Retro – Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis

By Alec Meer on January 19th, 2010 at 11:56 pm.

It’s just a brilliant, brilliant idea for a game. Jurassic Park: the management sim. Most attempts at bringing Spielberg’s dino fantasy into interactivity concentrated on the action: the running, the jumping, the shooting and even on the being-a-Velociraptor thing. They had their moments, but they were so staggeringly ignorant of what the Jurassic Park concept really was. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, so it’s far too easy to slam all those developers for not stumbling across the total sense that a tycoon game made for the license. After all, I can remember desperately wanting to shoot digital dinosaurs around the time of the films too. I wasn’t a subtle child.

Operation Genesis flickered somewhere in my peripheral vision back when I was reviews editor on a magazine. At that time, its two core attributes were things to be scorned: Jurassic Park 3, two years previous, didn’t lend much dignity to the movie series, and if I threw a rock in the air I’d hit at least five cheap, lousy tycoon games that we couldn’t/wouldn’t find the space to review. A Jurassic Park tycoon game? Gotta be awful. Gotta be. What a fool I was.

I wasn’t aware there’d been a similar but more rudimentary Gameboy title, Jurassic Park: Park Builder, a few years previous, but I don’t imagine that wouldn’t have swayed my presumptive mind. Farm it out to a desperate freelancer, half a page, they’ll probably give it 58%, done.

We did. They didn’t. I can’t remember who reviewed it or what they said, but I can remember seeing the 80-something-percent score and my surprise turning to a sort of self-loathing for being so snap-judgemental. There’s a reason Jurassic Park works. There’s a reason tycoon games work. There’s no reason why the two of them put together wouldn’t work.

It wouldn’t be, I hasten to add, an especially great tycoon game if you took away the dinosaurs. That’s why I’m not going to plunge into much detail about its various systems: your best guess about how it deals with placing cages and attractions and toilets and burger stands is bound to be right. But it’s all about the bloody dinosaurs, so to imagine the game without them would be ridiculous thing to do and a ridiculous thing to criticise it for. Your constant tasks are three-fold: make a ton of money, breed more dinosaurs, and try and stop people from getting killed. See? You simply could not devise a better gaming representation of the first Jurassic Park: a document of a half-mad tycoon’s doomed attempts to make a crapton of cash from a weird science experiment that can only go disastrously wrong. It’s about prioritising capitalism over humanity. Operation Genesis is that exactly: wilful, fatal absurdity in the name of profit.

I can’t remember how much the film dwells on it, but certainly Michael Critchton’s original novel – which I adored circa age 12, but would not dare befoul my mind with now – was frothing with pop-theoretical discussion of chaos theory. If a butterfly flaps its wings in China, some guy in Rochester suffers his eyelids falling off,: you know full well how it goes. In Tropical Dinosaur Theme Park terms, it means one small spot of human incompetence or greed creates a domino effect of disaster: i.e. everybody dies.

Operation Genesis doesn’t quite have the balls for that – it does try to stay largely happy-clappy and child-friendly, bless it. Plus, despite That Music and far too much attention to detail (unconvincing Dickie Attenborough and Sam Neill impersonations abound) it’s simply not complex enough to include a Fat, Sweaty Guy Tries To Steal The DNA Samples And Run Away fail condition. Instead, it creates chaos at both minimised and maximised scales. One allosaurus falls into a blood frenzy and starts attacking his fellows, and while you’re busy trying to sedate him and move him to a solitary pen, all your stegosaurus fall prey to gastric flu. It’s containable, but there is that sense of tumbling from minor disaster to minor disaster, that the till you think you’ve got your hand firmly on is in fact a live serpent, and that the boat you believe you were sat in is actually a piece of tinfoil on the summit of a live volcano.

I exaggerate. It’s much more sedate and forgiving than that, but it does lay on enough disasters and, more pertinently, potential disasters that you always feel a little worried. And, in those moments where you do feel pretty complacement – boom. Twister! That happened to me earlier today: I’d built my park into smooth, flawless engine of a thing, making money hand over fist. Everything’s going great. Suddenly, a little red message pops up on the right of my screen, warning of a hurricane. I figure all it means is that I can’t send my ranger helicopter out to cure any sick dinos for a while, and shrug it off.

A moment later, 20 people are dead.

That bloody butterfly.

As well as trashing half my buildings, the twister knocks down just two small sections of Medium Secuirty fence. I’m so busy desperately fixing my souvenir stands – the revenue! the precious revenue! – that I don’t even notice. Unfortunately, one Carcharadontosaurus (OK, I don’t remember /that/ from the film) does. All my cleaners and a clutch of rich-but-dim tourists are promptly swallowed whole. At least the game spares me the truly grisly (and truly impressive, still), bone-crunching animations shown when my carnivorous dinosaurs had their regular goat-or-cow-based dinner. Far more importantly, at least I managed to tranquilise it before it clawed its way into my brachiosaur pen. Those big bastards are expensive.

