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The Art of Zoo Tycoon 2

Blue Fang Games Art Director Talks About Design and Development By Louis Catanzaro

Zoo Tycoon from Blue Fang Games
Screen from the original Zoo Tycoon
For the past three years (and still counting…amazingly) Zoo Tycoon has consistently been one of the best-selling PC games in North America. To-date it has sold more than 4.5 million copies worldwide, and has gone on to become one of the 15 best selling PC games of all-time. So, we at Blue Fang Games weren’t hard-pressed when it came time to decide whether or not we’d do a sequel to Zoo Tycoon.  24 months ago, somewhere just shy of a year following the launch of the original, we did just that.  It is my pleasure and great relief to announce that Zoo Tycoon 2 will debut this fall (2004).

By and large, when a sequel is made for a successful franchise it's usually easier and much safer to veer only incrementally from a prize winning recipe; if it isn’t broke why fix it? For Zoo 2 we didn't follow that more traditional approach. We simply sat down and thought long and very hard about what would make a new Zoo Tycoon game really great, and then…with the great support and assistance of Microsoft, we went for it.

For the past two years, our artists, animators, designers, engineers, producers, testers and interns have put in a tremendous effort to create the newest addition to our best-selling PC franchise. We think it’s quite a leap from where we were 2 years ago in terms of visual quality and game play. It's been a long and hard struggle to get here, but we are reasonably and humbly delighted with the final work we were able to accomplish for Zoo 2, as I hope will be somewhat evident from the screenshots herein. In what follows, I will give a brief overview of the art development of Zoo Tycoon 2 and some of the particular challenges we faced while creating and implementing our art style and game assets.

Your first impulse might be to assume that developing art for a successful sequel would be so much easier the second time around. Hey, me too…but it wasn't. In fact, in this case, brand new design challenges far outweighed those of the first game. Here's what some of those new challenges were:

I. We moved to 3D
Rock on!! Well yeah, but the original Zoo Tycoon, which was a 2D sprite based game, had a high and fixed orthographic camera. In addition, the player was limited to one level of zoom and could only rotate the main game view between 4 cardinal directions.

Zoo Tycoon 2 had a much more ambitious 3D requirement, which was to have the most uninhibited 3D game camera possible. We needed to be able to view the world from high above the action, like in that of the original Zoo Tycoon (overhead perspective), and also be able to zoom down into the world where you could stand face-to-face with a ring-tailed lemur in an exhibit if you so chose (1st person perspective). On top of that, the camera had to be able to swing to just about any rotation or angle. This was indeed a much higher level of difficulty to develop for than what we had worked with in the first title.
Screen from the overhead game camera in Zoo Tycoon 2

This expansive 3D camera range meant that there was going to be very little room for artists and animators to ‘fudge' details in the overall visual experience. We were going to have to completely overhaul the Zoo Tycoon art assets and basic aesthetics to be able to accommodate this fundamental design directive.

Original Bengal tiger from Zoo Tycoon

Zoo Tycoon zoomed in game view

The 3D nature of the new game and the added ability for players to go right up close to our animals, guests, and objects required us to develop a much more detailed level of models and character animations. Compared to the original Zoo Tycoon, the magnitude of difference in visual perspective was huge.   For the game artists, it was like moving from a single seat in the last row of the upper balcony during a play, to going right on-stage among the actors and the sets during a performance. There was no safe zone for us. Every inch of the world could now be seen up close and personal.

In game shot of the Zoo Tycoon 2 Bengal tiger

Zoo Tycoon 2 game view capabilities

The art development luxury of having our original 2D game camera be so high and fixed meant that we did not need to include such exhaustively high levels of detail in game models and at times we were even able to use relatively simple animations for many basic character movements. Having players now going just about anywhere and having almost total control over the camera position meant we had to be very detailed in our art assets to sustain the fantasy of the game in all game views.

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Related Keywords:Zoo Tycoon 2, Louis Catanzaro, Blue Fang Games, Microsoft Games, 3DSMax, character animation,

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