If you feel shocked by the general state of the world entering 2022 and need a pickup, here’s an idea for you: How about taking a bunch of pictures of cute dogs?
Specifically, the dogs in Pupperazzi, the latest game from indie studio Sundae Month. It is for the most part, per. main developer Isobel Shasha what’s on the can. “It’s a game where you take pictures of dogs, and I think people can really connect with that.”
When I myself popped into Pupperazzi the other day, I find out that Shasha is absolutely right. I show up in front of a beach hut where a relaxed puppy named Sea Dog instructs me on how to use my camera and demands a picture of himself before I let loose on a dog-covered beach to take pictures of my heart’s desire. There are a bunch of dogs, big and small in all different colors, chasing each other around the beach, and when I first pet them, they also happily follow me. I can throw a stick or (silly) a banana for them to run after, or try to put up a nice picture of a happy dog sitting in front of the lighthouse at the end of the beach, framed by the sea. And then I upload my pictures to “Dog Net”, a social network in the game where I receive feedback on my many pictures until my audience gets annoyed at me because I spammed them with cute dog pictures (how dare it!) And stop temporarily judging them. .
Shasha has been working on Sundae Month since the studio started eight years ago, when its founders met in Vermont at Champlain College. The team, which currently consists of between ten and 11 people working at Pupperazzi, has an eclectic portfolio, including a side-scrolling comedy-adventure game called Dad Quest, where you use your immortal child as a weapon, and the anti-adventure game Diaries of a space harbor caretaker. They have also kept the light on by taking lots of work for external clients, mostly game development as well as some educational apps.
Maintaining that balance has meant that Sundae Month has quietly had to cancel a lot of projects, Shasha says, but with Pupperazzi, the team has been able to come together on a proper “big” project. The idea for Pupperazzi came from an internal game jam that the team made in late 2018 and into 2019, when someone came up with the idea of taking pictures of dogs. The jam was originally intended to last only two weeks, but instead it lasted for two months. The game that came out of it was very different from what Pupperazzi would ultimately be, but it yielded the seed.
“In early 2019, what we had was a head-to-head, locally multiplayer dog photography arcade game where you were basically in the small arena and it was split-screen and the goal was basically to take pictures of as many different dogs as possible, “says Shasha. “That was very stupid.”
Although the first experience was messy, the team thought the dogs were so sweet and fun to play with that they chose to restart the project for a proper full experience. They switched to single player and developed the scoring system to focus more on taking creative photos rather than a simple dog pander hunt.
Shasha is pleased that Pupperazzi has apparently come along as part of a wave of new photographic video games along with New Pokemon Snap, Beasts of Maravilla Island, TOEM, Eastshade, Umarangi Generation and Toripon – though it did not try to exploit it specifically. They say they believe Pupperazzi’s ultimate form may have been inadvertently inspired by the “memory of Pokemon Snap”, but were shaped more by their fascination with online game photography communities – people who go out of their way to take interesting pictures in all forms of virtual environments.
“Personally, even though I love Pokemon Snap, I do not think it’s so much a game about photography in a weird way,” says Shasha. “The game does not put much emphasis on expressing yourself through the pictures. It’s more a kind of scam atmosphere. Which is fine and it’s perfect for what it is, but … in the end what I was hoping we could stress that players can just rummage around and take pictures as they please. “
Pupperazzi official screenshots
They add that because Pupperazzi is quite open about how it lets you make progress – be it through exploration and playing with dogs, completing photo requests or taking pictures for fun – it avoids the trap of “excessive mechanization” genre that can easily fall into a trap of centering too much on arbitrary scores and hindering creativity. It includes lots of customization tools, such as lenses and film, that add different effects like fisheye, black and white and others, but all of this is optional and at the photographer’s discretion.
“I think for players who are very interested in taking unique pictures, we tried to put in as much as we could for these people,” they continue. “Probably what most photographers in [games] is looking for is just to be able to have a lot of control over the image so they can make it feel unique and that is in some ways interesting enough as opposed to democratizing photography and ensuring that everyone has access to something they can use for to take a picture. Each plays in [Pupperazzi] will start by taking the same picture of Sea Dog at the lighthouse and that experience will still be unique to each player. So it’s not a problem that we have all these images that are basically the same, but trying to add these tools was a big ambition so some players can get more in depth with the images if they want to. “
Shasha tells me that they suspect that Pupperazzi may be the last “big” project Sundae Month has been working on for a while, and that the team is in the process of figuring out its own future while scaling down without for client work and consider what its individual members want to work on. But they are still committed to keeping Sundae Month together, making their own games and supporting Pupperazzi in the long run. For now, at least, Shasha says their biggest hope is that Pupperazzi is able to surprise his audience, who might not expect there to be hidden depth in a game that seems so straightforward.
“Yeah, it’s just a game about taking pictures of dogs, and there’s a kind of instant, viral, surface appreciation that people have for it,” they say. “It’s uncomplicatedly pleasing just to pet dogs and watch little hearts come out of them and throw some food after them and play with them and take a little picture, and that’s just fine.
“I’ve been playing this game more than probably anyone else on earth at this time, so far, and I still enjoy taking pictures in the game, which surprises me because one would think it would get old. But I like that line up in the queue.a cool picture and turn the camera between portrait and landscape, and take it at just the right time so it’s skewed, and put it on Slack, and let the rest of the team say, “Oh wow. It’s a cool picture. How did you understand that? ‘”
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.
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