DinoPark Tycoon. (children's business simulation) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Gerding
Children become tycoons as they learn how to run a dinosaur theme park in this entertaining business simulation.
DINOPARK TYCOON 1
Remember the old lemonade-stand games? Kinds could run a stimulated lemonade stand and theoretically learn the basics of business in the process. The earliest examples of these programs were down-right dry, lacking all but the most basic graphics and featuring economic models that could, at best, be called simplistic. Students quickly lost interest in these programs because the programs lacked depth.
Enter MECC. Its latest releases moves the concept of a lemonade-stand simulation into the nineties. Instead of selling lemonade, DinoPark Tycoon players are offered the tantalizing possibility of opening their own dinosaur theme park. "We know kids love everything about dinosaurs and tried to figure out how we could tie that in to a little that teaches about business," says Dean Kephardt of MECC.
Don't get the idea that this is a takeoff on the movie Jurassic Park. Kephardt says the program was in the making long before the movie hit the theater. In DinoPark Tycoon, there is no battle between dinosaur and man. Instead, children face a dutiful banker who will foreclose their business if they fail to make a loan payment.
Children start out with a $5,000 bank loan and an animated screen full of store-fronts that provide access to all the supplies and services needed to get their business off the ground. Operation is extremely straightforward and uses the mouse exclusively. If yung proprietors are stumped at first, as animated dinosaur appears and walks them through the program.
The first order of business is purchasing land, which kids can do in the real estate office. The cheaper the land, the more they can spend on their dino attractions, but the farther they are from the city--which means fewer paying customers. To further complicate the purchase decision, each dino species has a natural preference for one climate over another.
The next step is to obtain fencing to retain the dinosaurs. That done, kids need to hire a tour guide from the employment office and then head to Dino City, the Wal-Mart of dinosaur stores. In Dino City, children can call up facts about each of the dinosaurs they're considering.
DinoPark Tycoon forces the kids to think ahead. Some dinos eat more than others and thus cost more to mantain, for instance. The game is filled with opportunities to learn important businesslike distinctions such as this one.
When the children click on the Park button, the park opens and the stimulation begins. During the simulation, a click on the Park button reveals a bird's eye view of the operating park, complete with animated dinosaurs.
Once the park is running, kids will spend most of their time patronizing the stores and c arting the progress of the business in the office, where screens full of graphs and other information reveals ongoing success or impending failure. Sources of revenue include ticket sales and concessions; expenses run the gamut from dinosaur feed to yearly income tax and interest on that bank loan.
Kids will quickly learn by watching the graphs of revenue that attendance demand is cyclical, rising and falling with certain seasons. They cen set ticket prices and buy advertising to complement these cycles.
The simulation passes in time: Days, months, and quarters roll by as the children work through a variety of situations. Players will encounter everything from escaped dinos and sick employees to closed highways cutting off access to their park. It's the unexpected or infrequent situations that really challenge the business and child to respond and grow. A child lucky enough to generate enough revenue to afford a coveted Tyrannosaurus rex, for example, may be shocked when the prize attraction starts eating the other dinosaurs.
Keeping the staff paid and the dinos fed and healthy is an ongoing task that requires kids to analyze graphs and numbers and make decisions based on their assumptions. The trick is to scratch out enough profit to expand the park with capital improvements and bigger and better dinosaurs.
DinoPark Tycoon succeeds because it provides a good bit of depth to the variables found in business. There are numerous labor needs, including veterinarians, security guards, and concessions attendants. Kids will find some of these superfluous, but they'll figure out which are which only through lots of experimentation.
When the park is profitable, a child can sell the business, effectively ending the game. If the business has done really well, the player is presented with an onscreen award for best park and afforded entry into the top scores list.
MECC offers two versions of DinoPark Tycoon: a consumers retail version and a special school version. The school version includes the regular retail software as well as classroom exercises for the students and background sheets for the teacher.
Teachers are excited about DinoPark Tycoon's ability to get some business basics across to kids. JoAnna Rash, an elementary school teacher in Issaquah, Washington, got some kids together to assess to program for MECC. She says it received an enthusiastic response.
MECC's Kephardt says that the classroom testing helped the company identify some additional features that would make it easier for students to use the product, including the dinosaur tour guide that assists kids in getting started. The company also added a saved game that will help children who have trouble with the game get a head start. It gives the child $20,000 to start off with (instead of $5,000) and a park with two dinosaurs.
Overall, Dinopark Tycoon is highly recommended. While cartoonish rather than realistic, the graphics are colorful and engaging. MECC has done an especially good job of incorporationg digitized sounds in a humorous way as well. There's also plenty of incidental animation to hold the attention of young tycoons while the simulation runs.
The game isn't entirely without arcadelike excitement. Kids hungering for the gore in Jurassic Park will find pleasure in trying to squash buzzing flies between the pages of the Dino Diner menu with a quick click of the mouse. Even parents will get a kick out of this.
It's a shame MECC didn't pay as much attention to the manual as it did to the rest of the game. There's no clue given as to what's considered good business in this modeled world. It may take some kids lot of play to determine just the right mix that will drive demand. You may want to play with your children to help them past the frustration they're likely to encounter early on. Along the way, you'll probably find yourself joining in the fun--or booting the game up after the kids are asleep to try your hand at becoming a tycoon. MECC has succeeded in creating a title that will provide fun for kids while teaching them a number of fundamental business concepts, from supply and demand to profit and loss statements. DinoPark Tycoon is an engaging simulation your young entreprenuers will be anxious to play again and again.