Category: Cats in Games

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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Real Life Cats Are The Villains of Nintendo’s Newest Game

Nintendo’s newest game has been out for all of one day and already cats are like “Nuh-uh.”

The idea behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is clever yet simple and seemingly tailored for the pandemic era: Using a Nintendo Switch, players control a tiny Mario Kart equipped with a camera and race it around courses they design in their homes. Because players are controlling the kart through a screen and seeing things from the kart’s point of view, the game augments the race course by generating obstacles to dodge, coins to collect and opponents to race against.

It’s called augmented reality, because it adds layers of computer-generated imagery over things we can see with our own eyes. It’s the same concept behind smart glasses and floating heads-up displays.

But there’s one wild card Nintendo’s designers may not have anticipated: Felis catus.

Nothing grabs a cat’s attention quicker than a small, fast-moving object, and the little karts have been triggering the predatory instincts of countless cats.

Some cats go all “You shall not pass!” Gandalf-style on the karts:

Others aren’t sugar coating what they think of the invasive little cartoon racers:


Finally, some cats just don’t know what to make of it:

The best part about this is that, from the kart’s eye view, house cats look like furry kaiju — giant, lumbering beasts hell bent on sending the racers careening off course.

It also begs the question: Is there anything in existence that cannot be improved by adding cats?

You Can Brings Cats Raiding With You In Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

For anyone unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed, it’s a series of games that imagine eras of history as digital theme parks filled with grand adventures, with the player as the hero in the middle of it all.

In Origins you’re an Egyptian warrior marauding through a landscape of pyramids, sphinxes, temples, crocodiles and lions. In Odyssey you’re a Spartan-born mercenary sailing the Aegean with Herodotus by your side and Aspasia as one of your BFFs.

These aren’t recreations of the ancient world so much as they’re simulacra of what people living in the 21st century think ancient Egypt and Greece looked, sounded and felt like.

The latest installment, due to arrive in December, is Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, which leans heavily on History Channel’s Vikings and Netflix’s The Last Kingdom for its visual style. The game covers the same territory as those shows as well, taking place during the Viking era when invaders from Norway, Denmark and Sweden relentlessly pillaged the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England.

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The male version of Evior, the player character.
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The female version of main character Evior.

The vikings were low-tech raiders — they didn’t have a real writing system, they left no enduring mark on architecture, their smithing techniques were inferior and their technological contributions to humanity were limited to shipbuilding and seafaring.

They raided the Anglo-Saxons, in short, because they wanted to loot shiny shit. Gold and silver chalices, precious gems, crucifixes, woodwork, iron weapons, anything of value worth hauling back to Scandinavia.

In Valhalla, players will assemble their own raiding parties, and apparently they can take cats. The video below shows the player character recruiting a “raider cat” for his longboat. There’s a short sidequest involved. From there, the cat accompanies the player and his vikings across the sea. Like a typical feline, the game’s cat likes to sleep and is usually found curled up in the front of the longboat, but don’t expect kitty to help out when the fighting starts:

“Stray” Lets Gamers Play As A Cat In Hong Kong

After 2015’s Shelter 2 — in which gamers take on the role of a female Lynx protecting her cubs in the wild — proved there’s a real audience for games from a cat’s perspective, there have been a few feline-centric games coming down the development pipeline.

None of them, however, look as unique and fascinating as Stray, a newly-unveiled title in which players take the role of a cat surviving in a post-human future Hong Kong.

The game’s trailer is spectacular, following an orange tabby cat navigating a neon-lit urban landscape populated only by machines. Details about the narrative haven’t been revealed and it’s not clear what happened to humanity in the game’s universe, but cats are alive and well in Stray, and it looks like they’ve manipulated robots into serving them the same way they had humans wrapped around their little paws.

“I will throw my money at anything that lets me play as a cat,” one Youtube user posted.

“There’d better be a meow button,” another wrote.

Although it’s early yet and we haven’t seen gameplay videos, the cat depicted in the trailer is exceptionally well-modeled and rendered by game artists who clearly love the little furballs. The feline’s gait, movements and vocalizations are spot-on.

Stray will be a PS4/5 exclusive at launch (boo!) but will also have a PC release, presumably at least a few months later. We’ll be watching eagerly for more news about this interesting and unique game, which is slated for a 2021 release.

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The feline player character seen in the trailer sports a backpack which could serve as a player inventory or hide gadgets. We always knew cats were smarter than they let on.
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A mother lynx and her cubs in Shelter 2, which employs heavily stylized visuals to represent animals and their environment.
Peace Island
Peace Island is another game currently in development that will allow players to control cats, who are the protagonists of the game.

 

The Cats of Star Trek

Fair warning: It’s about to get real nerdy up in here.

Cats have been a mainstay in science fiction, more so than any other animal.

