In our 43rd episode of I Know Dino, we had the pleasure of speaking with members of the team developing the amazing video game Saurian. According to their website, Saurian is a
“game focused on providing the most captivating prehistoric experience ever developed for commercial gaming: living like a true dinosaur in a dynamic open world through intense, survival based gameplay. Players will have the opportunity to take control of several different species of dinosaur in their natural environment. You will attempt to survive from hatchling to adult, managing physical needs, while avoiding predators and environmental hazards in a dynamic landscape reflecting cutting-edge knowledge of the Hell Creek ecosystem 66 million years ago.”
The game is still being developed, but the team is very committed and has some beautiful images and videos for fans to see. If you want to learn more about Saurian, check out their website, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
We also talk about Acheroraptor, a dromaeosaurid and one of the four playable dinosaurs in the game Saurian.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Acheroraptor, whose name comes from Acheron, the River of Pain in the underworld in ancient Greek mythology; (because of Hell Creek Formation); raptor is Latin for robber (used for other dromaeosaurids); Acheron name shortened to sound better
- Lived in the Late Cretaceous
- Found in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana
- Holotype specimen found in 2009 by commerical fossil hunters, then purchased by the Royal Ontario Museum from a private collector
- Described and named by David C. Evans, Derek W. Larson and Philip J. Currie in 2013 in “A new dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) with Asian affinities from the latest Cretaceous of North America” paper in Naturwissenschaften
- One species: Acheroraptor temertyorum
- Name temertyorum is for husband and wife James and Louise Temerty, James is the chairman of Northland Power and the Royal Ontario Museum Board of Governors
- Acheroraptor known from an almost complete maxilla with teeth and an associated dentary (jawbones)
- The holotype is a nearly complete right maxilla, and there is also a nearly complete left dentary (anterior bone of the lower jaw), which is possibly from the same individual but that’s not confirmed
- Long snout, dagger like teeth and probaby covered in feathers
- Bipedal, about 10 ft (3 m) long and weighed about 88 lb (40 kg)
- Saurian has some beautiful concepts of Acheroraptor (you can find examples all over their website, plus an animated GIF that shows the process of a sketch of Acheroraptor, the result of a 9 hour long livestream session
- According to Saurian, Acheroraptor is completely covered in feathers, and has a dark, greenish body, with white feathers on its legs, and light brown feathers on the tail and arms
- Also, large eyes and menacing teeth
- And very bird like, and with the sickle claw
- Acheroraptor is also the first playable Saurian dinosaur released to the public. It won’t fly but may “fall with style”
- Can see a video of Acheroraptor in action, walking, running, eating, ruffling its feathers, jumping, gliding
- The discovery of Acheroraptor gives a lot of information about dinosaurs in North America in the Late Cretaceous. According to the paleontologists who named it, it shows there was possibly a decline in raptor diversity at that time
- Because Acheroraptor is so closely related to Asian species also from Late Cretaceous, suggests there were migrations from Asia until the end of the Cretaceous
- Acheroraptor is the only dromaeosaurid from the Hell Creek Formation, Evans, Larson and Philip found. This means teeth found previously of Dromaeosaurus and Saurornitholestes are now considered Acheroraptor
- Other theropods, not dromaeosaurids, from the Hell Creek Formation include tyrannosaurids, ornithomimids, troodontids, ornithischians, ceratopsians, hadrosaurs
- Acheroraptor is the geologically youngest known dromaeosaurid species
- Acheroraptor is considered to be a velociraptorine, more closely related to Asian dromaeosaurids such as Tsaagan and Velociraptor than Dromaeosaurus or others from North America
- Velociraptorinae is a subfamily of Dromaeosauridae
- Dromaeosaurids are carnivorous theropods closely phylogenetically related to Aves (a clade that includes birds)
- Probably originated before the Late Jurassic, but fossil record so far is only of Cretaceous
- Lived all over the world, but there are not that many fossils
- Dromaeosaurids from the Late Cretaceous in North America have a poor fossil record, mostly known from isolated teeth
- In North America, only 8 species named, based on incomplete fossil remains
- Often referred to as raptors (because of Jurassic Park)
- Dromaeosaurids had S-curved necks, long arms and large hands with large claws
- Feet had a recurved claw on the second toe (sickle claw)
- Claw may have been used for slashing, climbing, or even clawing through insect nests
- At least some may have lived in groups
- Most, if not all, had feathers
- Bipedal, but held their second toe off the ground when walking
- Had long tails, that may have been used to help counterbalance when running or in the air
- Generally small to medium sized (though Utahraptor was large)
- Some could fly or glide (like Changyuraptor yangi)
- Very birdlike (behavior and having feathers)
- Fun Fact: The K-T extinction wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs and paved the way for mammals (and later humans), but the permian extinction or “the great dying” appears to have led the way to archosaurs and later dinosaurs
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with the Saurian team (also, here’s a link to Be the Dinosaur, which Nick mentions in the interview):
SABRINA: So players play in an open world environment, and they’ll have information and you design that based on the fossil record. And there’s environmental hazards to contend with including floods and fires. And you can play as four different dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. How did you choose these dinosaurs to make as players?
NICK TURINETTI (A.K.A. “JO”): The choice of playable dinosaurs has kind of been in process. I think from the beginning we were absolutely sure that we wanted to have Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops just because that’s, you know, pretty much since people knew that Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops lived together we like kinda established in recent pop culture that there’s a heated rivalry there. And you know from what we can see in the fossil record, that’s also true. There’s, you know, lots of teeth marked bones on both sides of the saddle field, if you will.
But the other two, we’ve considered several other dinosaurs besides those two initially. And we kind of wound up settling on Pachycephalosaurus and Acheroraptor, just because they offer, you know, a different experience from the Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus. But also because you know, kind of on the other end of the spectrum in terms of size. You know Acheroraptor is quite small, and Pachycephalosaurus kind of bridges the gap between Acheroraptor and like say the younger stages of Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. So, we have a lot of consideration into what we wanted to explore in terms of playable dinosaurs, and these four seemed to offer the most variety of experiences with the least amount of overlap from what we can tell from their, you know, inferred lifestyles.
