We visited the Universal Pictures lot a few weeks ago, not for television or film reasons, but for a special event for one of the biggest projects to date coming from the very young Universal Interactive. They've teamed up with Frontier Developments to make Jurassic World Evolution, a management sim style theme park game based on the entire franchise of Jurassic Park movies.
Jeff Goldblum was there to celebrate the announcement that he'd be in the game too, reprising his iconic role as Dr. Ian Malcolm yet again since this summer he'll also be back in the role for the theatrical release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. So to of course were many developers from Frontier who took the time to walk me through the game, allowing us to record 45 minutes of exclusive Jurassic World Evolution gameplay you can watch here.
We also had the opportunity to sit down with Jurassic World Evolution creative director Michael Brookes to discuss his career leading up to this game, what they've learned from previous Frontier titles (including Zoo Tycoon, Kinecticmals, and Planet Coaster), how they nabbed the coveted Jurassic World license, and how they got Jeff Goldblum aboard.
Let's start at the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about your history with and before Frontier Developments?
MICHAEL BROOKES: I joined Frontier about 15 years ago. I actually moved over from the web industry, doing software for banks and mobile networks, things like that.
Was gaming always a passion?
MICHAEL BROOKES: Oh yes! I’ve been into gaming since I was 14, back in the mid-80s. Elite was the game that put me into that.
MICHAEL BROOKES: And then I worked on Elite Dangerous.
I love how that works - on PC I played it with VR and everything - but it’s amazing on console as well. I played it when it first released on Xbox One.
MICHAEL BROOKES: We’ve actually got our own propriety engine – that means we can actually dedicate a lot resources to creating on a lot of different platforms. So we try to tackle them as they come online and then we can really push them as hard as we can. Then of course, we did some release software with Microsoft on the Xbox, so we had a bit of a head start that way, as well so that was pretty cool.
When you first joined Frontier 15 years ago or so, what were the first projects you did?
MICHAEL BROOKES: I actually came in as a tester. I basically went from being the head of co-branding and web development in the European division, to being a lowly tester.
Did you love it though?
MICHAEL BROOKES: Oh I did, yes. First games I was working on were Dog’s Life on the PS2 and Wallace & Gromit [in Project Zoo], which is on loads of different platforms all at the same time. So yeah, I worked on that and actually rised through the ranks to become head of QA [Quality Assurance] and then shifted over into production. And I'm now Game Director.
Tell us about how you first got to work on this IP [Jurassic World].
MICHAEL BROOKES: I think part of it is because of the work we did with Planet Coaster which Universal recognized that we were world leaders in that type of game development. Plus all the work we’ve done with animal games in the past. Not just Zoo Tycoon, but Kinectimals and Dog’s Life and stuff like that. So we have a long history of animating creatures. And we demonstrated that yes, we can do this.
Did they approach you guys?
MICHAEL BROOKES: I think it was a bit of a mutual coming together at just the right time and the right moment with the right ideas.
When did that happen? After the first movie came out?
MICHAEL BROOKES: I’m not exactly sure, to be honest. I’ve been working on the project just over a year, so a bit longer than that. But it happened pretty quick, how we developed this relationship. And it has definitely been a collaboration. They provided us with support by giving us like, the models from the films, which you see because they're ultra-high detailed, they render those in hours per frame, where we have 60 of those frames in a second. We topographize the skins, all that kind of work. But they’ve given us reference materials, the audio, all the details of the lore. Very authentic. Basically, that’s we tried to do – make the ultimate Jurassic World game.
The idea, just from this demo, of the real world dig sites combined with how players feed the dinosaurs, is straight from book.
MICHAEL BROOKES: We looked at the history of Jurassic World and Jurassic Park and go back to the original books. Michael Crichton tried to get as much authentic science as possible, and that did bleed through the series as well.
You guys reference the books?
MICHAEL BROOKES: Not directly but we certainly read the books in detail, watched the films in detail, read every single fan theory there is, talked to Universal about various things.
This game is a lot, because you’re not just building a park for attendees, but it’s all of the nitty-gritty details of developing the proper genome for a dinosaur. Do you guys get into the hybrid stuff and the stuff we see in the new movies?
MICHAEL BROOKES: There are hybrids in the game. You can’t take any species together and make them hybrid. We’ve basically said that there is a certain hybrids and there ones that are already there in the lore – we’re not adding anything in that sense. But what we are adding is, you can do genetic modifications for their attributes but also for how their skin looks, so there are different color dinosaurs. Try to make them a bit more individual.
And this one, from today’s announcement that Jeff Goldblum’s voice will be in this game, are you guys pulling elements from the movies that have come out so far?
MICHAEL BROOKES: As far as we can, we basically reached our way back through the franchise. We got our hands on Jurassic Park from when it first came out in 93 – so obviously we want to reach back. In the Ingen database we got all the references to things that happened in the past and try to keep that connection.
