How This Weirdly Ambitious Jurassic Park Game Led to Xbox

Jurassic Park Trespasser Xbox

Yep, you read that title right. A failed Jurassic Park game is one of the catalysts that eventually led to the creation of the Xbox. Even its creator attributes the creation of the game to being one of the reasons the Xbox was made. It may not have been the main reason the Xbox was made, but it was definitely a considerable factor.

The game in question is called Jurassic Park: Trespasser, an action-adventure game made for PC. It featured revolutionary physics elements far, far ahead of its time that should have made the game a massive hit. Instead, it’s viewed as a colossal commercial failure that today is looked back on as being too ambitious. If this is your first time hearing about it, read on and take a deep dive into Xbox’s prehistory.


The Development Of Jurassic Park: Trespasser

Our story begins with Seamus Blackley. You may know him as the person who came up with the idea of the original Xbox. But back in 1995, he was known as a coder for Looking Glass Studios, a now-defunct video game development company.

Blackley has a degree in Physics from Tufts University. A degree that has surprisingly come in handy when it comes to developing games.

During his time with Looking Glass Studios, he coded the physics systems of Flight Unlimited and System Shock and was even the project leader for Flight Unlimited. He also worked on Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss.

Unfortunately, his time with Looking Glass Studios did not last. In 1995, a new manager arrived, who wanted Blackley to make a sequel to Flight Unlimited, one that could compete with Microsoft Flight Simulator.

But Blackley had other things in mind: he wanted to take Flight Unlimited’s physics engine and design a combat flight simulator with it. This led to him butting heads with the new manager, which got him fired.


The Vision For Jurassic Park: Trespasser

Fortunately for Blackley and the gaming world, that’s not how his story ends. His work with Looking Glass Studios caught the eye of DreamWorks Interactive, who hired him to be the executive producer for a game they were making. It was a video game meant to be the sequel to the 1997 film The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

You guessed it, that game was Jurassic Park: Trespasser.

Now, Jurassic Park video games weren’t unheard of at the time — Jurassic Park, The Chaos Continues, and Chaos Island are just a few examples. Even The Lost World film itself got a video game adaptation in 1997.

But Trespasser wasn’t going to be like any other Jurassic Park game. Its predecessors were mostly top-down shooters, side-scrollers, or point-and-click adventures. With Blackley’s vision, Trespasser was going to be a full-on FPS game with a mind-boggling physics engine showcasing his talents.


Problems With Development

Jurassic Park Trespasser
Jurassic Park Trespasser

So why did Trespasser fail so hard even though it was from an established IP and had a new physics engine that could revolutionize gaming?

Well, keep in mind that this kind of game had never been done before. Sure, System Shock is also a first-person game with physics, but not to this degree. We’re talking about objects accurately reacting to how you hit or touch them. Players literally controlling their character’s hand to pick up or interact with objects, and even firing guns was physics-based. There were no crosshairs, so you’d have to adjust the position of your hand to shoot where you want to and deal with realistic recoil.

No other game for the next few years had a physics engine that was anywhere near this ambitious. Half-Life 2 is arguably the first, and that came out six years later. Trespasser was always going to be an experimental game with no guarantee of success.

Another reason was an inexperienced team. Several people have never even had experience developing a game. Their art director, Terry Izumi, wasn’t a video game designer, as he designed theme park attractions, namely Tomorrowland. Another team member, George Edwards, animated Disney films, and Disney had barely even begun making 3D films at the time.

It didn’t help that Trespasser went way over budget, either. The scope of the game just kept getting bigger and ended up costing more than expected, meaning that its marketing budget was practically non-existent.


Delays And Corners Cut

Even with all those issues, the number one problem Trespasser’s development faced was time. The game was initially set to come out in 1997 but was delayed since it was nowhere near completion by that time.

Due to a deal with AMD, DreamWorks told Blackley’s team that they couldn’t extend the release date any more than October 1998. This still wasn’t enough time, which led to the team cutting corners to rush out the game in time.

