Planet Zoo's release back in 2019 was only the very beginning for the game. In the two years that it has been out in the wild, the simulator has seen the release of several new content packs that stretch every corner of the globe and include some truly beloved creatures. The game's most recent expansion, the Africa Pack, released last week and it introduced five new creatures, an exclusive timed scenario, and 180 new building items inspired by the region. Recently, we caught up with several members of the Frontier team to discuss the new pack, and we also got some insight into the team's creative process.
The animals included within these DLC packs are undoubtedly the biggest draw for players, so we were keen to learn more about the team's selection process. Dave Bamber, Senior Game Designer for Planet Zoo, told us: "It's genuinely very hard to choose! We start with wide research to look for animals - often species that we've never heard of. We browse lots of sources to compile lists; global zoo animal lists, community wishlists, our social media comments, national and regional animal lists, international breeding programs, and endangered animal lists to name just a few. We will then make a shortlist by taking into consideration factors such as Iconic status, Time to Animate, Time to Create the Model, Time to code and create any unique or Iconic features."
We were also curious to learn more about what draws the team to different locations for each pack. So far, since its launch, Planet Zoo has received six different DLCs, and as well as Africa, these have been inspired by regions such as Australia, South America, and Southeast Asia. Executive Producer, Steve Wilkins said: "We identify areas - often whole regions, sometimes particular themes, such as with the Aquatic Pack - where we see potential to expand our offering within the game. We then look at a larger amount of animals fitting the theme of the pack and take a multitude of factors into account." He continued: " In the end, we have a roster of animals we're confident is diverse, representative of the pack's theme, fun to play with, and fits into our vision of the game."
As we touched upon before, there are five new creatures included in the DLC, and these feature a real mix from zoo staples like Meerkats to endangered animals like southern white rhinos. All of these animals in-game act in an authentic way to their real-life counterparts with many, like Meerkats, replicating common behaviours such as digging. Within our interview, Game Designer Kilian Schmitt detailed: "We do an intense amount of research on each aspect of an animal - vocalisation, behaviour, movement, habitat, and others. Our game designers collaborate with an external researcher on the key characteristics of each animal, in order to support the team with any knowledge we need to make the animal perfect."
This attention to detail that has been given to the animals has also been poured into the new in-game items that you can acquire. There are more than 180 items included within the Africa Pack and these include statues shaped after creatures like rhinos and meerkats and building pieces that can be used to create some of the region's distinctive architecture. When asked about how the team was able to faithfully recreate buildings and items from Africa, Wilkins told us: "Lots of research into different regions, cultures and landscapes is done before scoping out the individual pieces comprising the scenery list of the pack. We are also committed to showcasing the wide range of indigenous cultures across the regions our packs cover in an authentic way."
We've always respected too that Planet Zoo is a title that receives regular updates and several of these include features and fixes requested by the community. When asked about how the team addresses community suggestions, Kilian told us: "Our community managers do a great job communicating player feedback and suggestions over to the developers, so we always have a good idea what is high on the list for players who want to see Planet Zoo become the best version of itself. We aim to always provide some big and small new features, and "Quality of Life" improvements with each update, that both we and our players have helped shape."
Lastly, with Africa being such a large continent, we asked the developers whether they would consider returning back to the region in the future. Steve Wilkins said: "Africa's biodiversity is unmatched, with many amazing animals to discover, and we've brought more of this to the game with the latest pack. We're always listening to the Planet Zoo community and taking inspiration from their feedback, but right now, we're focused on the Africa Pack." So, It seems then that there is a small flicker of hope for more Africa content to arrive in the future if the community is vocal enough about it.