SABRINA: So did you pick the Hell Creek Formation as the setting based on the dinosaurs you wanted?
NICK TURINETTI: It kinda has always been front and center in our minds that we wanted to do Hell Creek, number one because unlike just about every other formation out there, there’s just so much preserved in the Hell Creek Formation. Like we have like extensive plant fossils. We have really, really precise stratography. You know, like we have a very good understanding of how old something is based on its position in the formation is.
And it also helps that, you know, most of the big famous dinosaurs that people know of come from the Hell Creek Formation. I mean in one place, in one community you have Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Ankylosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, and no one usually talks about duck bills, but an Edmontosaurus and Hadrosaurus is built like the quintessential duck-billed dinosaur. So it’s really kind of an all-star cast, and it would be hard to find that in any other formation that also has as much data about the whole ecosystem as well.
SABRINA: I know you’ve done a lot of research, and you’ve consulted with a number of experts. So what role have they played in Saurian? How did you even find them to conduct your research?
NICK TURINETTI: Well, first off I’d like to preface, any research on Hell Creek Formation is something that Tom and I, Tom is our map designer, and he’s also like the primary paleo fact checker. Any time a new paper on, that has to do with the Hell Creek Formation comes out, we’re kind of biting our nails going okay did we hit it right or are we gonna have to redo something because we have new data to work with? And the most frustrating one is plants, because before this neither he nor I knew very much at all about plants. And we’re still not what I would consider experts, but we’ve picked up enough through our research to have a rough idea of how things go, and we sort of live in fear that the next plant paper is going to completely up-end everything we know, because we don’t know as much as we’d like to.
I think as far as connecting with experts, the first person that I really connected with who is a paleontologist when we were working on Saurian is, his name is Denver Fowler. He is a student of Jack Horner’s at University of, or the he’s in the Rockies in Montana. And I originally got a hold of him because I had questions about Triceratops. And we were in the process of making the Triceratops model, which was one of the first ones that we made. And we were looking for advice, and essentially all I did was email him. I found his personal website, I found his email address, and I sent an email. And I said hey, I’m Nick Turinetti, I’m making a game called Saurian, I have some questions about Triceratops, maybe you can answer them. And he was gracious enough to respond, and we’ve exchanged numerous emails back and forth on different subjects, you know, related to Saurian.
His specialty is actually, I kind of mentioned it a little bit earlier, is stratographic relationships. You know how when you find a fossil in a formation, how you can tell how old it is or what its relationship is to other plants and animals, or the rest of the formation. So he’s been really awesome to talk to, I learn tons every time I talk to him.
SABRINA: That’s amazing. I found paleontologists in general incredibly easy to reach out to.
NICK TURINETTI: I think what really helps, if anyone is considering wanting to talk to a paleontologist, is they really value in my experience when you can come to them having, you know, a little bit of background knowledge to begin with. As someone who, I worked as a teacher for a short amount of time, and it’s always much more refreshing to talk to somebody who’s, you know, at least got a little bit of background information so you can launch into more complicated or higher level things without having to go back and explain from the beginning what, you know, stratography is, what, how fossil preservation works or stuff like that.
SABRINA: Sure. Speaking of higher levels, this is a question that would probably go to you Henry, one of the most interesting aspects of Saurian is the AI. Can you talk a little bit about that?
HENRY MEYERS: Yeah, I have some sad news about that actually, that’s really sad of you to bring that up. But I kind of […](00:06:11) the projects I’m shelving, that, as background for anyone who doesn’t know, I developed a kind of unique architecture via AI using machine learning, which is pretty rarely found in video games. And as I learned just kind of recent that is, because they’re, it’s, it involved a lot of experimentation to get what I wanted, and it involved research, and in the end, you know, we’re a beginning startup, we’re in a really fragile position. And it’s a risk to be in the position where you have to do researching and experimenting when really we need to be developing.
So, I’m shelving it for the time being, we’ll be doing a press release about it soon. But yeah, it was kind of a different approach to AI in the sense that I didn’t explicitly tell the AI what to do. I gave them a set of behaviors, I gave them a way to perceive the environment, and instead of telling them what to do they learned it themselves. It was really neat and it was really fun to play around with, but in the end it was just too much of a risk. I, as a, I couldn’t necessarily control them to the degree that I wanted to, which sounds like some serious sci-fi stuff, and it kinda was. But we’ll be releasing a little goodie for anyone that has […](00:07:20) developments they can play around with learning AI in kind of a non-Saurian context. But just to see that it was a real thing. And then maybe one day down the road, once Urvogel Games is a thriving game company and we’ve moved on to the Morrison Formation or North Africa, then I can start resuming my research. Because that was really my code baby, and it’s really sad to leave it behind, but priority number one is to see Saurian get released so I can’t keep taking risks like that.
NICK TURINETTI: So, TLDR is, if he had continued with it we’d be […](00:07:51) dinosaur Skynet. Just, basically, you can tell people that.
HENRY MEYERS: It already did have it. It was really interesting, when the dinosaurs got up […](00:07:59), which did happen frequently, like sometimes the Triceratops would learn that it was actually to their advantage to be extremely aggressive, and they’d just run around attacking all sorts of stuff. And eventually they might unlearn it, but for awhile you get just these extremely aggressive triceratops. Stuff like that, which can be entertaining but also you need to be able to […](00:08:20) for development, and to be able to have really strict control.
One of the places I was doing research was how to have more control, but yeah that was kind of a side step from getting dinosaurs to do what we wanted them to do, we had to do all this research and data collection and whatnot.
SABRINA: Sure. So, just curious, the Triceratops being aggressive, were they aggressive among themselves or were they going after T-rex or the other dinosaurs?
