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History of: Jurassic Park

Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus, Jurassic Park, was lauded by critics and wholeheartedly embraced by movie goers the world over (it raked in almost $400 million in U.S. theaters alone). Reportedly, the release strategy was in planning fifteen months before the movie was released, and merchandising was being done while the film was being shot. It’s no wonder that everything from Jurassic Park action figures to underwear was available in 1993. There was simply no escaping this licensing juggernaut.

Unsurprisingly, video games played their roles. In fact, they were a huge part of the dinosaur fever that gripped the nation. The Genesis version of Jurassic Park was given major time and effort by Sega (look for that story in an upcoming installment of Behind the Design), and it generated massive amounts of hype. Sega continued to support the franchise, releasing several more games beyond the first movie sequel’s debut, although none were as anticipated as the first.

Developer History

The games in this franchise were developed by different companies, with BlueSky Software handling the first two releases, Appaloosa Interactive doing The Lost World, and the CD game being done by Sega itself.

Two Jurassic Park games, the original and Rampage Edition, were created by BlueSky Software, a company that knew the Genesis well. Also responsible for such classics as VectorMan and World Series Baseball, this American team was hand picked to bring the movie experience to life on Sega’s black box. Established in 1988, the group cut its teeth on the Atari 7800, as well as various computer systems and the Master System before moving on to the Genesis. By the time the console was discontinued, BlueSky would devote more than a third of its catalogue to Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse.

The company would sadly begin to decline with the onset of the 32-bit era, and it finally disappeared in 2001 due to the financial troubles of its parent company, Interplay. There are rumors of questionable management, but these have not been substantiated. By 2000 though, it was evident that something was wrong, and employees began to leave the company en masse. In all, BlueSky released a total of seventeen titles on the Genesis and two on the 32X.

Genesis fans know Appaloosa Interactive by its former moniker, Novotrade, which is responsible for the Ecco the Dolphin series. Founded in Hungary in 1983, it has released over one hundred titles, with its most recent offering being Jaws Unleashed for the Playstation 2.

Though famous for its Ecco games, modern game enthusiasts will recognize it as the developer of the Playstation 3D Contra games and Three Dirty Dwarves on the Sega Saturn. Also among its creations is the unusual shmup Kolibri for the 32X, which is unlike any other game in the genre. Currently, Appaloosa employs over sixty software developers, screen artists, and other personnel; and has its headquarters in Palo Alto, California. It also owns two software development companies in Budapest, Hungary, and a children’s web service in the U.S.

The Games

The first Jurassic Park title appears to be a straight forward action game, until you find out that you can play as the Raptor! This gives the player the option of tackling the adventure from the perspective of Dr. Alan Grant, the movie’s protagonist, or as that “other” hero from the film, the Velociraptor. The distinction isn’t merely cosmetic either, as there are several real differences in gameplay between the two. As Grant, players must traverse thirteen stages of the the park as he tries to reach the visitor’s center, where people are in dire need of rescue. According to Sega, Jurassic Park features ADI (artificial dinosaur intelligence), which allows the creatures to react differently to the player’s actions each time he plays. This ensures that no two games are the same, and the tactics that were so successful in previous attempts might not work at all on subsequent plays. You mileage will vary as to just how effective ADI is, but the numerous speed runs that currently circulate on the Internet lead me to believe that it was probably as effective as Blast Processing.

No, what really makes the game so memorable (or forgettable to some) is its sheer difficulty. Virtually none of Grant’s weapons are lethal, and he can mostly only stun and sedate any of the dinosaurs he faces. Most of the time, these behemoths will revive with a decidedly more hostile demeanor, which means that Grant has to get while the gettin’s good. Being caught between an angry Triceratops and a hard place is the quickest route to a “game over” screen. It will take smart and sparing use of tranquilizer darts, stun guns, and grenades (flash and gas) to successful navigate the different levels. There are multiple types of dinos out for a quick meal, but the worst of the bunch are the Raptors, Spitters (Dilophosaurus), and the famous T-Rex.

