Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania is the third expansion for the Zoo Tycoon 2 series. As is obvious by its title, Marine extends the animal gameplay to the water to add a new aquatic world to Zoo Tycoon 2.
It was an extremely fun project to work on for many reasons; it added completely new gameplay elements that expand the Zoo Tycoon experience, we made a number of technical improvements that take the visuals of the game to the next level, we had a great team working on Marine Mania, and it’s probably one of the smoothest projects I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of. So, lots of things went right. But no project is ever perfect and there are certainly things that we’d keep a more careful eye on if we were doing it over.
We started early design work on Marine while we were still working on the first expansion, Zoo Tycoon 2: Endangered Species. We spent a fair amount of time creating a vision statement and throughout the development it was really useful to map our decisions on various issues against that statement.
The Vision: “ZT2: Marine Mania extends the animal gameplay to the water to add a new aquatic world to Zoo Tycoon 2. Compelling training and marine shows enhance players’ animal interaction experiences. Delivering on the marine theme, water is at the forefront, supported by a brilliant aquatic soundscape. The ultimate goal is for ZT2: Marine Mania to become recognized and respected as the best marine-themed builder/tycoon game released to date.”
We had a good grasp of the goals and expectations for the product, we recognized and defined the scope early in the process, we knew the “parts” that were required and planned accordingly.
We created a prioritized list of features that categorized features as being “critical,” “important” or “optional,” and this list was something that we continually referred back to during development. We also assessed our critical features with respect to risk… and not just the risk of getting it done but the risk of it “not being fun” as well. As a result we frontloaded various features so that they would get into the game early and allow us to iterate upon them. For instance, we focused on getting the game mechanics for training and some of the completely new user interfaces for training and show creation in and useable in at least a rudimentary state very early in the project.
All these efforts enabled us to make better choices when we had to choose between ideas, and it helped prevent unplanned features from creeping in. It helped us reprioritize in response to feedback and gave us flexibility to emphasize those aspects of the product that were core to our vision. It allowed us to implement some major changes to the game while ensuring consistency in gameplay across the Zoo Tycoon series. It helped us to polish the UI and make the overall game more fun and as a result we believe we were better able to address the broad based market that simply loves Zoo Tycoon 2.
In the end we feel we introduced some pretty significant changes to the way the game plays but it still feels consistent with everything else in Zoo Tycoon 2.