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Video Game / Planet Zoo

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Simulation Runs Wild

Planet Zoo is a zoo simulation game by Frontier Developments. The title was initially announced in April 2019, with a beta publicly accessible by pre-ordering the deluxe version of the game. It was released on PC in November 5, 2019.

The trailer can be found here, and the website here.

Planet Zoo provides examples of the following:

  • Absurdly Ineffective Barricade: Depending on what species you adopt, some barriers are more resilient than others. Almost anything short of a stone/brick/concrete wall is this for the bigger animals, and some walls are climbable, adding another way for some animals to escape. The Hedge barrier is more for decoration than anything, and the "Null" barrier is completely worthless against anything but guests, and is only there to "complete" barriers that are otherwise composed of rocks, cliffs, etc. Humorously, beavers can be kept in with almost any decent fences... except for wooden ones, for obvious reasons.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality:
  • A.I. Breaker: Animals sometimes escape, and since you can't manually move them yourself, you are supposed to call a vet to tranquilize them, and move them back to their enclosure in a box. If you don't care about messing with the layout of your enclosure and the surrounding area, you can simply extend the enclosure by placing fences around the animal and deleting the dividing fence, and the animal will not be considered escaped anymore. It's much faster than waiting for a vet to run over there, scares fewer guests, and is usually a lot cheaper than the $1000 emergency capture option.
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  • Animals Lack Attributes: All of the animal models conspicuously lack external genitalia, likely owing to the game's family friendly nature. Despite this, in a trailer, a hippo can be seen visibly defecating and helicoptering its tail around to splatter it everywhere, as they are known to do in real-life for territorial reasons.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • The sandbox mode menu has toggles for various things. One of the things the player can turn off is animal welfare, which keeps the animals from becoming unhappy from anything, like too many rocks, too much or biome inappropriate foliage, unsuitable terrain, wrong elevation, or not enough space. This is so the player is not hindered in making exhibits as they please by having to abide by exhibit requirements.
    • Pressing "L" gives the player a torch, which is useful when trying to build in a dark place, like underground, in a building, or anywhere at night.
    • In sandbox mode, the player can freely adjust time of day, which is useful in some situations like evaluating how the lighting effects exhibits and architecture, or just turning it back to day so you don't have to try and build in the dark.
  • Artificial Brilliance: One of the game's main selling points is that its animals have life-like behaviors and individual personalities.
  • Artistic License – Biology: In spite of the game's general accuracy, it has a few mostly minor errors, oversights, and simplifications for gameplay:
    • Baby mammals don't nurse from their mothers. (Nursing was present in Zoo Tycoon 2.)
    • The gharials use the same animations as the crocodiles, including "high walking" like them in order to move around on land. In real life, adult gharials are incapable of walking, instead pushing themselves around with their limbs like seals.
    • The patterns of the Nile monitors are much simpler and brighter in color than those of the real animals.
    • Giant tiger land snails can be male or female in the game just like any other animal, but in real life they're simultaneous hermaphrodites (i.e. all individuals have functioning male and female genitalia).
    • Birds, reptiles, amphibians & invertebrates don't lay eggs, their babies are just spawned. Although this may be because in real zoos, visitors don't see eggs in enclosures because they're taken away for incubation.
    • Titan beetles are present in the game, although they cannot be bred in captivity in real life.
    • Some snakes are modeled with scale texture on their heads instead of scutes.
    • Reptile and bird poop (with the exception of penguins) is brown: the real thing has white portions (urates), and bird poop is modeled as round mammal-like droppings.
    • Animals don't pee in the game, unlike in Zoo Tycoon.
    • Close scrutiny of the animations reveals the spotted hyena reuses canine animations for running. Despite their appearance, hyenas are not canines and have a different gait.
    • One player went through the trouble of testing and comparing every species in the game's running speed. They found that they are wildly inaccurate, with the ostrich being the fastest animal in the game, the cheetah only coming in eighth, and many of the other species being inaccurate. Although, it should be pointed out that animals in real life don't always run at their maximum potential speed, especially when they are not in any danger or hunting.
    • The info article for wolves uses the terms "Alpha male and Alpha female," which are now considered outdated.
