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So im wanting some feedback on the Zoo simulation i'm creating

Discussion in 'Fantasy Zoos' started by dilljone, 4 Aug 2016.

  1. dilljone

    dilljone New Member

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    Hi there! Long time lurking on ZooChat but I now have a reason to post! I figured this would be the most accurate forum to post on, as this is essentially creating a fantasy zoo.


    Background:


    So to preface, I am the current president of the Aggie Behavior Network. An organization at Texas A&M devoted to professional development of those involved in Animal Behavior and the related fields. I noticed that the majority of the students are interested in going on to be zookeepers and the like. I wanted to create a program/activity to teach them real skills about zoo management and controversies surrounding zoos, that you can’t entirely get from volunteering as a zookeeper or playing zoo tycoon.

    So I've been creating a "Semi-automatic" zoo simulation "game" called SYBAZ (So You Bought a Zoo) for the organization. If it works I want to flesh it out into a distributable software or put it on a website but currently it is housed entirely on excel and needs to be run via a dungeon master sort of roll (I call him or her the Zoo Curator or ZC).

    Gameplay:


    So the way the game works is you (You refers to the group. I like to think of them as upper level zoo officials or even a board of directors for the zoo) start by buying a zoo. I give 5 premade options of various attributes (rural, urban, large, small, "random" animals etc.) and $1,000,000 of bankroll to spend. The first decision they make is deciding how much they want to spend. They place their down payment, figure out the mortgage and go from there.

    Past that phase each turn plays out with 3 months passing by. During that time animals can die or get sick, resources are exchanged, and a scenario is introduced. Outcomes of the scenario are decided by the groups actions or by a PR event that I will judge (unbiased as possible).

    Past that its rinse and repeat until we hit a predetermined milestone or the zoo closes.

    So on the backend of things it has a lot more complexity to it.


    Resources:

    Resources are equated to money. However, they are carefully researched values that are more all encompassing. This is to allow an easier time playing the game and less spent worrying about the "WHY?" a certain animal costs so much, and more about "Oh the animal costs this much per month". Resources in are comprised of admission price, concessions, donations, city appointed budgets, grants, and then resources out include animal care, advertising, salary, the mortgage, extra vet bills and then research and conservation efforts. Many of these values are affected by multiple things and many can affect other values (advertising brings in more people etc.)

    The various resource values were researched using financial reports from zoos, and estimates for animal costs based on typical diets and difficulty for a vet to diagnose the animal.

    Staff:

    Staff is also intensely simplified. Staff only (at the moment) consists of Keepers, Directors, and Volunteers. The current salary is based on the average in the US. Every animal has a proposed number of keepers needed, and you need to keep that minimum number or else the survival rate begins to drop. However, volunteers can be substituted for keepers at a cost. I created a keeper to volunteer ratio that also affects survival rates. Directors are assigned as 1 for every 10 staff needed, however directors do not count as animal related staff.

    Animals:

    Animals have a column for category, species, name, gender age, total Resource out, total Resources in, attraction rating, minimum keepers needed, and survivability. The animal categories are for simplified adding of new species to the current zoo such that I can have 1 set of values for "Big cats" that generally equates to lions, tigers, Jaguars, mountains lions etc. Values can be changed based on species.

    Survivability is the most complex thing on the animals tab however. Survivability is based upon the average, in captivity, life span of these animals. Since the game is played month-to-month the survivability is usually something to the tune of .9991 per month chance to survive. This value ensures that on average an animal with a 20 year life span, lives 20 years (Tested over numerous chances). However this value does change with age making a right skewed bell curve if plotted. Lower chance to survive during 1st year, highest chance during reproductive years and then consistent drop off after the average life span. the per month basis is calculated by a random number and if it is above the number then the animal is dead. If it is close (within 10%), then the animal gets sick.

