In 2018, Jurassic World Evolution was a fantastic return for Frontier Developments to bring their breed of theme park management back to consoles after almost half a decade away. Since then, it’s seen a trio of major narrative expansions and a whole host of additional dinos thrown into the mix, with park owners having to deal with the occasional troubles that can cause as they try to keep control of such wild historical creatures.
But now Frontier are exploring a new, well, frontier. Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition is bringing all of that content to Nintendo Switch on 3rd November, squishing it down to fit on Nintendo’s handheld. That obviously comes with the same caveats that games like Doom and The Witcher III had in their own transitions, with graphical quality reduced to meet the lower powered hardware, but Frontier have kept all of the content and all of the features the same.
We caught up with Game Director Rich Newbold to find out just how they’ve did it – from optimising the heck out of the game, to limiting you to 100 dinos – and now that it’s well and truly complete, to reflect on the game’s greatest strengths and weaknesses.
TSA: It’s always quite surprising just how much people are able to get out of the Nintendo Switch, and there’s some ports like Doom, Wolfenstein II, The Witcher 3 that are considered to be “impossible”. How do you feel Jurassic World Evolution ranks? Was it an impossible port, or were you confident of getting the results right from the off?
Rich: I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved with the game. I think that Jurassic World Evolution and all of the paid DLC and updates we’ve done is such a big package, so when we looked at what we’d done on consoles and PC, having that graphical fidelity with all the amazing, authentic dinosaurs on those versions, and bringing it across and optimising it for Nintendo Switch, it was a challenge. But what we know of our own engine, Cobra, that we created here at Frontier and base our games on, it was an achievable challenge.
We were in a really good position to look at the hardware that Nintendo Switch offers, the complexities and challenges of that, then look at what we had [achieved in JWE] and find a solution to bring us to that point.
TSA: It definitely feels (I’m guessing) like a kind of experimental game and project for Frontier to get to grips with a new console. How was that for you, making that shift to even lower powered hardware?
Rich: Yeah, it was one of those things that was completely different for Frontier. It was the first game that Frontier have brought to Nintendo Switch, and for us to take an existing game, we went with some prototyping, faking up an equivalent version of that hardware on PC to see how the game in its current state reacted and then identified the improvements we needed to make across the entire game.
Our approach was tackling so many subsystems at once to bring them all to an optimised state that would work on Nintendo Switch, whether it’s resetting the audio codecs and plugins that we’re using, looking at the rendering solution on the dinosaurs to make sure they still look as good as possible, but still worked on Nintendo Switch. That was a key pillar, keeping that high graphical fidelity, comparative to the other consoles and PC version as much as possible, but making sensible compromises in parts of the code and the optimisations that we’re using.
TSA: You mention compromises and that neatly segues into the next question I have, which is to ask where have you had to make compromises? All of the content is there, obviously…
Rich: So, we’ve tried to make decisions so that for the end user the experience is still exactly the same. The audio quality and the visuals are as strong as possible. We have had to make some changes and limit the number of dinosaurs you can have, so there’s a cap of 100 dinosaurs at once in a single park, and we’ve done that compromise to make sure that the frame rate is as high as possible, but obviously that’s still quite a lot of dinosaurs!
TSA: It’s more than we have in the real world, anyway…
Rich: Exactly! So we added that cap in so that, even if you hit that, the player experience is still as high as possible.
That’s one of the few compromises that we’ve made in terms of the gameplay. A lot of the others are changing the solutions that we use to tackle the technical challenges and rendering solutions we use on consoles.
TSA: So… what is the dinosaur cap on other platforms, then?
Rich: There isn’t one!
TSA: So you can have infinite dinosaurs on PC? I’ve got to try harder!
Rich: Yeah, well… it’s infinite in terms of how many you can manage in a park, but obviously there’s kind of a soft cap to how many can stay alive at the same time and how many you can manage in that area. There’s only so many Brachiosaurs you can fit in an area… but yeah, there’s no game limit.
TSA: I’m sure there’s some mods that can help me have literally infinite dinosaurs until my PC collapses!
Diving into more of those fiddly, nitty-gritty details, can you say what the resolutions you’re aiming for in handheld and docked are on Nintendo Switch? People love to know this kind of stuff!
Rich: I know they do, but unfortunately I can’t quite give the technical details at this point. We’re still working on those final bits and those decisions happen toward the end of development. Obviously, our release date is 3rd November, so we still have some time and we’re still working on some things with regard to that. As we get closer to release we can give that information.
But what we’re trying to make sure is that the experience for the player is the same on the docked version and the handheld version, so there’s no preferred way to play. Our objective is to make the resolution and the frame rate as high as possible, as much as we can and as often as we can. We don’t want to take any shortcuts.
TSA: That’s perfectly reasonable at this point, to not have those hard details.
The Switch also has plenty of other unique features, like HD Rumble and the touchscreen, and I’m wondering if you can make use of any of those? The touchscreen in particular is something I always feel gets overlooked, even by Nintendo, which I find bizarre!
Rich: We did look into some of those platform features.
We do use the rumble in the game, but we just rumble the [Joy-Con] as we do rumble on other consoles. We don’t use the touchscreen functionality – we looked at it and the possibilities it could add to the game, and we just felt it was changing too much of the moment to moment stuff and that might affect the direct control where you’re aiming the ACU’s and the ranger teams. If we added it to the UI menus, we’d have to redesign all of those UIs, and that would take away from the experience if you’re playing it on your TV.
So we wanted it to be an equivalent experience in both versions, and also to what the gameplay and features are on existing platforms as well, to have a parity of experience across all our communities.
TSA: Finally, with having the stamp of Complete Edition, this feels like a good point for reflection with the team to look back at the game as a whole and what you’ve achieved. I’m curious what you think stands out as the main strength of Jurassic World Evolution, outside of having lots of dinosaurs, but then also what you think has been one of the weaker elements of the game?
Rich: For me, the strength is really not just about having dinosaurs – I mean, that is a thing for us! – but having that experience of running a Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, recreating that feeling that you might have seen in John Hammond in the film (before it all goes wrong), of building those parks and then dealing with things.
How you deal with situations is something I’m very proud of, how we theorised from the beginning how this would work, what would happen if we gave players the power to do that, and how we executed.
Reflecting on areas to improve… I think there’s a lot more that we could have probably done to have more individuality in the parks that players can create themselves and the parks in the game. That’s probably an area that, if I was to go back in time, I’d probably improve.