As my first SmewTube post probably implied, birds are almost everywhere in pop culture: movies, tv, books, and yes, video games, the last of which has not been written about until recently with Nick Lund's post for Audubon about Red Dead Redemption II, so nobody has to ask me if I'm going to review that (the game is only for PS4 and Xbox One, neither of which I have. Video games are a highly underrated medium for depictions of birds in pop culture, so if Nick talks about birds in film** in his "Birds at large" series, Donna Schulman reviews birding books on 10,000 birds, I might as well explore how birds feature in video games. Normally I would wait for something to come out before I nitpick it, but I would like to experiment and give information on everything we know about and what I would like to see in a game I am really excited for: Planet Zoo!
If you were an animal loving child of the 2000s like me, chances are good that the Zoo Tycoon series was one of your mainstays. I was obsessed with the game ever since I learned of its existence in 2004 and bought every expansion of Zoo Tycoon 2 and downloaded every user mod I could fit into my computer without crashing it. It was not just Zoo Tycoon, I also experimented with Marine Park Empire and Wildlife Park 2, but felt they did not have the magic of Zoo Tycoon. The first two Zoo Tycoon games were made by Blue Fang. Almost a decade later, the franchise was given to Frontier, the same company behind Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution, who released it for Xbox and Xbox One in 2013. I was initially hopeful for the new game and even bought it to give the game a chance; on one hand, I liked some aspects of the game such as the addition of minigames that add a great interactive element to the game, a golf cart you can drive around in that magically teleports to your location when summoned, and nice graphics, among other things I will give the game credit for in this essay. Unfortunately, the more I played it, the more bland it felt. While the graphics were admittedly nice, the game went against the purpose of a Zoo Tycoon game: to design your own exhibits and let creativity be your only limit. In this game, you can only place pre-built exhibits that you can place certain animals in, and even food and water are limited to set spots. Many of the animals were wasted on subspecies, and others you couldn't adopt unless you had Xbox One. I shyed away from the Xbox version and stuck to the old tried and true. While following the development progress for Prehistoric Kingdom, an indie game with the intention of giving players the ability to create a zoo for extinct animals with both the same creative license as Zoo Tycoon 2 and accurate animals (the main seller for me), I was thinking about how we needed a game like this for all animals with great graphics and realistic animals. Around April of this year, I discovered a zoo-building game with amazing looking animals and room for creative license I wanted was planned for release in November, I realized the search was over, I found what I was praying for. This game, which is also by Frontier, is called Planet Zoo, and this will be the focus of today's post. Originally, this was going to be a taxonomic list of what animals I wanted to see in the game listed by family similar to my post on which dinosaurs had feathers, but as I was thinking of animals I wanted, I realized there were too many I wanted and that there was no way they'd all be in the base game.
Let's start off with the list of animals that are confirmed to be in the game. Frontier said the base game would have 50+ animals not counting terrarium species. These are as follows:
From the decorations menu, players have inferred that the following species will also be in the base game:
Don't get me started on the 78 plant taxa I have been able to confirm! I'm a vertebrate boy, you should know that.
