The 1990s were a golden age for being a kid in love with dinosaurs. I grew up on The land before time, jurassic park, We are back, Disney Dinosaur, Dinosaur Adventure 3D, Walk with the dinosaurs, the film super mario bros., if you like itâ¦ the list goes on.
But what I wanted above all was a dinosaur game that captures my favorite fictional universe: Dinotopia.
This year I found this game. It was released in 1996, and it is an adventure puzzle game for kids. It’s also an FMV, with dinosaurs played by huge, complex animatronic puppets.
But more on that in a minute.
WHAT IS DINOTOPIA?
For the uninitiated, Dinotopia began as a series of books written and illustrated by James Gurney in 1992. It takes place on the titular lost continent of Dinotopia, a land where dinosaurs survived extinction. Over the years, humans have discovered the island and formed a peaceful society with dinosaurs, a society where the two species live on an equal footing.
As a child, I was drawn to these books. Gurney is an accomplished painter who details all facets of Dinotopian life. For each pastoral image of a human riding a dinosaur, Gurney shows you a cross section of a city built from a 17th-century shipwreck, or a chair designed to accommodate huge sauropods.
The thing is, there are a few Dinotopia games. Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey and Dinotopia: the time stone pirates was released in the early 2000s, in the wake of the Hallmark miniseries starring David Thewlis and a young Wentworth Miller.
But both games had combat as a central mechanic, and that confused me. After all, Dinotopia is a pacifist utopia. This is one of the key themes of the books and one of the biggest challenges for storytellers working in the setting.
Time pirates introduces, yes, pirates who try to steal T-rex eggs and have to be hit in the head. The Odyssey of the Sunstone presents a separatist gang called the Outsiders who want to subjugate the dinosaurs. They should also be hit on the head.
It was like an easy exit to a narrative challenge. Of course, there are tons of extremely popular games that don’t revolve around fighting – hello, Animal Crossing! But that number goes down when you just look dinosaur Games. A shame! I wanted to befriend the dinosaurs, help the dinosaurs, live alongside them, and participate in, I don’t know, civic education or something.
And then I found Dinotopia, the 1996 CD-ROM adventure game.
It has two things that other Dinotopia games don’t: puzzles and animatronic dinosaurs.
Dinotopia, the game, stars a guy with the unlikely name of Nathan Drake! Nathan Drake has just wrecked in Dinotopia and is looking for his missing sister Constance. Along the way, he solves puzzles and interacts with iconic book characters, all played by real people who look eerily like their illustrated counterparts.
Game publisher Turner Interactive has launched a developer co-op The Dreamers Guild to play the game. The Dreamers Guild was a company run by employees, with the developers themselves weighing in on the projects to be undertaken next. And they had just made a book-game adaptation: I have no mouth and I have to scream, the horrible news from Harlan Ellison that you might recognize as fucking black and not for kids!
But this adaptation was well received! And if you’re an employee-run business, you may decide to go from award-winning Hugo sci-fi shorts to kids’ adventure and puzzle games.
By the way, The Dreamer’s Guild website is still active and it is a beautiful relic of the early internet. I highly recommend it.
The Dreamers Guild wouldn’t handle the in-game cutscenes. Turner Interactive made the incredibly thoughtful decision to film the cutscenes with real actors, and the dinosaurs were played by huge animatronic puppets whose voice actors play as if they were doing it. callbacks for The Jim Henson Company.
I am not joking. See the video.
The resulting play is rightly delicious and weird. The puzzles are lovely – players use the Dinotopian alphabet to decode things or create songs with a Parasaurolophus – and the puppets are unbelievable.
Andre Freitas and his special effects company, AFX Studios, made ten dinosaur puppets for the game, all with hand-painted latex skins and intricate animatronics. Each was to be piloted by several puppeteers – some working the eyelids on radio controls, others using rods to maneuver the massive heads of the puppets. Freitas said Turner only gave him $ 85,000, which comes down to not enough per puppet.
Freitas’ work is amazing, and he goes a huge way to make this game see like Dinotopia, although the latest games have better “graphics”. He also made up the actors, translating Gurney’s painting style onto a human canvas.
Watch the video above to see more of these amazing puppets in action and learn more about Dinotopia. It’s a weird and wonderful gem from the 90s, and my kid would have loved it.
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