The gameplay reminds me in places of Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, what with all the vine swinging and forest platforming. Pushing and pulling obstacles like crates to reach higher places means that there’s no simple gunning through to the right of the screen, and that type of mentality will have gamers taking out their frustrations on their poor Genesis controllers. Slow and steady wins the day here, but there’s always that sense of urgency when you sedate a dinosaur and are faced with another one. Do you haul it and try to pass the second creature, or do you try and take him out before the first one wakes up? Pop quiz time!

Playing as the Raptor is a great way to liven things up, and it’s actually a bit easier this way. Instead of hunting humans, the player’s objective is to escape the island after a lightning strike frees him from his holding cage. There are park guards out to get him (where were they in the movie?), and the Raptor will have to go through all thirteen stages to get to the ship that will whisk him away to the safety of the mainland. Velociraptors were supposedly highly intelligent, and his sharp mind — no pun intended — is his most important weapon. Claws are useful for taking out pesky humans, and those long legs are great for leaping to high platforms, but it’s brain power that will allow him to use objects in his environment in order to advance.

While it might not seem like much in today’s industry, these markedly different choices in gameplay were something that piqued the curiosity of many a gamer in 1994. Sega obviously knew that it had something big on its hands, and it spared no expense in the game’s production. The team behind Jurassic Park spent over fifteen months working on it, and there were over a dozen people involved in the project, including Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel. 3D models were filmed using stop-motion photography, and one of the team members performed Grant’s moves, which were then video taped and then digitized. In all, the Raptor has more than twenty different animations, many of which are seen depending on how the player, as Grant, faces a given situation. Ironically, Sega chose to go with the film’s discarded ending, where Grant dispatched the Raptors by manipulating the T-Rex skeleton in the visitor’s center. Though it doesn’t directly mimic the movie’s finale, it makes more sense from a gameplay standpoint. Grant is alone throughout his adventure, so having him finally dispatch those pesky raptors seems more fitting.

Even with all the care and money Sega put into making Jurassic Park, the game was far from perfect. Gamers complained about the steep difficulty and Grant’s slippery animation. Worse, the gameplay often eroded into trial-and-error segments, and many people chose to simply play as the Raptor to avoid the frustration. Sega attempted to remedy this situation with the release of a sequel called Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition, which saw Grant return to the island when his helicopter crashes there. In terms of gameplay, it’s essentially the same game, only this time players will have to contend with members of InGen in addition to the standard prehistoric play pals.

Rampage Edition boasts a greater variety of stages, and the visuals have been beefed up significantly, specifically in the backgrounds. Grant must now rescue dinosaur DNA specimens from InGen, and he’s not just out to pacify the dinosaurs this time around. Shotguns, machine guns, and even a flamethrower are at his disposal, which means that once a dino is down, it stays down. Those not wanting to play as the eminent paleontologist will be pleased to know that the option to play as the Raptor has returned. With all the improvements, many cite the Rampage Edition as the version to get over the original, under the misconception that it is merely an upgrade, but in truth the two are different games.

When Spielberg unleashed the next film in the series, The Lost World in 1997, both the Saturn and Playstation saw licensed games, but a version totally different from those two found its way to the aging Genesis. Designed and developed by Appaloosa Interactive (the 32-bit games were done by Dreamworks), it plays quite unlike previous Jurassic Park releases and bears the distinction of being the penultimate domestic release for the console. It would be proceeded only by Majesco’s Frogger, which came out the following year. Most different is that the game doesn’t follow the movie storyline at all. Players instead take the role of a hunter out to collect several species of dinosaurs for his trophy room, and there are other hunters out to make him extinct.

Whereas the other adventures were side-scrollers, The Lost World uses a top-down perspective and concentrates more on run-‘n-gun action than platforming. Basically, you’re running around Isla Sorona, shooting anything that moves and collecting items. Levels now have checkpoints, and there are multiple vehicles you can use beyond the original’s simple raft. Additionally, dinosaurs and humans aren’t your only adversaries. The Lost World sports hostile environments that are filled with land mines, poisonous plants, and electric fences. The biggest threat to players, however, is the actual size of the stages themselves. Each one can take upwards of fifteen to twenty minutes to complete, as there are only tiny arrow signs to follow to the trailer or exit. Ammunition, health packs & armor, and other items are all scattered throughout each stage, and players will frequently find themselves deviating from the correct course in order to get more bullets or desperately dodging dinos to get that vital health pack. Along the way, the are some pseudo-3D river raft levels that are visually stunning, and they help add some more variety to an already great game.

