Thursday, April 21, 2011

PAX East 2011: Jurassic Park Preview

Editor's note: We couldn't be more pleased to announce that we've unearthed a major paleontological find—a relic from March 2011; a preview of Jurassic Park: The Game and an interview with Telltale Games' Nick Herman. From what our scientists could gather, this particular piece was buried in a massive landslide and fossilized a casualty of my own recent period of transition. The first of the game's five-episode season is due to be available this month and is currently available for pre-order through the game's official website.

Reporting for this piece is courtesy of Dr. J.P. Grant, Professor of Barbasol Embryo Studies at the University of Made-Up Doctorates.

At PAX East last month, I sat down with Nick Herman, Cinematic Artist at Telltale Games, who was on hand to demo the studio’s upcoming Jurassic Park: The Game. Like previous Telltale efforts, Jurassic Park will release in a five-episode format; the first installment is scheduled to drop this month on PC and Mac, and on consoles in the fall.

From the 20 or so minutes I spent with the game, it was easy to see how much Telltale is looking to the 1993 film for inspiration. Set halfway through the events of the first movie, the game will feature all original characters on another part of the island. We will visit some familiar locations, it seems: “A lot of environments that are in the movie, we revisit here,” says Herman. While there won’t be any cameos from Wayne Knight or Samuel L. Jackson, there will be references to characters, sequences, and artifacts from the movie—including, of course, the famous Barbasol can full of dinosaur embryos. Herman couldn’t get into specifics, but it looks like that particular loose thread from the movie may be tied up in the game.

So far, the game’s look tracks pretty close to the movie’s. “We want to make sure that people feel like it’s a good representation of the film, so of course we’re going to have to copy a lot of the lighting techniques and the colors,” Herman explains. He says the development team has worked closely with Universal Studios to ensure the game’s look and feel matches that of the film and is representative of the franchise. “They’ve been super supportive,” Herman reports, and have even given the developers assets to work with.

Although the story is linear—“It’s a very directed experience,” Herman says—Telltale wants to balance it with puzzle and action sequences. The player interacts with the game world through a series of Heavy Rain-style prompts, with occasional quick time events punctuating the action sequences. (I played the PC version using a wired Xbox controller; although this is the way Herman says Telltale recommends you play, the game is also compatible with a keyboard/mouse control scheme.) Unlike previous Telltale games, you can fail in Jurassic Park—leading to some brutal (and kinda hilarious) death animations. When you die, the game restarts you almost exactly at the moment you left off, minimizing frustration.

Two other conveniences help the player overcome challenges. The first is a system Telltale calls “Dialogue on Demand.” Pushing the right trigger brings up conversation options, which can lead to new actions. In one sequence, I had veterinarian Gerry Harding ask his daughter Jess to fetch an access code for a locked door. The game then transitioned me into the role of Jess so I could search her vehicle’s glove box. Later, I would guide Jess away from the gaping jaws of an attacking T-Rex. Because the story is so linear, the ability to experience the story from different characters’ perspectives is a nice twist to keep players engaged.

There’s also a sort of fast-travel system in Jurassic Park: The Game. Using the left trigger, you can pull up a menu of scenes, then use the D-pad to select the one you want to visit. Moving between scenes may transition you into playing as a different character. It sounds like this feature may be useful for solving puzzles that require contributions from multiple characters in multiple locations. Although the narrative is “very cinematic,” Herman says, the puzzle design is created to “make people feel like they’re having an effect on the world.”

Like most games aimed at a wide audience, Telltale has its work cut out for them in balancing simplicity with difficulty. While the developer is no newcomer to adventure games and even beloved movie franchises, this is the first time they’ve worked with a motion capture studio. Getting mocap data that can be used multiple times (for example, for similar animations) has been a challenge, Herman confesses. However, the result seems to have paid off so far, as Jurassic Park possesses a greater degree of photorealism than their previous efforts. And Telltale’s also been able to draw on an unexpected resource in working toward verisimilitude: a Bay Area paleontologist has been helping them integrate, as Herman puts it, some “real science” into the fantasy dinosaur fiction of the franchise.

Based on what I saw, it looks like Telltale could have another winner on its hands. However, given the limited means of interacting with the game world, the ease of overcoming obstacles, and the relentlessly linear format, I couldn’t help feeling Jurassic Park: The Game was geared toward a younger audience. It remains to be seen whether players of all ages will be willing to revisit Isla Nublar when the first episode of the game ships this month.
blog comments powered by Disqus