Category: Cats in Games

Stray’s Feline Protagonist Is Picture Perfect

Determined to get inside an apartment, the ginger tabby leaps onto the ledge of an air conditioner unit, then onto the roof, where he drags a piece of debris to the edge, swipes it off and watches it shatter a skylight.

Boom. Kitty door created!

The scene isn’t part of a Youtube video or a documentary about smart cats, it’s a gameplay sequence from the upcoming Stray, a game in which the protagonist is a lost cat who’s been separated from his family and dropped into an eerie, near-future Hong Kong.

The overlap (or Reuleaux triangle) in a Venn diagram of gamers and cat-lovers is pretty sizable, and for that enthusiastic cross-section, there’s no game more highly anticipated than Stray.

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Our hero gets his sustenance from bowls, needs to pause for a scratch every once in a while, and likes to rub against the legs of friendly characters he meets.

Previously we’d seen a short trailer and still screenshots, and now a video from the developers shows off more than four minutes of glorious game footage following the feline protagonist as he explores Hong Kong’s streets, back alleys and noodle shops.

The developers are clearly cat lovers: The kitty hero of Stray moves with the grace, energy and caution of a real domestic feline, and the game forces players to tackle obstacles and challenges the way a cat would. The protagonist cat gains access to a vent shaft, for example, by swiping a coffee mug into fan blades to get them to stop spinning. In another scene, the cat is startled, jumps a full pace back and lands on all fours in a way only cats can.

Everything from gait to reactions is perfectly cat-like. In the opening moments, our kitty hero is clearly injured, nursing one of his back legs as he hobbles down an alley. In a later scene he bats curiously at a drone the way a house cat would with a new toy.

There are no magic abilities or impossible inventories here: As the player, you can only do things a cat can do in real life, although you’re given a boost later on when a friendly character equips you with a harness on which B12, the above-mentioned drone, can dock. B12 can interact with man-made inventions, understand your cat’s intentions and facilitate rudimentary communication.

If, for example, your kitty character is dehydrated and stops to paw at a vending machine, B12 can send a signal to the machine, order it to dispense a beverage, then open it for the adventurous cat. B12 also helps your catagonist fight off enemies. By flashing a purple light at hostile machines, for example, the little drone can render them harmless and deactivate them.

Ultimately, though, the game designers want you to think in cat terms to make your way through the game world, and that means considering feline physiology when encountering obstacles, and feline psychology when trying to solve puzzles.

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“A new toy?!” Stray’s hero cat is curious as he meets B-12 for the first time.

The project’s lead designers are both industry veterans who decided to strike out on their own by forming an independent studio after years of working for UbiSoft, the game industry giant known for game franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Watch_Dogs. Like those games, Stray gives players the opportunity to explore a highly detailed open world.

“Our goal is to create a unique experience playing as a cat. We are inspired everyday by Murtaugh and Riggs, our two cats,” creative director Viv said. “Most of the team are cat owners as well, giving us all a lot of helpful first-hand references. Cats are always so playful, cute and lovingly annoying that it’s an endless stream of gameplay ideas for us.”

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For the game’s atmosphere, the creators were inspired by Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, a former military fortress that became a slum in the days of British-ruled Hong Kong, with Chinese triad gangs serving as de facto authorities in the lawless zone. Today, the former Kowloon Walled City is a park.

“It is also a very unique point of view for an adventure game. Exploring the strange world we are building feels really fresh when you’re sneaking under a car, or walking the rooftops with the inhabitants below unaware of your presence. Or if you want them to be aware, you can just meow endlessly to annoy them.”

Stray was originally slated for a late 2021 release, but it’s looking more likely that we won’t see it until the first quarter of 2022. Given the recent history of highly anticipated and rushed projects like Cyberpunk 2077, few gamers would begrudge a development team taking its time and getting things right rather than going into a months-long crunch period to meet a holiday deadline. Good things come to those who wait, especially in the complex world of game development.

How One Cat Changed The Fortunes Of Two Baseball Teams

The Yankees were getting drubbed.

