Unknown Pleasures 2009: Venture Dinosauria

By Kieron Gillen on January 8th, 2009 at 3:48 pm.

Doyouthinkhesawusthisjokeisasoldasadinosaurus?

Pocketwatch have been cultivating their seeds in their increasingly distinct stretch of soil for a while now. Wildlife Tycoon was a IGF finalist. Venture Arctic, its semi-sequel, while winning Gametunnel’s Sim of the year was somewhat overlooked, becoming most noticeable when it went free for a week around Christmas. But the third game of ecology strikes us as something which has a chance of finding an even wider audience. It’s called Venture Dinosauria and is an ecological management game set during the very last days of dinosaurs’ rule…

RPS: Venture Dinosauria – what are your aims with it?

Andy Schatz: I want this game to blow people away. Venture Africa was my first try, Venture Arctic was an evolution of that idea, and Dinosauria is the fulfillment. I’m all-in on this one.

Dinosauria portrays the giant lizards in their last days — how they lived, ate, slept, hunted, played. I don’t want to get too Peter Molyneux on you here, but I want Dinosauria to be the definitive artistic representation of Dinosaurs as they actually lived in the wild.

RPS: On your site you talked about the success of the free giveaway. Care to talk some more
about its effects? How surprised were you?

Andy Schatz: To be honest, I kind of did it as a whim. Venture Arctic has a fairly narrow but passionate fanbase. It never got enough attention to start any sort of viral motion, and so it just kind of sat there. I wanted to do something to let it find its way to the 5% of people who might actually ADORE it.

I certainly found it surprising that my company revenue actually increased as more people were buying my other game, Venture Africa. It turns out that Venture Arctic acted as a sort of loss-leader for the other more popular game.

RPS: The problem with Arctic was, you felt, people hadn’t just played it. There’s an old piece of folk wisdom in Kids Magazines. If you’ve got nothing else you can stick on the cover, you stick a Dinosaur on it. Kids love Dinosaurs. What’s magic about them for you?

Andy Schatz: Ha, well two things to note. While I’ve always had an easier time reaching kids because the games are about animals, I’m making them for a much broader audience. These are not “kids” games. They are not “educational” games. If you think [the documentary series] Planet Earth is freakin cool, you will think Dinosauria is amazing.

Most representations of dinosaurs treat them like monsters. But they were animals, living lives of violence and scarcity. They lived in packs, they slept. When was the last time you saw a pack of sleeping dinosaurs in a movie or game? I want to show dinosaurs and the earth as it truly existed millions of years ago.

I’d love to make a game about coral reefs, or one about the Amazon. I’d love to revisit Africa and revamp the gameplay from my first indie title. I’ve been holding off on dinosaurs until now because the technology to do dense forests wasn’t within my reach until now.

RPS: What’s your actual take on Dinosaurs? In terms of an ecology game, how are you looking at the conflicting research of how Dinosaurs lived. I seem to recall the old Calvin and Hobbes comic where deciding whether T-Rex’s were fearsome predators or cowardly scavengers, Calvin went with the former because it was much cooler.

Andy Schatz: I love that comic. We’re actually dealing with this in a really geeky way. The behavioral elements that we KNOW are hardcoded into the game. Things that we can only speculate about are variable in the game: the player can decide whether a TRex was a hunter or scavenger. For instance, players will be able to decide whether Stegosaurus used its plates as a reproductive display, for defense, or for heat regulation.

RPS: The apocalyptic setting is a fascinating one too. Care to talk about the decision behind setting it there?

Andy Schatz: I always design games by starting with a protagonist. Then I design the antagonist. In my previous two games, the antagonist was represented by scarcity in the environment. In Dinosauria, the antagonist is much more active and dramatic: meteors, disease, infestation, draught can change the broad strategies of what make some species powerful and other species fail. In our prehistory, lifeforms evolved to deal with massive changes to the environment; the player will have to intelligently upgrade (and sometime downgrade) their dinosaurs to survive extinction.

What’s your view of gaming in 2009? What’s the big trends to watch out for?

Andy Schatz: Expect to see a lot more short-form games. Edmund McMillan, Tale of Tales, and a number of other developers are popularizing games that last under an hour but have a focused artistic or narrative purpose. The Innovation category in the 2009 IGF is dominated by these types of games (see Coil, The Graveyard, You Have to Burn the Rope).

Also look for more interesting in-browser content, such as what Flashbang is doing with Blurst. The industry has been talking about community-based revenue (microtransations and such) for a while, but it’s the indies who will prove the stateside business model first.

RPS: And what’s your favourite dinosaur? Mine is Ankylosaurus.

Andy Schatz: Deinonychus! Evil feathered geniuses.

For more on Venture Dinosauria, cast your eyes at their webpage.

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29 Comments »

  1. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    Great stuff; 2009 – The year Indie Developers become even bigger than 2008? Methinks so.

  2. Gap Gen says:

    (Link at the bottom is broken. My guess is that you need an “http://”)

  3. Morph says:

    I always liked Triceratops. Though that doesn’t give me much cred on the indie-dinosaur scene.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Gap: Fixed.

    Morph: Nowt wrong with lovin’ the classics.

    KG

  5. Bobsy says:

    Feathery dinosaurs are the BEST dinosaurs. FACT.

  6. Del Boy says:

    What are those dinosaurs that humans used to ride?

  7. phil says:

    @Del Boy

    Tory politicans?

