I remember seeing Untitled Goose Game at a game convention a year or two before its release — it was semi-finished and you could only play the first few minutes of it, but there was a line around the booth to check out the demo. “That might be something,” I thought, and forgot about it until a few years later when it was released and became a colossal hit.
There’s a similar spirit at work in Little Kitty, Big City, a work-in-progress game currently simmering at Seattle-based Double Dagger Studio. “You're a curious little kitty with a big personality, on an adventure to find your way back home,” reads the first half of the elevator pitch, an intriguing enough proposition before you reach the second half: “Explore the city, make new friends, wear delightful hats, and leave more than a little chaos in your wake.” Hats! Hats on cats!!! I want it now.
Double Dagger is led by Matt Wood, a game industry veteran who left the churn of major publishers to create his own little company. He’s currently leading a small team of cat people, and discovering that it’s almost as difficult to get a virtual cat to do your bidding as a live one.
Little Kitty began as a game with Wood’s kids.
“I’ve had cats most of my life,” he says. “A few years back my kids and I would come up with ideas for games. We’d just throw around concept ideas, things like, throwing a probe into an active volcano, or having a submarine that goes into the ocean to explore, or a lawnmower game, which was very therapeutic.”
One of those ideas: “What if you were a cat?”
Yes, what indeed? There are certainly plenty of cat-character games already out there — Cat Goes Fishing, Cat Quest, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties on PS2 — but humans’ desire for feline romping knows no bounds. With his kids’ input, Wood tinkered together a prototype, and as it came together he realized they had something good on their hands.
It was happy little discoveries like that that motivated Wood to leave big, cumbersome game development behind and strike out on his own several years back. He’d worked on titles in the Half Life and Portal franchises, but grew frustrated by the slow pace of major studios. “I just wanted to make games again,” he says.
With his kids (7, 10, and 13) he would toss ideas around as he taught them some basic programming skills, and after collaborating with The Oatmeal’s Matt Inman on a separate cat-themed word game, he was ready to assemble a team for Little Kitty twoish years ago. They’re targeting 2022 for release, though there’s no specific date yet.
In teaser trailers, it’s obvious that considerable attention has been paid to … cattishness? Felinity? You know, the little scrambling climb they do over the side of cardboard boxes; the darting of the eyes when something moves even if it’s the cat’s own tail; the jaunty trot on the way to more mayhem.
“The point of this game is to immerse you in cat-like behavior,” Wood says. “I’ve been lucky in that now that people are following the game, people send me all sorts of stuff … videos of behaviors their cats do. I send it to my team and I say ‘how do we make this work in the game?’”
Their most recent discovery is a cat entertaining itself on a concrete slide. “That’s the key,” Wood says. “Capturing all those moments that make cats cats.”