    • Unless animal welfare is turned off, animals want certain terrain amounts (a range of a certain amount of dirt, tall or short grass, snow, etc., this is also seen in Zoo Tycoon.) real life animals aren't always so picky about the amount of what kind of terrain they have unless it is related to natural behavior. Polar bears, both real and in-game, need a lot of water and snow which makes sense, but a real lion is probably not so picky about whether the grass in its enclosure is long or short, just that it has plenty of grass. It also probably does not care if it has an exact amount of soil and sand or not, and it almost certainly does not care or even know if the plants in its enclosure are not native to Africa, but the ones in the game do.
    • The game's Malayan tapir is smaller than in real life, almost the size of the Baird's tapir, despite the info article correctly stating it's the largest living tapir.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Elephants. Sure, they are an immense draw, and will net you an enormous amount of money and Conservation Points if you manage to get a breeding program running, but they also require a huge habitat with a large amount of water, large quantities of food, and since they can smash down glass barriers they need a non-transparent enclosure with a viewing platfrm, which is a pain to build.
  • Camera Abuse: Several opening animations can be seen with different animals interacting with the camera and the "Frontier" logo.
    • The Mandrill and the Grey Seal wander in, sniff at the camera enough to fog it up, then stroll/waddle away.
    • The Polar Bear wipes a big cloud of snow off the camera lens, sniffs at it, then wanders off.
    • The Ostrich runs past fast enough to shake the camera.
    • The baby Elephant takes the cake, smashing through the "Frontier" logo and shattering it before knocking the camera to the floor.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The various Conservation Statuses.
    • Dark Green: Domesticated
    • Green: Least Concern
    • Light Green: Near Threatened
    • Yellow: Vulnerable
    • Orange: Endangered
    • Red: Critically Endangered
    • Gray: Data Deficient
    • Black: Extinct in the Wild
  • Command & Conquer Economy: A zoo-scale implementation of the trope, as the player takes on the role of the director of the entire zoo, yet is allowed to tweak things that would usually be delegated way down the chain of command, like the temperature and humidity in the individual terrariums.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Dominic Myers is an example of this trope, and you are the only person capable of preventing his greed from harming the animals.
  • Difficulty Spike: Mission 10 in the campaign is the first mission where you have to build a zoo completely from scratch. Having no income at all and being forced to plow much of what little seed money you have into infrastructure leaves you with precious little room for error.
  • Incorrect Animal Noise: Refreshingly averted. Since the game aims for a more realistic, immersive experience, many of the animals instead utter the same variety of noises their real-life counterparts emit. Lions and tigers don't share the same roars, spotted hyenas don't growl or bark like wolves, and so on.
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence:
    • This is invoked with the staff paths, which the guests are barred from walking on by the game's internal logic, so you can place them down specifically to prevent the guests from accessing certain areas (usually the parts where the unsightly maintenance facilities are located.)
    • You can literally place invisible null fences that guests cannot walk through. note 
  • Justified Tutorial: "Stately Home Schooling", "The Ape-renticeship", and "Bear Essentials", the first three levels in Career Mode, take the player through their apprenticeship under Bernie after being recently hired. Each guides the player through more and more complex concepts of the game, by having them renovate and improve three established and profitable zoos.
  • Lighter and Softer: Animals aren't able to attack guests unlike the Zoo Tycoon series, specifically because the game is intended to be family friendly. Guests will still react badly to animals being outside of their exhibit, so the player is discouraged from letting them out to roam (barring speculation you will be able to do this with peafowl without any complaint, like real zoos often do.)
  • Menagerie of Misery: While this game goes out of its way to avert this, making the captive animals' requirements as realistic as possible and encouraging the players to meet these, it still has some Video Game Cruelty Potential if you intentionally ignore these requirements and build habitats obviously unsuited for the animals or place incompatible species (such as predator and prey) in the same habitat. In Career mode, it's stated that Dominic Myers' horribly mismanaged zoos are becoming this in your absence.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: The more cartoon-ish guests (which have been largely carried over from Planet Coaster) clash fairly harshly with the more photorealistic animals.
  • Not the Intended Use: The object of the game is obviously to make a normal zoo, but it's more than easily possible to do an endless amount of ridiculous stuff in-game. There is even a famous player that has made money on Youtube by making comedic videos of himself playing the game in the most hilariously ridiculous manner possible, including by:
    • Modeling a large and believable looking suburb, with houses, other buildings, a theater, a sewer, and a bar.
    • Making a prison.
    • Modeling the first level for Pacman, complete with Pacman, dots, and the ghosts.
    • Making a zoo "on the moon." note 
