Developer Journal: Climbing

Bo Marit

Lead Community Manager
Frontier
Welcome to our fourth Developer Journal! In these interviews we introduce you to our talented team and highlight new features that they have been designing. After a busy E3 we wanted to check back in with you and delve deeper into something very special: climbing animals!

We've got Principal Programmer Richard Thorn and Principal Animator Felix Ilsley here today to talk about the climbing behaviour in Planet Zoo!

Please give a warm welcome to Richard and Felix!

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Hi everyone, and thanks for having us! As climbing is a quite unique behaviour with some groundbreaking technology behind it, we wanted to tell you a bit more about it.

Felix:
If, when you think of an animal and you picture it climbing, then we have it climbing in Planet Zoo! You craft your habitat however you want, limited only by your own imagination, and so long as there is an animal nearby who enjoys climbing then off they go.

Richard:
The idea is that any scenery we've tagged as climbable can be placed with the same freedom that you have when placing regular types of scenery in a Planet game, and animals will climb on it. Navigation and climbing in games are generally marked up by hand by a Level Designer. The level will not change during its lifetime in game. With our Planet games, the player has the freedom to build what they want at any location and in any orientation. The game then has to decide how and where it should try and climb, and I've not seen that in a game before!

Felix:
In all ways it's a really ambitious thing to do. Getting things to move around sensibly on uneven ground is hard enough, let alone adding vertical surfaces and then jumping on top of that! We have to try to get into the mind of every single player who will pick up the game, and try to anticipate what they will build, given that they have limitless possibilities, and then try to get the animals to behave in a sensible and interesting way. A question which we ask ourselves a lot: do you limit the amount of things a player can do, to preserve the feeling of realism? For me, the "limitless potential" approach of Planet Coaster is too fun and interesting to not let people have that. Different players want different things for a game, and hopefully with our approach we are allowing you to dictate what is possible and what isn't.

Richard:
It was difficult to try and pick a sensible path through any number of climbing pieces configured in any arrangement! Given the free form nature of the scenery building, there's a massive amount of edge cases to try and consider when picking the best path through a ball of climbable bits. Another challenge was that in most games stuff like climbing is reserved for a single character, where you can afford lots of animations and transitions because that character is the main focus. Our game has lots of climbing animals. We ended up with a bunch of main animation loops as well as transitions in, out, and between them, to try and cover everything. Given the kind of dynamic movement a Western Chimpanzee in a tree might do, our Animators have a great challenge to try and condense that in to a the animals' animations.

Felix:
But, challenges aside, it was important to have climbing in Planet Zoo. Half of a Lemur's day is spent in the canopy of a tree, so it's arguably the more interesting part of their lives as they're pretty 'ninja' when climbing! The experience of seeing your animal approach your (hopefully) lovingly assembled climbing habitat for the first time, and discovering how it interacts with it, is pretty powerful. Some animals will want to climb, as it's in their nature, and having climbable habitats improves their well-being. Others are able to climb, but might be not so inclined; these you might need to coax with food and treats.

Richard:
Climbing behaviour adds an extra layer of realism to our game. You see some Chimpanzees running about in a typical chimp habitat and you expect them to jump and climb. It adds an extra dimension to habitat construction and it's fun to watch the results! Depending on what you have constructed, a climbing frame may simply be the only way to get to food, water, or shelter. And some animals may prefer to spend time off the floor and will simply climb for fun. Climbing may also provide a way out of their habitat; you build your tree too close to the roof of a shelter and they are going to get up there... !

Felix:
With the upcoming Beta, I'm really looking forward to people getting their hands on the game soon! You'll immediately come up with some mashup of a real life building, and stick Chimpanzees in it. We've made some beautiful things in-house for the animals to climb, and up to now they've been grounded in reality. I'm pretty sure, and I hope, that the community will mess with that! I'm sure there will be some feedback, and this is always a really useful thing for us to know what people are happy with, and what else they would like.

Richard:
Having seen some of the amazing creations from Planet Coaster, the sheer amount of assets used in single construction is something I’m currently setting my mind on. The next step in the feature’s development is to set the right number of limitations to making climbing frames, so you can still build to your heart’s desire without losing the authenticity of the Planet Zoo world. I'd love to see people having fun with it. You will be able to easily make something the animals will just start interacting with. I think that moment where you see a Ring-tailed Lemur sitting on top of the thing you just built will be super cool! I hope you like it!
 
Upcoming (tm) and soon (tm) are making me run in circles. I can't wait two full month. And I still feel it would be a miracle if we get the beta before gamescom.

Again: THANK YOU SO MUCH dear frontier team for making our creativity a priority! :) (ThoughI still can't build in planco. Anyone here in north-germany that would like to come over and teach me? :D )
 
Rereading and now I’m wondering... I’ve been watching planet coaster videos to get a sense of the building aspect and I’ve seen things being added on to each other (sometimes to create whole new stuff) but also just pilling rocks onto one another and turning them to create an interesting structure. Now considering rocks are climbable, would they be partially limited with when building structures? Like you can’t pile them anymore of is there a system in place that says the highest rock, that is flat-ish, is climbable. Or would animals also be able to use the rocks underneath to climb upwards? It’s sounds really complicated problem to fix especially when you want to keep being limitless and realistic so I’m interested to see the end result. Whatever it will be I’m sure it will be in the best interest of the game and what’s possible (with all the different factors I can imagine it would be quite or very near impossible to actually have it work.)
 
Rereading and now I’m wondering... I’ve been watching planet coaster videos to get a sense of the building aspect and I’ve seen things being added on to each other (sometimes to create whole new stuff) but also just pilling rocks onto one another and turning them to create an interesting structure. Now considering rocks are climbable, would they be partially limited with when building structures? Like you can’t pile them anymore of is there a system in place that says the highest rock, that is flat-ish, is climbable. Or would animals also be able to use the rocks underneath to climb upwards? It’s sounds really complicated problem to fix especially when you want to keep being limitless and realistic so I’m interested to see the end result. Whatever it will be I’m sure it will be in the best interest of the game and what’s possible (with all the different factors I can imagine it would be quite or very near impossible to actually have it work.)
This is just my own two cents, but... Using your example of combining scenery such as rocks together to make larger rocks or facades, if any part of a rock is within the hitbox of another rock, that portion of the rock is unclimbable. Thus you eliminate the animals from climbing through or under scenery in an unrealistic way. Just limit climbable areas to what can visibly be scene. Of course, you have to take into consideration clearance as well so if the ground is within the hitbox, that portion is also unclimbable. I hope that makes sense, it does in my head lol.
 
This is just my own two cents, but... Using your example of combining scenery such as rocks together to make larger rocks or facades, if any part of a rock is within the hitbox of another rock, that portion of the rock is unclimbable. Thus you eliminate the animals from climbing through or under scenery in an unrealistic way. Just limit climbable areas to what can visibly be scene. Of course, you have to take into consideration clearance as well so if the ground is within the hitbox, that portion is also unclimbable. I hope that makes sense, it does in my head lol.
Yeah thanks. I don’t know anything about game development so when they talked about using tags on items to make them climbable I thought that was kinda it. Like the animal registers it as something it can climb on, “start climbing interaction”. So ofcourse I wondered, if he rock was angled or had another rock on it if it would work. But indeed having specific places in the rock that have to be free to perform the animation sounds logical. It still sounds like a complicated progress though.
 
Really hoping for the leopard to make an appearance. It would be awesome for them to have food or enrichment meat they can haul up a tree to eat. And that classic sleeping hanging over a branch in a tree would be perfection! So excited!
For some reason, I strongly suspect that will be DLC.
 
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