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Animal Magic

Zoo Tycoon dev Blue Fang talks about it new Wii and DS title, and why the family market should be taken seriously

Best known for its esteemed Zoo Tycoon games, this year Blue Fang has expanded the reach of its animal centric titles to iPhone with Lion Pride, and DS and Wii platforms with the THQ published World of Zoo. spoke to Alex Chouls, the studio's creative director, and Scott Triolam, chief operating officer, about its hopes for the new World of Zoo, as well as the family console market as a whole and what Blue Fang is offering that market that not enough other developers currently are. Could you tell us a bit about Blue Fang's history and what you've been working on up until now?
Alex Chouls

Blue Fang has been making family friendly games about animals for over a decade now. We made the Zoo Tycoon series for Microsoft - Zoo Tycoon 1 and 2 and a bunch of expansion packs - which was a very successful franchise. We found with making those games the things we wanted to concentrate on more was interacting with the animals. We have close relationships with a lot of local zoos, and we get to see the animals up close and personal, and wanted to bring that experience to players. It's just a magical experience getting close to animals and that was the focus on the Wii game we've just made, World of Zoo. Was the interactivity the Wii controls offer the reason you wanted to make World of Zoo on that console?
Alex Chouls

Exactly. It was a match made in heaven for us. We were interested in exploring the animal interaction and the Wii controller was just perfect for that. Were you trying to create Zoo Tycoon for a younger audience with World of Zoo, or is it an entirely new kind of experience?
Alex Chouls

It's more of a new experience. The gameplay is much more about interacting with animals than the management and tycoon type gameplay of Zoo Tycoon. We put a lot of effort into the animal behaviours in the game. We took some liberties with the animals in the zoo, but we also tried to get the authentic feel of each animal. There are already a lot of animal based games on Wii and DS. Was that a concern for you when you were exploring the idea of a zoo game on those formats?
Alex Chouls

Yes, we definitely looked at those games. We feel that we've got much better technology and a great development team here - we've got animators from Disney, and technology guys from MIT - that has built some really compelling technology and also approaches the game from a multi-disciplined point of view where everyone's working together to just create compelling animal performances. We've really focused on the performances of the animals. Plus we're dealing with exotic animals, which I think is cool. It has a much broader palette than a lot of the pet games out there which have domestic animals. We have danger and awe and mystery - all these kinds of emotions are there with exotic animals. You have a partnership with National Geographic for the game, which suggests an educational aspect. Was that something that you really wanted?
Alex Chouls

Yes, that's something Blue Fang has always done. We make games that are fun but also that parents can feel really good about buying their kids. There are a lot of games out there that frankly upset parents. They look at the state of our industry and a lot of it is a lot of death mongering and violence and destruction. We make creative, fun experiences that are constructive. For example, in WOZ we have an animal creator that lets you make almost any animal you can imagine. So we really focused on creative, fun, constructive play that the parents can feel really good about buying and kids enjoy playing. How did you go about designing the animals in the game? You mentioned you spend a lot of time in zoos looking at real animals - is that important for your designers to do?
Alex Chouls

Absolutely. We have a huge library of DVDs and we also visit real animals at zoos. For World of Zoo we came up with an art style that we think is very charming. It's kind of cell-shaded but it's not too cartoony, so you don't lose the authentic feel of the animal in the art style. But it let us push the design a little bit further than what the real animal might do. You released your first iPhone game recently - Lion Pride. What was your thinking about going into iPhone development?
Scott Triola

From a studio perspective, we wanted to release a product on that new mobile platform. That was a new experience for us from a development standpoint in that it allowed us to work faster and on a smaller scale. It was also exciting for us to go direct to the consumer for the first time. Every product we've done to date has been through traditional publishing, so from a business standpoint we were really eager to put our own product out there.

From a creative standpoint, we actually had a separate team within Blue Fang - a small team - come up with the concept and execute on that. The focus was taking a proven gameplay mechanism and bringing a new gameplay twist to that – all set within the animal kingdom. We came up with the concept of Lion Pride where, unlike a successful iPhone game like Flight Control where you're routing aircraft using line drawing, the player uses line drawing to control the movement of animals. The objective of the game is to survive, catch prey and feed your cubs, so there is a strategy element and it's a different implementation of the line drawing mechanic. So really for us, it was just a chance to try something new on a new platform and evaluate what worked and what didn't both creatively and from a business standpoint.

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