HENRY MEYERS: Basically all the other dinosaurs, yeah. Sometimes they’d be aggressive towards each other, it depends on whether or not, it depends on the way I allowed them to perceive each other. But for the most part they’d get aggressive towards the other dinosaurs, and in particular it was really entertaining to see them. They at one time, kind of by coincidence, learned that they really didn’t like the Pachycephalosaurus. So you could see them actually, they’d go running from half way across the map to attack the Pachycephalosaurus and they’d just go rampaging on them. It was really entertaining, but also not what we wanted.
SABRINA: Right. Have you heard about The Cube display in the Queensland University of Technology in Australia?
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah we actually did see that, probably about the same time you mentioned it, where they’re, they sound like they’re doing something similar to us in that they’re using kind of video game development strategies to create an exhibit that’s focused on Australia’s dinosaurs, correct?
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah, actually, they’re not the first ones to do this. One of the first groups, you might still be able to find it online, was an exhibit called Be The Dinosaur. And this exhibit was making museum tours about two or three years ago, and they are one of the major inspirations we had for Saurian in the sense that this simulation that they had allowed you to run around as tyrannosaurus or triceratops in two square kilometers of Hell Creek. And you had to worry about your hunger, you had to worry about predation, you had all these things to manage, but it was designed as an integral part of this museum exhibit. It really wasn’t able to translate into a video commercial setting. And they did a ton of work on that, and it’s a little dated now. That was one of the main inspirations for Saurian. So it’s really cool to see that, you know, there are these kind of connections happening between technology, you know, and specifically a lot of game development and paleontology and dinosaur science, things like that.
SABRINA: Yeah, very interesting. So you said that was the inspiration for Saurian. Did you have any kind of inklings that you wanted to do something like this beforehand, or how exactly did you come up with the idea?
NICK TURINETTI: I actually was still in college when I first came up with the idea because I kind of enjoyed playing a videogame called Spore, and I also enjoyed playing a video game called, it was actually Jaws Unleashed which was a video game kinda based on the whole universe of the Jaws shark from the moves. And between those two the idea kinda hit me is that, you know, dinosaurs are a fantastically interesting subject almost universally. I don’t know of very many people who don’t like dinosaurs in some capacity. And there’s always a desire to kind of get a better understanding of what they were like, what they were really like, or what it’s like to kind of live with dinosaurs or around dinosaurs or as a dinosaur. And video games are really unique because they’re the one opportunity that you can put someone into the position of looking into another person’s or another creature’s eyes, but being more than just reading text, you can actually interact.
And essentially I’ve been interested in dinosaurs for a long time, but really, coming to this realization that you can put yourself into the world of dinosaurs and experience this was really motivating. And I kind of bounced around from different dinosaur related game projects. You know I would be involved in some way or I’d follow them, and it finally just occurred to me that nobody else is really looking to do the same thing that I had in mind, so I might as well be the person who just started looking for other people that shared the same interests, and hopefully we would coalesce enough that we could put something together. And fortunately that’s happened. It’s taken about three years but it’s happening, so…
SABRINA: Yeah, that’s wonderful.
HENRY MEYERS: A couple of us just came up with this idea independently and then ran into each other through happenstance on the Internet.
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah like Bryan.
HENRY MEYERS: Bryan had his own game fleshed out. If I hadn’t run into you all I would have tried to do this myself.
SABRINA: So you guys kind of found each other online?
NICK TURINETTI: Essentially yes. Like I met a couple of the people on the team on the forums of another dinosaur game, and you know we kind of talked and shared ideas and kind of came to the realization we could do this, but we didn’t have nearly enough people to be able to do this. So we just sort of started by establishing that we wanted to be a project with a goal of creating a game where you live like a dinosaur, and we just sort of put that out there on social media. We looked through the forums for different game engines, and I don’t know how many of your fans are familiar with gaming, but in indie development, which is development that’s not attached to like a big name studio. It’s groups of people just actually trying to make video games essentially on their own. There’s a couple of different, they’re called game engines, which are just basically the tools to build a video game. And you know, we bounced, we checked out different forums devoted to each of these. And eventually you know it’s just a matter of we settled on, you know we connected with another project who was making a game in an engine called CryEngine, and over time as we were putting up the idea of having a game based in the Hell Creek Formation featuring dinosaurs, people just eventually kind of came out of the woodwork. I mean Bryan, how did you find us exactly?
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Well I found the website for Crynosaurs, and I went through your Facebook and sent you that message.
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah. So it was really cool. And without going into all the, it’s been, you know, three plus years that we’ve been doing this. It’s been a lot of twists and turns and changes in direction and Max just said we have a rule that teammates can never meet in person.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Yeah the universe implodes if we all get together in one place.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: […](00:14:49) They’ll just fight to the death.
NICK TURINETTI: Unfortunately they live on opposite sides of the planet, so…
HENRY MEYERS: One day we’re gonna own a communal house where we all have matching pajamas and we have bunk beds and a fire pole that we can jump down and eat breakfast together before working.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: That’s the dream.
HENRY MEYERS: That’s the dream.
SABRINA: So then how do you guys work with each other internally since you’re all far away?
HENRY MEYERS: Pretty much via Skype.
NICK TURINETTI: Skype is like our, the Internet is what’s making all this possible, essentially, and Skype is our main vehicle of like team communication. And we have you know different cloud storage programs that actually houses different aspects of the game, but our main means of communication is via Skype.
SABRINA: I know for, it seems like pretty much everyone on the team this is kind of a side, kinda almost passion project at this point. You all have full time jobs. So how do you factor that in, because this is such a large undertaking, and you’ve done brilliant work so far but I imagine it’s taken a lot of time and energy.
NICK TURINETTI: Oh yeah.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: We usually get together in evenings and we’ll work together and stuff.
NICK TURINETTI: Well it’s some people’s evenings. And in Australia it’s Tom’s mornings, and in Europe it’s certain team member’s like middle of the nights if they’re awake. I think that’s actually the biggest challenge, it’s like it’s not hard for once we get together in a group for us to make progress, it’s just our time zones are so incredibly varied that connecting is the biggest challenge. I think that because this is such a passion project for everybody it’s not been difficult to stay motivated. I mean, we’re all kind of still, we’re very much, you know, in love with the idea. So the biggest challenge is not so much motivation. It’s communication, but also we’re getting to the point that there’s things that need to be done that are gonna require more time than just, you know, what we can devote, you know a lot of our free time or time not spent doing real life things.
