Pitting players against the deadliest beasts to ever walk the planet seems like the perfect blueprint for a video game, but since 1993 developers have struggled to capture the magic of Jurassic Park. Though a dozen plus games have carried the series’ iconic logo, their uninspired designs fall in line with a prehistoric Rambo fantasy more than the source material found in the Jurassic Park novels and films.
Dinosaurs are the attraction, but the heart of Jurassic Park is humankind. Our emotions and tendencies shape these stories. The best and worst of humankind are almost always on display, whether that’s someone being brave enough to put their life on the line or ravenous enough to sacrifice others for their own personal gain. These stories are built on deep character development and the hope that viewers and readers are emotionally invested with the human element long before a dinosaur emerges from the brush.
No Jurassic Park video game has explored this element. Perhaps this is why Universal Pictures, the Jurassic Park license holder, hasn’t unleashed its dinosaurs in the video game space since 2003’s Operation Genesis. Enter Telltale Games, a development studio with a reputation of making character driven adventure games. “Universal didn’t want another dinosaur shooting game,” says Joel Dreskin, Telltale’s director of marketing. “That’s something from their side that interested them in Telltale Games as a partner for the property.”
Telltale plans to create an experience identical in tone to the films. To do this, the human element must come through loud and clear. The team has studied the films and hopes to take pages from the Steven Spielberg playbook for both pacing and presentation.
Executive director Kevin Boyle understands the challenge the team has ahead. “As far as pacing goes, there are some things that are useful from the heritage of Telltale, but creating a new experience that pays off on both the slower-paced character building moments and high tension you expect from Jurassic Park is a new direction for Telltale,” he admits. “Story and character are a really important part of it. You are going to feel drama. You are going to feel tension. You’ll feel different kinds of emotions. There’s humor. Light moments. Downtime to get to like the characters. Certainly the wonder and awe of the island, and then everything breaks down to those moments of terror.”
Telltale isn’t just trying to channel the true essence of the license; it is also responsible for adding to the lore. This game is designed as a direct sequel to the first movie, addressing the plot points that weren’t followed through in the first film and never surfaced again in the sequels. For instance, what ever happened to that Barbasol can filled with embroyos that Dennis Nedry lost in the jungle?
Some of the game takes place at the same time as the film, but Boyle says you’ll experience these moments through the eyes of new characters. “We’ll see our characters kind of cobbling together and asking ‘What the hell went down here?’” Boyle says. “We’re going to pursue this MacGuffin to a new conclusion.”
Which begs the question, who are the main characters? You won’t get the chance to wear sunglasses at night with Jeff Goldbum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm, or have an unintentionally flirtatious conversation between Dr. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler – although most of these characters are referenced. One character you may recognize is a bit player from the first film named Gerry Harding, the chief veterinarian at Jurassic Park. You’ll also meet his daughter, as well as various people interested in that can of dinosaur embryos. The inhabitants left on Jurassic Park’s Isla Nublar will make themselves known, and odds are some of these people are smugglers and mercenaries.
Applying the Jurassic Park license to the storytelling systems Telltale has created in past games makes sense to a degree, but in our conversations with the team they kept coming back to Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain. “While our story is more linear than Heavy Rain, actions the player takes are reflected in the way the story is told,” Boyle says. “The choices the players make result in changes to the details of the story. Players will know we are paying attention to the decisions they make.”
Telltale is also heavily inspired by Heavy Rain’s gameplay mechanics. The team is still figuring out how actions are presented to the player, but Boyle says Telltale is approaching the task with “more focus on cinematic presentation of your interactions.” Expect plenty of investigating and looking around in the slower-paced gameplay sections, but when the tension escalates to life and death scrambling, the gameplay shifts from selecting destinations to immediate response.
It wouldn’t be Jurassic Park without velociraptors, and Telltale says they are huge nuisances. The big bad tyrannosaurus rex is also on the hunting trail. Lead designer Joe Pinney also teases another foe. “There’s a dinosaur beyond the movies – a new threat,” he says with a smile. “You’ll recognize it from its glowing eyes in the brush. It’s a nocturnal dinosaur.”
Like most of Telltale’s recent games, Jurassic Park is designed as a five-part downloadable series. The team plans to release it on PCs, Macs, and consoles.
Telltale hopes that the direction it is taking with this beloved license keeps players engaged with the characters as they are dangling from the maws of dinosaurs. The fourth Jurassic Park film has been spinning its wheels in development hell and if the game hits on all the right notes, it could be the continuation fans have been waiting for.