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Zoo Tycoon aiming to have 'the most beautiful animals, zoos in gaming'

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Frontier Developers is aiming to make the animals and zoos of the new Zoo Tycoon the most beautiful and lifelike of any previous Zoo title, the developers told Polygon during a demo of the title at Gamescom today.

According to Microsoft Studios manager Jorg Neumann, in additional to beautiful animals, the development team wants to make a zoo-building simulator that is accessible to all types of players, as well as create an engaging multiplayer experience and allow players to connect more intimately with animals using the Kinect. Players will be able to use the Kinect's gesture controls to pet, feed and make faces — even dance — with their animals, creating a "deeper connection than ever before," Neumann said.

Frontier's chief creative officer Jonny Watts, whose background includes studies in biology, said the team has worked hard to make sure Zoo Tycoon's animals are as close to life as possible in behavior and looks.

"With the Xbox One, we've improved their looks," he said. "They really are the most beautiful animals in gaming."

During a demo of the game's Freeform sandbox mode, we watched as whole pieces of zoo exhibits were set down in an area. Walkways between the areas automatically built themselves, depending on how close together areas were placed. Neumann noted that Frontier wanted to create sets that were "beautiful right out of the gate." Once they are placed, players can customize and tweak them to suit their tastes.

Watts said there are two main priorities every Zoo Tycoon player should have: make sure the animals are happy and make sure the guests are happy. A zoo full of happy, healthy animals will attract more visitors and earn more revenue.

Zoo Tycoon will also feature a challenge mode where players can complete strings of tasks around their zoo, alone or with a friend, and a "hardcore" campaign mode, as Neumann described it. Players will also have access to a Zoopedia, a massive store of information on the game's 101 species and 176 variants powered by National Geographic. This information can be viewed in the game itself or on a tablet via Zoo Tycoon's SmartGlass integration.

In multiplayer mode, players can invite friends through Xbox Live into their zoo. The game will also feature cloud saving, allowing for visiting players to pick up tasks and participate in challenges in friends' zoos.

Zoo Tycoon will launch exclusively this November for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. But once upon a time, Frontier was rumored to have another zoo game in the works: Microsoft Zoo. According to Neumann and Watts, Microsoft Zoo wasn't a game but a prototype with the internal name Zoo Next.

"[When we got together] in 2008, the first thing we talked about was making a zoo game," Neumann said. "We basically made Kinectimals out of the very early prototype of [Zoo Next]. Then Disney came to us and said, 'Hey, make us a Disney game,' and we made Disneyland Kinect Adventures. And then we finally got back to the game we wanted to make, and that became Zoo Tycoon.

"It's definitely a little connected, and we learned a lot along the way," he added. "We only worked on [Zoo Next] for about eight months."