This comes out in the same release window as the new film. Is there stuff from that already in the game?
MICHAEL BROOKES: We’re working with Universal to tie things in with Fallen Kingdom, but we’re not actually talking about those things. But yes, we’re definitely aware of what they’re doing and working alongside them.
Potentially, there’s post-release content or updates?
MICHAEL BROOKES: I cannot comment on that at the moment, I’m afraid. But yes, we’ve got the Fallen Kingdom release in mind, so those things to tie-in with that.
The timeliness of this is perfect given the pedigree of Frontier and how big the first Jurassic World was. Was the plan always to make this multi-platform?
MICHAEL BROOKES: Yes. I think, especially with a franchise like this, you’ve got to look at the wider audience. I think with Planet Coaster being PC-only made a lot of sense because it meant we had the freedom to do it a certain way, where on console you have to sort of do things differently. And we also wanted to change so that this wasn’t a Jurassic World reskin of Planet Coaster. Planet Coaster iss this amazing creative tool and it’s got a lot of management in there, but I think it’s so outweighed by the creativity that it just doesn’t seem quite the same. We wanted to come at this purely from managing first and then aesthetics almost as a secondary concern in that respect. Basically, we made sure that you can play with the controller, you can easily do all the landscaping and it feels natural. But really, the management is the focus of the game.
Given what you guys learned developing Planet Coaster and even Zoo Tycoon before that, what elements from those games did you guys know you loved and had to build on ? And conversely, what did you learn from those games that you said, “Maybe we shouldn't do that anymore” or change?
MICHAEL BROOKES: Some of the previous games had some controversies surrounded about them and you always get feedback from the fans. You try assimilate that. I think the Zoo Tycoon had park limits, obviously. That was there for very solid for technical reasons but we wanted to make sure we were avoiding that as much as possible, or at least making sure that it doesn’t impact what you can do in the game to such a dramatic effect. And obviously we keep an eye on what people are talking about regarding the game and try to weave that in.
Is there anything for this game, a feature or mechanic or piece of lore, which you really wanted to include but didn’t really work or fit for this one?
MICHAEL BROOKES: No, I don’t think so, to be honest. We came at the management from a different angle. You’ve got the building managing – looking after the guests. You’ve got the dinosaur managing – looking after their health. Making sure you’re getting security contained. You’ve got to keep your eye on the weather. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong. But also, you’ve got this higher level for planning for the future and anticipate these events.
The nature of Jurassic Park is that something always goes wrong. Did you guys have creative fun stuff to do with the ways disasters can happen?
MICHAEL BROOKES: Oh yeah! One of the things we’re conscious of is that that can get quite annoying if it happens too often. It should be a dramatic moment. Then you have to figure out how to solve it. But you don’t need it happening all the time. So that’s why we’ve gone with a different island, so we can provide a different [experience]. Each island has a different theme or mood about it. It unlocks new gameplay. It offers new challenges.
There are around five islands?
Las Cinco Muertes [in Spanish], "The Five Deaths." So it's Isla Matanceros, Muerta, Tacaño, Pena, and Sorna. Of course you know Sorna from The Lost World.
How long do you think it take for players to generally get to the last one?
MICHAEL BROOKES: That’s a tricky question. I’ve not done it in one single playthrough yet, but yes, it will be - especially if you’re doing all the story as well - it’ll be a much longer experience. Because you need play through some of the story to get some of the unlocks, and then you could just play it purely to progress but you’d be missing out on a large chunk of the experience. And plus, the narrative adds to the feeling of the game.
How did you guys get Jeff Goldblum involved?
MICHAEL BROOKES: With a lot of effort. Once he saw the idea he seemed to be quite up for it. That was certainly very exciting. He’s really been on board. He sent us a little message saying “Thank you very much” and we shared that with the team and that’s well appreciated.
He seems to be having a resurgence of sorts with these popular old franchises. He did the Independence Day sequel, this, Jurassic World – everyone is waiting for more of him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
MICHAEL BROOKES: He was fantastic in Thor [Ragnarok].
He was incredible.
MICHAEL BROOKES: Oh I love the character.
That's particularly great because he's going to be back as The Grandmaster again and again.
MICHAEL BROOKES: Yes! It’s been very exciting.
For fans coming in who may not be familiar with these types of management sims or tycoon-style games, how would you best describe Jurassic World Evolution to them in a word or sentence?
MICHAEL BROOKES: I assume they’re familiar with Jurassic World and Jurassic Park, and basically you’re taking on those roles – John Hammond, Claire Dearing – and you’re creating those fantasy worlds and you have to make it work.
You have to make it work. Great, thank you!
MICHAEL BROOKES: No problem, thank you!
- Jurassic World 3 (2021) release date: Jun 11, 2021
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) release date: Jun 22, 2018