And that’s one of the reasons that we’re still gearing up for crowd funding and looking for sources of financing outside of our own. Because if we can have finances available to have people say hey, I only have to work thirty hours a week instead of the sixty five I do now, that opens up time that leads to stronger, to push on some of the more complicated parts of Saurian. (Sneeze) Bless you Henry.
SABRINA: Do you have any crowd funding projects that you’ve been planning, or are you still in the early stages trying to figure out what platform?
NICK TURINETTI: I think we’re definitely looking at Kickstarter, just because Kickstarter has such a huge community. And there’s a risk, you know, with Kickstarter being an all-or-nothing platform, but that’s one of the reasons we’ve taken this much time to build a following, build a community, and also to make sure that we’re building something that actually fully showcases what Saurian is intended to be about. There’s more than one game out there that’s involved, involves dinosaurs at this point in time, and we’re a little bit notorious amongst people who are following all this for being quiet for, you know, two months at a time. But when we do show up with new stuff it’s always ooh, aah, this is amazing. And kind of what we wanna do with that is taken together you can look and see there’s real progress being made here, there’s real concrete evidence that we’re able to do what we’re saying we can do.
SABRINA: Yeah. How many people are currently working on Saurian?
NICK TURINETTI: Oh geez, let’s check the dev chat. Counting myself, there are seventeen participants. And that includes everybody from like people who are testing the game in its current form to make sure that we don’t have any like horrendous bugs that will ruin everything later on down the road, to like 3D modelers. We have several very accomplished artists who are working on things like creature design, landscape design, floral design. Bryan is our animator for example, and he’s the one who makes everything as gorgeous as it is.
HENRY MEYERS: Hey!
NICK TURINETTI: And oddly enough, three out of five of our programmers are in this call right now. So you have a great access to people who are actually playing with the nuts and bolts. So…
BRYAN PHILLIPS: It’s like you found a unicorn. This never happens.
SABRINA: Yeah, well, since we have so many of the programmers in here, maybe you guys could talk a little bit about what you do and how work on Saurian.
HENRY MEYERS: We like to work together, that’s one thing, although that’s hard to do. Right now I’m in the process of doing major rewrites, but at least for me it’s kind of balancing the need to do kind of esthetic-focused things, like the […](00:19:52) cinematics, as opposed to like the underlying systems that go with them, which are kind of less easy to show off because you can’t really explain all the underlying codes for perception and stuff when that’s kind of going on visibly behind scenes. So it’s kind of a mix for me, I don’t know how other people do it.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: So I’m working pretty much […](00:20:11) right now. I’m making sure things move as they should. I’m also implementing the things you can do as your character, as that’s gonna be our main playable right now. I don’t know how much I can say about it though, the things you can do.
NICK TURINETTI: You can talk a little bit about it.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Well, since your character is a small predator, we’re gonna make it very quick, very agile, nimble. You’re gonna be able to climb up things and follow prey. Also hide out on trees if, you know, something’s chasing you. We’ve also made it so you can chase small prey, like some small lizards and things, which is actually very fun to chase and wiggle around.
NICK TURINETTI: I think that’s Henry’s most amusing progress up to date, is…
HENRY MEYERS: Scuttlebuns!
NICK TURINETTI: Scuttlebuns?
HENRY MEYERS: Scuttlebuns. Scuttlebuns, I was really excited for Obamadon, because there was a lizard named Obamadon. It was like the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. But instead our kind of name list right now is […](00:21:06) AI for a lizard running away. It’s really not that exciting, it’s just really, really fun to chase it.
SABRINA: What makes it so fun?
HENRY MEYERS: Just it’s got a bunch of randomness built into its leading algorithm. So it’ll kind of jib you sometimes, it’s not very predictable. So you really kind of have to be on your toes when you’re chasing it if you wanna catch it.
NICK TURINETTI: And he’s also programmed the lizard to be quite fast, as in, Acheroraptor, the thing that is kind of interesting, and this is where actual, you know, scientific studies kinda come into play with Saurian, is that Acheroraptor is not you know the typical Jurassic Park cheetah speed, fast pursuit predator that popular culture makes it out to be. Bryan, how fast did you manage to get Acheroraptor this time around?
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Fifteen miles an hour.
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah, so, Acheroraptor in size is probably akin to a coyote. And it’s not very fast, it runs at fifteen miles an hour. So…
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Plus it does feel very fast because it’s not very large, so when you’re running around you really feel like you’re going fast. When the T-rex comes along it just flies past you.
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah, and the T-rex is doing like, not really stretching itself to move at twenty. You know, and it just looks like it’s passed you like you’re standing still. So you know, some of it is related to you know how large you are versus your perception of speed, but the bottom line is that we know from looking at dromeosaur bones and their proportions that they weren’t fast animals. They weren’t high speed, running, pursuit animals. They were probably more like cats, where they would be about ambush, or short chases and then grappling with their prey. And so when you get an animal that’s not really built for speed against this little lizard that’s highly maneuverable and is just about as fast as Acheroraptor, it’s quite challenging to try and actually get close enough to actually eat it. That’s where a lot of the interest comes in. We were watching Henry run around chasing one in a test map the other night, and did you ever even come close to catching one?
HENRY MEYERS: Yeah I did, all of you were making fun of me because I couldn’t find it in the bushes, but I could totally get it.
SABRINA: So one of your team members that works on your site is Gerry, and that is Bryan’s emu. How has Gerry influenced Saurian?
BRYAN PHILLIPS: So, quite a bit. I actually have a high speed video of him running, which is, if you’re up close to the ribs you can really see there’s a bit of […](00:23:37) in him.