It was the eighth inning of a humid night in the Bronx, and the Bombers were facing yet another loss, this time in humiliating fashion — they were down 7 to 1 against the last-place Baltimore Orioles, who smacked four home runs off of recently-acquired starting pitcher Andrew Heaney.

Fans cried out to the Baseball Gods for intervention, and their prayers were heard: With Yankee slugger Aaron Judge at the plate, a tiny shape streaked across the left side of the infield, just behind the foul line.

“The one and two,” Yankees TV play-by-play man Michael Kay said as the Orioles’ pitcher delivered. “Uh oh…”

The shape moved, and the gait gave it away: It was definitely a cat.

“How in the world did he get out here?” color commentator Paul O’Neill asked.

For a moment it looked like play would continue. Then the stadium’s cameras zoomed in on the little interloper, a brownish tabby. The kitty took off toward left field and the crowd went wild.

Orioles left fielder Ryan McKenna stood and watched as the little guy streaked past him, heading for the outfield wall where a door — which remains closed during play — leads to the bullpen.

Seeing no way out, the cat paused, then jumped on the padding that lines the walls, drawing more cheers from the crowd, who encouraged him as he tried to leap the rest of the way over the fence.

By the time a quartet of Yankees security guards tried to corner kitty and he dodged them — not once, not twice but three times! — the crowd was pumped, shouting “MVP! MVP! MVP!”

Almost four minutes elapsed from the time the cat appeared on the field to the moment when a Yankees employee with some brains opened a side door, allowing kitty to escape from what was undoubtedly a stressful situation. Quite an adventure for the little guy.

The Orioles won that game and the troubled Yankees looked like they were headed for a bitterly disappointing season.

The cat changed both narratives, at least for the kind of people who put stock in sports superstition — a group that includes the players themselves.

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Rally Cat, as he’s become affectionately known, on the field at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Bronx Times

Since that Aug. 2 game, the Orioles have suffered through a historically brutal stretch, losing 19 games in a row before finally earning a win last night. That epic losing streak represents the worst run of futility in Major League Baseball in 16 years and stopped just two losses shy of a 21-game losing streak set in 1900. (For British and international readers, you read that right: No other sport is as meticulous as baseball when it comes to continuity and keeping stats. Those statistics go all the way back to the first professional games in 1869. While seasons have been interrupted — most recently last year when the schedule was reduced from 162 to 60 games due to the pandemic — only World Wars I and II have scratched entire seasons from the history books.)

Fearing a curse, the Orioles’ players tried all sorts of things to change their luck, most noticeably growing mustaches. (Note to the Orioles: Playing like a major league team tends to work better than growing facial hair.)

The Yankees, meanwhile, have experienced a renaissance that has them looking like the perennial championship contenders they’re supposed to be, vaulting over five other teams in the standings and breathing down the necks of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.

With their win over the Braves on Tuesday night, the Yankees are 18-3 since Rally Cat (as he’s now known) appeared in Yankee Stadium, and they’re riding an 11-game winning streak, their longest stretch of wins since 1985. It’s a stunning turnaround for a team that had been disappointing all year, looking lifeless for long stretches.

As for the cat, it’s not clear what happened to him. Local shelter operators and animal rescue organizations haven’t heard anything.

One thing was clear to anyone who is familiar with felines: The kitty’s body language clearly conveyed fear and confusion, and he was desperate to find a way out. Any cat would be, with 35,000 humans making a ton of noise, lights and huge advertising screens everywhere, and additional humans standing on the grass in what must look to cats like some bizarre ritual.

Yankees security didn’t do themselves any favors by the way they were trying to remove the cat, Elyise Hallenbeck, director of Strategy for Bideawee Animal Rescue’s Leadership Giving & Feral Cat Initiative, told the Bronx Times.

“They should be grateful that they weren’t able to lay hands on it, because the cat would have won that,” Hallenbeck said. “The cat was severely and terribly, terribly, frightened.”

Rally Cat, wherever you are, we hope you’re in the care of a loving human and you’re enjoying some delicious yums. You deserve it.