It was immediately after having this thought that I realise I truly had become John Hammond. I pause for a moment, wondering how to make some gesture that would prove my humanity was intact. Can’t think of one. Hire some replacement cleaners and reopen the hot air balloon ride instead.

My immortal soul might be forever damaged, but the park itself wasn’t. It’s the kind of game that leaves plenty of room to recover from that kind of disaster, but at the time it felt so gloriously fatal, and exactly the kind of sudden, mass entropy the films document. My own personal action-horror movie, playing out just for me. All that careful building, upgrading, researching and fossil-hunting, all that money – but it was only ever going to wind up like this.

It’s just another management game, but it’s got dinosaurs in. Dinosaurs are giant lizards that like to eat people. I tried to keep them in pens and charge tourists a pretty penny to come look at them. What was I thinking?

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41 Comments »

  1. Drexer says:

    Ah Operation Genesis, my old love.

    After various weeks of summer shoving leaflets into promotional magazines, shoving magazines into boxes, at five euros a box, I finally amassed enough money to buy my PS2 and this beauty of management with it. Each box carried 150 magazines by the way. And it was relatively soon after launch so… 6000 leaflets I handled in those days.

    I loved this game a lot. Despite being a newcomer to the tycoon-like genre, its mixtures of action and tension were a wonderful mix and an exhilarating moment when playing on my beloved PS2. True, sometimes it was also pretty enjoyable to use cheats to avoid all the crap and just drive around in a herbivore cage that stretches across the entire island, but its true beautiful moments where when you tranquilized that rampaging Velociraptor just as the typhoon hits, when just minutes ago you had been taking a prize photo of three brontosaurus near a shimmering lake, and when the storm passes and you open the doors of your shelter, your excavation team tells you that they have found enough DNA to replicate a T-Rex.

    Now look at what you’ve done Alec… I’ve got nostalgia tears in my eyes.

    • Rinox says:

      You made Euros at a summer job? Damn. I feel old. I was still being paid in [non-denominational national currency] when I did mine. :-(

  2. Chris D says:

    I still have this around somewhere. My memories of it are that it was slow, clunky and near unplayable. On the other hand I have upgraded my memory, processor and graphics card since then in an effort to stop everything being slow, clunky and unplayable. Time it dig it out again, I think.

    Also if having a few tourists eaten in the name of profit is the worst thing I do in gaming this year I’ll be very surprised

  3. Vinraith says:

    That’s two retro pieces in a row on games I had no idea existed, and it’s not like I wasn’t playing PC games at the time. A management sim based on the Jurassic Park license? That really IS genius, I’m going to have to find a copy of this.

  4. Tetracell says:

    Same thing for me. When the game first came out, it was basically unplayable on my computer. But that’s what I sorta love about games like this. Now it’s perfect, and I play the hell out of it every few months. The benefits of a never-ending game backlog let me not feel bad about missing out on some things for a bit of time.

  5. Daniel Nenadovic says:

    I freaking loved this game so much but never had too much time to play it back when I picked it up, and now I can’t get it to run on any of my more-recent computers. Sadface. Anybody know what might be up there? I’d really freaking love to dive back into this.

  6. cdub says:

    Anyone remember a game called Dino Park Tycoon? I remember playing that back in the day (mid 90s).

    • NegativeZero says:

      Dino Park Tycoon was awesome. I played the crap out of it when I was a kid. The one thing I never could figure out though was how to get a park that looked as nice as the one in the opening splash screen, which had paved areas around the pens, nicer buildings, a picnic area, trees… I never got any of that and there didn’t seem to be any option to buy those things in the game. Always used to frustrate me.

    • DarkNoghri says:

      Heck. Yes.

    • amishmonster says:

      That game was so hard until you realized that upping the admission cost to $5, rather than dropping attendance, just made you scads and scads of money. Which you then wasted on Vegasauruses, because you were 5.

      Ah, memories.

  7. Vinraith says:

    May I humbly suggest that anyone that would like to get their hands on this one, and anyone that would like to get it working on a modern operating system like Daniel above, vote for it in the “games you’d like to see on GOG” poll.

  8. amishmonster says:

    Anyone know of any way to buy this game for less than $90? I found a demo on CNET but can’t seem to figure out how to upgrade the shareware. I’m probably missing something obvious.

  9. malkav11 says:

    Poke around in used-stuff stores? I got my copy ages ago at Half-Price Books – $8. (Of course, if it’s going for $90 online it’s probably going to go for $45 now at HPB.) Can’t say as I’ve ever gotten around to playing it, but it is indeed a brilliant concept.

