Atari’s Primal Rage Was Actually Super Ambitious for a Dinosaur-Themed Fighting Game

Primal Rage

The concept behind Primal Rage (which came to arcades in 1994) was to make a brutal fighting game very much like Mortal Kombat, only with dinosaurs. Some might call that premise ridiculous, while others will argue that it’s actually ridiculously awesome. Personally, I think it’s a bit of both, and no, that’s not a contradiction. Not technically, anway.

This premise could have easily been handled as a low-budget affair — they could have just created some badly drawn dino sprites and called it a day — but the team was far more ambitious than that. They actually summoned the help of Dan Platt, who created bendable models for each of the fighters (based on drawings by animator Jason Leong). These models were then photographed and turned into game sprites so Primal Rage could make use of a stop-motion visual style.

If you’re interested in seeing this process in action, here’s a micro documentary about the making of Primal Rage.

Why did they feel the need to use stop-motion? My guess is that since Mortal Kombat popularized the use of photographing real models to make game sprites (a technique also used in Batman Forever and Street Fighter: The Movie), they wanted to do the closest thing they could. Obviously, they couldn’t photograph real dinosaurs, so they had to make their own.

Of course, Primal Rage wasn’t the only super-ambitious dinosaur game of its time. The team behind Jurassic Park for Sega Genesis (which released in 1993) brought in paleontologist Robert T. Bakker to make sure the dinosaurs were rendered accurately (this required dissecting a chicken; no joke). The Genesis version of Jurassic Park also had  Doug TenNapel leading their art team — if you’re not sure who that is, he went on to create Earthworm Jim.

I’ve played Primal Rage myself, and it’s quite fun in short bursts, though it does get tiresome kind of quickly. Still, it’s kind of amazing to see so much love and effort go into a sort-of-schlocky arcade fighting game, and I have a lot of respect for the creators who put their hearts into this.

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