HENRY MEYERS: Also, he’s a morale boost. He gives us moral support.
NICK TURINETTI: We’ve done a couple livestreams, like, we’ll just decide okay tonight, two, three, or four of us are gonna work on something and we’ll stream it for anybody who’s interested. And I think universally if we’re doing that, any time Bryan has Gerry there everybody comes out of the woodwork just to see Gerry. Just because I don’t think too many people actually get a chance to get up close and personal with an Emu, even if it is over a webcam. But it’s pretty awesome.
SABRINA: Yeah. What has inspired your artistic vision for Saurian?
NICK TURINETTI: It’s kinda weird to talk about that because none of us are, strictly speaking, on the art team. So I don’t know if you’re familiar with some of our artists, but R.J. Palmer is kind of well known for his realistic takes on Pokémon. And he joined us a little, almost two years ago now. And he’s been really instrumental in kind of making sure that, we kinda make sure for him that he’s quote unquote following the rules, you know making sure that he’s not you know using color that doesn’t seem to be possible for dinosaurs to have generated, or you know, making sure that you know the anatomy of the creatures he’s designing fits with the fossils. It’s really, he brings a really neat artistic viewpoint to our dinosaur design. Like he’s, and you can kind of see that showcased in our new Rex design. It’s not all R.J., it was like a group effort between all four of our concept artists. But he was the driving force to kinda say like I think we can do better than what we did the first time around.
The other person on our team who’s really been active lately is Chris Masnaghetti, and he is a really awesome paleo artist. If you want you can check him on Deviantart, he’s got some really fantastic stuff out. And then the third member of our team is Alex Lewko, and Alex is fantastic at looking at actual fossils, and kind of looking at what their bone texture tells us and how muscles attached to bone, and giving us a really awesome idea of the animal’s appearance. And it’s not quite ready yet, but he did a ton of work on our anatasaurus. Like literally went to American Museum of Natural History in New York, and actually went and photographed the mummy that’s on display there. And like took hundreds of photos of it, to the point where we really don’t have a lot of wiggle room with Anatosaurus because we know so much about what it looked like, and it’s been a really big challenge for us to make sure that we’re matching our model and our designs to the actual fossil. So it’s kind of a little bit of a rambling answer as to where our exhibition is…
HENRY MEYERS: I mean, we could also say that, I’m not an artist on the team or not in the traditional sense, but I’ve been super influenced by All Yesterdays by Jon Conway like just because of the way it depicted, not only the way the dinosaurs look but their behavior. You know, like that image of the Allosaurus and the Camptosaurus just kinda hanging out, looking at each other. You know it’s just something you never see dinosaurs depicted doing. Well if you watch nature documentaries, if you ever see wild animals and giraffes, they have all sorts of unpredictable behavior like that, you know, that you never see them getting depicted doing.
Especially dinosaurs. Dinosaurs, whenever you see them, they’re almost always depicted fighting. So, I mean it’s technical for me that I wanna see the AI dinosaurs, you’re gonna see a T-rex hanging out with a Triceratops and not fighting. That’s, so yeah.
NICK TURINETTI: That would be tricky but we’ll aim for it.
HENRY MEYERS: It’s definitely gonna be possible […](00:27:14) if they don’t have a way to attack each other then, or if they don’t have a reason to like the T-rex is not in the tyrannosaurs territory and it’s not hungry, the Trike isn’t feeling particularly aggressive, then…
SABRINA: Yeah, that makes sense.
NICK TURINETTI: I think just, and kind of as a further, I feel like I didn’t quite fully answer your question, but major influences besides All Yesterdays, I think we can really handily point to, even so the old, really old paleo art masters like Charles Knight has been really influential because of the way that he really grounded his dinosaurs and his paintings in their environment. They look like they belong in this ecosystem, they’re just not sort of plastered against a generic backdrop. And I think the real master of that, and the person that’s been, kind of has the most influence even though he probably doesn’t know or maybe not even particularly care, is Doug Henderson. And Douglas Henderson is probably the best person that I know of who does dinosaurs in their environment to the point where he makes dinosaurs look small in their world. Like they’re just one small cog in a Cretaceous or Jurassic landscape.
SABRINA: Going back to the redesign of the T-rex, which I saw that post and it looked really cool, just in general how often do you do redesigns? Do you find yourself incorporating new data a lot?
NICK TURINETTI: I would say that we try our best to make sure that we take into account as much of the new data that’s even unpublished yet that we’ve had reliable conversations with people about. Essentially we try to avoid re-making the wheel whenever possible, but every now and then there’s something that will come down as far as a discovery. The real driver in the case of the Rex was that the model that we had was built for a different game engine, it was built to run in CryEngine. And trying to bring it into Unity caused so many development headaches that we needed to do something. And that’s […](00:29:04) And it was sort of a convenient time to revisit the rex too because, as I’m sure you can guess, most of our development team really, really likes tyrannosaurus rex, and really, really wants to be involved in making it look as good as it can.
So, I think the Rex was a little unique just in terms of we needed something, we needed an update for technical reasons and as long as we were gonna go in and look at it technically, why not incorporate some of those new findings and, you know, give our artists a chance to kind of flex their muscles a little bit. Having said that, we are actually right now working on some tweaks to our Triceratops model. It’s going to better match the fossil skin that we do have of Triceratops, and it’s also getting a few anatomical corrections based on, like for example, my discussions with Denver Fowler, just because he’s got such a unique perspective, he’s seen hundreds of Triceratops skulls in the field. The Rockies has an enormous collection of triceratops individuals. And so he’s got a very unique perspective on, if you want to make a Triceratops really look like a Triceratops, here’s what you should do.
SABRINA: Yeah. So in Saurian how are you making the Triceratops stand? Because I know, depending on who you ask they say, well people used to think it was sprawled, and then, now it’s more upright, or somewhere in between?
