Overambitious AI Doomed A Jurassic Park Game
Today Jurassic Park: Trespasser is regarded as one of the biggest PC game flops in history. Releasing in 1998, it is an understatement to say that the game did not live up to expectations. Critics slammed it for outrageously clunky controls, poor enemy AI, a lack of enemy variety, lousy performance, and much more.
But the negative reception was not for lack of trying. During development young, ambitious developer Seamus Blackley put his heart and soul into making the best game he could. But, he made a mistake that many young creators do; he bit off far more than he could chew. In concept Jurassic Park Trespasser was supposed to be revolutionary, introducing gamers to a truly ground-breaking world. The problem was that being ground breaking is not only time consuming, it’s profoundly difficult.
Shooting For The Moon
Today Jurassic Park trespasser is seen a misfire, but an impressive misfire. It pioneered technology that wouldn’t be seen again in games for years, including a fully functional physics engine, procedural animation, and advanced behavioural AI.
The problem was that attempting to create such tech from the ground up would’ve taken years, millions of dollars, and a massive team. Blackley had none of the above. What he did have was a limited budget, strict timeline, and small team. The problems started with the advanced AI system he envisioned, which turned out to be dramatically more complicated than assumed.
To be clear, there is an enormous difference between creating AI that can predict FIFA World Cup odds, for example, and AI that is intended to depict lifelike dinosaurs. Blackley explained that he intended for his dinosaurs to be governed by complex AI systems, with moods like hungry, angry, docile, scared, and so on, shifting naturally.
A later game, Black And White, released in 2001. It essentially achieved the AI Blackley had intended. Though, Black And White developers Lionhead Studios did so with a dramatically bigger team, and a great deal more time.
The AI that did land up in Jurassic Park: Trespasser had to be dramatically scaled back. Or, to be more precise, it had to be dropped entirely. Herbivores wander aimlessly, not reacting to being shot. Carnivores charge recklessly, oblivious to all else. It’s a far cry from what Blackley intended.
Clunky Physics Disaster
But the AI wasn’t the only casualty in Jurassic Park: Trespasser. The physics system is still impressive, especially considering an equivalent wouldn’t be seen until Half-Life 2 in 2004. The problem Blackley faced is that he didn’t know how to make the physics interactive. The unforgivably clunky arm mechanic was his solution, and is perhaps what the game is most known for. The arm so clunky as to be laughable.
Jurassic Park: Trespasser was a failure, but a failure of the best kind. It aimed high, shot for the moon, and fell short. Who knows, if given more time Blackley could perhaps have made a game that we all remember today. Or, remember for the right reasons, at least.