Staff facilities in this game are probably some of the most sophisticated in any zoo-builder game I have seen. They include keeper huts, where food for the animals is prepared; power facilities which provide, well, power to all buildings and objects that require it within a certain distance; A quarantine facility to separate infectious animals from healthy animals, to prevent the spread of an illness or to hold animals new to the zoo; a research center used by vets to research animals and improve the zoo’s understanding of them; a staff break and training room; a trade center where animals enter and exit the zoo; a vet surgery where animals go for medical treatment; a water treatment plant that cleans all water bodies within a certain distance of the plant (I can imagine this having more importance if an aquarium DLC is ever introduced); and a workshop where mechanics perform their research that unlocks new items for the zoo to use. Facilities provide your staff with the tools that they need to work, train and rest; ensuring that they are happy means that your animals are more likely to be well looked after, which in turn makes your guests happy too. Placement of facilities in Planet Zoo is really important for two main reasons; firstly, facilities should be close to things that they will need more access to. The second thing to consider is that these facilities are simultaneously kept away from your guests because facilities will have a negative impact on any nearby guests. We have implemented functionality in Planet Zoo that will allow you to really easily see the boundaries of this radius and how much this is affecting the guests. Yes, there's many challenges that facilities pose to players in terms of management. Another is that different sized facility buildings enable different amounts of staff to work at any one time, so it becomes really important that you know this and plan your space well in order to optimise the time it takes for staff to get to a facility, perform their tasks and head out again. If power goes down, your staff will lose access to their facilities; your keepers won’t be able to feed your animals and your vets won’t be able to treat any injured or sick animals either! The longer these are inaccessible, the longer your animals will be unhappy, which will have negative consequences on them, your guests, and your overall zoo rating. You’ll need to make sure you have the right staff to fix these issues to keep things running smoothly. When a breakdown occurs, the level of chaos that follows depends on the facility. If a water treatment plant breaks down, there are no immediate effects, but over time the water bodies it was treating will get dirty, acting as a source of infection for animals and detracting from animal welfare; whereas if a power source breaks down and there’s a nearby electric fence, it will become unpowered and animals could escape! Something new in Planet Zoo is that you will be able to unlock new, eco-friendly ways to power your zoo, which will have a positive impact on your overall zoo rating as well as impacting the guests in a different way. With mechanic research at the workshop, renewable energy sources are made available and can be used to replace transformers that provide power from non-renewable sources. Facility management is present in all game modes, but in Sandbox Mode it’s less of a consideration. Can you imagine seeing a guest and/or animal focused space in the Steam Workshop, then visiting a zoo and seeing it there – right there in front of your very eyes?! All of our facilities are set-up so that they will fit with all of our wallsets, so you will be able to decorate these however you wish; but we also wanted to make sure that those who would prefer to focus more on the management aspect will be able to do so whilst still being able to create a zoo that looks great.
Of course, the real reason I'm so excited for Planet Zoo is the creative license in the game, as seen from the announcement trailer:
Now, the big selling point, besides the realism, is the greater creative license than the older Zoo Tycoon games and Jurassic World Evolution. Here are some key aspects I observed from Rudi Rennkamel's stream at Gamescon, which is three hours long, so instead of embedding a link, I will link it here like I did with my Birds of North America review:
Guests in this game are, if I'm going to be honest, far better behaved than real life zoo guests based both on stories I've heard from actual zookeepers and my own experience as an intern at the Long Island Aquarium. Well, for the most part. According to the Planet Zoo AMA on Reddit, they will mostly stay on paths, but in addition to observing and photographing animals, will occasionally throw leftover food into their enclosures, which obviously can make them sick. In an unexpected dose of realism, we will have to deal with protestors in the game! Protestors will appear in your zoo carrying picket signs mostly when certain aspects of your animal's welfare are neglected such as inadequate food, water, medical care, or space. The only way to make them go away is to give them what they want, but I wouldn't be surprised if some appear irregardless, replicating the one dimensional views of animal rights activists.
Planet Zoo has three game modes: Sandbox, Career, and Franchise
Sandbox Mode: Exactly what it sounds like.
Career Mode: In this mode, players will travel the world with new characters, quests, and decisions that can impact the success of your zoos. Each scenario has challenges determined by continent, biome, weather, temperature, and animal availability; there will be goals which contain gameplay objectives that vary in difficulty depending on how far you've progressed through the story. Each scenario will open up with an introduction to your new surroundings by a character, such as Bernard Goodwin and Nancy Jones in the first scenario.
Franchise Mode: A first in zoo building games, Franchise Mode is an online mode that, as a franchise, allows you to open connected zoos across the globe. You start from scratch and can build your franchise the way you want to, but you have to grow your zoo wisely as you start with a small amount of money as you strive to balance your zoo's economic needs with your animals welfare needs. Franchise mode introduces a new type of currency called "Conservation Credits" which you can earn them in one zoo but spend them in another. The differences between the currencies is that cash is brought into the zoo by guests and is used to pay entrance fees, make donations, and purchase items; as well as paying staff wages, looking after running costs, and building of the zoos infrastructure. Conservation Credits are earned by undertaking certain objectives; these are the primary form of currency in animal adoptions and trading, although cash can also be used in the animl market. Franchise mode also introduces Community Challenges, where you will need to work together with other players to achieve a global goal, much like the "Barbary Lion Dilemma" challenge from Zoo Tycoon Xbox. As an online experience, Franchise mode allows players to trade animals between franchises, as well as adopting animals from other player's franchises. simulating how in real life, zoos manage stud books and move animals between zoos to maintain genetic diversity in captive populations, a practice often depicted in shows like The Zoo.
