How Jurassic Park Unintentionally Inspired Octodad & Surgeon Simulator
While one 90s Jurassic Park game failed to find its own critical success, it did manage to inspire other devs to create their own hilarious titles.
Despite the titles having seemingly nothing to with each other, it was in fact a Jurassic Park title that inspired the indie video games Octodad and Surgeon Simulator. Generally, when thinking of Jurassic Park, be it video game, film or book, most minds immediately go towards rampaging dinosaurs and tranquilizer darts. They do not tend to venture towards a sterile surgical environment, or to a world where an octopus can maintain the guise of a vaguely functioning human with a wife and kids. But despite these differences, there is still something that connects these three games together.
In 1998, Jurassic Park’s Trespasser released for Microsoft Windows. The game takes places a year after the events of The Lost World: Jurassic Park and acts as a digital sequel to the film. Within Trespasser, players take control of Anne, the sole survivor of a plane crash on the remote island of Isla Sorna - An island that happens to be inhabited by genetically modified dinosaurs. Players must help Anne escape the island (and certain death) by solving puzzles and defeating the merciless island dinos. Even with its relatively simple plot, Trespasser was an extremely ambitious game for its time. It was one of the first 3D FPS games to include a vast open world environment, complete with hundreds of trees littering its landscape. This was something that was incredibly scarce in 90s videogames. It was also the first game to make use of ragdoll physics.
Sadly though, the ambitiousness of Trespasser was too advanced for the late 90s technology. This meant that a lot of the game’s promises, such as the idea that the dinosaurs’ AI would cycle through a variety of emotions depending on their environment, never lived up to their pre-launch expectations. The game was widely criticized and was even named as the worst game of 1998 by Game Spot. And yet, even with these scathing reviews, one aspect of the game did manage to capture the attention of Surgeon Simulator’s Bossa Studios, as well as a group of DePaul University students who went on to make Octodad.
What Links Jurassic Park, Surgeon Simulator And Octodad?
Within Jurassic Park Trespasser, players can use Anne’s right arm to engage with the world around them. With her arm, Anne can pick up objects such as crates to throw and wave around, as well as using items such as keypads to progress to new areas on the island. This arm mechanic, however, was unmanageable and not what Trespasser’s developers had hoped for. Its awkwardness to control meant that the arm often looked unnatural and its physics seldom resembled that of a human. But, while a disappointing addition to Trespasser, it was this happy accident that inspired Octodad and Surgeon Simulator.
Trespasser may have been panned for its poor controls and gameplay, however Octodad and Surgeon Simulator took inspiration from it and are praised for it. One of Octodad's original creators, Phil Tibitoski told Gamasutra that "In that game (Trespasser) it was meant to be this serious cool feature, but it ended up being this glitchy, disastrous, but hilarious, mess. It was really funny, and I think that's why we realized it could be a comedy game, not only because of the concept of the octopus being in a suit and stuff, but because of how funny it is to watch that stuff go wrong." This sentiment is echoed by Bossa Studio's designer, Luke Williams. Also speaking to Gamasutra, Williams stated how Surgeon Simulator had a very organic development stemming from Trespasser's influence. "The initial idea was just a bumbling surgeon, having to perform heart surgery with a Jurassic Park Trespasser type of hand."
Octodad and Surgeon Simulator are both ludicrously fun games. They each take the arm physics that was meant to be a intuitive and innovative feature in Trespasser and embrace the comic glitchyness of it instead. The results are farfetched, totally unrealistic, and utterly hilarious. The slapstick gameplay that comes with the unruly manipulation of each games' characters has been lauded by critics and the public. Unfortunately for the team behind Jurassic Park Trespasser's open world first-person shooter, it was just too ambitious too soon. But, at least its legacy still lives on in other more successful titles. After all, as Charles Caleb Colten famously said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”