With the licence to make a Jurassic Park game in hand, Telltale Games had to find the perfect starting point for a story that would fit into its canon without upsetting or reimagining the events of the first film.
They found it in a can of shaving cream, lost for nearly 20 years.
The Barbasol can, remember? In the 1993 summer blockbuster, the hapless Nedry's backfired plan to smuggle out dinosaur embryos in a false-bottom shaving cream can is what frees the dinosaurs and sets off the survivors' frantic attempt to escape the island.
Nedry never made it to the handoff, of course. During a torrential downpour his jeep bogged down and he was devoured by dilophosaurs, whose iconic (if scientifically unsupported) neck fans and poison spit made them about as memorable as the nasty velociraptors. But after Nedry croaks, that's it. We don't know what happened to the canister, nor do we know what his handlers did when Nedry didn't show. For something worth $US1.5 million dollars, surely they would have gone looking for it, right?
That loose end provided Telltale the perfect entry to a story contained entirely within the time of the first film - much more memorable and enjoyable than its two underwhelming sequels - without repeating or adapting its events for a game, much less retconning anything.
At E3 2011 last week, Telltale showed off what creative director Dave Grossman called the studio's "most cinematic game to date." It'll arrive later this year on PC/Mac and on the PlayStation Network, in an episodic form similar to the rollout of Back to the Future. The Xbox 360 will see a retail release containing all of the game's chapters on a single disc.
It's a Telltale Game, so this isn't a third-person action game or, heaven forbid, a shooter. It's very story-driven, focused more on puzzle solving, paying attention and advancing the story than it is action. It does have some faster-paced sequences, navigated entirely by timed button presses within Quicktime events.
In conversations, a Mass Effect-style dialogue wheel allows some role-playing choice, but the discussions don't truly branch and all arrive at the same conclusion.
Spoiler Alert: As it's a narrative game, to discuss what Jurassic Park does, we've got to talk about the story it's telling. Fans of the first film looking forward to this new chapter of its story should consider whether they want to read further.
Alright? We're cool now? Good. Back to what I saw.
In this sequence, you'll be playing as Neema, who is a profit-motivated mercenary but certainly not a stooge, nor particularly evil. Miles, her companion, is a backstabber, which is why you don't control him. While all the characters you play as in Jurassic Park will have their own agenda, for some that will mean cooperating with others.
Neema and Miles encounter Nedry's jeep and his chewed-up remains during a clue-finding investigative sequence. At this point they're not aware of the bizarre danger surrounding them; the writing and the acting in Jurassic Park the game portrays the dinosaurs the way the film did: not as monsters but as animals, albeit extremely threatening ones.
Neema, in a sequence initiated by the player, figures out that Nedry must have dropped the Barbasol can and uses an object of similar weight to simulate where it may have rolled. She and Miles are then set upon by dilophosaurs. Miles sacrifices Neema as bait to make his own escape, but he meets the requisite grisly end. Neema avoids the creatures (entirely by Quicktime event) and makes it into the jeep and ultimately safety, ending the scene.
Telltale said this will be the first game it's done where a player can fail in a way that gets his character killed, and we saw Neema buy the farm once, just to prove that point. Dinosaur types will appear and reappear throughout the game, rather than turning the entire tale into a case of "Here's the dilophosaurus level; here's the velociraptor level," etc.
The way the film foreshadowed the threat before loosing the dinosaurs is something Telltale wants to honour, too, Grossman said, foreshadowing one of his own: "There is also a mysterious new threat that even the chief veterinarian doesn't know about."
The pre-alpha version of the game we saw had yet to refine the facial movements in the dialogue scenes and some details, like gunfire muzzle flashes, needed to be added. Environmentally, it was richly illustrated and the visual style is realistic, not cartoony.
Telltale believes, with some justification, it does storytelling the best of any games maker, and above all that will be the reason for picking up the game. It's more than an interactive story, but it won't be fast-twitch entertainment by any stretch. Jurassic Park's target audience will be those who enjoyed the first film and want to explore more of the island, not visit old haunts in a different medium.