In actuality, the only thing the Lost World shares with its predecessors is the dinosaur motif. Gone is the platforming element entirely, and the new shooter design has been nicely complimented by specific objectives for each of the four levels (divided into sub sections for a total of seventeen stages). Collecting T-Rex eggs, sabotaging the camps of enemy hunters, and protecting Triceratops are only a few of the different missions requiring completion. Hitting start brings up your GPS, which connects to a website that provides all sorts of useful info about the mission and enemies you’ll face. Best of all, two-players can tackle the island cooperatively, and there’s also a simple form of deathmatch, using the password “CIVILWAR.” Things like this are what make Lost World stand out as the best among the three cartridge games in the series.

The Genesis wasn’t the only Sega system of the 16-bit era to receive its share of the prehistoric love. Along with the Game Gear, the Sega CD saw a release, aptly called Jurassic Park CD. Unlike its cartridge siblings, the CD version plays like a point-and-click adventure, though it too deviates from the stories of the films. As a paleontologist, players are tasked with retrieving seven dinosaur eggs before sundown. Once captured, the eggs must be rushed back to the visitor’s center before they become cold and die. Along the way, players have to avoid the parent dinosaurs, who are none to happy at having their nests raided.

Mixing static backdrops with CG travel scenes, Jurassic Park CD lets players scroll the screen 360 degrees both left and right as they search for clues and information. The cursor changes to a magnifying glass when such items crop up, and there are only a few weapons available for use. The key here is avoiding battle entirely, and it’s important to use the clues provided to find the best way to locate and secure each egg without ending up as something’s lunch. Tourist booths provide short FMV sequences that inform you about the local dino life, but they’re not really needed, as you can undoubtedly guess by now that if it moves, it will eat you.

The CD game suffers from a small video area and the typical Sega CD graininess, but the graphics are well done and the mixture of CG and sprites don’t clash. Most appreciated is the use of CD sound, with all the ambient sounds and reptile roars, and the voice work takes the strain off of reading tons of informative text. Moreover, there’s a save option, and while it’s nice that it was added, the whole game doesn’t last more than a dozen hours (it’s played in real time).

Famous paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker, who was a consultant for the films, appears in the game to offer tips and information. As amateur fossil hunters know, there is no greater name in the field today, and players can be assured that what they’re being told isn’t just meant to further the plot but also to educate. Let’s be honest. Anyone playing this game isn’t looking to gun things down, and they’re most likely a fan of dinosaurs in general. When you get down to it, I think that’s what puts Jurassic Park CD at a different level over the others; it’s about as close as you can actually get on the system to doing what it sets forth, and it requires you to use your mind instead of your trigger finger.

Sega CD owners should definitely track down a copy, if only to see that a game centering on dinosaurs doesn’t have to focus on shooting and jumping. The slower pace is never a problem, due to the player being constantly engaged with searching for information and items to help bring the eggs back safely. Jurassic Park CD is a competent adventure game that takes a refreshing twist on the license, and it’s both faithful to the source material and highly entertaining.

65 Million Years in the Making?

As a console that saw more than its fair share of Jurassic Park games, it’s nice to know that the majority of them are worth owning. I personally prefer the Lost World and Jurassic Park CD over the other two, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick them all up. None are really rare or expensive, and eBay provides easy access to all versions. With rumors of a fourth movie making the rounds, now is as good a time as any to go back and visit the four games Sega gave us. Dinosaurs are always cool, and the variety among the series means that you’ll be checking them out for quite a while.

The complete chronology is as follows (dates alone are for domestic releases):

  • Jurassic Park, Genesis (1993)
  • Jurassic Park CD, Sega CD (1993)
  • Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition, Genesis (1994)
  • Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Genesis (1997)

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Sources

  • Background information & Production Notes. Jurassic Park.com.
  • Information on CD version. PAL Mega CD Library.
  • Lavroff, Nicholas. Behind the Scenes at Sega: The Making of a Video Game. Prima Publishing. 1994.
  • The Making of Jurassic Park. Sega Visions Magazine. June/July 1993.

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