 

 

Kitty Barges Into Dodgers-Rockies Game, Tries Out For Center Field

A grey cat sprinted onto the field during Friday night’s Dodgers-Rockies matchup at Denver’s Coors Field, briefly taking over center field as thousands of fans cheered him on.

The furball may have thought the Dodgers needed help in the field after starter Trevor Bauer took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, then got smacked for a pair of homers and gave up six quick runs.

“He’s in center field,” one of the announcers said. “Sprinting into the gap, at the track, at the wall and…captured!”

https://mobile.twitter.com/Dodgers/status/1378199161175220225

Dodgers centerfielder Cody Bellinger cheered the little intruder on as he backed up to the wall like a true outfielder, trying to escape a pair of masked employees who scooped him up so play could resume.

Word after the game was that Mets GM Zack Scott offered a roster spot to the enthusiastic kitty, envisioning the fast feline as a pinch runner. If the unidentified cat signs, he’ll earn the league minimum 438,000 cans for his rookie season.

https://mobile.twitter.com/Rockies/status/1378196822242508802

Last night’s game was not the first time a cat has taken the field at a major US sporting event. On Nov. 4, 2019, a black cat scurried out while the New York Giants were hosting the Dallas Cowboys. Superstitious fans blamed the cat for the Giants’ subsequent losing streak, but the truth is the team was just terrible and kitty was simply reminding everyone of that fact.

Cats In Games: The Magnificent Jaguars Of ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’

Lara Croft has come a long way since the days when she was the polygonal, hyper-sexualized protagonist of the early Tomb Raider games.

Thanks to a reboot the new Lara is a smart, adventurous and brave young woman voiced and motion-capped by the talented Camilla Luddington, and she’s never felt more real. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara ventures to the Peruvian jungle to chase down Mayan artifacts, and among the many obstacles in her way are jaguars.

Gorgeous, magnificent, regal jaguars who seemingly manifest out of the mist and blend back into the green inferno at will.

Here’s our new Lara, now starring in her third game:

The new Lara Croft
The new Lara Croft is a fearless adventurer and archaeological expert who travels the world unearthing clues to humanity’s past.

Like previous games, her adventures revolve around archaeological digs, ancient tombs and uncovering the history of humanity one find at a time. What would a Tomb Raider adventure be without a bit of danger?

Lara Croft
Lara crosses an underground chasm in search of a Mayan relic.

After an opening sequence, Lara and her friend Jonah head deep into the Peruvian jungle. This being Tomb Raider, they can’t land like normal people — a powerful storm sweeps in, sending their plane crashing into uncharted territory.

Lara finds herself alone, lost in the jungle without her gear. The sounds of the jungle reach a fever peach, with birds fleeing branches and monkeys howling, heralding the arrival of the apex predator of the Americas: Panthera onca, the jaguar, a name that translates to “He who kills with one bound.”

Jaguar of the Tomb Raider
“Hey there, could you tell me how to get to Lima?”

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Okay, stay calm! Remember your training! You’re face to face with an apex predator with the strongest bite force of any animal, but you can do this!

Besides, it can’t get any worse at this point.

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Can it?

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Oh shit. Even the monkeys are like “Dayum! Grab the popcorn!”

Don’t panic! Maybe these jaguars are just saying hello!

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Or maybe not.

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What’s worth noting is that these are not cut scenes — what you see here are screenshots within the game engine. For people who aren’t familiar with video games, that means you’re looking at the game itself. This is what the gameplay looks like.

We have come a long, long way from this, haven’t we?

Old Tomb Raider
The low-texture, low-polygon world of the original Tomb Raider games.

It’s a difference allowed by several generations’ worth of improved computer hardware and software, resulting in billions of additional polygons, millions of additional colors, improved lighting, physics, art assets, high definition textures, motion capture technology and all the little things that fuel progress from a world made from flat, blurry environments and cartoonish characters to a hyper-realistic, almost photo-quality world which makes incredible immersion possible.

Most of our readers may not be gamers, but for those who are, I’ll avoid spoilers here even though Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a 2018 release.

