Though micromanagement simulation titles started out as world-shaking god sims, they've tightened their focus over the years, allowing players to zero in on a specific action or event while continuing the tradition of nit-picking over small details. Lately, we've seen everything from railroad management to race horse breeding, with plenty more to be found in-between.
Zoo Tycoon, ported by Westlake Interactive and soon to be released by Aspyr Media, continues the trend by placing players in charge of their own zoo. Enterprising zoo managers will have to create exhibits, import animals, and hire professionals to care for the wildlife. Visitors, arguably the main source of income, will also need looking after, with places to eat, sit, and spend their hard-earned dollars on plastic trinkets emblazoned with the zoo's logo.
Care and Feeding OfZoo Tycoon, like most titles of its type, is broken up into two main game types. The first type presents players with a set of increasingly difficult scenarios to complete. Usually limited to a specific time frame, the objectives contained within the scenarios can range from the successful upkeep of several exhibits to the raising and breeding of giant pandas. Also included in the scenario listing are a set of tutorials for those that would rather not read the instruction manual.
The second game type is the freeform type. As its name suggests, this mode allows players complete freedom in which to make their zoos. Players can choose a starting map from a wide variety, including a jungle lagoon, arctic maze, and desert pyramids. The amount of starting cash is also completely adjustable, allowing novices to start out wealthy while affording experts the change to start dirt poor.
The actual construction of a zoo is as easy as creating a few enclosures and populating them with animals. Constructing an enclosure is a snap - simply choose a wall type from the Construction panel and click and drag on the map to create a solid wall. The choosing of the wall type itself will depend on both the amount of money one is willing to spend as well as the type of animals that can live within the enclosure. A stick pole fence is easy on the wallet, but is fragile to the point where keeping a pride of lions inside it would be a bad idea. A rock wall enclosure is built to withstand abuse, but doesn't allow visitors to see inside the enclosure.
Once a created enclosure is completely closed, players can then name it and begin populating it with animals. While it might be tempting to toss the animals in immediately, it's usually a better idea to adjust the environment of the enclosure so that it better suits the needs of the target animal. To this end, players can change the terrain, add various types of foliage, and spruce up the surroundings with rocks, toys, and other touches. For example, an enclosure built for a giraffe should contain a savannah terrain, along with some Umbrella Thorn Acacia trees and maybe some tall grass thrown in for cosmetic purposes. The types of terrain and foliage are quite diverse, ranging from simple dirt to snow.
Once the enclosure is ready to go, the appropriate animals can be purchased and placed inside. Zoo Tycoon sports over 40 different types, including penguins, red kangaroos, and cheetahs. Players can also choose the gender of the animals they purchase, if they're interested in breeding. Once placed, the animals are completely autonomous and go around doing whatever it is their species does. This usually includes sleeping, eating, and, uh, waste evacuation.
To make construction choices easier, Zoo Tycoon provides a wealth of information on virtually every selectable object. Clicking on an animal type from the list available for purchase will show a map of the continent where it can be found, along with its ideal terrain and foliage types. Clicking on a provided info button will open a pop-up window with a fairly large informational spread on the animal itself, giving the game somewhat of an educational bent. The various foliage and rock types also sport maps showing their continental origins.
The Human AnimalOnce a zoo has been established, players will need to hire staff members in order to keep things running smoothly, After all, no matter how much control one would like to keep for themselves, it's always nice to hire someone else to clean up after the elephants, particularly after they've eaten a large meal. To this end, various professionals such as zoo keepers, tour guides, and maintenance workers are all available. Each one performs specific job duties necessary for a zoo to thrive. For example, zoo keepers look after the animals, feeding them and making suggestions about how to keep each beastie's happiness level up. Tour guides are great for directing the flow of visitor traffic, and maintenance workers should be kept on hand to keep the zoo trash free and structurally sound.
Of course, each hired worker must be paid a monthly salary. To generate the money needed to pay the staff as well as keep the zoo running, players will quickly find that visitors are their main source of revenue. While ticket sales alone may be enough for some people, enterprising players will find that various money suckers such as hamburger stands, drink vendors and gift shops, are a great way to rake in extra cash. Of course, all this eating and shopping tends to wear out the zoo visitors of today, so it's also a good idea to provide them with tables to sit down at and bathrooms to relieve themselves in.