Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Saurian" is Already the Best Dinosaur Video Game of All Time

As popular as dinosaurs are, they’ve been surprisingly under-developed in video games. Most “dinosaur video games” – Primal Carnage, Turok, ARK, etc. – fun as they may be, feature re-hashed versions of misinformed prehistoric beasts being hunted and/or fought and/or ridden by humans. And just as the same-y anachronistic lizard-monsters of Jurassic World didn’t cut it for a lot of dino-fans, the ancient beasts of those video games similarly fail to impress. They just don’t feel like real dinosaurs.

And then there's Saurian. Watch this video:

Dinosaurs don't get realer than that.

True story: when I was a kid, I used to play a game where I imagined I was in a huge Hunger Games-style arena built to look like a natural environment, where people could pilot fully realistic mechanical dinosaurs. I would run around the house piloting an imaginary Deinonychus, working with my pack to stalk and take down poor saps playing as Tenontosaurus. The idea of simulating the life of a dinosaur – roaming, hunting, surviving – excited me to no end. Still does (though I don't play that game any more ... honest).

By the look of this game, I'm not alone in that excitement. But Saurian is so much more than simply a game about playing the lives of dinosaurs. This isn’t just some seemingly-natural landscape with cool dinosaurs in it, this is a recreation of a very specific, very real prehistoric ecosystem: the famous Hell Creek Formation, the 66 million year-old home of Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Pachycephalosaurus, and so many other dinosaurs I grew up reading about. This is entertainment, but it’s also rigorously researched, thoroughly informative, paleontological art.

Every aspect of Saurian, from the appearance and behavior of the animals, to the plants in the environment, to the weather, to the rivers and coasts of the landscape, is based on science. The game developers read the latest research, examine actual fossils up close, and work with expert consultants to gain insight into the prehistoric environment they're creating. They even have an actual dinosaur on the development team! That is not a joke – the lead animator has a pet emu that informs his work on dinosaur motion. They've outright stated that scientific accuracy comes before entertainment. This is a level of devotion to realism that most dinosaur documentaries can’t claim.

The team has done some interviews with Brian Switek, David Orr, and recently with Dave Marshall on Palaeocast. I’m blown away reading and listening to them talk about their work. They sound like paleontologists! The tone and language they use to talk about dinosaurs would not be out of place at a paleo conference. And really, they are paleontologists, just as much as any celebrated paleo-artist or exhibit designer. This is a dinosaur game being made by paleontologists.

From the Saurian website, this is their infographic describing the science behind
their Tyrannosaurus model. All based on real fossil evidence.
This game is a passion project. For years the team has been working for free in their spare time, but as the game nears completion, they need support. They launched their Kickstarter campaign on May 24th, and within a week had raised almost double their original goal, and the numbers are still rising, unlocking bonus goals as they go. Already the response from fans has ensured the development of dramatic environmental dangers (based on geologic evidence!), genetic variations in the dinosaurs such as albinism and melanism, and a “post-impact survival mode” that takes place after the meteorite hits.

On Monday, backers successfully unlocked the promise of additional playable dinosaurs to be voted on later, and the next stretch goal on the list is the inclusion of multiplayer mode!

So go donate! Earn fun rewards as you do! I’m particularly excited to receive my copy of “Hell Creek: A Field Guide to the World of Saurian.” By backing, you’ll also earn yourself a vote in the selection of the new playable dinosaurs!

The response to this game, from dino-enthusiasts and paleo-experts alike, has been phenomenal. I can’t say enough good things about it. If this game is successful, I truly believe it has the power to help usher in a new era of gaming, where maybe it won’t be ridiculous to ask that a game be fun and informative.

And if Saurian: Hell Creek goes over well, more dinosaurs from more fossil sites may follow. I know the team already has their sights set on the Two Medicine Formation, home to Styracosaurus, Gorgosaurus, and Maiasaura. After that, I say we head to China! Or Argentina!

The game is (tentatively) set to launch by early 2017. The Kickstarter campaign ends on June 23rd, so go donate! 


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