    However Survivability is also affected by the zoo keeper number and volunteer to keeper ratio. naturally if you have too few keepers then you will have a noticeable decline in survivability ( in this case a change of -.01 makes a huge difference). The keeper to Volunteer ratio additionally creates lower survive rates if the volunteers vastly outnumber the keepers. A change of about -.004 is what I have it at now with 8 keepers and 20 volunteers. This means that for every 250 months an extra animal dies. Yes 20 years is a long time, however that multiplied across, potentially hundreds of animals, it adds up.

    Scenarios:

    The scenarios range from "Pablo Escobar has finally been captured and they need a place for his personal pet Tigers" to "Your Koala, Reggie, has escaped his enclosure again. What do you do?" to "A zoo patron has fallen into your polar bear exhibit. You have 5 minutes to figure out what to do.".

    My goal is to keep the scenarios an even mix of lighthearted and funny (yet plausible) events all the way to defining points in a zoos career. The group's outcome of the zoos decision is decided by a press release. They do not have to be long, but they need to explain the zoos actions. There are many scenarios where even the "right" decision is marred by negative consequences. This is probably the hardest role. I, as zoo curator, will try to be unbiased, and I will be researching as much as I possibly can on what happened In real life for each of these scenarios. Sometimes however I will literally be flipping a coin on the consequences.

    Scenarios have effect by changing attributes of the zoo. Typically they effect Attraction, Approval Rating, Donations received, Survival Rate, or Money flowing in.

    Values affecting the zoo:

    Approval Rating:

    Approval rating is sort of a ranking of how good or bad your zoo is seen by the public. It is affected by Attraction, Number of animals, Admission Price, and Survival Rate Change.

    Admissions per month:

    It is what is is. It is affected by Approval Rating, Zoo Admission Price, and Zoo Attraction Value.

    Zoo Attraction:

    Zoo Attraction is essetially a value that effects how attractive your zoo is. It is affected by the sum of the animals attraction values and the approval rating of your zoo.


    IRL application


    Regardless of opinion I will be utilizing this within the organization. Additionally the students will be creating their zoo in person via Legos. I wanted something for the tactile learners to mess around with, and by taking pictures throughout the course of this "experiment" the group can see exactly what progress and how their zoo is evolving. As this is not the only thing the organization does, I will be tying in scenarios to topics we discussed or recent events in the surrounding community/zoo world. My plan is to blog the entire experience, and possibly live stream the meetings.

    I know i'm not including the hardcore values or a model of the spreadsheet. Honestly on the back end it's chaotic unless you built it. I've done a few trial runs and everything seems to be at a point that its runable. I was just wondering if ZooChat had any considerations or food-for-thought regarding SYBAZ? I'm planning on running it with a few friends before getting it finalized. I know over the next year it is going to go through several reiterations and changes, but for now I'm incredibly happy that its running and fairly accurate. Thoughts or questions on values I'm using?
     
  2. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    Few thoughts;

    1) Your keepers are at present faceless values of keeping and the focus there is balancing keepers VS volunteers whilst looking at your income. That's a very basic and decent approach to showing the impact volunteers have and their importance but also in how keepers are required as well. However its a very static value and ignores a huge portion of skill. I think you want to look at including a value of skill and giving each keeper and volunteer a name and thus their own unique skill level.
    Therefore a highly skilled keeper or volunteer will increase potential survivability and breeding success of an animal; meanwhile lower values mean a harder time preserving your species; however consider also

    a) A higher skill requires a higher wage for a keeper
    b) A higher skill results in higher running costs for that species/enclosure - reflecting increased dedication and desire for resources from that keeper to their animal.
    c) I'm not sure how keeper/volunteer jobs are allocated within a species; however if you can set different tasks (or groups of tasks) within keeping then a higher skilled volunteer should not only be capable but require higher skilled tasks to remain part of the zoo (more on that later) - reflecting their interest and dedication*
    d) Investment through training to improve skill level of volunteers and keepers - not cheap but shows how proper investment in staff can result in higher quality results (of course also higher wages etc...)
    e) You appear to have random events and thus you could consider some new ones for this; a keeper being injured in the line of work taking them out of work; the injury affecting their performance by lowing their skill (showing reduced work rate; quality of work etc...);

    2) In addition to keepers consider adding keeper age to their profile so that along with the animals the keepers also age. You thus get keepers who will retire and can show how hiring someone older who is highly skilled can help; but will then have an impact when they retire (this model assumes keepers leave and do not return as volunteers after retirement - which I think is a good practical approach). Now long term considerations have to come in for higher new keepers who might be less skilled but who can be invested in - and shows if they don't the highly invested in enclosure can then suffer as a result with reduced performance.

