Harrison Abbott chats with Jurassic World Evolution 2 game director Rich Newbold…
When it came out back in November 2021, Jurassic World Evolution 2 offered a complete package for park management sim devotees.
Its Chaos Theory mode let you participate in iconic moments from the Jurassic Park saga, albeit with What If…? style twists that reimagined the series canon in fun ways. Meanwhile, the sandbox gave you carte blanche to build your own zoological preserve (unfettered by any pesky budgetary constraints) and the story campaign served as a neat bridge between 2018’s Fallen Kingdom and the new trilogy-capper Dominion. Envisioning a world where genetically-engineered dinosaurs had encroached upon human civilization, it was your job here to contain, isolate and protect the prehistoric creatures from harm.
At the time of launch, the base game had everything you could possibly want from a title that effectively gave you the keys to your very own Jurassic Park. It featured robust DNA splicing options, a huge roster of authentic dinosaurs to breed, and the long-awaited debut of marine reptile exhibits (the latter of which were conspicuously absent from the first Evolution outing). Not to mention, there was at least one mission dedicated to each movie in Universal’s cinematic franchise, meaning that, no matter which one is your personal favourite, there was guaranteed to be something for you.
However, now that Jurassic World Dominion is out in theatres (and fittingly dominating the box office) there is a gap that urgently needs plugging. To address this, the Cambridge-based team at Frontier Developments have released a new piece of DLC, dubbed the “Dominion Biosyn Expansion”.
As is to be expected, the add-on introduces a selection of new dinosaurs that can be glimpsed in the movie. There’s the feathered Pyroraptor (which you might remember as being the one that attacks Owen on the frozen lake) the gargantuan Quetzalcoatlus (which brings down Kayla’s plane), the Dimetrodons (those sailed lizards that lurk in the dark caverns) and the Therizinosaurus (the creepy with scythed claws).
In addition to those newcomers, the DLC also includes a Dominion-themed Chaos Theory scenario, an extra mission for the campaign and some never-before-seen mechanics like amber mining. To find out more about the Biosyn Expansion, Flickering Myth spoke to the game’s director, Rich Newbold.
When it came to the base game, I loved all of the little references and easter eggs that you could find if you looked hard enough. For instance, there’s the ringing cell phone that gets trapped inside the Spinosaurus’s digestive tract, which you can diagnose as a possible ailment. Are you often rewatching the movies to identify any more potential nods like this that you can sneak in?
The team are massive Jurassic fans, and we’re constantly looking for ways to make Jurassic World Evolution 2 as authentic to the franchise as possible. I’m a big believer that [those] little nods are great ways to induce a smile in those members of our community who love the movies, and making people smile whilst they play games is a key reason we got into the industry.
Moving onto the DLC now, this new add-on is very specifically themed around the latest movie, and even has a whole Chaos Theory scenario based on it. I’m curious to know how much access you were given to the film and its screenplay when making the Biosyn expansion?
We worked closely with our fantastic partners at Universal and were lucky enough to get access to the film’s script. We also had lots of amazing reference material for the locations [and] dinosaurs, as well as for the new and returning characters you’ll see on screen and in the DLC.
That must have been really exciting! How cool was it to have inside knowledge of this huge blockbuster before anyone else had seen it?
It was a great experience having access to so much exciting content, especially as fans ourselves! We’ve been looking forward to seeing things like the trailers, TV spots and the film itself as, even though we had the inside scoop, nothing compares to seeing all those amazing dinosaurs on a cinema screen.
Once you decided that you were going to create a tie-in expansion, what were the key things that you really wanted to do with it?
We were so excited to tell a story which expands upon the film. It was a great opportunity to add new mechanics and gameplay features that were authentic to [Dominion], such as the Hyper Loop transport network, or the Invisible Fences that allow you to build a more natural-looking facility for your dinosaurs. With this being our biggest DLC to date, there’s plenty to get stuck into for both fans of the Jurassic franchise and park management experts.
Of course, we have to mention the fascinating new species we’ve introduced, which filmgoers will spot on the big screen! We’ve been really enjoying bringing them to life in-game, especinaally the new feathered species such as the Therizinosaurus, Pyroraptor and Quetzalcoatlus!
On that note, how do the new exhibits stand out from those that are already in the game? Specifically, I was wondering what distinguishes the new Pyroraptor from the standard Velociraptor? Besides its feathery appearance, has it got any unique behaviours or traits?
All of the new species added to the Dominion Biosyn Expansion are really iconic, and the feathered species especially are so unique to look at. [They] have a behaviour where they’ll shake themselves dry after wet weather, it’s wonderful to watch!
Speaking of the feathers, was it a challenge to introduce a new kind of texture for the dinosaurs?
Our new fur technology allowed us to add a rich and varied amount of detail to the models, which makes them feel even more real. Adding snow, dust and water effects to the feathers and fur really helped complete the look of these creatures within their environment.
