I got to sit down with Washbear Studio developer Chris McQuinn and chat with him about their newest game, Parkasaurus. If you have not heard of this amazing little game, you can check out my initial preview on it here, and the latest update to it here. If you like city building and park management games, don’t even think twice about picking Parkasaurus up. It easily made it into one of my top favorite games of all time, and that is a big feat. Even more impressive is that this well polished game was made with just two developers! Head to Steam to grab your copy today! https://store.steampowered.com/app/591460/Parkasaurus/
Holly: Okay I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I can start bombarding you whenever you’re ready!
Chris: Oh no worries, I love the break! I’m doing translations right now and just want to poke my eyes out.
Holly: Like, language translations? For in-game?
Chris: Ya exactly.
Chris: Joy of having 8 languages?
Holly: How do you go about that? With some sort of translation programs?
Chris: Ya. Essentially we input a spreadsheet that has all the terms in the game defined by a key, and then lots columns for each language. A lot of parsing that out, sending different people, putting back in. When the game runs, every time it displays text it just looks up the key.
Holly: That wasn’t an official question, but that is really interesting. Guess I never thought about how that works lol. Good thing you don’t need to worry about hiring voice actors for all that on top of translating!
Chris: Oh ya. This is why we’d never do a game with voices. I think you learn that lesson a long time ago.
Holly: Well, I suppose that can lead into my first question, which is how long have you actually been creating games?
Chris: Let’s see. Well, Washbear is a 2 person team – so I’ve been making games in a “professional” setting since 2008. My partner probably has 5 years on me? So me for 12 years, him for 17 (wow that sounds old) Washbear is only 3 years old though.
Holly: So were you guys on a team together before Washbear?
Chris: Yup! We met at Drinkbox Studios (Guacamelee!, Severed) He was at a company called Pseudo Interactive before that (that company shut up, people formed Drinkbox)
Holly: Ahh, how cool!
Chris: I started as an indie, he was AAA, then went to Indie
Holly: Did you guys break off from that to form Washbear, or was it more of just a side project that turned into what we have today?
Chris: Ya more the latter. We had been making games on the side for fun long before that and Parkasaurus just seemed to make more sense. Drinkbox was super understanding and awesome about it – which is pretty unheard of in the games industry. Most people have NDAs, sue, etc. They were great.
Holly: Oh yeah, big time. Conflict of interest and court and all that fun stuff.
Holly: What were your inspirations for Parkasaurus?
Chris: There were a few. Mayuran’s wife actually made a paper duotang design book about what she envisioned. That was used quite a bit as a springboard. A lot of the older tycoon games definitely influenced us, DinoPark tycoon, simcity, etc. Recent stuff too though, like Don’t Starve made us want to do a day / night cycle.
Holly: So I would assume you guys are both dinosaur fans and city/sim building fans, and decided to put it all together?
Chris: Exactly. We both loved DinoPark, and wanted to do an animal sim with some new aspects. And a huge motivating factor was that so often little attention was paid to the type of exhibit, or style, or what went in the exhibit.
Holly: I have to say that is one of my favorite things about your game though, the biomes and exhibit detail is great. I am drawing a blank on Dino Park, I am Googling it as we speak and only getting phone apps. What year was that game?
Chris: Oh it is old.
Chris: The game isn’t very good, but it stuck in our brains.
Holly: That was the same year Masters of Orion got Game of the Year!
Chris: YES. (I was VERY into MOO) Now that was a good game.
Holly: It is still my husband’s favorite game of all time.
Chris: He has great taste
Holly: Okay, moving on…what was one of the funniest bugs you guys have had so far?
Chris: Oh, for sure one of my favorite was people being on fire, but just casually walking around. I still have a pic of that somewhere. I came across it the other day and it made me laugh. Essentially, guests are only on fire when there is a breakout and panic.
Holly: Oh man, that’s great. You should find a way to put that in somehow…like, a mission where we find the MONSTERS who abandoned that theme park in the Abandoned campaign, and we set them on fire!
Chris: HAHA. I had wanted to touch on that in a mission. We tried a few ideas out but it was going to be way too expensive and janky. Problem with sim games is that it is really hard to create “set” pieces.
Holly: So on the flip side, what was one of the most frustrating bugs you have had?
Chris: Most frustrating by far was the tutorial not giving the egg one needed to continue. That sort of bug was terrible two fold. 1) it was a blocker. So the tutorial had to be restarted which is BAD. 2) it was SO hard to reproduce, but we got so many reports about it.
Turned out (which often is the case for annoying bugs) is that people played the game totally different than how Mayuran or I did, ie. they’d save the game before receiving the egg, and then come back to the game later. We’d always just play through. We had that bug for a year. Drove me crazy. Actual nightmares.