    3) I would rename scenarios to random events. Scenarios to me suggests an overall objective/mission/set of conditions imposed from the very start of the game; meanwhile random events are more akin to what you describe - events happening through the course of the game which impact upon various elements.



    *a crude measure as even the unskilled will get bored if all they do is muck out pens; but it more accurately reflects the importance of retaining higher skilled volunteers
     
  3. Nikola Chavkosk

    Nikola Chavkosk Well-Known Member

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    Interesting point of view, overread, I enjoyed reading this.
     
  4. dilljone

    dilljone New Member

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    That actually sounds like a good idea. It shouldn't be too hard to implement either. I will see how I can add this in.
     
  5. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    Good luck! In general each layer of random and each property/factor your add increases the difficult and the number of things they have to juggle to work with so it might mean the longer and trickier part is balancing things out. However I think the more you can make the keepers and the animals individual and not just generic values the more you'll start to create a more realistic simulation.

    One further thought is to have another look at your animals. At present you've got them classified by species, however it might be worth considering making each individual animal an entity (you might make a group entity for very numerous animals where individual names are not practical - an ant farm display doesn't need every ant named but the farm itself can be). Each entity can then draw its properties from the general table; but this also means that Katy the tiger who gets ill or injured is now a named thing.

    This also means you can get more complex with the visitors; a named animal might be a highlight attraction thus its loss or removal from display* might well lower attendance. It also means like the keepers, you get a story with each animal that changes through time. Variations in fertility levels etc.... (is neutering a factor - if so consider some impacts - eg neutering a male lion might mean you can keep two lion together without any more cubs, say if both male and female are old; but also means the male loses his mane - it might just be a mention like that without any properties thus sneaking a bit of animal education as well).

    * I've no idea if you can or do at present but considering how zoos tend to have an on-show and a behind the scenes side to them I would say each animal within needs to be classed as on show or behind the scenes. Thus presenting the idea that the zoo could be all on show - for best possible gain but potentially higher stress/lower breeding success on the animals; or keep more back-stage where they can survive longer and reproduce at a higher rate. If you want another layer of complexity on top a crude approach would be animals in the behind area can be put into wild-release programs whilst those open to the public cannot (or have a negative modifier to being accepted for such programs).
     
  6. dilljone

    dilljone New Member

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    More or less that is all included already! The species classification is just to help streamline adding new animals. For example, A leopard will have similar values to a puma will have similar values to a black jaguar however each will vary slightly (attraction rating, care required, exhibit cost etc.) depending on background, random events, and the public's perception. This way I have 1 searchable and copyable value (Medium-Large Felids) to edit instead of 3. So while I see "Medium-Large Felid" the players will see "Kacy the Jaguar", "Felix the Puma", etc. etc.

    For the Behind-the-scenes process, I have that somewhat planned out as a breeding or rehabilitation event. Its not 100% there, but I will see how it pans out. If someone suggests that a "behind the scenes zoo" would be beneficial I would have to work out what to do there. The only benefits I could see (within the realms of this sim) coming from it are approval rating buffs and possibly more grant money.

    This is also why I like the nature of the sim as of now. I don't have to have every single scenario planned out perfectly, just a inkling of an idea for how to implement it should the need arise.
     
  7. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    I think behind the scenes has to be a part of it for a modern zoo because most modern zoos are more strongly tied to conservation than to entertainment even if the latter is their primary breadwinner for day to day running. So that conflict between holding animals back behind the scenes and having animal that are going to draw in money should be a major part of things. Balancing how much they can hold back in higher productivity and survival and how much they might keep there which isn't outstanding in appearance and thus isn't going to or doesn't generate much if any revenue income.