NICK TURINETTI: It’s kinda, it’s unfortunate that this isn’t like a local conversation, because I could show you a picture of our Trike posed from the front. And if you want I can give you one of those for the post. But our Triceratops, ceratopsians in general are really weird because most people when they think about animals that walk on four legs, if you were to get on your hands and knees, your fingers face straight forward. And that’s what we call pronation, you know. And most people when they hear pronation and dinosaurs think back to theropods with little bunny ears where their palms face towards themselves. And what’s really weird with ceratopsians is that their hands are not pronated. They’re what’s called supination. And most dinosaurs have supinated hands where their palms face each other. It’s the whole clappers versus slappers argument is the best way I’ve heard to describe it. Ceratopsians hands, so their palms face each other but their fingers are so twisted that they face forward, and they kind of have this radial arrangement. If you ever look at the hands of the ceratops, and you have to be careful about which ones you look at, and our model has accounted for this new posture, they almost have what’s like a horseshoe arrangement of their digits. They form sort of a semi-circle. And because their palms are facing each other, it kinda naturally pushes their elbows up.
When you arrange their bones, basically the only way they can fit together without like disarticulating, they kind of naturally wind up in a semi-sprawled posture. And what’s really cool is that, it’s not in a museum but there is a specimen of Triceratops called Raymond. And Raymond is like the only Triceratops I know that was found reasonably articulated. And his arm is in pretty much length articulation, and it shows that it has sort of a semi-scrawled elbow that points out.
SABRINA: That’s interesting, cool. So I know you’ve got a post about this on the website: where do you guys stand on the Torosaurus debate?
NICK TURINETTI: Oh man. I think I’ll just preface this by saying Denver Fowler, being a student of Jack Horner, and being intimately involved with the research that you know everybody got very animated about with Torosaurus being adult Triceratops, based on what he shared with us, and some of the papers that are now finally coming out that he shared, you know, the background information on with us awhile back, my personal understanding of it is what you see in torosaurus is most likely the adult form of Triceratops. With the little asterix to say that since we know that Triceratops changed significantly over the roughly one point two to one point five million years of Hell Creek Formation that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that the massive changes that we see in the animal kingdom can largely be explained that if we had data for where each of these Torosaurus skulls came from you’d probably see that most Torosaurus, like the ones […](00:33:28) some specimens of Torosaurus don’t actually really have a nose horn, they just kinda have a little foss on the tip of their snout. Thing is if you really had good data for where they were found you’d find that really Torosaurus like skulls are from very, they’re the oldest ones. They’re the ones that are like sixty eight, sixty nine million years old. And they just sort of progressively become more and more Triceratops like the younger they get, the younger geologically they get. I don’t know, do Bryan, Henry and Holly I don’t know if you guys have a strong opinion on Torosaurus and Triceratops. It’s obviously a very…
HENRY MEYERS: I think you did a pretty thorough job right there. Don’t look at me. I just start the big bird then things move.
NICK TURINETTI: Which you do fantastically, let’s not argue that.
SABRINA: So I wanted to go ask Alejandra: since you’re in charge of making sure the dinosaurs move correctly, when there are redesigns, do you have to go back and kind of rework everything like what happened with the T-rex?
ALEJANDRA SOTO: So it’s kind of a team thing. Bryan makes the animation and I put them back in the game, but yes, if there’s a redesign and great changes then I do have to remake a bunch of stuff.
NICK TURINETTI: You guys maybe wanna talk about root motion really briefly?
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Ya, I was about to say the last round we did with the Rex has made it a lot easier to get really good, fluid movement for everyone.
SABRINA: Because it was in, what is it, Unity?
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Yeah.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: So there’s a thing called rhythm motion, and basically you get the motion of the animation from the animation itself. You don’t really have to tell, you don’t have to tell the dinosaur that it has to move at this set speed with numbers and code. It just takes it from the animation. Which is something new that we didn’t have before, and it’s really cool, it makes things a lot easier to implement.
SABRINA: Wonderful. So this is a question from actually one of our listeners, Cole: how many animals is Saurian going to include, and is it really going to be just from the Hell Creek Formation?
NICK TURINETTI: This is probably the number one question we get, besides will it be on Steam and when will it release?
SABRINA: Which I was going to ask later.
NICK TURINETTI: I’ll give you a nicer answer than just saying we don’t know. But I think one of the reasons we’ve been really hesitant to give any sort of description of how many animals will be in the game is because we are still in the midst of early development. There are a lot of things we have to figure out in terms of the exact way we wanna handle different challenges. Just to give you an example, we were talking earlier about Henry chasing around chanops, which is a lizard that is under a meter long, as a Acheroraptor which is an animal about two and a half to three meters long at most. And one of the things we discovered is when we plunked this little chanops model into a fully foliaged and textured environment, it’s darn near invisible. It’s really challenging to follow. And even with the very bright color scheme it has, it’s ridiculously easy for this thing to disappear. And that’s one of the things we’re going to have to consider, is there’s tons and tons and tons of little animals from Hell Creek. There are… and I think that’s one of the things that people don’t necessarily always realize is that there are, you know, well over a dozen different types of lizard. There are well over a dozen different types of mammals. And some of them are the size of a mouse, or the size of a shrew. And I don’t think that’s at all feasible to try and include in a game where you’re still playing it as an animal that, even though it’s small, would not notice most of these animals in its day to day life.
So that really influences, to a large extent, which animals we include. The larger goal I think is that we want people who are maybe not terribly familiar with Mesozoic environments or the Hell Creek Formation to actually, when they’re playing the game, have moments of discovery just to say oh wow, this thing was here! Or, I had no idea that there were, you know, six foot long salamanders that looked like eels in Hell Creek. Which there were. So essentially it’s one of those things where, to answer the second part of your question, we were largely focused on including animals we know for sure were in Hell Creek. And that’s kinda one of the things that I also feel makes us unique, is that we’re not picking and choosing animals from different times and different places. We want the experience to be, when you’re playing this game, you’re looking at actual plants and animals.
HENRY MEYERS: In general really, really, I mean, everyone really, really, really wanted an Alamosaurus, but we just couldn’t justify it.
