Jurassic Park: Trespasser Was the Most Ambitious Movie-Based Video Game Ever

Friday, August 6, 2021

The cult hit Jurassic Park: Trespasser was thoroughly ahead of the curve -- too far in fact. Here's why it may be the most impressive flop ever made.

The Jurassic Park franchise has received plenty of video game adaptations since the original film's 1993 release. Some of the best include the beloved park simulation game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis and its spiritual successor Jurassic World Evolution. However, one game in particular has earned an incredibly dedicated fanbase, despite being largely unsuccessful both critically and commercially.

Trespasser is a 1998 PC game intended as a direct sequel to The Lost World: Jurassic Park. This first-person survival title failed rather astoundingly when it was released, with some outlets even considering it the worst game of the year -- so why has this game maintained such a passionate fanbase?

Trespasser follows protagonist Anne, who becomes stranded on Site B after a plane crash. From there, she must try to survive the many perils of the island and find a way to escape. Developed by Dreamworks Interactive, Trespasser's design philosophy was one of hyper-realism. The game contains no HUD whatsoever, players monitor their health by looking down at a heart tattoo on Anne's breast, and weapons feature no crosshairs or ammo counter of any kind. When picking up firearms, Anne will weigh the weapon, note how full or empty the magazine feels, and count shots as it is fired to monitor ammo reserves.

The game's control scheme was utterly groundbreaking for its time, but also incredibly clunky. Trespasser is recognized as the first major video game to implement a full physics system. The player interacts with the environment and objects by extending an arm and manipulating the world directly. Almost anything can be used as a means of self-defense; players can, theoretically, grab a rock from the ground and use it to beat back an attacking Velociraptor as they make their escape to a nearby refuge.

Theoretically is the keyword here, as this incredibly impressive control scheme is so unruly and difficult that players will find themselves unable to do anything with precision. Bumping a keycard, rifle or log slightly on a wall will often cause Anne to drop it immediately, ruining any chance of escaping or fighting back under pressure. Hostile dinosaurs are swift and powerful, and this control scheme is not conducive to combating agile enemies. These dinosaurs were designed to have a complex system of emotions and were intended to switch between them naturally as the world around them changed.

Still, Trespasser's environments are vast and filled with physics-based objects for players to interact with. Isla Sorna is incredibly atmospheric, with the lack of HUD creating an immersive and sometimes unsettling experience. In place of cutscenes, voiceovers provided by the late-great Richard Attenborough himself play when Anne reaches certain areas or makes specific discoveries. When wandering the island completely alone and exploring the ruins of the Site B facilities as dinosaurs wander the wilds, it's easy to see the game's appeal.

Trespasser was a victim of its ambition. Machines at the time simply couldn't handle the game's massive world, advanced AI and then-impressive graphics. To top it all off, the game was rushed to meet an October 1998 release date after management made a deal with AMD without consulting the developers. The groundbreaking physics system was implemented in an unintuitive manner that made performing simple actions a chore. Dinosaur AI was underdeveloped, and the complex emotions were axed, turning carnivores into standard FPS enemies.

With more development time, Trespasser could have been one of the most important games of all time. Still, Trespasser was influential thanks to its impressive physics engine, which would inspire the likes of Octodad, Surgeon Simulator and even Half-Life 2. iD Software's John Carmack cited Trespasser's voiceovers as directly inspiring DOOM 3's audio logs.

Trespasser was even one of the first games to utilize ragdoll physics with enemy deaths. The unique ideas of the game spawned a dedicated modding community, which has created their own maps, enemies and puzzles, as well as even attempting to completely remake the game in new engines. Despite its issues, the core concept of Trespasser was incredibly strong, and the game has cemented its place in gaming history as one of the most ambitious and impressive flops of all time.

Source: www.cbr.com/