    And yes, I played the demo of Dino Park Tycoon quite a bit when I was a fair bit younger.

  10. JonFitt says:

    I might have to look this up. I went and voted for it on GoG.

    • amishmonster says:

      Same; hopefully it’ll make it on there! I can’t find it for a reasonable price anywhere, and if it doesn’t work on Win7…

  11. Jakkar says:

    Mm. Temptation. I might have to place a vote on GoG too, JonFitt.

    Makes me crave a modern remake. Created by ex Mucky Foot and Bullfrog cloneslaves, yes please. With Euphoria physics. I want to see the tranquiliser kick in as the running T-rex takes a sliding nosedive into a hotdog stand.

  12. Kel says:

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this mod overhaul for the pc version the game
    http://www.moddb.com/games/jurassic-park-operation-genesis/downloads/genesis-expansion-project
    or
    http://modgenesis.hostingdelivered.com/index.php

    It’s fantastic.
    There is a ton of behavioral mods to make the dinosaurs more realistic. And some other fun little things like this
    One of the most popular modifications from the previous CEP packs, this modification makes a return. The actual mod adds a whole new set of interactions between your raptors, and your TRex. Rather than the raptors just running away, they will now engage in a ‘duel’ with the Rex.
    When it approaches, they will try and warn the Rex away by barking. If it gets too close to a pack of raptors, they will attack it!

  13. mcnostril says:

    For some reason this reminded me of Startopia.

  14. Gremmi says:

    The only problem I have with the game is the mouse control is so ridiculously floaty. There’s some freaky mouse acceleration going on which makes my brain hurt when playing it.

  15. The Rev Owen says:

    I spent an entire weekend with the Xbox version when it came out, barely stopping to eat and sleep. As soon as Sunday night bedtime came around I stopped playing and never touched it again. Still, it was a great weekend.

  16. Adrian says:

    like many of us here i remember this game as being pretty bad. the dinos are cool but as stated the park management is pretty basic. back then i lost interest in this game pretty quick

  17. RHippy says:

    I picked this up for £3 a few years back. The missions where you had to tranq things from a helicopter were a complete pain in the arse. Drifitng round in a landie taking photos of dinosaurs was fun though. In my head it’s a less cute, slightly more frustrating version of Zoo Tycoon.

  18. Dr.Danger says:

    Great game, spent many hours in it and wrote a project thesis on it at university. They used neuro networks for the dino AI and was fairly interesting and advanced for the time. Nice to see some people still play it.

  19. Ginger Yellow says:

    Like Alec, I came to this game late, and really enjoyed it when I did. It’s not the most amazing tycoon game ever, but the setting makes it work, and the constant menace. So much cooler than a boring Zoo Tycoon game.

    Everything’s going great. Suddenly, a little red message pops up on the right of my screen, warning of a hurricane.

    There are few moments in gaming that generate as big an “oh shit” response as a hurricane warning in Operation Genesis.

    • Oak says:

      So much cooler than a boring Zoo Tycoon game.

      Funny, I was going to say that Zoo Tycoon: Dinosaur Digs does this concept a little better, since the management aspect is pretty solid.

      That’s not to say I didn’t play the hell out of Operation Genesis, of course. The ten-year-old in me went bananas over this game.

  20. Carra says:

    Ooh, a game that lets you kill people. By being eaten by dinsosaurs!

    I’m now thinking about removing the ladder out of the swimming pool in the Sims. Or building an unfinished rollercoaster to kill your tourists in Rollercoaster Tycoon.

    Any game that allows these kind of things automatically gets some bonus points.

  21. GriddleOctopus says:

    Alec – I think it may well have been that there Jon Hicks, now editor of OXM, who reviewed it. I recall him hunched over the desk trying to photos of dinosaurs – or was that another dinosaur sim?

  22. Lucas says:

    There is something about a great management sim that just gets under my skin more than any other genre. Tropico, Children of the Nile, and Startopia are my favorite examples. My GOG vote is now placed.

  23. Cunzy1 1 says:

    It is great. I particularly remember taking swift vengeance on visitors who had seen 10 different dinosaurs and still weren’t very impressed. That’s when the path might “accidentally” dissappear and a fence might “accidentally” get deleted.

    Did the PC version have missions? I think the PS2 version did. Missions where you had to get a certain number of points in a photo and one where you had to build a big bastard five star park on the mountainiest rainiest tornado prone island.

    Good times! There is/was also a huge fan community that did lots of work with herd hierachies and mixed herds of predators. Look it up.

