What are “sky trams” and how are they used in Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species?
|Visually sky trams look a little like the chair lifts you might see at a ski slope, only cooler
(especially when you earn the upgraded seats ; ). Guests will use your sky trams to take tours of your zoo or as transportation
to get from point A to B.|
Why did you decide to include this sky trams in Endangered Species? What were
the initial goals?
|In addition to the cool animals that Endangered Species includes, we wanted to provide players
with more options in building their zoo “infrastructure”. It’s not uncommon to see zoos with some form of
aerial transportation so we felt it was a good feature that would allow players to create zoos with even more of the features
they’d find in a real zoo.|
How will sky trams impact how players build their zoos and/or play the game?
|Sky trams have a lot of impact on the options open to you when building a zoo. Guests use sky
trams to take tours of your zoo if entertained guests like to give you tour donations. In addition to the animals, guests
like to see interesting things while on your tour (wait until you see the very cool tour objects… : ) so in addition
to striving for a 5-star zoo, you can also shoot for a 5-star tour!|
Guests also use them to get places. Taking a sky
tram is faster than walking so your guests can get around to see their favorite animals faster (and hey, the more animals
they see, the happier they are and you know those happy guests = $$$).
You can also use sky trams to create zoos that
would have been impossible before. Now you can make an island zoo where you have land masses separated by water with no bridges
or paths. But your guests can still get around by getting on your sky tram at one station and getting off at another.
of course there are the Conservation Areas (don’t worry, eventually we’ll be talking more about those!).
These areas have some restrictions on what you can build in them but one thing you can do is build sky trams over them.
What was the process for developing this feature? (who is involved, how long
did it take, what were the major development steps)
|Like the elevated paths that we covered last time, this feature was also a pretty big undertaking
that involved design, art and engineering. And we basically followed the same routine. It started with design talking about
what we wanted to be able to do, then working with engineering to help determine what we could and couldn’t do, and
with art to work out what they are going to look like and how they are going to be put together, not by the player but by
the game engine itself. |
And just like elevated paths, it gets implemented piece by piece, the graphical look gets
refined, the user interface (UI) gets polished and the kinks (aka bugs) get worked out. It’s a process that goes from
the inception of the idea, to the day the game gets released for gold master.
What was the biggest challenge implementing this new feature?
|When the feature was first implemented and we started actively playing with it, we realized
that you could create configurations that we, um, hadn’t originally planned for. So in a way we ended up with some “unplanned”
elements in the feature. On the plus side, we discovered this “extra functionality” pretty early on. |
example, when we were working through the look of the stations and how the sky tram chairs would travel through them, we decided
that we wanted to let you run a wire on each side of the station so that you could create what we call a return trip (this
is where two wires run in parallel very typical to what you see a ski slope). This sort of configuration is ideal when using
sky trams to transport your guest from A to B… to a remote food court for instance. Of course you also have the option
to run a single wire through a station making a single loop that travels in one direction only and this configuration is great
for creating a tour. But we hadn’t exactly planned on the fact that now you could create two separate loops… imagine
the wings of a butterfly... and when you created something like this, not only could you not really control where the sky
tram chairs ended up when you purchased them but the guests became sort of confused.
So we had two choices…
either prevent you from creating something like that… or let you create it but make sure we handled it so that you had
control over it and so that the guests were smart enough to evaluate what you built. The latter was a little more work but
gave the player more flexibility. So that’s what we did. We still consider it to be a more advanced way to build a sky
tram circuit but it’s a fully functional way to do it.
The downside was that it introduced extra work to support
this unusual configuration that we hadn’t completely counted on. The plus side of course is that they’re more
convenient to build and there is more flexibility for the player. Fortunately we do incorporate time to polish and iterate
on new features in the planning stage so in the end it all worked out fine. We were able to make the improvements that we
felt were important and still get it done on time.
What is your favorite aspect of sky trams now that it’s in the game?
|Well, I really do love how they turned out visually (the upgraded sky tram seats that you can
earn as a reward look particularly cool). It’s also fun to be able to ride them in first person and see the animals
and objects as you glide around your zoo. The new tour objects are very fun to watch. I think the geyser is a favorite of
mine… or maybe the bat cave… you know I can’t decide : ). |
The opportunistic, money hungry builder
part of me also likes the fact that I can use sky trams to give my guests new views of different things in my zoo and a good
tour means good tour donations!
Finally, once in a while I get the urge to build strange zoos and sky trams are just
one more thing I can use to create something unique. As a matter of fact I’m having an urge to build a zoo where the
guests never step on the ground and between elevated paths and sky trams I think I just might be able to do it!
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