One of my favorite games of all time is truly Zoo Tycoon. In short, Zoo Tycoon is a computer game where players can create their own zoo, populate their zoo with animal exhibits, visitor attractions, and watch it flourish!
The mechanics of the game are special: the game developers programmed in “gestation periods” or “mating periods” for animals, so during specific times of the year within the game, your animals either mate or give birth. Animals also routinely get sick or feel intense emotions, indicating the game developers have implemented countdowns and timing algorithms so that certain animals such as those that are more exotic or difficult to care for require more attention from players.
Furthermore, depending on the time of day, the influx of visitors changes by a multiple, meaning the weight on your attractions to cater to visitors varies continuously; when many people come, you might get a warning, “visitors need more bathrooms!” and suddenly you must rush to implement bathrooms at strategic locations. Your rolodex of animals to purchase and terrain to implement for specific types of animals is also categorized. The technology and mathematical algorithms the team behind Zoo Tycoon involved in the game clearly show they spent significant time using real zoo data of some kind to mimic the behavior and biological information about animals so that the game is reflective of the real world.
The dynamics that manifest from these mechanics are what create such a rich experience. For example, I can select an option where I do sandbox mode with unlimited money: this offers me unbounded creativity to buy as many animals as I want, hire as many zookeepers as I want etc. When selecting animals, because the developers had done research on the animals, I am presented with whether animals are “savannah” animals, solitary animals etc. I can then design adequate enclosures and enjoy a well-functioning zoo; 7-year-old Dilan would have had no clue what a cheetah needed unless the game helped me out! As for attractions, because the game has the changing flux of visitors and it has visitors physically congregate around specific stalls, I can tell which attractions would be most beneficial for my zoo’s success. The game developer’s algorithms that cause this “congregating” have manifested into a great way for us as users to theorize on what we should implement for financial success in our zoos, which when I was younger, excited me as I felt like a true “businessman.”
Zoo Tycoon is a wonderful game that pushes me to use my creativity and brain, and it’s a shame that it has been discontinued. If future generations had the chance to play this game, I know they would love it just as much as I have!