by Marci Narum | Submitted Photos
We are not likely to see the extinction of video games in our lifetimes, but one game being developed is going the way of the dinosaurs in the sense that the players participate as dinosaurs. “Saurian” is a simulation game; the goal is to survive.
“It amazes me every day when they put out these videos of the models jumping around and running about. Their dedication to scientific accuracy is incredible,” shares Dr. Denver Fowler, Curator of Paleontology at the Dickinson Museum Center.
Nick Turinetti is the mind behind “Saurian.” The 30-year-old is operations manager of the North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth, Minnesota. But in his spare time, he works on developing the game with 11 other dinosaur enthusiasts who are also designers, programmers, and 3D artists. Dr. Fowler serves as one of the team’s consultants.
“Dr. Fowler is very confident in what he knows,” says Nick. “He also has data and real-world experience to back up what he knows. Many people don’t seem to realize that we actually know this much.”
“I was so thrilled to be contacted by them,” Dr. Fowler says. “The idea that they take it seriously and they actually have read some of the work I’ve done and thought I was worth contacting, that was a real kick.”
A native of England, Dr. Fowler worked as a researcher for Impossible Pictures, London—the production team that made the BBC’s original television series, “Walking with Dinosaurs.”
“The models that “Saurian” is doing are absolutely top-notch. They are better than what you see on TV, better than what you see in movies. It’s really quite incredible,” he says.
The game takes place 66 million years ago in the Hell Creek Formation.
“That’s the rock formation where you get T. rex, Triceratops, and many of your favorite dinosaurs. It also happens to be the dinosaur-bearing rocks we get here in North Dakota and across Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming,” says Dr. Fowler.
“We discovered and published in 2014 that if you’re at the bottom of the Hell Creek Formation, Triceratops has a small nose horn, but if you’re at the top of the Hell Creek Formation, Triceratops has evolved a big nose horn. “Saurian” wanted to make sure they got that right in the game, so they’re using the Triceratops species with the big nose horn.”
Dr. Fowler’s wife, Liz, is also a dinosaur paleontologist, and teaches at Dickinson State University.
“One of the main things [“Saurian”] got in touch with me for was a piece of research Liz and I did together in 2011. This focused on how raptor dinosaurs kill their prey. You may have seen a Velociraptor in a movie; it has a big claw on each of its feet, and they talk about Velociraptor slashing prey with this claw. Well, that’s not how it works. Our new research showed that raptor dinosaurs probably used their big foot claw more like a modern bird of prey: for keeping its victim pinned down, while the predator feeds. Playing a raptor dinosaur is a big part of the game. So how they show the claw being used is based on the behavior model that we presented in 2011.”
Despite some early skepticism from colleagues, Dr. Fowler says many more scientists are taking an interest in “Saurian” as they see the game’s quality and accuracy. He hopes “Saurian” will stir up interest in a way that brings more museum visitors.
“Children have a natural fascination with dinosaurs. But that sort of teenage through young adult demographic is really hard to hit. There’s a great deal of enthusiasm for this game. Even if you don’t want to play the game, even if you’re not into that, it’s still sort of on the radar.”
“Saurian” is in the late alpha stages of production. Nick says the development team is still adding significant aspects of what players will experience, including smell. The game is on schedule to be complete in August 2019, along with a field guide. Until then, click here to try out the current version.
“I’m hoping when the full version of the game is available that we can do an opening event here at the museum,” says Dr. Fowler. “And the development team is enthusiastic about it. How often do you get a video game launched in Dickinson, North Dakota?”
In the meantime, a new exhibit based on the Fowlers’ Velociraprot research is in the works for the Dickinson Museum Center. “Claws” will be open in time for Memorial Day.