08 July 2016

Saurian - And Why You Should Care About It

Dramatis dinosaurae: Tyrannosaurus rex, Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis,
Dakotaraptor steini, and Triceratops prorsus, from left to right. These are four
of the playable animal species in
Saurian, with two more yet to be revealed.
[image from Saurian's blog]
Saurian. If you've had any interaction with the palaeoblogosphere for well over a year, there's a pretty decent chance you've come across something involving this in-development computer game. Since the end of May, Saurian has been even more prominent in the online palaeo community because of the launch of its Kickstarter - which closed a couple weeks ago after successfully meeting the original goal for funding the game, and several of the stretch goals too. But why is this upcoming video game such a big deal among dinosaur lovers, and why is the fact that it is a big deal important?

Described as 'an open world dinosaur survival experience,' Saurian is set at the very end of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago, in an environment preserved in the rock record as the Hell Creek Formation, found in present-day Montana and the Dakotas. This warm, wet ecosystem was home to a wide array of animals, including some of the most famous of all dinosaurs - Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. In Saurian, players can control six prehistoric species, including these two dinosaur celebrities, and play through their lives from babies on up to old adults, if they are lucky enough to avoid predators, competitors, starvation, and natural disasters in their dynamic environment, that is!

This is the first crucial point that makes Saurian special - it isn't just a dinosaur fighting game. It'd be easy to make a game set in the domain of T. rex and Triceratops and simply turn it in to a constant bloodbath of giant monsters, clashing with claw and horn and tooth. But dinosaurs weren't monsters, a fact that is often forgotten in popular media. Certainly, dinosaurs must've have clashed with each other occasionally, and certainly some of these clashes would have been spectacular, and spectacularly violent. However, the point remains that dinosaurs weren't insatiable monsters always on the lookout for the next blood frenzy, but instead would have usually done whatever would be sensible to ensure their continued survival. In Saurian, as in the real lives of wild animals, it may often be more prudent to avoid a fight than to go looking for one.

Since the animals of Saurian are interacting with their environment so deeply as a critical part of their everyday lives, the developers have poured a huge amount of attention into creating the world of Hell Creek, right down to the little ground-covering flora. That's my second big point about Saurian's specialness: it's just so darn well-researched. I would feel pretty confident saying it is probably the most realistic and scientifically-rigourous work of dinosaur popular media, ever. Not only are the animals and plants beautifully created, their creators aren't shy about showing that they've done their homework to ensure the game is as up-to-date as it can be.

Sexy Rexy, showing not only that feathered dinosaurs are most emphatically
not lame but also that, boy howdy, the team behind Saurian are really
working hard to make this game as realistic as possible.
[image from
Saurian's website, click here for its full-size glory]
So Saurian not only seems fun, it seems fun while offering both a thoroughly science-based vision of the world and a realistic survival-based rather than monster-battle-based take on the dinosaur video game. This is great. And what's even greater is how quickly people took to it. Saurian's Kickstarter met its goal of $55,000 within just two days. Once the Kickstarter funding period concluded, $220,709 had been raised - a whopping 401% of the initial goal. All the extra money will go toward making the game even cooler, with more playable dinosaurs and new environmental features, including the opportunity for players to try and eke out a living after a certain huge asteroid has smashed into Earth and triggered an era-ending extinction event.

Clearly, for the game to have so far surpassed its original target amount, people must be very enthusiastic for it. I don't think anyone expected it to be such a runaway success. This is what is most important about the game: it shows that people can and do care about accurate, science-based palaeo-themed entertainment. I've often been told that popular media doesn't depict dinosaurs accurately because nobody cares about that. Dinosaurs are just 'real life' monsters in the world of entertainment, but by treating dinosaurs as bloodthirsty murder lizards from the dawn of time, the 'real life' element is lost. Even though Saurian hasn't even been unleashed on the public yet, it has already attained quite a degree of success, which shows that, in fact, there is room for dinosaur entertainment that features, you know, ACTUAL DINOSAURS.

I'm looking at you, Jurassic Park's terrible, terrible sequels.

Not pictured: scientific accuracy.
[hideous image from
Jurassic Park wiki]
To avoid delving into my unfathomable rage and disappointment with Jurassic World in particular and the Jurassicparkification of dinosaurs in pop media more generally, which would (and probably will) be a whole blog entry unto itself, I'll just say that as someone working to be a palaeontologist and palaeo-educator, it's very clear that every step we make towards more realistic, dinosaury dinosaurs in the public eye is A Good Thing, and Saurian kindly dispenses with steps towards that goal and savagely pounces right on top of it, like an unrealistic dilophosaur onto a tubby nerd in a Jeep. It's important that projects like Saurian can be undertaken, as these smaller-scale endeavours are the places that true passion for the world of prehistoric life is coming from most strongly, and can most easily be kept central to the project. If these projects can succeed - and if the Kickstarter is anything to go by, Saurian has already proven itself to be up to the challenge - glitzy Hollywood productions might begin to follow suit too, and the public's perception of the amazing world of prehistory would change towards a more scientific, realistic view.

And if the game is half as fun as it looks, well, what could go wrong?

The game's model of the Lancian duckbill. Why am I ending on this image,
and why am I being so vague with the name of one of the very best-known
of all nonavian dinosaurs? Stay tuned, that's coming up real soon...
[image from
Saurian's blog]
Saurian is due out January 2017. For more about the game, check out its site here!

Up next... I'm taking a trip to a museum! So next on Noah's Ravens: either museum photos, or what to call the duckiest duckbill.

Until then, Raven Lunatics. 


No comments:

Post a Comment