  8. Bobsy says:

    Kaboom.

  9. Tei says:

    all we know about dinsaurs is that where killed by a Nuclear Winter, and all his technology and culture where lost.

    humm….

  10. Colthor says:

    Dinosaurs!

    This made me think of Designasaurus 1 + 2. Which I loved many, many moons ago.

    And Triceratops are brilliant.

  11. Yhancik says:

    I was kind of disappointed that it wasn’t a Flashbang game about a monocled dino investing in the financial market.

    Anyway, I always loved the ankylosaurus too <3

  12. Yann Best says:

    Iguanadon = acebest

    And yes, the dinosaur flavour counts for a lot. I was never able to work up the enthusiasm to try the earlier two ‘Venture’ titles, but this one’s a dead-cert.

  13. Ginger Yellow says:

    “I want Dinosauria to be the definitive artistic representation of Dinosaurs as they actually lived in the wild.”

    [snark]As opposed to how they lived in captivity?[/snark]

    Still, this sounds awesome. Viva Pinata but realistic and with dinosaurs!

  14. Schmung says:

    Nifty. I always liked the Sauropods as, along with with the t rex and the triceratops they’re what people think of as archetypal dinos.

  15. The Hammer says:

    Wow, Venture Dinosauria?! I must admit, I haven’t played much of Venture Arctic, and I really need to get round to it, but from the design aims of this game, it sounds wonderful. I really like the idea of giving a proper, ancient setting for the dinosaurs to live in, and how active the “antagonist” is going to be. This is definitely one I’ll keep an eye on. The last dinosaur strategy game I played – Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis – was lovely, too, and finally we get a Walking With Dinosaurs alike game! SUPREMO!

  16. Pags says:

    I was kind of disappointed that it wasn’t a Flashbang game about a monocled dino investing in the financial market.

    With physicky money pile simulation! Avoid collapsing towers of moolah.

    I look forward to seeing the ‘antagonist’ playing a more dominant role in this than in Venture Arctic; perhaps surviving despite scarce resources is gripping entertainment to some, I reckon I’d probably feel a little more accomplished surviving meteor strikes.

    For instance, players will be able to decide whether Stegosaurus used its plates as a reproductive display, for defense, or for heat regulation.

    This also strikes me as pretty cool; it brings back memories of a game I used to play called 3D Dinosaur Adventure where you could paint dinosaurs in different colours because we don’t actually know what colour their hides were.

  17. MacBeth says:

    Styracosaurus FTW!

    Like a Triceratops, but more spiky… clearly made of awesome.

  18. MacBeth says:

    Wikipedia link for your (and my) spiky friend, btw.

  19. Alex says:

    I like the Dinosaur with the huge bulb on its tail, which it would use to slam the seven hells out of T-Rex ankles.

    Awesome.

  20. Will says:

    Wow… awesome… now I have 2 new games to play immediately. I’m totally full of the nerd-love for Planet Earth, the 70′s Life on Earth, Walking with Dinosaurs, etc. Goddamn I love my doccos.

    THANKS ARH PEE ESS!

  21. Muzman says:

    So you can mix and match the theoretical characteristics and the functions of features and see what happens to the simulation?
    That’s so freakin cool it hurts.

  22. Gap Gen says:

    I used to like the brontosaurus until I learnt it wasn’t a real dinosaur (or rather it was just the same as another one).

  23. Bret says:

    When I was a kid I loved Deinonycus. Small, but not so small as to be worthless, predatory, and they had switchblade toes.

    The feathers thing, however, is just kinda lame. And based, from what I can find, not on fossil evidence, but the fact velociraptors had them. Which just feels like bad science.

  24. Lilliput King says:

    Brontosaurus (a.k.a. Apatosaurus) ARE cool.

    Check this out:
    “With such a large body mass, combined with a long neck, physiologists encounter problems determining how these animals managed to breathe.”

    Awesome.

  25. Radiant says:

    A. Schatz
    Greatest name ever inflicted by a parent.

  26. Gap Gen says:

    Brontosaurus: The dinosaur Science said couldn’t exist. It’s the creationist dinosaur!

  27. Ben Abraham says:

    Man, I’ve been reading the Michael Chriton Jurassic Park novel this week just fo’ kicks, and this has me EXTREMELY excited!

    THE FIELD OF PALEONTOLOGY IS FINISHED!

  28. amishmonster says:

    Oh, this announcement makes me unreasonably giddy. Could this fill the gap between DinoPark Tycoon and my dream game, the DinoRiders RTS they’ll make after whoever owns the IP realizes how amazing that would be.

    Deinonycus is like a bigger velociraptor with indie cred, and thus one of my favorites. Someone already took styracosaurus, so I’ll go with my runner-up favorite, kentrosaurus. The kentro pretty much wins hand-down for pointiness.

    An oft-overlooked dinosaur game is Paraworld – it’s not an especially good game, but if you go into it expecting a b-level game with dinosaurs, Vikings, and a thinly-veiled Charles Darwin riding an allosaurus, it’s pretty amazing in its own way.

  29. Caiman says:

    The trouble with games that overlap my career is that I find it hard to enjoy them because I’m always nitpicking! Same with movies and TV shows. Hopefully they put a bit more effort into the behaviour than the Walking with Dinosaurs series (handy tip: ask animal behaviourists about dinosaur behaviour, not palaeontologists).

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