Talking Conservation, Europe Pack and the Future with Planet Zoo's game director
We caught up with Frontier Developments' Steve Wilkins to chat about the recently released DLC Pack.
A few weeks ago, Frontier Developments launched the latest DLC pack for its park building simulation game Planet Zoo. The Europe Pack did pretty much what it said on the tin, and brought new animals and scenery from the continent of Europe, as well as a new wintery-themed scenario. With a variety of new content available to check out in-game today as part of this DLC, I recently had the chance to catch up with Planet Zoo's game director, Steve Wilkins to have a quick chat about how Frontier went about developing this pack.
To start with, I asked Wilkins about what led to choosing Europe as the focal point of the latest DLC Pack, considering there had previously been the North America, Southeast Asia, and Africa Packs.
"As with all of the game's DLC packs, Planet Zoo: Europe Pack was one that we discussed in a lot of detail before development began," said Wilkins. "With many members of the team being from Europe, we wanted to ensure that we represented animals and landscapes that we're used to seeing every day in a way that makes them feel extraordinary and unique. We ended up choosing a roster of native European fauna that we are confident will be fascinating to players no matter where they are from."
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Wilkins continued, "In addition to the amazing animals in Planet Zoo: Europe Pack, we wanted to explore the architectural and cultural differences and similarities between the many countries within Europe. The result is a versatile and diverse set of scenery pieces that bring the essence of Europe into our players' zoos. Mark Cox, our art director, has done a wonderful job bringing this all to life."
Following up to this, I asked Wilkins about the five new animals that were added as part of the pack, and why these five were chosen, as well as if any other creatures were in the running to be included before these five were selected.
"We tend to look at several factors when creating a roster of animals for a new pack, from their popularity in our player base to their conservation status and history, how common they are in captivity, any development challenges they might present, and how they fit within the wider 'Zoopedia' of animals available in Planet Zoo," Wilkins stated.
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"For Planet Zoo: Europe Pack, the Eurasian Lynx was a must have - it's Europe's biggest native wild cat and has been the subject of an exciting rewilding project. The same goes for the Alpine Ibex, with their magnificent recovery from the brink of extinction in the Italian mountains. We chose the European Fallow Deer over other deer species for their versatile coat variations and abundance in European wildlife parks (additionally, this was a nice surprise for those of our community, who often try to guess which species are coming). The European Badger is so widespread across Europe we felt its iconic stripes couldn't be missing from the pack either. Lastly, the Fire Salamander Exhibit Animal was chosen for its unique colouration, temperate exhibit, and so that we could bring a new type of amphibian to the game."
With such a wide array of creatures available to care for in Planet Zoo today, I asked Wilkins about how Frontier goes about ensuring each animal is accurately represented in-game. Wilkins told me, "We do extensive research into the animal's behaviour, movement, and natural environment to get an idea of how we can authentically represent the species in the game. Where possible we also try to observe the animal's movement in a real-life zoo. Skeletal references in books and museums can also help the rigging team to place the joints on the models correctly, so that the animators can realistically mimic the model's movement."
Conservation is becoming a much more important movement as we as humans grapple to protect and care for the endangered and at-risk creatures that span our rich and diverse planet. I asked Wilkins about how Frontier has developed and refined Planet Zoo to place a spotlight on conservation over the title's two years since release.
"When introducing new animals to the Planet Zoo roster, we always research the animal's conservation status, history and challenges they face as a species as part of the process behind building a new pack," said Wilkins. "Working closely with our partner zoos across the globe, we're able to ensure that the in-game counterparts to the many fascinating species within Planet Zoo are as authentic to their real-world counterparts as possible."
"With Planet Zoo, our main goal is to provide a fun and entertaining gameplay experience, but we are also able to highlight the role of zoos in animal conservation, preservation and education. We hope that the educational value of the game can contribute to the wider message around conservation and habitat preservation."
"Every once in a while, we receive messages from players who have cited Planet Zoo as a reason for them deciding to pursue a career in conservation or zoology. It is incredibly rewarding to observe our game having such an impact on people's lives."
But as I mentioned earlier, the Europe Pack is more than just some new animals, as it also includes over 250 new scenery pieces to spice up your zoo. With such a plentiful selection of unique cultures to explore throughout Europe, I asked Wilkins about how Frontier approached bringing the continent to life in-game.
"When designing the scenery for Planet Zoo: Europe Pack, we wanted to focus our list of pieces around the concept of water being a way to connect the different European countries and cultures, for example the Netherlands has many canals, Venice in Italy is on the water, and so on. The scenery pieces in the pack are inspired by the idea of bridges as a connecting element, the wealth of architecture found in different countries, and the diverse folklore and cultures found on the European continent. The result is a beautiful selection of over 250 scenery pieces that our players can use to bring Europe to life and explore different styles."
With the Europe Pack now out in the wild, I asked Wilkins about what's next for Planet Zoo. I posed the question of which region he'd like to see as the next DLC Pack and likewise which of the released packs are his favourite. Wilkins replied, "We don't have anything to announce right now regarding future packs, and are currently concentrating on Planet Zoo: Europe Pack, but we've explored so many climates and species since the game's launch that have been absolutely amazing to bring to life, from Southeast Asia to North America and more - I couldn't possibly pick a favourite!"
Planet Zoo has recently passed its second anniversary, and is on its way to its third. While there's no word as to which region will get the DLC Pack treatment next, you can take a look at the launch trailer for the Europe Pack below, to see all of its new features and content in action, and likewise can pick up the pack for yourself today, for £7.99 on Steam.