Suffice to say jaguars play a prominent role in the game and serve as the Big Bads, the game’s ultimate threat made even more terrifying by the knowledge that they can appear at any time and ambush our hero before she’s even aware of their presence.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a fantastic job of immersion, making all of the dangers of the jungle feel real through meticulously crafted visuals and sound, and a compelling story. And like everything else in life, it’s better with cats!

Cats In Games: Cyberpunk 2077

I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2077 lately, as readers of this blog may have guessed by some of the references, and it is everything the hype said it would be: A dystopian story set in a grim, hyper-corporatized, ultra-capitalist future in which the masses worship the gods of consumption, virtually everything that humans come in contact with is synthetic, and nature is a forgotten dream that may or may not exist beyond the seemingly-infinite concrete and chrome of human sprawl.

It’s Bladerunner writ large and interactive, a retrofuturistic nightmare in which people voluntarily have their own eyes plucked out to replace them with brain-interfaced digital lenses and biomechanical grotesqueness is the societal norm. A future in which a person’s life amounts to the price their internal organs can fetch on the black market and the only civil liberties that exist do so by the forbearance of megacorporations.

Even if you’re not a gamer, unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the game. It is, after all, one of the most highly-anticipated pieces of consumable media in modern history, and familiar actors have lent their voices and likenesses to the production.

One of the most depressing aspects of 2017’s Bladerunner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, is the utter disconnect from anything natural.

Future Los Angeles is so choked with smog that the city exists in a perpetual twilight gloom. Animals have been purged from the Earth, and humanity has turned to farming insect larvae for protein in processed foods. Vegetation is so rare that the sight of a single sprout near the dusty carcass of an old oak tree fascinates Ryan Gosling’s antagonist character, K.

Drawing heavily on Bladerunner — as well as the seminal 1988 Japanese film Akira, William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997), and even the 1979 action thriller Warriors (which is itself based on Xenophon’s Anabasis from 370 BC) — Cyberpunk 2077 is about violence, hedonism and human greed.

There is no room for the beauty of animals or nature in a future like this.

That’s why it’s surprising to find cats stalking the dim alleys of Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City.

Keanu and the cat.
Keanu Reeves’ character, Johnny Silverhand, is quite enamored with Nibbles the Cat.

Nibbles the Cat.
A Sphinx cat in Cyberpunk 2077.

The player’s character, V, can stop and pet stray cats he encounters throughout the game.

There’s even a hidden opportunity to adopt your own stray and take it back to your apartment in the game. Johnny Silverhand, the wise-ass character played by Keanu Reeves, is particularly fond of Nibbles the stray, who can be found amid piles of trash in the hallway outside V’s apartment.

Nibbles “doesn’t really do much besides lay around and take up space,” Screenrant notes. “Basically exactly what a cat does in real life. What an immersive experience.”

In another scene, V is conducting recon on a corporate target with Takemura, a Japanese ally, when a cat slinks by and lays down about 20 feet away.

Takemura says the cat is the first animal he’s seen in Night City, “except for the cockroaches, of course.” Then he wonders if the cat is a bakeneko, a Japanese spirit.

Night City is a technological achievement so impressive that it takes many hours just to get your head wrapped around how big and detailed it is. It’s easily the largest virtual city ever created, but it’s not just about sprawl — the city is truly vertical, from hidden subterranean depths and accessible street-level locales to highways, apartments and offices that claw at the sky, their peaks towering over ubiquitous flying car traffic.

The game is a form of entertainment, but it’s also a warning: This could be our future. Some would say it’s even likely to be our future.

Most of us are disconnected from nature. We’ve forgotten the stars and the night sky, which have been blotted out by smog and light pollution. We have wiped out more than two thirds of all the wildlife on the Earth and innumerable species teeter on the edge of extinction, including almost every example of iconic megafauna, from tigers and jaguars to orangutans, chimpanzees and elephants.

The interregnum caused by the global pandemic has reminded us that we share this planet with billions of other minds, with animals cautiously poking their heads out at the edges of civilization, wondering where all the humans have gone.

It’s fun to play in a dystopian future, but I don’t want to live in it.

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