According to a recent study done by Microsoft, wildlife animals are smarter than previously anticipated. When such animals are placed in a cage, they use mathematical formulas to determine whether the cage they’re in suits them or not. There are also indications that they have some telepathic abilities or x-ray vision because they can determine what kind of soil is hidden under the concrete floor of their shelters! The result of this study can be found in Zoo Tycoon.
Since Sid Meier started the hype with Railroad Tycoon, the number of tycoon games is growing exponentially. Some have huge success like e.g. Rollercoaster Tycoon, other just remain a nice try but nothing more. When you look at the screenshots, Zoo Tycoon could be a competitor for Rollercoaster Tycoon, but when you play the game, it’s difficult to keep going.
The start of the game is always the same : you have money and you have to create something, in this case a zoo. You also have a piece of land. On that land you build cages preferably with animals in them, pathways, drink and food stands for you visitors and a handful of personnel to clean up the shit and feed the animals.
Building a cage in Zoo Tycoon is very easy : you take the correct fence, high and strong enough to keep the animal inside. With this fence you enclose a piece of land. Then you change about 50% of the surface with the soil type the animal prefers. Next you buy the animal and place it in the cage. The animal starts to calculate and gives his demands, with the help of a zoo-keeper as translator : there is too much grass, too little sand, too little dirt, too little rocks and there should be more foliage (trees and bushes). All you have to do is follow those demands until they disappear from the list : add sand, add dirt, add rocks, etc…But because the animals use exact science, the result is also exact, on the dot : 22 rocks is good, 23 rocks is better, 24 rocks is bad, too much. If you continue like this, you will end up with a cage that suits the wishes of the animal perfectly! Put more animals in the cage from the opposite sex and you will end up with babies within 6 months! Miracles do happen.
For me this is a little too easy. A better solution would have been that the zookeeper gives you a score for the cage you just build. No advise what to add or remove. The zookeeper will give you some hints, only if your score is very low. That way, you can search for a 100% cage for a long time and perhaps have to settle with a score of 90% for the cage. Even if you accept the mathematical solution in Zoo Tycoon, there are some questions. Like I already hinted in the introduction, the animals know what kind of soil is under the concrete floor of their shelter. So if there is grass under the floor of the shelter for a Polar Bear, the bear will know it and refuse to have sex. The chance for baby bears is very small.
Ok, we have perfect cages, with animals, we have pathways, we have drink and food stands, we have restrooms. What are we going to do next? Build more and more cages? No, we have our daily maintenance. See, your personnel will feed the animals and remove their shit (It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it), but nothing more. First you have the fact of overcrowding due to the babies growing to adult animals. Result is that from time to time, you have to sell your excess of animals. Even better, this will become the major part of your income. Without it, it is very difficult to survive financially.
A second job is the trampled terrain. This is clearly something put in the game, just to keep you busy. On the places where the animals walk a lot (entrance of shelters, feeding place) the ground will become trampled. Your zookeepers are unable to fix that problem (they are busy with the shit). They are also fixing the fences for you, so don’t whine! It’s up to the player to remove those areas by resurfacing the squares. But not all squares are easy to see. You can hide the foliage, but even then it’s a challenge to find all squares behind shelters, rocks and other buildings.
And that’s all there is a lot to do. There is off course the research for better shelters, toys and buildings but it lacks the fun part. You never have the urge to play on. It might be interesting for educational purposes, to show kids what kind of animals exist and in what kind of environment they live. But for a game, it’s a little bit too boring, even for a tycoon game.