This week, two of the most passionate online communities – gamers and cat lovers – are facing the release of a new video game in which you can play as an adorable ginger tabby cat.
Created by independent French gaming company BlueTwelve Studio and published by Annapurna Interactive, Stray was released on Tuesday for PlayStation 4 and 5, as well as PC. It quickly became an online phenomenon, delightful people so are cats.
We had to know: is it really a cat’s meow? So we tried it out for ourselves, paying $30 to download for PlayStation 5. It immediately became clear why Stray appeals to gamers (cat lovers), people who just like cats, and real cats. It’s beautifully animated and offers a respite from video games that are often noisy and action packed. In addition, playing as a cat is unusual and fun. You could even call it meow ching.
While the game’s dystopia, which is mostly set in a city falling apart, can be sad and lonely, the adventure (and choice of protagonist) served as a welcome distraction from some of the dystopian headlines we’ve had in Our Own World: while we’ve been playing, forest fires and the heat raged on several continents, but for a while we were just a red cat wandering around an unfamiliar city.
The game begins in a magnificent, peaceful, green space, similar to the remnants of an urban infrastructure. You control the main character, who is quickly separated from his cat family, falling into a seemingly deserted city far below.
From there, “Stray” gets a little confusing. It is clear that some major destructive event has taken place in this city, and the game is focused on solving the mystery of what happened and returning home. As you soon realize, the city isn’t completely deserted: there are no people here, but there is a small robotic drone called B-12 that helps you read the signs and piece together what’s going on in your new environment; humanoid robots with heads shaped like old-school desktop computers; and tick-like creatures called “Zurks” that will occasionally attack and try to kill you.
Aside from the occasional frenzy of excitement, you spend most of your time learning how a cat is: figuring out what surfaces you can jump on, what objects you can pick up or knock over, and what kinds of feline behaviors you can use. There is, of course, a special “meow” button.
What struck us about the game is the balance between specific tasks or goals and the ability for users to explore freely. One of us doesn’t play video games at all and the other is more accustomed, but Stray suited both our interests and skill level. Overall, it was fun to figure it out, although it took some time to improve our gameplay.
“The intention was to keep it minimal, but make sure everything needed to keep the game still available,” BlueTwelve producer Swann-Martin Raget told CNN Business. “You understand naturally without thinking too much and not necessarily participating in a… quest or challenge list.”
Lane Nooney, an assistant professor of media and video games at New York University, attributed the sudden popularity of Tramp to several qualities: it has a charming story, it’s well thought out, it’s fun to play, and it incorporates the Internet. unofficial mascot.
“Playing as an animal allows us to ‘rest’ our human brain in a way,” Nooney said. “Even though we’re trying to guide this cat through a scary world, the stakes are small and manageable – a welcome relief from an increasingly chaotic news cycle.”
Luckily, we did feel a little more relaxed during the game. This is partly due to its pace, which goes as fast as a cat can wander through a deserted cityscape, stopping from time to time to feast on water or take a nap. It was also the result of small, thoughtful details in the game: simply pressing the “meow” button on a handheld controller repeatedly, scratching the bark of a tree, or touching other kittens with your nose was soothing.
Why make the cat the main character of the game? According to Rage, this decision was due to several factors.
First, it is the nature of the universe in which the game takes place. The dystopian city in The Tramp is inspired by the Kowloon Walled City, a settlement in Hong Kong that was considered the most densely populated place on Earth before it was destroyed within two years. decades ago.
However, while the Kowloon Walled City was populated by people, BlueTwelve’s two co-founders, both artists, “began to realize that it really is the perfect playground for cats – the number of little passages, the fresh perspective it gives to the world that they were building,” Raget said.
Perhaps more importantly, the BlueTwelve team is obsessed with cats. The studio’s office in the south of France has two full-time cat executives (“Sometimes they turn off our computers when we’re going to save our work,” Rager said), and most of the studio’s employees own and love cats. .
In fact, the protagonist of Stray is largely based on Murtaugh, a stray cat that the founders of BlueTwelve found and adopted a few years ago.
BlueTwelve’s passion for felines resonates with consumers who are used to “tramps” like catnip. It’s one of the most popular games on Steam, one of two platforms it’s available on – almost 50,000 people played it on Thursday, just two days after it launched, and over 21,000 of those who bought the game on Steam. left “overwhelmingly positive” reviews. .
“If you want to be a cat, Stray is your best bet,” said one review.
Sony PlayStation, the other platform on which Stray is available (and the one on which we bought and played it), did not answer the question of how many copies of the game have been sold so far, and BlueTwelve refused to share sales data. . (When asked about sales through its platform, Steam told CNN Business to contact the game’s publisher, Annapurna Interactive; Annapurna Interactive declined to comment.)
BlueTwelve, which was created just over five years ago with the goal of making this game, hasn’t thought about what its next project might be.
Right now, according to Rajet, they are just “overwhelmed” by the reaction to Stray.
Humans aren’t the only fans of the game. Ever since Stray launched earlier this week, social media has been full of pet cats fascinated by their orange counterpart on screen. (There is no information yet on whether any of them pressed the “paws” button.)
BlueTwelve realized early on that Stray could have this effect thanks to their house cats, Miko and Jun.
“When the cats in the office started reacting to what was happening on our screens, I think we felt we were moving in the right direction,” Raget said.
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