Tag: video games

Little Kitty, Big City: Play As A Cat In Tokyo

It looks like 2022 is going to be a banner year for the fledgling “play as a cat” genre of video games.

There’s the long-awaited adventure game Stray, slated for early next year, in which the player is an orange tabby navigating an eerie future Hong Kong with heavy cyberpunk vibes. Then there’s Peace Island, an open world mystery game that gives players the choice to switch between nine different cats who are tasked with finding out what happened to their humans and all the other people who have suddenly vanished.

Now there’s a third feline-centric game in the mix: Little Kitty, Big City, which offers players the chance to adventure as a playful black cat with bright green eyes. The goal of Little Kitty, Big City is to help the title kitty find its way home, but as the trailer below repeatedly points out, cats tend to get side tracked:

One thing that stands out immediately is the art style. Stray is all dark urban environs drenched in neon, with neighborhoods inspired by Hong Kong’s former Kowloon Walled City. The title cat is determined, resourceful and adept at navigating dangerous situations, with a big part of the game’s focus not only on achieving goals, but achieving them the way a cat would.

Peace Island occupies a halfway point between Stray’s hi-fidelity noir realism and Little Kitty’s polygonal pastels. The titular island is picturesque and the game emphasizes beautiful sunsets, heavy undergrowth and local animal life. The environment itself is a character of sorts, as the players will have to mine their surroundings for clues about the missing people.

By contrast, Little Kitty, Big City offers us a heavily stylized Japanese metropolis with blue skies, bright colors and a whimsical narrative. The feline protagonist has a goal, but there are also so many boxes to explore, so many trash cans that might yield yums, and yes, plenty of laptops to sit on during grooming sessions. There aren’t mysteries to solve or enemies to watch out for, just a journey that rewards the player for doing what a cat does.

The game’s creators write:

“You’re a curious little kitty with a big personality, on an adventure to find your way back home. Explore the city, make new friends, wear delightful hats, and leave more than a little chaos in your wake. After all, isn’t that what cats do best?”

Above: Stray leans heavily into the cyberpunk aesthetic with Bladerunneresque visuals in a futuristic city.

Above: The cats of Peace Island investigate their eerily quiet home town as they piece together the mystery of the missing humans.

Stray was originally slated for late 2021, but has been pushed back to early 2022. Delays in the video game industry aren’t unusual, and as many publishers have learned the hard way, rushing to release a buggy, unfinished game is always a mistake.

Peace Island doesn’t have a release date yet, and as for Little Kitty, Big City, its Steam page simply says: “Planned release date: Cats don’t have deadlines.”

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.

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!

This Presidential Pet Stuff Just Gets Weirder And Weirder

Did you know there’s a Presidential Pet Museum? Or that protesters in India burned effigies of George W. Bush because they felt naming his cat India was “an insult” to their country?

Or that one Republican congressman was so incensed by Socks, the Clintons’ cat, that he wrote a letter demanding an accounting for how much taxpayer money was spent on postage to write back to Socks’ fans?

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Catmander in Chief. I’ll see myself out now…

I did a little delving into the world of presidential pets after writing about president-elect Joe Biden’s plans to bring a cat to the White House along with his two dogs.

And man, it’s a weird world. To start with, the Presidential Pet Museum’s Andrew Hager told the New York Times he thinks Biden’s choice is subtly political.

“Maybe this is symbolic of Biden’s oft-repeated desire to unify the country,” he said. “I know that that’s kind of trite, but I’m very curious to see how this goes.”

That didn’t work out so well for Bill Clinton, whose cat Socks famously feuded with Buddy, the awesomely-named Labrador who was the Clinton family’s second pet.

“You know, I did better with the Arabs, the Palestinians and the Israelis than I’ve done with Socks and Buddy,” Clinton lamented during the final days of his presidency in 2001, just before his successor, George W. Bush, was about to take office.

Socks remains popular to this day, with a dedicated group of “Socks enthusiasts” who not only love the former White House cat, they raised more than $33,000 to finish and release a cancelled Super Nintendo game called Socks The Cat Rocks The Hill.

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Yeah, Socks had his own game. It was apparently anticipated enough to lead to early reviews and previews in magazines at the time, and featured Socks repeatedly saving the world from nuclear apocalypse at the hands of — and I’m not joking here — “Arab terrorist felines,” bulldogs in Army helmets, and Ross Perot.

According to a preview in 1993’s Playthings magazine:

“In his video game debut, entitled ‘Socks Rocks the House,’ he will venture from the basement of the White House to the Oval Office to create havoc with the President’s allergies. Along the way, while the cat’s at play, Socks must push Millie the dog out the front door as well as avoid Arab terrorist felines.”

There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I value my life so I’ll restrain myself. In any case, the game was finally released in 2018, a quarter century after it was supposed to land on store shelves.

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As the president’s pet, Socks became the most famous feline on the planet.

India, the Bush family’s cat, was often overshadowed by the dogs. While First Lady Laura Bush was often photographed holding India, the president himself was frequently seen walking his pups on the White House grounds.

In July of 2004, a crowd in Kerala, India, gathered and condemned Bush for his choice of name for the cat, a wire service report noted at the time:

Members of the citizens group Prathikarana Vedi assembled before the Kerala assembly saying that Bush calling his cat India was an insult to the country.

“This is a disgrace to our great country and this has come from none other than US President George W. Bush,” said M.A. Latheef, president of the group. “He should make amends.”

It turns out India wasn’t named after the country: Bush’s daughter, Barbara, named the American shorthair after Ruben “El Indio” Sierra, a rightfielder who spent his early career with Bush’s Texas Rangers.

 

IndioCat
India, former presidential cat. (Wikimedia Commons.)

 

Screenshot_2020-11-29 Tyger [i e Tiger], White House cat
In this photo from the 1920s, US Navy Officer Benjamin Fink holds Tiger, President Calvin Coolidge’s cat. Tiger often rode around on the president’s shoulders in the White House. (Library of Congress)

Perhaps the greatest cat-lover among presidents was Abraham Lincoln, who once vented that one of his cats, Dixie, “is smarter than my whole cabinet! And furthermore, she doesn’t talk back!”

Lincoln “doted on his cats,” and to the horror and amusement of guests at a formal White House dinner the president fed Tabby, his other cat, from the table. When his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, expressed her embarrassment, the president shrugged it off.

“If the gold fork was good enough for [former President James] Buchanan,” Lincoln quipped, “I think it is good enough for Tabby.”

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Lincoln with Tabby.

Lincoln was known for doing his thinking with a cat in his lap, sitting silent while petting Tabby or Dixie and drifting into deep thought. U.S. Navy Admiral David Dixon Porter later wrote of watching Lincoln caring for a trio of stray kittens, which the president later left in the care of US military officers, along with specific orders to treat them well and make sure they were well-fed.

“It well illustrated the kindness of the man’s disposition,” Porter wrote, “and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature.”

 

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.

eviorfemale
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: