Anyone growing up in the 1990s likely remembers Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. The slick-looking, run and gun gameplay was accented by copious amounts of blood and a testosterone-fueled boxart cover. Turok was a surprise success when it was first released 20 years ago in 1997, and in many ways it has become a sort of sleeper franchise in the sense of its longevity and, ironically, an important game historically due to its technical achievements. So, with the 20th anniversary today, and recent announcement of Turok 2: Seeds of Evil getting a remastered edition for Steam, perhaps it’s time to look back at the history of everyone’s favorite dinosaur hunter.
It is a very colorful history, as Turok was not an original creation. The origins of Turok date back to the 1950s, first appearing in the pages of the Four-Color Comics line. The character would eventually get his own series, Turok: Son of Stone, which ran on and off for nearly thirty years between several small comic book publishers, such as Dell and Golden Key.
Turok: Son of Stone was about two Native American hunters, Turok and his brother Andar, who find themselves trapped in an isolated canyon populated by dinosaurs. Much of the comics focused on the survival of the two brothers as they search for a way out of the canyon, all the while fighting dinosaurs every issue. This seed of a story was important to the continuous development of the series when Valiant Comics picked up the license in the early 1990s.
Under Valiant, Turok as a franchise was revamped into an action-style comic. The canyon became the “The Lost Lands,” for example, a place where time had no meaning and dinosaurs, aliens, and other monsters made up the population. Later changes would see Turok and Andar being transported through time into a post-apocalyptic future, and Turok finally getting a solo series, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter beginning in 1993.
Valiant Comics would soon become Acclaim Comics, after the company was bought out by Acclaim Entertainment in 1994. Acclaim has a long history in the world of video games. One of the first independent development studios after several employees split off from Activision in 1987, Acclaim would develop and publish ports from the arcades for consoles and build up their studio base throughout the early 1990s. By 1993, Acclaim, thanks in part to the successes of console ports of Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, would flaunt their capital by purchasing several game studios, such as Iguana Entertainment and LJN, and branched out by picking up Valiant Comics.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was Acclaim’s first big success, and at the time in 1997, it was a huge gamble for the studio. By 1996, Acclaim was struggling to stay afloat, losing $222 million in the fiscal year and seeing their own stock prices plummet to $3 a share. This caused major cutbacks for the company, such as letting go over 100 staff members out of their near 1,000-person publisher and utilizing inexperienced hands to help develop games for the new Nintendo console, the Nintendo 64.
Turok was specifically chosen by Acclaim because out of all their potential franchises, they felt it represented the best chance for a financial turnaround. Original plans were to make it a side-scrolling action game, but they quickly changed to a third person adventure title, then finally first person shooter. Turok was also originally going to be a day one console release but was delayed four months to fix up several bugs found in the game before launch.
To help keep the game on time, as well as focusing on using new technology to speed up development, Iguana Entertainment utilized new motion-capture technology with Turok. Hiring stuntman Brad Martin to motion-capture all human movements in the game, Turok was one of the first games in history to use extensive motion capture to map out more realistic movements. Iguana even tried to utilize motion capture on Emus and other birds to mimic dinosaurs, but only the human movements were used for the game. As lead programmer David Dienstbier recalls: “Turok became a poster child for the kind of motion capture that was possible in 3D gaming. We wanted to make the game an event. We were saying: you may think you know everything about what first person shooters are, but we want to show you what they can be. We really wanted to fire up people’s imaginations."
Acclaim was the first major game studio to build a motion-capture suite exclusively for entertainment, investing over $10 million into the project in the mid-1990s. The second major change was the use of 3D polygons for the game's environment. For its time, Turok was lauded as being a graphics powerhouse, with Acclaim cleverly hiding any deficiencies with draw distance behind a “distance fog” to limit the player's vision. This allowed the game to render as players moved across open maps, instead of being distracted by clipping in the background.
It was also one of the first violent games to grace the Nintendo 64, a fact that worried the development team at the time due to Nintendo’s well-known censorship policies for the Super Nintendo. “We really knew we were pushing Nintendo’s tolerance for violence in a game on their console,” recalls Dienstbier. “But it turned out a lot of our fears were unfounded. They never wanted to see anything, approve anything.” The blood and gore secured Turok as the first “M rated” title for the Nintendo 64, which served as another contrast to the rather bloodless game lineup the console had at the time.
The presentation of Turok proved to be invaluable to the success of the game, along with the development team’s decision to turn it into a first person shooter. In early 1997, it was the only FPS for the Nintendo 64, and outside of Goldeneye, it is one of the most successful as well, selling 1.5 million units worldwide. Turok would also be the first third-party title to join Nintendo’s “Player's Choice” line and would see a successful rerelease in the holidays of 1997, as well as the first PC port of the title.
Today, Turok is a sleeping giant. The recent remastering by Night Dive Studios has certainly injected some life into the franchise, which has remained dormant since 2008’s Turok by Propaganda Games attempted to reboot the series. The current license holders of the Turok franchise is in a state of flux; Disney Interactive Studios held the license since the bankruptcy and closure of Acclaim in 2004, until their own closure in May, 2016.
Whatever the future may hold for Turok, it was a landmark title for consoles when released twenty years ago, providing a more hardcore experience on the home console than ever seen before. Considering the long history of Turok, it is only a matter of time before the franchise gets another reboot. For fans of the series, it will be a long time coming, filling the shoes of the next dinosaur hunter and boldly stalking raptors with a bow once more.
I hope you guys enjoyed this look back at Turok. What are your favorite moments of the franchise? Leave your comments below.