Along with our Dominion reference materials, we looked at feathers on many types of birds. We broke down what feathers are needed to make up a full wing [and looked at] how individual feathers overlap, interlock or splay apart at different stages of movement. Birds such as the Bald Eagle and Thick-billed Raven were great references, as their feathers were slick and almost blade-like, which is very similar to the Pyroraptor’s.
So, when you are introducing a new dino like this, do you tend to take more inspiration from the movies or from contemporary palaeontology? Where does your allegiance lie there, or do you try to marry the two?
All the dinosaurs in Jurassic World Evolution 2 are authentic to [the movies], but we take inspiration from the available fossil finds and scientific data when working on new species. Taking this research into account, we then concept versions that will feel authentic to the films, before moving into a 3D modelling stage, followed by materials and texturing. At all stages, we iterate on the designs to ensure our dinosaurs look and behave in realistic, believable ways.
You’ve already touched upon this with the reference to eagle feathers, but do you often look at modern-day wildlife for reference when it comes to things like movements or behaviours? I imagine it’s quite hard to bring some of these extinct creatures to life without having something tangible to base them on. For instance, how do you create an authentic depiction of a Dimetrodon, when that creature is so ancient that it predates dinosaurs themselves?
We try to find as much reference as possible from both the films and fossils, but also take inspiration from modern-day animals that are a similar body shape, to ensure that the species in Jurassic World Evolution feel very real as they move around their environments, and then scale it up to give it a sense of weight.
For example, with the Pyroraptor and Therizinosaurus we looked at birds like chickens, ostriches and cassowaries, whereas the Dimetrodon was more inspired by large reptiles like komodo dragons and crocodiles. This helps us to add nuance to our behaviours, to make them feel more alive and believable.
Cassowaries are bloody terrifying, so I can easily see how they fed into the Therizinosaurus.
Heron and stork videos were circulating around the animation team for quite some time for the Quetzacoatlus! Meanwhile, I’d be throwing in the occasional elephant video while animating the gigantic new Dreadnoughtus variant.
Frontier is obviously an authority when it comes to park management sims and I was wondering how you research the actual theme park side of things too. We only get small glimpses of an operating Jurassic World in the movies, so were there any real-world attractions that you studied to flesh things out further?
While we of course have the Jurassic film franchise for reference, we’re lucky enough to have the depth and experience of the development team who have spent years working on management simulation titles here at Frontier Developments. There’s a wealth of knowledge on how real theme parks and zoos operate which, when combined with our love for Jurassic World, allows us to create a park management game that’s a fun challenge for the player and authentic to the Jurassic franchise.
In addition to adapting Dominion, you’ve also taken the opportunity to make a few gameplay tweaks to the base game here. Could you talk a little about the new herding mechanic and also the staff transport system? How will those improve the experience for players?
Alongside the Dominion Biosyn Expansion [we’ve also released] our 3rd free update. With each of these base game updates, we look to include new features, content and quality of life enhancements for our players.
For example, with this expansion, we saw a great opportunity to add the new wrangling mechanic inspired by Owen Grady’s experiences in the film. This gives players another method of transporting dinosaurs directly on the ground.
Could you explain the amber mining mechanic as well? Why have you chosen to introduce this now and what do you feel it adds to the game that wasn’t there before?
Working alongside the head of Biosyn Genetics, Lewis Dodgson, as part of the campaign, you will look to complete the construction of an innovative Research Facility. This unlocks the new Amber Mining feature, in which you’ll be able to unearth amber-encased DNA to synthesise amazing new feathered dinosaur species. This is authentic to how Dodgson and Biosyn engineer the stunning new feathered dinosaurs you see in the film.
You’ve also brought back some of the original actors (Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Bryce Dallas Howard) to record new dialogue here. Do they ever offer input into what the characters might say or how they would react to things?
Being able to work with the classic Jurassic Park cast as they reprised their iconic roles was a great experience, especially those I remember from my childhood such as Sam Neill and Laura Dern. All of the actors we’ve worked alongside have been incredible, working with our team and the writers to ensure that the characters remain true to their onscreen journeys.
Laura especially helped us make sure that Dr. Ellie Sattler was true to her character while incorporating her new experience as a paleobotanist and paleobiologist, as seen in Jurassic World Dominion.
To wrap up, I just wanted to talk about the game’s enduring fanbase. It seems people have really gotten into the spirit of sharing their parks on social media, offering them up for judgement by yourselves and the wider community. How do you feel about that and have there been any that really impressed you?
It’s amazing! It really makes our hearts sing when we see what our wonderful community are doing with the game, finding ways to create beautiful parks or moments. The ones that always impress me are the ones based around the Grand Canyon, but symmetrical parks utilising the lagoons and decorations also create a spectacular and pleasing visual.
Thank you to Rich Newbold for taking the time to answer our questions.
The Dominion Biosyn Expansion for Jurassic World Evolution 2 is out now on PC via Steam, Epic Games Store and Windows Store. It is also availabel on PlayStation5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation4 and Xbox One.