Sunday School 3: Learn, Play, Win

By Nick Breckon, Mar 01, 2008 1:44pm PST Welcome to Sunday School. My name is Dr. Breckon, and I'll be your administrator. Play nice, do your homework, and score high on your exams. That way we won't have to call your parents.

Quiz Results: Know Your RPG Town Music
The second week's grades are in, and things are looking dismal.

Almost nobody knew every town track from the RPG music quiz. Understandable, but no less disappointing.

And although nearly everyone missed the second track, the Twoson theme from Earthbound, I did assign that particular game as homework in the previous week. Hints abound, and only the sharpest students will triumph.

For those interested in finding out just how miserably they've failed, this week's scores have been posted here. You can also check out the answers to the music quiz, which explains my grading method.

Before anyone asks, an answer of Diablo II was awarded only a half point. True, the Tristram theme does make an appearance in the sequel, but a real die-hard gamer would identify it with the original title. I also gave everyone a whole free point to curve the grades up.

As for the winner of the contest, RazorBlade79 is this week's randomly-selected champion. He'll be receiving a sealed, unsoiled copy of BioWare's Mass Effect for the Xbox 360.

Extra points awarded to lurker for his answers to Earthbound ("70s educational film about railroad crossings"), Final Fantasy VI ("speaker-buzzing bluemountain e-card background music"), and Ultima VII ("that 1970s/80s show about that family on a boat").

Negative points nearly awarded to Mo__ for his answer to the Fallout track: "something not nearly old school enough." Negative points fully awarded to deject, for his stunning answer to Matt Uelmen's classic Diablo score: "wow this music is terrible."

There's one in every class.

Quiz of the Week: Know Your Online Multiplayer Shooter Audio
So you think you know your gaming stuff, huh? Let's find out. Each week in Sunday School you'll be tasked with completing a quiz, the contents of which will vary in both form and topic. Your quiz score will be recorded and graded accordingly, and instead of a lame gold star or red check-mark, you'll have the chance to win awesome gaming paraphernalia.

Some of these quizzes will be difficult, and some will be a cinch. Anyone who participates will be eligible for the weekly prize drawing. However, those with the highest grades at the end of the semester will have more of a chance to win the secret grand prize. Keep your grades up, and you might win a fabulous reward.

Only registered Shacknews users will be able to participate, so go create an account if you haven't already done so. Due to the nature of the contest, we ask that you refrain from discussing answers in the comments.

This week's quiz, while similar to last week's, should be considerably easier. Hanging in the balance is a copy of Epic's Unreal Tournament 3 for the PC.

Ready to go? Get quizin'.

Today's Mini-lesson: The Extinction of Sid Meier's Dinosaurs
"Certainly not an idea I've given up on," said Meier in response to a question about his doomed dinosaur project during a talk at this year's GDC. "Certainly might be an opportunity in the future to do it right."

In the middle of 1999, Firaxis icon Sid Meier set out to design a game based on dinosaurs. The idea immediately took to fans and developers alike. Sid Meier's Dinosaurs would leverage the famed designer's experience with developing strategically deep, addictive games, while playing off the public's universal fascination with the prehistoric beasts. And when's the last time you played a fun, deeply satisfying dinosaur game? Meier was setting out to break new ground.

"When Sid pitched his new idea at one of our world-famous Monday lunches, everyone's eyes lit up with the fundamental coolness of the concept," said Firaxis producer Mike Ely in the first official message from the team.

"Dinosaurs make a great game topic...visually appealing, rich with possibility, and they also bring with them some basic game mechanics. A T-rex is big and mean but has a ferocious appetite, a stegasaur is a great defensive unit, a flying pteradon would be perfect for recon, a raptor can run in packs but must stay on the hunt."

Early gameplay ideas were posted on the Firaxis website in the form of diary entries, allowing fans a unique view of the development process. Meier shared his initial concept, calling for a fast-moving strategy game with a timespan covering millions of years. Packs of dinosaurs would roam through a world with a Civilization feel. "Large scope, epoch-spanning, broad-brush. Not constrained by what actually happened, just by what could have happened," wrote Meier.

But with herds of cool dinos milling about within a complex system, what would players be left to do? How do you design a game around controlling nature?

Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_

Early discussion revolved around a resource system, with the dinosaurs being provided a viable ecosystem centering around the placement of watering holes. Players might have direct control over one "alpha" dinosaur in a herd, but would generally shape the group's life through indirect choices.

In typical Firaxis fashion, it was soon revealed that the team was simultaneously developing both a real-time and turn-based version of the game.

Wrote Meier:

Imagine a Dinosaur turn-based game. Each turn is rife with decisions for your consideration. Do you spend energy to evolve your little meat-eater into a fast-moving raptor? Or do you send that plateosaur across the stretch of swampland to the south first, hoping to find the legendary dinosaur graveyard? Do you save, do the turn, and restore when no one is looking?

A real-time Dino game is a different beast. Your choices happen faster, on a shorter timescale. Slow deliberation gives way, somewhat, to quick tactical choices. You can decide to evolve or make a push for the next food pack, but as you hesitate you may see another dino zip in and grab the prize you wanted. Battles are more furious and more intense, with different tactics and deceptions, as you send a slow moving triceratops into a tree-lined corridor and pour ten spiky-tailed stegasaurs into your unsuspecting enemy as he or she follows you.

There was talk of a combat system that hinged on the customization of dinosaurs for maximum survivability. A mutation mechanic would serve as a way to directly influence the development of dinosaur species. A Dino-Cam was devised to showcase interesting events in the game world. Artists began churning out assets, in full 16-bit color.

As time wore on, it became clear that the team had yet to settle on even a basic gameplay archetype. Would it be the real-time game, or turn-based? Would there be technology trees? How much influence would the player have over the world? What is this thing, anyway?

And as it turned out, the team wasn't really sure either. In late 2001, Meier posted the last dino diary, announcing the cancellation of the project and admitting that he and his team simply hadn't come up with an idea that would sustain an entire game. Sid Meier's Dinosaurs just wasn't any fun.

2002 saw Meier making an appearance at GDC, revealing three radically different versions of the game. One was a real-time strategy title, or as Meier described it, DinoCraft. The next was a turn-based game, dubbed DinoPlanet. The third was a card game.

"There's been a game where you are one dino. There's been a game where you are an entire dino tribe. There's even been a much more abstract game with a heavy online component," wrote Meier in the final diary entry.

Little evidence remains of the project, with only a few concept photos and fossil-like wireframes surviving the extinction. While the Dino Diaries are now offline, lost in the swampy depths of the internet, I've managed to dig them up in the true archaeologist style using Archive.org. They provide a fascinating look into the evolution of the ill-fated project, and also a reason to hope for a Jurassic Park-like revival.

Homework Assignment: Enjoy the Weekend!
Next week's quiz will be of the pop variety, with a radically different format for that fresh exam feeling. As such, no studying will be required. Only your attendance, and your subsequent tears. So enjoy the weekend, while you can.

Come back next week. Absence will not be tolerated. And you didn't forget to take today's quiz, did you? That would be bad.

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