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah, so if anybody’s not familiar, my username for a long time on different forums was Jobaria, and Jobaria is a sauropod. They’re probably my favorite dinosaur. It was really cool to learn a couple of years ago that Alamosaurus is probably one of the largest sauropods to ever exist. And it not being in Saurian is a little bit of a sad point, but…
SABRINA: In the future I know, since you don’t have a release date yet for Saurian, so this might seem like future, but you did mention before the Morrisson formation, other formations. Do you think you’ll expand or have different…?
NICK TURINETTI: Bryan’s going to hold the whole operation hostage until we do an Oceans of Kansas.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Yay!
ALEJANDRA SOTO: So if we don’t kill each other before the game is out, Saurian is out, then I think it’s safe to say that we might move on to other things.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Yeah it’s a big if. Like if we are a huge runaway success, which if we time our release correctly and release it for Jurassic World 2 or whatever and we just get a ridiculous amount of money, like arced it, then I would be really into that idea, yeah. But the truth is it’s a big if.
NICK TURINETTI: There are people asking all the time: will you do this, will you do that. And kind of as we alluded to a little earlier, the Hell Creek Formation is really, really special, just because we know so much about the entire ecosystem. Not just the dinosaurs, not just you know the big charismatic things. And I think if we were going to look at future candidates, we’d have to look for formations and times and places that offered a comparable amount of information. Because, you know, essentially we’re building all of our assets, like our plants, all of that stuff from scratch. And in many cases there are very limited resources available to even try and understand what some of these things look like. I mean, trees usually don’t preserve in their entirety. You get a leaf, or you get a stump that’s gone through a forest fire and then was washed downstream in a flood, buried in a bunch of mud, and then was only half preserved. You know, so it’s stuff like that that the fossil record has to be really, really great. For a location you need to have a really good understanding of the temporal relationship between fossils to be able to do what we’re doing.
SABRINA: You mentioned before you want the game to be a place people can discover things about the Hell Creek Formation. I feel like you do a really good job of projecting that also onto just the website and your social media platforms. Because in addition to posting like teasers about the game, you can learn a lot about dinosaurs. You’ve got infographics and then your images and your videos and different blog posts, and even your whole post about the Hell Creek Formation, which is awesome. And you’ve got such a big online community too, with seven thousand Likes on Facebook, more than nineteen hundred subscribers on YouTube, yeah I know, and you’re active with your livesteams. It feels you’ve definitely good a good community behind you. How have they influenced the development of Saurian?
NICK TURINETTI: Well, to be perfectly honest, we’re here talking with you today because one of our followers pointed you guys out, that you had mentioned us. And so that alone has been great, to have people really are just following us from outside come to us and saying hey, have you guys seen this? It’s really cool. Or have you guys heard about I Know Dino, because they featured you. And it was really cool.
I think if you took a broader look, I mean, people like Bryan and Henry are here because they were fans who had skills which they felt would push Saurian forward, and they took the step to actually reach out to us and say hey, I can help, here’s how I can help. And that’s something that’s happened multiple times over the course of this project, it’s that our community comes through for us in different ways. And it’s not always in ways that the rest of the community can see. There are plenty of people who reach out to us privately and say hey, I can do this. We had someone in one of our livestreams, Jake was in the process of sculpting Quetzalcoatlus, and we didn’t have a good reference for Quetzalcoatlus feet. And took her about five minutes and she posted this great, high-resolution picture of an articulated […](00:42:21) foot. Bam, there we go. So I feel like they’ve contributed in many, many small ways. And sometimes in larger ways that isn’t necessarily visible to the rest of the public.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: So I think the biggest thing the community does for us is morale. It’s always so exciting to see people be excited about something we’re doing, and we get emails all the time, people saying oh this is the game of my dreams, I’m so happy you guys are doing this. And that just kinda gives you a warm feeling. And it’s like oh, somebody enjoys something you’re doing, even if it’s not done yet. Like they’re super excited about it.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Yeah, it’s like people are saying they’ve been waiting for this their whole life, it’s like yes, we’re not the only ones! So that’s a really good feeling.
SABRINA: I just asked about the livestream because in at least one case you had a nine hour long livestream; that’s dedication.
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah. Well you’ll notice we haven’t done those regularly, so…
BRYAN PHILLIPS: We do a lot of livestreams though; we do a lot of them.
NICK TURINETTI: To be perfectly honest, what happened in that livestream is pretty much just one of our like extended work calls, just with other people there to watch it. I mean we don’t really behave all that much differently in Livestreams than we do when we’re working on stuff in a group call. And I think if you were just watching the duration of the Skype calls, I mean, nine hours is not exceptional for us. There are some days that there’s a call going for like fifteen or sixteen hours, and people hop in and drop out as they’re available.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Didn’t we keep one going for twenty four, twenty six hours?
NICK TURINETTI: Maybe at one point.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: A couple times.
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah but I think there’s been a couple times where like you’ve traded off who’s hosting the call, and then in total it lasted almost twenty four hours. I work during the day, I don’t always know what’s happening around here. It’s kinda funny to come back and you’ll look at Skype and you have like three hundred messages, and they’re links to all sorts of different things. Like here’s our link to a different fossil, here’s a link to some plants, here’s a link to a funny picture of something or whatever, it’s all over the place.
SABRINA: How are you incorporating feathers into your dinosaurs?
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Everywhere. All feathers all the time.
NICK TURINETTI: Off of… I mean are you asking like…
SABRINA: Just want to kind of point out, like I know you’re adding feathers, which is awesome, and done a lot of the research, and it seems like there’s a lot of debate over, you know, types of feathers, how many feathers, things like that.