    • Using the spelling letters for weird messages, like making a "ingredients list" for the guest's food that contains a percentage of many different zoo animal species, like lions and wolves, and even human beings.
    • Spelling words by placing trees hovering in midair.
    • Abuse of the googly eyes object, like placing it on dead animals.
    • Making guests and staff traverse incredibly long and convoluted paths.
    • Placing so many giraffes in the same enclosure they begin to overlap and form a very monstrous looking "giraffe hydra."
    • Making incredibly tall platforms with animals on top, then deleting them to rain a ton of dead animals on guests.
  • Palette Swap: Many animals come in rare albino or leucistic variants (and in the case of jaguars, a melanistic variant); apart from their colour, they share the same models and animations as their regular-colored counterparts.
  • Sandbox Mode: It allow players to start zoos with unlimited money and resources, all animals available, and all research completed to let them be creative with zoo design from the get-go.
  • Scars are Forever: Animals can get permanent scars after fighting, and sometimes already have scars when adopted.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Of the over 50 animals in the game, several are obscure such as nyalas, bongos, Chinese pangolins, lesser Antillean iguanas, Lehmann's poison frogs, and giant tiger land snails. The DLCs adds even more animals to the selection, including Dall sheep, Binturong, North Sulawesi babirusa, Nile lechwe and Amur leopard.
  • Shown Their Work: All animals will have accurate behavior for their species. This is a first for zoo games, as no previous zoo sim has attempted to model real animal behavior to this extent.
    • As an specific example, lions require a pride to be happy, and if you have more than one male, the males will determine who's the most dominant and he will be the only one allowed to mate your lionesses.
    • Some animals are social, and others are perfectly happy being the only one in an enclosure.
    • In an interview with Ollie Powell (animation programmer), he shows knowledge about elephant anatomy. He mentions that an elephant technically walks on the tips of its toes, which internally actually start around "where you think their ankle is," and behind the toes is a large fleshy, boneless "pad" to help support the animal's massive weight. This was all researched and kept into consideration when animating this animal.
    • The frozen blood pumpkin enrichment item. In real life, many zoos make blood popsicles for some animals, such as big cats, as a treat and to help them keep cool in hot weather. Blood is added as a flavoring and attractant because many of these animals will not naturally lick plain ice on their own.
    • Gorillas properly do their Primal Chest-Pound with their palms, instead of their fists like cartoon gorillas.
    • Hippos aren't efficient swimmers in the conventional sense, preferring to run underwater just like in real life.
    • Ostriches have the correct sexual dimorphism with the females being dull brown. And the peahens lack the trains of peacocks.
    • Crocodilians have proper claw configuration, with two of their five fingers being clawless.
    • Unlike in Zoo Tycoon 2, peafowl are allowed to approach guests as in real-life zoos, due to the game's system now including walkthrough exhibits.
    • The American alligator is depicted with an overbite, in contrast to the other crocodilians.
    • Axolotls come in brown and green which are their natural colors, as well as being leucistic which is a result of being in the pet trade.
  • Small Taxonomy Pools: Strangely zig-zagged. While the game does (so far) mainly show common animals like elephants, lions, and bears, it goes in-depth enough with some animals so as to specify the animal's subspecies (like the West African lion). However, with others, it's a bit vague. One of the game's featured elephant (the African bush elephant) is simply referred to as the African elephant, ignoring that there are two species of African elephant, the other is the African forest elephant. However, this is fixed in the 1.7 Update, where the African elephant is renamed as the African savannah elephant.
  • Speaking Simlish: It uses the same "Planco" language for various signs and guest audio clips as Planet Coaster. Lampshaded when Bernie Goodwin introduces you to Career mode speaking it, before apologizing and switching to English.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the Zoo Tycoon series, and arguably to the Wildlife Park series as well.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: The game's sandbox mode allowed for infinite possibilities, some of which are a zoo where the animals or guests are treated cruelly. There are even YouTube videos about this. However, unlike the Zoo Tycoon series you cannot sic animals on guests.
  • Wham Episode: Mission 6. Bernie went missing in the Arctic, the board of directors had him declared legally dead so they could sell off all his zoos, you are now working for a corrupt man that is blatantly trying and failing hard to sound like he cares about anything but money and himself, you are being put in charge of fixing an abusive zoo with a overwhelming laundry list of demands from your boss and absolutely barely any space to work with, and Nancy has been fired. In anything else, this Plot Twist wouldn't hit as hard, but it clashes with the previously very lighthearted, humorous tone of the game enough to be jarring.