Planet Zoo - The Wild Successor To Planet Coaster
PC Gamer US Edition|July 2019

Design and manage your own zoo, and care for amazingly realistic animals in Frontier’s next big game, Planet Zoo.

Andy Kelly

The next game from Frontier, the creator of Elite Dangerous and Planet Coaster, is a zoo simulator. It makes sense, really. The developer has created zoo management games in the past, and it feels like a natural extension of the Planet series. But Planet Zoo it’s a very different game from Planet Coaster, with a focus on caring for animals, ecology, and preservation over the immediate, gut-churning thrills of a theme park.

“They both have a lot in common,” explains Piers Jackson, Planet Zoo’s game director. “They’re both part of the same Planet franchise, of course, but we have a very different focus here. Planet Coaster has a heavy engineering focus, on rides. But here we have a heavy welfare focus on the animals. That’s really where our simulation is grounded. Creating the most authentic animals we can, getting the player to look after them.”

You have total freedom when it comes to designing your zoo, building habitats, decorating it, and filling it with animals. Like Planet Coaster there’s a vast Lego set of bits-andpieces to slot together, letting you create any zoo you can imagine. Then you can choose which animals to populate it with, and even breed your own. The game also has a strong conservation message, reflecting the real-world importance of giving these creatures happy, fulfilling lives, not just exploiting them for financial gain.

“Animal husbandry is core to any modern zoo, and some of these zoos are doing a fantastic job in that regard,” says Jackson. “We’ve spoken to zoo keepers as part of our research on this project, and they are there for the animals. They’re trying to repopulate the wild wherever they can. That’s something we very much wanted to reflect in Planet Zoo.”

Jonny Watts, Frontier’s chief creative officer, also has a vested interest in Planet Zoo, because he has a degree in zoology. “I was making computer games back when I was doing my A-levels,” he says. “I was a bedroom coder. I’d go home after school and make games, and my mum would warn me that I’d never be able to make a living from it.

“So I took her advice, went to university and studied zoology, and I really enjoyed it. But I moved into computer science and, well, the rest is history. If I had to put my love of zoology down to one moment it’d probably be the first time I watched David Attenborough’s Life on Earth documentary series, back when there were only three TV channels to choose from.”

Watts has worked on several other zoo simulations, but Planet Zoo is the game he always wanted to make. “I worked on Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, which had a zoo component,” he says. “I also worked with Microsoft on Zoo Tycoon. That was a decent game. The animals looked good, but I wanted it to have more depth.

“We just didn’t have time. So Planet Zoo is really the animal management game I’ve been wanting to make for 15 years, and being self-published means we can make the game we want.”

Just as the Planet Coaster team spent time at real theme parks, speaking to the people who design and run them, the Planet Zoo team has consulted with zoos in the same way. “I can’t name drop, but we have spoken to zoos,” says Piers Jackson. “We’ve visited them, spoken to the staff, vets, keepers, and management. We’ve immersed ourselves in it. It’s important that we understand the inner workings of a zoo. We have people working in the company with experience of it, and we’ve consulted with researchers who’ve given us large amounts of information about the animals. So really there are many approaches we have when it comes to authenticity.

“Attention to detail is almost an obsession at Frontier. Grounding things with a scientific background is what we do best, whether it’s mapping a galaxy or making the most authentic rollercoasters down to the nuts and bolts.

“Or in the case of Planet Zoo, making sure the zoo the animals are part of is representative of what a modern zoo stands for, and that conservation and husbandry are catered for properly.”

“A streak of authenticity runs through all our games at Frontier,” says Jonny Watts. “I’d love it if people were inspired by them to pursue a career in zoology or astronomy, the same way Life on Earth inspired me to study zoology. Our games are fun, but there’s always a message in there. Not an overt one. But enough to inspire people, I hope.”

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