NICK TURINETTI: We draw on a lot of different resources for feathers. I think the biggest one is that it’s, Tom is really a lot better at talking about this than I am, but something that is just kind of becoming more common in actual dinosaur studies is using data from what’s usually shorthanded as evo-devo. It’s looking at how living birds and crocodilians actually developed their outer covering, be it scales, armor, feathers, from their actual genetic processes. Like how do they go from a little embryo to a fully fledged chick. And looking at how birds do this and how crocodiles do this, you can draw out a lot of common comparisons or commonalities, and that makes sense because they’re each other’s closest living relatives. But looking at how and when birds develop feathers, and what those feathers look like, has been really informative to us when you combine it with fossil evidence. Like, everybody should be familiar with Kulindadromeus, which is the little ornithischian from Siberia that’s really, really fluffy but also has like scaly legs and a scaly tail, which you can probably pick out from our aselosaurus was quite influential.
But taking data from more than just the fossil, more than just you know what’s called the extent philogenetic bracket, basically dinosaurs are sort of in between crocodiles and birds in terms of relationships. They’re in between so to speak, and when you bracket them, bracket an extinct animal by a living species and what their behavior is, their appearance, stuff like that, it is also informative. So we kind of are going beyond just the fossil record, just the extent philogenetic bracket, and actually looking at genetics to some extent. And that’s, Tom’s much better about talking about that than I am. He’s actually going to school for stuff like that, so… but I guess in a nutshell that would be how, that’s one of the ways that […](00:46:54) feathers.
And the challenge for a lot of times is that I know that many, many people are dubious about, for example, Tyrannosaurus having feathers. or Tyrannosaurus rex specifically having feathers. And I think that the important thing to remember is that the fossil record, as fantastic as it can be, is still only a tiny, tiny little window. It’s like getting one or two puzzle pieces out of a five hundred piece puzzle, and trying to figure out what the whole thing looks like from these few little bits. You know, it’s imperfect, it’s very spotty. And just because we haven’t discovered fossil, you know, feathers or for example with a specific dinosaur is not really all that telling in terms of if it actually had them. We have to look broader than that. And we’ll get places where we do have really awesome fossil preservation to be informed.
SABRINA: So really quick, who designed your logo? Because it’s awesome. The red and black with silhouettes of T-rex and Triceratops, for our listeners.
NICK TURINETTI: Well that was actually Chris Nazarus working. Chris is actually a draftsman. He works like with architects and stuff like that. He does design as part of his day job. He paleos on his street time. And we said hey, we could use a logo if anyone feels like playing around with it. And he just sketched that up one day, it’s like wow, we want this. And it’s gone through a little bit of refining to make sure that the actual anatomy of the logo better matches our animals. He’s an awesome, awesome artist.
SABRINA: Yeah, it’s really good, well everyone on your team is incredibly talented, definitely shows from the things that I’ve seen on the website at least. So, do you guys have a favorite dinosaur? I know that you might all have a different one, but you’ve mentioned alamosaurus?
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah, I’m kind of a fan of sauropods in general, but I do really like Alamosaurus too. I guess this is kinda open to everybody else. What do you guys think as far as your favorites?
HENRY MEYERS: Utahraptor.
SABRINA: Yep, that’s a good one.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Dromaeosaur, that’s really cool.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Max says […](00:49:10)
MAX (VIA CHAT): Mine would be dromaeos.
BRYAN PHILLIPS: Aw.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Mine is whichever I’m working on right now. Which in this case is the Acheroraptor.
HENRY MEYERS: Yeah that Archero was just a huge duty. I’m a really big fan of cute raptors. Cute raptors don’t get enough love.
SABRINA: So, what’s the best way for fans to keep up with you guys?
NICK TURINETTI: I think if you wanna keep your finger on the pulse of Saurian, it’s kind of a three-way split between our Tumblr, our Facebook, and Twitter. Because we’re really, we’re probably most active on those three platforms. And I guess that’s, the bigger point I would make though is that if we’ve got something big coming, if we’ve got something awesome and exciting is going to happen, if you’re following any one of those we’re obviously going to tell you because we want you to be just as excited about stuff as we are. And I’m gonna tease you just as bad as I tease the rest of these guys. There are a couple of really exciting new things coming out of Hell Creek in the very near future, and…
ALEJANDRA SOTO: I hate you Jo.
HENRY MEYERS: He won’t tell us, it’s really frustrating.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: I hate you so much.
NICK TURINETTI: So just so everybody knows, I know what they are. They’ll be aware of it very soon. And everybody else will be having their jaw on the floor.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Yeah but he’s been hinting at this for months.
HENRY MEYERS: This is like actual torture.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Every time. We’re just sitting around, having a good time, trying to work on, and Jo just offhandedly goes oh yeah, and this new thing that’s coming up, and everyone’s like Jo please.
SABRINA: Do you at least have a timeline for when we’ll know?
NICK TURINETTI: My sources tell me it’s supposed to be sometime this month. It’s essentially waiting for a paper to be published, and I’m not that well connected to tell you when it will be published. I wish I was, but I’m not.
SABRINA: Good to know. Well, thank you so much for talking with me today guys. I know you’re all very busy.
HENRY MEYERS: Yeah, thank you.
NICK TURINETTI: Just a quick head’s up: if any of your listeners are in Boston or anywhere in the Northeast on September 21st through 23rd, Max, our programmer, is going to be at a Unite conference, which is a conference for Unity developers. And if you can find the guy wearing the big Saurian shirt, which has Chris’s awesome logo on it, and the big rex infographic on the back, he might just be persuaded to give you guys a chance to demo.
SABRINA: Oh wow, that would be awesome. I wish we were based near there.
NICK TURINETTI: That’s our brief shout-out. Maybe we’ll be nice enough and send you a little copy later on.
SABRINA: If you want to that would be amazing. So thank you again, and we’ll be sure to post links in our show notes, let our listeners know this is amazing. Garret and I are really excited now, like we’re on that boat now of like when will you be releasing? Where?
NICK TURINETTI: When’s Steam release?
NICK TURINETTI: Yeah we’ll definitely keep you guys in the loop, any time you wanna chat just you know let me know. We’re happy to talk about Saurian, it’s one of my favorite things to do.
HENRY MEYERS: Yeah thanks for having us.
ALEJANDRA SOTO: Yeah.