PC sometime in the first quarter of 2003, and PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions will follow shortly thereafter. We'll have more information on all three versions as their respective release dates approach, but in the meantime, take a look at the latest batch of screenshots and videos of Operation Genesis.