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Dino Talk with Saurian Devs Urvogel Studios

What does science, passion and an Emu have in common? Together, they make an open world dinosaur game thanks to Urvogel Studios.

As many of you know, Kickstarter is a website used to create funding for various types of projects which includes video games. Many great games have been released thanks to Kickstarter, like Shenmue III, Superhot, and Star Citizen. One more game has been added to that list. It comes from Urvogel Studios, and it's called Saurian.

Imagine this. You are a dinosaur roaming around the Earth during the Mesozoic era. Survival is the only thing on your mind. Other dinosaurs are trying to attack you. You have to avoid natural hazards while making sure you have food and water in order to survive. Sounds amazing, right? This first game from Urvogel Studios is here to give you that experience. Saurian is a open world survival game where you get to explore the Hell Creek ecosystem in the Mesozoic era as a dinosaur.

Backed by science and passion, the team behind Saurian created this game using research they gathered from scientists and members of their own team to make this game as realistic as it could be. As much as they want people to enjoy playing the game, they want the player to learn about the dinosaurs and the world they live in. I was lucky enough to interview them about their project and how having an emu on their team makes the game so much better.

Joey Marrazzo: While growing up, what made you so interested in dinosaurs that stuck with you and made you want to create a game where you could play as one?

Urvogel Studios: I was a passionate dinosaur fan from a young age. I think everyone goes through a phase where dinosaurs are fascinating, some of us just continue to find them fascinating the more we learn about them. My parents probably did a lot to foster my interest, I can remember correcting their pronunciation of Dinosaur names out of the books they read me at bedtime even. My big motivation for wanting to make Saurian grew out of playing video games like Jaws: Unleashed and Spore, and not really being satisfied with either experience. I later worked as a forum mod and QA tester for Primal Carnage, and I guess you could say that was the last straw; nobody was going to make a dinosaur game that treated dinosaurs like the fascinating animals they are instead of monsters or a gimmick to shoot, so maybe I should look into it. 5 years later and here we are.


JM: You've consulted many experts while researching the attributes of dinosaurs, how important was that to making Saurian authentic in terms of the dinosaurs?

US: Getting to speak with and collaborate with paleontologists has been extremely important to making Saurian the most accurate representation of dinosaurs in gaming. We've spent literal years researching Saurian's dinosaurs and ecosystems on our own, but speaking with Paleontologists like Dr. Denver Fowler is a major component of our success. All of our professional contacts have shared a huge amount of original research, much of it still waiting to be published, as well as offering critique informed by years of fieldwork. Their input put huge amounts of data that we were using into context.

            

JM: On your team, you have an aspiring zoologist, a recovering evolutionary biologist, and an Emu named Gerry. How did you recruit all of them to be a part of Saurian?

US: The gathering of Saurian developers is a long and multipart story that's probably best told over a beer, but here's the short version. While working on Primal Carnage, I met Jake (modeler) Tom (map design/research) Erin (programming) and several other devs who are no longer part of the project. We were all dissatisfied with how Primal Carnage was turning out, and together we started exploring what it would take to make a game that reflected what we were interested in: real dinosaurs living in a representation of their actual habitat. As time went on, we shared our idea with other people who expressed interest. We set up a Facebook page and forum threads in various places and eventually connected with enough other people with the necessary skills to make Saurian possible. Everyone who joined Saurian did so because they wanted to see a game like this become reality. Until this Kickstarter, we've had no source of funding but our own resources.

                         

JM: How is Gerry's work ethic and what did he bring to the game that no one else could?

US: Gerry is a dinosaur and has feathers. His major task is to be a reference for our animator Bryan, and as far as I know he's never taken a day off.                                

JM: What kind of challenges would the dinosaurs face in the game in order to survive?

US: Dinosaurs will face a variety of challenges to survive in Hell Creek. In addition to having to manage their stamina, thirst and hunger, we know from the fossil record that baby dinosaurs experienced a roughly 90% mortality rate in their first year of life. AI Predators will prioritize hunting easy prey like baby dinosaurs, making the early growth stage a race to eat as much as you can, as fast as you can, without being eaten. As a predator, you will have to take care with selecting targets; prey fights back and choosing poorly can result in serious injury to yourself. Predators are also inherently lazy, if they can steal food something else has killed, they will. In addition to the challenges provided by other dinosaurs, the environment itself will provide obstacles to your survival in the form of dynamic events like fires, floods and severe storms, all of which were regular occurrences in the Hell Creek Formation.

