Developer Journal: Themes

Chante Goodman

Community Manager
Hello Zookeepers, and welcome to another Developer Journal! Developer Journals are when we take you behind the scenes for an interview with the developers about Planet Zoo! In this Developer Journal, we will be focusing on Themes.

Please say hello to Senior Artists Fearn Hilborn and Liesa Bauwens!


Hello everyone! Thanks for having us both on for another Developer Journal, we're pleased we get to talk about the Themes in Planet Zoo!

In Planet Zoo, we have chosen our Themes based on the native continents to our animals in the game. That way, players can use the Themes to create environments that echo the architectural elements that you might expect to see within each continent, for all of your guest and staff areas as well as within your habitats.

An animal’s heritage can play a big part in how you’d want your zoo to look! My favourite zoos are the ones where you can feel like you’re taking a trip to another part of the world, flora, fauna and surroundings included! It’s a great way to explore different cultures without having to journey all the way there. We also try to think of what our players would like, what would be interesting to build with, and what kind of feeling we would want to create in our dream zoo.

Creativity is really important! Of course, you could build a very bare bones, practical zoo, but you can also have a ton of fun making sure the environments for your guests are as thought out as your habitats are. There’s nothing quite like walking through an African mud village when you’re on your way to see the African Elephants, or strolling through a magnificent Indian temple when you’re keeping your eyes peeled for that majestic tiger. We’re always thinking of what we can give the player to make sure they can theme their environments exactly like they want to – and if you don’t want something too themed, we’re also offering a more modern theme, which allows you to create the most architecturally pleasing and slick designed buildings!

The Themes that we have chosen will give players a lot of variety and the ability to create anything that they can imagine. We also wanted to echo the same sense of limitless creativity that we gave to players in Planet Coaster, whilst still keeping the Themes relevant to the animals that we have in the game.

Usually our Concept Artists will do a deep dive into a theme first. What are the core principles of this (sub)continent? What part of the architecture really makes it live and breathe that culture? They’ll do a lot of research, collecting reference images and making sketches along the way. Once they know what core messages they want to convey, they start making one big overview sketch, giving us a great look at how the Theme would come together. This sketch will then get refined into a full concept, and that’s where we come in! We start looking at the concept – how can we break this up so our players can build this using our wallset pieces? What kind of things would we want to add that we haven’t got yet here? How do we make these pieces as versatile as possible so the player can use them everywhere? The fun part comes once we’ve built a couple of these things and can add them to the game. You’ll start building that magnificent temple and then realise… what if I had this extra little piece? What if I could have this asset look like this on one side, and like that on the other so I can create variation? We’ll start going back and forth between concept and scenery, until we find a more definite list of what we need to build our dream zoo. Honestly, sometimes we’ll have built everything we thought we wanted to build, and we’ll still find more pieces to add… it’s a never ending process!

As we look at an overview concept paint, we can see which elements are suitable for breaking down into smaller pieces and which ones need more bespoke treatment, such as centrepieces and statues. These assets are a great way to very quickly get a feel for the overall aesthetic of the theme, and will give players inspiration to build and expand upon.

Statues are lovely centrepieces, and thus we have to make sure they look suitably impressive, while still retaining that theme’s core principles. We’ll always look at the region’s indigenous species for inspiration first. Take a look at the African Elephant statues, for example! These are an iconic representation of the African theme, and we’ve done them in a nice, rugged wood, as if an Artisan Crafter has spent a lot of time making them. Africa is all about those natural materials, and bright splashes of colour, like some of our cute giraffe sculptures you may have found in the Beta. In contrast, we have our New American theme and this leans towards a lot of modern and contemporary influences. Here you’ll find shiny metal, matte plastics, interesting shapes and lines (the Pronghorn Antelope sculpture is a great example for this!) over the more naturalistic approach of the African set. It’s a really fun exercise for our concept artists!

Animals are super important in Planet Zoo, so we look at their home countries for inspiration for our themes, too! We’ll dig deep into their respective cultures, try to find what really represents them in a respectful manner. We’ll look at a lot of their architecture and media, and try to find the things that would be really fun for our players to explore. When it comes to generating the 3D art, we’ll think about what kind of techniques they would use to build this sort of thing – would they use screws, or would they use woodworking to combine pieces? How will we approach any fabrics or patterns? Every day is filled with a lot of interesting questions when we’re making these diverse Themes!

Themes will have a big impact on the overall look and feel of your zoo; players will want to decide how they will distinguish different areas or if they would like to have one consistent Theme throughout their zoo, which will be an important consideration depending on what kind of animals you would like to look after. Players will want to make sure that the themed assets they place integrate alongside the habitats, as well as staff and guest areas, creating that same level of immersion that you would expect to see in modern zoos today. Each Theme has a very distinctive style with some focusing more on using natural materials whereas others are more man-made and modern. Our Themes offer players lots of modularity as well as flexibility that will enable them to build many more wonderful creations far beyond what we initially provide. Every blueprint made can be shared via the Steam Workshop to share with other players worldwide to keep the creativity flowing.

We try to distil the essence of a continent, which is tough, as much as we can, to give our players and their guests the feeling that they can be transported, even if just for the duration of their visit, to a region they may have never been before. I love going to a zoo and seeing a space that is balanced perfectly for the animal and the guest. I feel like you can enjoy a zoo even more when it’s nicely themed. When you’ve got the right architecture, the right foliage, and the right layout, a zoo can really feel like it comes to life. Your guests will appreciate that extra time you’ve spent making your zoo as nice as possible, and so will your staff – it’s a lot more fun to go to work if you get to walk past all of these lovely vistas every day!

I have to say I have lost my heart to the Indian theme! I love how it can go from really regal looking temples all the way to the cosy, lively and vibrant street scenes that are so integral to India as a subcontinent. I think this liveliness is unparalleled in any of our other themes, though I love them all very very much too. My second contender is a theme that we are yet to reveal, so keep your eyes peeled…
Loved Zoo Tycoon, so looking forward to designing and building great zoo for both visitors and animals.

Sadly missed beta (hospital stuff) but already in my head designing my Tiger Land exhibit, Savanha with mixed animals, Saltwater Croc Exhibit, Komodo Dragon exhibit....
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Another great dev journal, thank you!
I'm very excited for any new building pieces. The themes in the beta were incredible great! Can't wait to build again!
This was a nice read, I am excited to build my nearly entirely cat themed (with red pandas) zoo using all kinds of different pieces, im excited to see what we have not seen yet also like everyone else, just too much hype for this game, every day I just am looking everywhere for info i just want more all the time xD I am so hungry to play this game it is crazy :"P
Looking forward to seeing more of the East Asian theme. Though the lack of any Oceanian themes makes me more worried about the lack of any more Oceanian animals. But I shouldn't assume there will not be anymore.
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Oh I can't wait to see the new theme! Really good read :) I think it would awesome if I make different sections of the zoo in different themes, let me try everything out.
I wish I didn't see this. Cause that was also a leak for 2 animals we haven't seen yet. I want to see as little new animals as possible before release to have more to explore at launch.
Agreed, I want things to remain as a surprise!
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