According to the developer journal on Franchise Mode: "When you list your animal you’ll be able to set its price in Conservation Credits, so if you want a fast sale you can set it below the market average. The price you set for your animal will depend on a few factors: the species of animal, its age, and more importantly its genetics. If you have an animal with great genetics, then you can charge top dollar for an animal!" Now that I've covered what is already known, let's dive into the stuff I would like to see in the game
Let's get this one out of the way: I NEED FIRST PERSON MODE. Since most other games have had it, I don't doubt it will be in game. Still, I would like to be able to explore my zoo from a guest's perspective
Aberrant coloration in animals is caused by genetic mutations that result in pigment issues such as the production of either too much (melanism) or not enough melanin (leucism, piebaldism, etc), causing them to be a partially or completely white; or pigmentation issues that cause them to be a different color. Alternatively, the animal could be unable to produce melanin at all, resulting in albinism. Albino animals lack any coloration, making them pure white or pale, and the red eye color is caused by blood vessels behind the eyes.
Contrary to popular belief, white tigers are not the result of albinism, but a recessive trait as these cats still possess stripes (which are even present when tigers are shaved) and most importantly, blue eyes, as opposed to no pigmentation at all and red eyes. In order to naturally get a white tiger, both parents must carry the gene for white coloration, which occurs in about one in 10,000 births, most of which live shorter lives due to weaker eyesight and their coloration makes it harder to stay hidden from prey. In the previous Zoo Tycoon and is planned for Prehistoric Kingdom, players could get rare variants from breeding, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if they were in Planet Zoo. While these animals are incredibly popular, there is a catch: you really shouldn't try to breed them. Because of this popularity, breeders and exhibitors will pair closely related white tigers with each other under the illusion that the animals are endangered, but are only in it for the money. Most white tigers have other genetic deformities, including crossed eyes, kidney problems, cleft palates, mental impairments, and scoliosis of the spine. Most white tigers are euthanized for these problems, in addition to the already high neonate mortality compared to that in orange tigers. While I spent way too much time on tigers, this also applies to other miscolored animals commonly bred as attractions. In addition to the possibility of acquiring shinies through breeding, I would like the game to penalize players for breeding them intentionally with lower zoo ratings, reduced funding and protestors.
One of the major drawbacks to Zoo Tycoon Xbox aside from the lack of creative license is that the initial release wasted its animal count on subspecies. Would I like to have maybe two subspecies of giraffe as opposed to all of them? Maybe. Do I need every subspecies? No, I do not. If "50+ species" means only 50 non-terrarium species for the base game, I wouldn't want Himalayan Brown Bear to take up a valuable spot for a rarer species, and Planet Zoo has done well in avoiding their past mistake. According to the developers of Prehistoric Kingdom, multiple species from a genus will be in the game as alternative skins. If you have enough genetic material for Pachyrhinosaurus, you can have all three species for your park. In Planet Zoo, this could translate as Brown Bear appear in the animal selection menu with an additional option to select between Grizzly and Himalayan.
Rainforest/aviary DLC: As I watched Rudi create the walk-through jungle exhibit, I instantly thought that it needed more arboreal animals to complete it. One way we could do that is with a pack that allows us to build rainforest aviaries, a common feature at zoos and aquariums. This could include various birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods found mostly in the understory and canopy levels of tropical rainforests, but also a few forest floor species and even freshwater animals to foreshadow an aquarium expansion.
This pack could also offer perching sites for birds and bats, new climbing frames for primates, tons of tropical plants, and Mesoamerican-themed architecture.