JM: What games inspired you to pick this type of gameplay?

US:  Saurian's gameplay is influenced by numerous games, most prominently Be The Dinosaur (which was developed for museum use in conjunction with an exhibit featuring Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops) and the Big Al game from BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs website. Other games that have influenced Saurian's conception are the Far Cry series, Project Zomboid, The Forest, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim and Dark Souls.


JM: This seems to be a passion project for your team. Did that make you want to create the game you wanted to and go through Kickstarter instead of giving it to a major developer and possibly losing some of the heart behind it?

US: Saurian is absolutely a passion project, and it's our firm belief that a major developer would never tackle a game like this because on the surface it appears risky; Dinosaurs not based on Jurassic Park are 'new' and supposedly not appealing to a general audience. We also don't want to compromise the integrity of our game by having to meet an outside deadline imposed by a developer who likely doesn't have our knowledge base. With those two factors in mind, Kickstarter and crowd funding was our most viable option to make Saurian a reality

            

JM: There have been several Kickstarter game campaigns that were fully funded but never fully released. Does that put any pressure on you to follow through on the game and make sure there are no major setbacks in development?

US: I think the failure of The Stomping Land and other games has had a significant impact on our approach to our Kickstarter campaign and how we plan to tackle game development. Even though the only major feature we share with TSL is having dinosaurs, some people invariably assume that we will wind up following the same course. We waited as long as we did to Kickstart to ensure that we had made enough progress on the game to demonstrate that we were capable of what we were proposing. Any game's development is bound to have setbacks of some sort, but by devoting enough time to prototyping and game design ahead of any major public reveal, as we have done, we hope to minimize the delay a setback might create.

JM: The dinosaurs will roam a portion of the Hell Creek Formation from 66 million years ago. What made you choose that section and what did you do to make it look like we are playing in the Mesozoic era?

US: We chose the Hell Creek Formation because it is the home of the two most iconic dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. Not only did these two animals live side by side, we have fossil evidence Tyrannosaurus ate Triceratops. This rivalry has been depicted countless times in various media, but very rarely have the combatants or their environment been depicted accurately, and showing people a real view of them was a major incentive.

In addition, other well known dinosaurs like Pachycephalosaurus and Ankylosaurus are native to Hell Creek, so even people with a cursory understanding of Dinosaurs would be able to recognize animals. Hell Creek has also been extensively studied for over 100 years because it is one of the few places in the world where the layer of rock created by the impact crater is widely exposed. Because there is so much scholarship available on the whole ecosystem (plants, animals, weather patterns, soil type, climate) we had a perfect base to work from. To make the ecosystem look as accurate as possible, we read scientific papers on how forests grow, how fire impacts landscapes and how Mesozoic forests were different from modern ones. The results in the Kickstarter video are a WIP, but they're not far off from what the final map will look like.

JM: Once the game is released, do you have any plans for DLC or expansion packs to make the world of Saurian bigger or add more creatures to it?

US: It all depends on how well our Kickstarter does and how well the game sells once we release it. We already have one stretch goal that, if met, will add two more dinosaurs to the base 4 playables. We have a second one that will add a second playable map and formation to the game. We've looked into several other times and places that have enough data available to base a similar simulated ecosystem on, including the Morrison formation.

JM: Ross Geller is a famous paleontologist from New York, have you tried to contact him in regards to scientific research?

US: I think you'll find that Dr. Geller's last two papers have been widely discredited. We also disagree with Dr. Geller's interpretation of dinosaur sounds and will not be consulting him further.

 
JM:
Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. Congratulations on getting the game funded, is there anything else you would like to say about the game?

US: A huge thank you to everyone who has backed our Kickstarter or followed our development to this point. We wouldn't be where we are without your fantastic support and enthusiasm. Keep spreading the word and we'll do amazing things.

Saurian has exceeded their Kickstarter goal and the Urvogel team is hard at work to deliver an authentic dinosaur experience. From the realistic ecosystem, to the vast research put into make the dinosaurs look and act real, Saurian will fulfill your dinosaur roaming needs. 

If you want to help out Saurian and secure your copy of the game, head to their Kickstarter page and pledge today. For $15, you get yourself a digital copy of the game along with early access. Saurian will be a game you will definitely want to play once it releases in January of 2017 for PC and Mac.

Published Jun. 7th 2016

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