Parkasaurus was a game that immediately caught my attention largely thanks to its aesthetic. I'm a mechanically-focused gamer and I typically don't concern myself with a game's graphics, but the charm of the art style simply delighted me. Following my preview of the game, I sat down to have a chat with Chris McQuinn, one of the two gentlemen at WashBear.
It was less than a week after the Early Access launch of Parkasaurus when we sat down to talk. My conversation with Mr. McQuinn was off to a rough start thanks to a bit of confusion in the first few minutes. This early portion of our chat revealed that he was positively exhausted. He has good reason to be—the team at WashBear had been releasing daily patches for almost a week in an effort to kill critical bugs and stabilize the game. Even so, Chris was kind enough to make some time for me and we soldiered on.
Chris' partner in this endeavor is Mayuran Thurairatam, a man he has worked together with for some time on titles like Guacamelee. As we discussed just who was responsible for which bits of Parkasaurus, it seemed pretty clear to me that both of these developers could have done a great job working alone in their own right. Why work together, I asked?
"We like working with each other and for us - I can't speak for [Mayuran], I suppose, but I can speak for me - the end product is way better when I work with him," Chris said. "There's a real feeding off each other which I wouldn't get if I was by myself." While both Chris and Mayuran are capable in their own right, they nonetheless have their own strengths and unique points of view in game development. Our conversation was peppered with praise for Mayuran, largely centered around his design and programming abilities. "Mayuran [is] is the source of all good ideas."
One particular subject had interested me ever since I played the game: the parking lot. I'll full-well admit it's a silly thing, but the parking lot in Parkasaurus actually works. Cars come in, guests hop out, and they queue for the entrance. Aside from the aesthetics, it's also an element of the business that isn't usually addressed in these games. At the moment, the parking lot will simply remain a nice visual feature that can give you an idea of how many guests you have in your park. In the future, it may evolve into something more depending on where the design takes them and what the fans demand.
Practicality is a major influence on their development process. The artistic style that enamored me so was a decision made largely due to the resources needed to make something on the scale of Jurassic World Evolution. "There's no way to compete on [the artistic style as an indie developer]," Mr. McQuinn said. "If you want to do good dino gritty stuff, you need an army of artists. Otherwise you can't do it [or] at least do it well." In a sense, they took a page out of classic military strategy and turned a weakness into a strength. The cartoonish art styles are easier to produce than a realistic-looking model and they certainly have a special charm. This is supplemented by the silly hats available in the game—a feature that was developed purely because it seemed like a fun idea.
Perhaps another weakness of a small team is the pace at which they can develop new features and crush bugs. Once again, WashBear utilized this to their advantage. Chris described their daily post-launch patches as "dangerous"—something that you certainly wouldn't do in a larger operation for fear of breaking something critical. The pace has since loosened up, but these rapid-fire (and occasionally risky) fixes might not have made it out to players in a more conservative, corporate environment. This flexible design philosophy is perhaps the font from which the magic of Parkasaurus was sourced.
A campaign is an integral feature of most tycoon games—a series of levels or challenges that teaches players the game and occasionally mixes up the formula in interesting ways. I asked, outright, what the plans for Parkasaurus were. The developer's focus will likely shift towards creating the campaign in "the next few weeks," although what exactly it will be is up in the air. The WashBear pair discussed the matter at length early on in development, but they'll have to have a sit-down and plan out what exactly they would like to do when the time comes to make it.
Here is the point where the perils of a small team meet with reality. "The game is incredibly complex under the hood and we had to be super efficient on so many things, it's bonkers," Chris said. Adding more members to the WashBear team isn't something they'd necessarily be against, but the rhythm and simplicity of a team of two gets much more complex once more people are added into the mix. Progress on features and bugs - something that is usually handled by specialized software - is tracked by a simple spreadsheet. Future design ideas are collected in various places (including a few sticky notes here and there) rather than an internal wiki or polished design document. The effort to manage tasks grows with the size of a company and that means less time working on the game itself.
Parkasaurus is still very much a game in development; so much so that one of its two developers is reluctant to say where exactly their journey will take them. I pressed Mr. McQuinn for a new feature he'd like to see in the game. After a bit of thought, he told me that he would really like to see elevated walkways above the exhibits or something like that. The 1.0 version of the game will hopefully feature a fully-fledged campaign, a challenge mode, maybe mod support, "[We] have a whole list of things we want to start doing. It could be more [types of dinos, types of walkways], maybe water dinos, maybe air dinos. [We want to] add extra reasons to come back to your exhibits and improve them."
The Parkasaurus of today is a game that makes for a heck of a lot of fun, at least for a few hours. The Parkasaurus of the future looks to give players more fun things to do with derpy dinosaurs. If you don't yet own the game and you'd like to grab a copy for yourself, you can pick it up on Steam for $19.99 or your regional equivalent. You can keep up with the game's development by following WashBear on Twitter.
What do you think of Parkasaurus? Do you get more fun out of a tycoon game's campaign or its sandbox mode? Let us know in the comments below!