  24. Wraxe says:

    Unfortunatly, the game doesn’t seem to work on windows 7 :/

  25. john_silence says:

    It sounds scornful enough to refer to anyone as a “desperate freelancer”, but to do it inside a paragraph with a blatant double negation makes it sound even worse. Interesting post other than that.

  26. Malagate says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    Ooh, a game that lets you kill people. By being eaten by dinsosaurs!

    I’m now thinking about removing the ladder out of the swimming pool in the Sims. Or building an unfinished rollercoaster to kill your tourists in Rollercoaster Tycoon.

    Any game that allows these kind of things automatically gets some bonus points.

    I love stuff like that. The best Rollercoaster Tycoon video I saw was one which had an awesome coaster that finished rather abruptly, however where the tracks finish the rather long queue line begins! Poor little people flying everywhere! Gleeee!
    The only thing I could imagine that would be better is if you could build a rollercoaster that leads into a pool with no ladder that has Allosauruses all around it (or Raptors in diving gear).

    I may well have to get Operation Genesis, yet another oldish game that passed me by that RPS is making me think about buying.

  27. EthZee says:

    Great article, the last paragraph cracked me up.

    Dinosaurs are giant lizards that like to eat people. I tried to keep them in pens and charge tourists a pretty penny to come look at them. What was I thinking?”

    If I weren’t so pants at management games (and this game weren’t apparently so elusive to own) I might consider this.

  28. Jonty says:

    Grill’s right, I was that fateful reviewer. I’ve still got fond memories of releasing the velociraptors so I could get some better screenshots. Great days.

  29. Jimbo says:

    About a year ago, for some strange reason, I decided I really needed to play this game very urgently indeed. After scouring the galaxy for a copy (alas, the galaxy was out of stock) I eventually had to obtain it via… other means. I’m glad I did, because it’s a very enjoyable game and has aged surprisingly well.

    Does anybody make fun tycoon games like this / Theme Park anymore?

  30. ascagnel says:

    Even though Dino Park Tycoon was all kinds of awesome, there was a bug we exploited ruthlessly (at least in the Mac version we had). Go to the real estate office, buy all the plots and then unbuy them, and the value of the plots is given to you.

    DPT wasn’t as good as OG since there was no real mayhem to deal with, just scripted breakouts that would bloodlessly lead to runaway dinos.

  31. TC says:

    Anyone have any idea where you can get this game legally then?

  32. Ben Ruiz says:

    BAM! As the makers of Velociraptor Safari and Jetpack Brontosaurus, we fully endorse this game.

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/04/12/taxa-be-monophyletic/

    JP:OG is so stupid good that I have it compulsively installed on every computer I work on. This was a great write-up. xoxo

  33. Daffs says:

    “One allosaurus falls into a blood frenzy and starts attacking his fellows, and while you’re busy trying to sedate him and move him to a solitary pen, all your stegosaurus fall prey to gastric flu. It’s containable, but there is that sense of tumbling from minor disaster to minor disaster, that the till you think you’ve got your hand firmly on is in fact a live serpent, and that the boat you believe you were sat in is actually a piece of tinfoil on the summit of a live volcano.”

    This is exactly how I feel when I play Viva Pinata. Beautifully summed up, sir.

  34. The Hammer says:

    Mmm, I used to have this on the PS2. I lost it eventually (I have a habit of borrowing my games to friends or selling them to GAME and then forgetting that it ever happened, only to get the itch to play the damn things six months later. Rooting through my three game drawers is an obviously futile task – come back to me, Final Fantasy IX :( ), but a year or two ago I came across the budget PC version (distributed by the Bestsellers Series) and bought it. I’m still meaning to get stuck into it again.

    But I loved it. After completing the game, you’d unlock Site B, which was more of a curtain-closer than a reason to continuing playing it. Watching the dinosaurs in a “natural” habitat was cool, very cool, until you realized that you didn’t actually have anything to do. You, really, were irrelevant.

    All the nods and references to the film though, were just lovely. The Jurassic Park jeep, the updates from characters, the music, the foilage… in a way, this game is the most faithful recreation of any movie world. When you heard the T-Rex get annoyed and roar… it was just like watching the films for the first time.

    I absolutely loved the game, but I know I wouldn’t have given it a second glance if not for the source material. But rarely has source material been so important and integral to a game. I’m surprised that this isn’t used more as a case-study, because it surely is greater than the sum of its part, and in my mind, a tycoon classic.

    Great write-up, even if you do sound shit at it! 8D

  35. Peter H says:

    Great game, once it’s been modded. Prior to modding, it’s just got unforgiveable problems (only being allowed a certain number of dinosaurs, fences etc). Well worth it though once those problems are got rid of. Terrible management side, but great fun watching the dinos interact.

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