Whether it’s Cordwainer Smith’s spacefaring cats obliterating aliens in “The Game of Rat and Dragon,” Sigourney Weaver’s Jonesy the Nostromo ship cat surviving the eponymous Alien, or Fritz Lieber’s beloved Gummitch the Super Kitten, felines have long played major roles in speculative fiction.

They’ve been mousers on interstellar starships, companions on long-haul freighters and — like Speaker to Animals, the Kzin from Larry Niven’s classic science fiction novel Ringworld — warriors of galactic repute leading dangerous expeditions to alien worlds.

Star Trek is no different.

Mention the topic of cats to any Trekkie and the first thing that probably comes to mind is Spot, the orange tabby cat who belonged to Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Spot was a mainstay on the Enterprise-D, earning the respect of the Klingon Commander Worf and serving as Data’s muse for a hilarious poem in the cat’s honor, “Ode to Spot.”

One of the highlights of Star Trek: The Next Generation is watching the gruff Klingon learn that, unlike dogs, cats don’t give a damn about commands.

But cats play a much bigger role in the wider Star Trek universe than even many Trekkies realize.

The Caitians

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A Caitian science officer in his Starfleet uniform. Source: STO

As fans of Star Trek know, the Federation is an alliance of peaceful worlds and races committed to exploration of the galaxy, friendship with new species and non-interference with developing civilizations.

What many may not realize, however, is just how many species are involved in the Federation. Some, like the Bajorans, Andorians and Betazoids, are seen pretty frequently in Trek shows and movies, but others have made only a few on-screen appearances.

Among the latter are the Caitians, described in Memory Alpha (the wiki of canon for Star trek) as “a warp-capable species resembling felines.”

Their home planet is known as Cait to other races, and Ferasa to the Caitians themselves, and is located within the Lynx constellation. They made their first live-action appearance in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:

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A Caitian Starfleet officer from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Because of its origins as a network television show, budget has always been a major factor in the way aliens are depicted in Star Trek.

The show’s writers have come up with an elaborate back story for why so many alien species are humanoid, closely representing humankind, but the minor differences of most species — the ridged foreheads of Klingons and elfin ears of Vulcans — are for the most part remnants from the days when production crews had little money or time to create elaborate props and effects.

It’s also the reason why the Klingons, for example, were radically redesigned in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, with its lavish budget and SFX.

Klingons
Klingons have been redesigned several times through the decades thanks to larger budgets and advances in special effects.

With a species like the Caitians, however, you either go all-in or not-at-all. That’s why the species has made only three appearances in Trek films to date, and why most of their exploits have been reserved for Trek novels and comics.

But the internet loves cats, and Star Trek Online, the massively multiplayer online game set in the Trek universe, saw enormous positive feedback when it added Caitians as a playable species back in 2011.

Here’s my very own Caitian starfleet captain from the game:

Buddy Trek
My Caitian character: The blue uniform indicates he rose through the ranks as a science officer before becoming a member of Starfleet’s admirality.

According to Star Trek lore, the Caitians share distant ancestry with the Kzin, the aforementioned war-like race of feline aliens from Niven’s Ringworld books.

That’s because Niven himself had a run as a writer for Trek comic books in the 1980s, and wrote his own creation into the wider Star Trek universe.

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Kzinti warriors from Larry Niven’s Ringworld. The feline aliens were later introduced to the Star Trek universe by Niven himself when he penned a series of Trek comics.

 

Just like cats have a range of personalities, and breeds have their own unique characteristics — the gentle giant Maine Coons, the talkative Siamese — the felines of Star Trek have different lineages and dispositions.

While the Caitians are peaceful and staunch allies of humans and the Federation, the Kzinti are a bunch of war-loving lunatics who find great joy in blowing things up.

Thanks — or no thanks — to JJ Abrams, there are even “sexy Caitians,” like the pair we see in 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. In the film we see Captain James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine, waking up in a bed with two women. Both women have long, feline tails, and Abrams would later confirm they’re the alternate universe version of Caitians.

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These Caitians are quite different. (Star Treek 2009 reboot.)

Maybe, just maybe, a handful of you non-Trekkies have made it this far. Maybe your love of cats kept you interested in this story, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I wonder what Star Trek is all about…”

In the spirit of the Federation, I leave you this parting gift. During these dark days of quarantine, should you browse Netflix and find yourself tempted by Star Trek: The Next Generation, here’s a guide to the entire cast that imagines each of them as cats. And not just any cats: Each kitty resembles its Enterprise crew counterpart.

Live long, my friends, and prosper!

(Star Trek Cats by artist Jenny Parks. Check out more at her site!)

Cats of Star Trek
Credit:Jenny Parks
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The crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation as kitties. Credit: Jenny Parks