Petting Zoo DLC: I wasn't a fan of the petting zoos as a kid, but several people have discussed this idea because it would be a good way to use walk-through exhibits, and the ability to interact with animals gives guests a stronger connection to environmental issues. The original Zoo Tycoon had a petting zoo building, but that doesn't really count. The most noteworthy part about Wildlife Park 2 is the ability to build petting zoo enclosures. At first, I thought this DLC was going to be the most boring because it would be just farm animals, but I found ways to make it more interesting:
African Adventure expansion: Much like the original pack for Zoo Tycoon 2, this would showcase the diversity of Africa as a whole, not just the savannas. Focal regions and their wildlife could include the Maghreb, Cape Verde, Sudd, Karoo, Congo, Horn of Africa, Kalahari, Madagascar, Sechyelles, and of course, more ubiquotous continent-wide animals. Every pack must have a new feature for the game in addition to the animals, and here, I would like to introduce riverboats as a new tour, often depicted in older media depictions, but surprisingly not in zoo building games (except the Zoo Empire series). I know an Africa pack sounds like a weird place to introduce boats as a tour option, but in the Okovango Delta, the preferred method of travel is by riverboats, which also allow you to get closer to animals, and we will get train and jeep tours in the base game. Lastly, this pack would introduce ancient Egyptian-themed buildings.
Sky tram DLC: In some of the Endangered Species maps, you are presented with a challenge; you can build and terraform almost anywhere you want, except for the parts enclosed in by dark green chainlink fencing to demarcate a conservation area running right through the map, often a mountain range, a deep chasm, a river of ecological importance, or all of the above. You can't change the landscape in these restricted areas, but you can build around and over them using elevated paths and sky trams to get your guests across. The sky trams in this pack would function as they did in the original: to provide your guests with bird's-eye views of your animals and efficiently get them around tough terrain. To add to their convergence with cable cars used in mountainous areas, I suggest including animals and plants that are also found at high altitudes and Chinese/Tibetan-inspired architecture.
Marine park expansion: Yeah, this is an obvious one. The Marine Mania expansions were a game changer in how I played the Zoo Tycoon games because this meant I could now feature marine and land animals side by side. I already suggested including freshwater animals in a rainforest DLC, but for this, I would like to see Frontier go all out with new marine animals. This pack will include new challenges, such as managing water chemistry in addition to keeping your tanks clean, growing jellies from polyp to adult and preventing them from taking damage, designing tanks so sharks don't get hemorrhages from the corners, and of course the constant stimulation that cetaceans require(demand) in captivity; and experiment with what animals can thrive under human care and which ones are best left in the wild. In Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania, large fish and cetaceans were the hardest to obtain in campaign and challenge mode, something I would like to see translated into a Planet Zoo marine expansion. In addition to the usual methods of trading between zoos, donation from private facilities, or government seizure, some new ways of aquiring marine animals could include rehoming non-releasable animals from rehab centers taking in survivors of strandings to hopefully rehabilitate them for release back into the wild, joining the many success stories of rescue to rehab to release by aquariums, or from carefully managed collection trips for fish and invertebrates. Hopefully you don't need to embark on the latter, as many bony fish are easy to breed in captivity and can be an easy way to accumulate Conservation Credits. As for shows, I would be ok with training sessions where guests can watch them perform completely natural behaviors (as cute as otter basketball sounds, it's not really necessary).
Now for the moment you've all been waiting for: the animals I hope to see in Planet Zoo. Originally I was going to limit my wish list to 18 species, because I get so excited by this subject and I may not do a prediction post for a while, I'm going all out on this one!
Why am I shooting so high here? For the same reason I have insanely large target lists when I go birding in a new place: in case I’m off on one thing, I still have others to fall back on.
Remember why Zoo Tycoon 2 kept its popularity even as its graphics failed to stand the test of time? The community kept it alive through modding. While we won't be able to mod new animals in Planet Zoo, Frontier has stated that input from the Steam Community Workshop will be in the game. What I would like to see is if Frontier could reach out to the community for votes on what downloads they would like to see put into the game.
Because this was a long read and I can understand if you only did it for the pictures, here's a nice little recap:
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