Holly: Oh I bet. That is the stuff that turns your hair gray.
Chris: Yup. And our hair turned gray! Well mine mostly.
Holly: I am just so impressed it’s just the two of you. What are some of the tools and technology that allow a game of this magnitude to be done by just you two?
Chris: Unity as the editor reduced a lot of work. But, outside of that, Google Sheets & Slack. Our game design document is a monstrous google sheet, bug list another, everything we do is a Google sheet. Then it all hooks into Slack, including our repository sending all updates to it, so Mayuran and I always know what each other are up to.
Holly: If it is on Unity does that mean iOS and Android support are coming soon?
Chris: Truthfully, I don’t know. The game itself is a huge hog. It took us a year to optimize it so we could nicely get 30-60 fps on most computers. iOS and Android are tough because often there has to be a financial case for it.
Holly: One thing at a time huh?
Chris: It would still take months for each, and then you have to ask yourself if anyone makes money off premium phone games anymore. Also we use a TON of proprietary shaders, that often have to be redone for different platforms (Mayuran is a shader genius).
Holly: Does Unity have some baked in stuff for the UI? It’s very slick and just wondering how much work had to go into getting it to that point.
Chris: Unity does make implementing UI much easier than if it was our own engine (some people might disagree) Like, it makes a lot easier – but some things really hard. So the trick is knowing all of this and approaching it in a manner where you avoid the things Unity can’t do well. Experience is worth so much in development. And things like good “game feel” just can’t be done by Unity on its own; you need to know how to do it.
Holly: How long did it take you to go from a working prototype to something fun?
Chris: Hmm. Prototype to fun was maybe 3 months? Pretty quick. A ton of time was spent optimizing the code. So 200 guests and 50 dinos all thinking at the same time didn’t melt every computer.
Holly: I have been told to ask you this, from my husband who is a software engineer. Are you familiar with Jon Blow’s work on JAI? If so is that a language you would consider using for future games?
Chris: We are familiar! I think the answer for that depends on your team size and resources. For us, having a full featured editor like Unity or Unreal is key for tiny teams like ours. But, the catch is that our team (Mayuran) has a TON of experience C++ , and system, and really high level architect coding. Which makes C# much easier handle (Unity)
Holly: Did you guys always plan on the more cute, colorful theme or did you go with that because it’d be easier to render and not make computers melt?
Chris: A few reasons. One, it is a style that stands out and is different. The other gritty dino games are so done in a way and Mayuran could do some cool shader tricks to make our models really pop. And just having a colorful style is fun, which is what we felt the game was about. Whimsical.
Holly: Exactly, whimsical is a perfect definition. It’s heartwarming. The music too. I was sold the minute I opened it up. Everything about your game is great. I had no idea what it was when my Editor-in-Chief dropped it on me, and it sucked literally my entire weekend away when I did my preview back in 2018.
Chris: Thanks. I like it too! Style definitely is love it or hate it with some people.
Holly: Okay, so what is your favorite feature of the game, and why is it dinosaur hats? (kidding not kidding) lol
Chris: Haha. My favorite feature is how the biomes react when you modify your exhibit. It feels so grounding for me. Like I’m really preparing a home for my dino best friend.
Holly: I totally feel that. It’s also one of my favorite features.
Chris: And ya – the hats are probably top 5, and then when employees could wear hats I couldn’t stop laughing.
Holly: Was there anything you had to remove from the game that you thought would work?
Chris: Oooo that’s a good question. I had really wanted a mating dance when breeding. I have no idea why. And I pushed for it, and we tried it, and it was sooooooo janky it had to come out. I was devastated.
Holly: Awww! That would have been amazing though. That is a bummer.
Holly: What are your long term goals for the future of Parkasaurus? Anything exciting that you can share that we can look forward to?
Chris: Well. We would like to bring Parkasaurus to more players – so that means other platforms. We are in the early stages and experimenting with that. We need to see how it feels with a controller. If it can feel good, then ya, other platforms, maybe mobile. As for content, it is not impossible we do aqua dinos / flying dinos, but we’ll see.
Holly: Ha, I was just going to ask you about flying dino exhibits. I am all in for that.
Chris: We have done a bit of prototyping there, but it was put on the shelf for now
Holly: Do you have any other games in the works, or is Parkasaurus your only focus for now?
Chris: Nothing in the works made, but lots of ideas we’ve been bouncing around. The next few months we’ll be having more official chats about these ideas. At the moment the focus is all about 1.0, and then supporting that successfully for a little while. Then a breather. Then, new game!?
Holly: The new and improved Masters of Orion! Lol
Chris: Haha maybe. Don’t give people ideas! (I am gonna go play moo again, been decades)
Holly: Seriously though, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.
Chris: Amazing! No thank you, friend.