Remember, Dreamworks is mostly a movie company. The higher-ups didn’t know what it takes to make video games, especially a game that was doing what no other game had before. As Blackley himself said: “The movie guys don’t understand, if you just decide a movie is done and show it in a theater, it can’t crash the theater and kill half the audience and piss them off. I honestly thought it had destroyed my career.”

As a result, several features were removed or left half-baked. Even the game’s genre shifted from survival horror to action shooter to make things simpler.

There’s even the infamous breast health bar feature; where a heart tattoo on the main character Anne’s breast signified how much health you have left. The developers intended to have that tattoo moved to Anne’s arm, but the budget and time crunches forced them to leave it on her chest.

Tight deadlines are a common disaster story in games, even today. And it was no different for Jurassic Park: Trespasser.


The Reception To Jurassic Park: Trespasser

IGN Trespasser review
IGN Trespasser review

The date was October 28, 1998. Some gamers were excited to get the new Jurassic Park game that was hyped up to revolutionize PC gaming. Only to be miserably disappointed when they tried it out and saw that the game was just an unfinished buggy mess.

It wasn’t just the average gamer that hated Trespasser. Most reviewers at the time gave it scathing reviews. GameSpot even crowned it as the Worst Game of the Year for PC, which feels a little harsh. It had potential, but potential with poor execution just isn’t enough.

Some people liked it, but by all means, it was a commercial failure.

However, they say people learn from failure, and that’s certainly the case with Trespasser. Several game developers admit that Trespasser had at least some level of influence on some well-known video games.

Gabe Newell stated that Trespasser’s physics were one of the big examples they used when crafting their own physics engine in Half-Life 2.

Even indie developers took inspiration from Trespasser. The developers of Surgeon Simulator and Octodad have both said that their physics-based gameplay styles were inspired by Trespasser.

Surprisingly though, inspiring all those great games isn’t Jurassic Park: Trespasser’s biggest legacy. No, the game’s greatest achievement is setting Seamus Blackley on the path to making the Xbox.


Seamus Blackley Finds A Way (Into Microsoft)

Seamus Blackley took full responsibility for the downfall of Trespasser, whether or not he truly deserved it. He thought that marked the end of his career in gaming. Fortunately, he was wrong.

Despite all of Trespasser’s shortcomings, some people saw potential in the game. Luckily for Seamus Blackley, one of those people was Bill Gates.

Blackley and Gates had met during the press events for Trespasser. If it wasn’t for a failed Jurassic Park game, the two would likely never have met, and the Xbox probably wouldn’t have been made. At least not in the way we know it as today.

Bill Gates helped Blackley land a job at Microsoft in 1999 as Program Manager for Entertainment Graphics. Initially, he was tasked to help with Microsoft’s DirectX, but priorities quickly changed when the PlayStation 2 came into play.


The Birth Of A Console

Although the PS2 is now known as just a console, it was envisaged as much more. Apart from running games, it can also playback CD-ROMs and DVDs, which was huge for the time. Sony was even implying that the PS2 was a competitor to the PC and might eventually replace it.

Microsoft, feeling threatened, had to come up with an answer. And it was Blackley who came up with that answer.

He figured that if Microsoft made their own console, they could do it leagues better than Sony, as Microsoft has far more resources and access to the technology of high-end PC parts. His goal was basically to turn the PC into a console.

Blackley eventually pitched his idea of the DirectX Box to Bill Gates and got it approved. The DirectX team went to work, and the smartly renamed Xbox came out in November 2001. It ran on DirectX 8.1, making it easier for developers to port games from PC to Xbox and vice versa.

It didn’t stop there. The Xbox went on to become a popular line of consoles. The Xbox 360 came out in 2005, the Xbox One in 2013, and the Xbox Series X & S were released in 2020. If you’ve been an active gamer sometime within the past two decades, you’ve probably owned or at least tried playing on an Xbox, which just goes to show the influence they have on the gaming world.

All thanks to a broken game about shooting dinosaurs.

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