Interview: Pawmigo's Spencer Stuard on the origins and gameplay of Cat Sorter VR
While some games are serious, others are a bit silly. And then there's games that go beyond silly, like Cat Sorter VR for the HTC Vive, a title that falls into the same category as such wacky and weird games as Typing of the Dead and Goat Simulator.
To find out what this new virtual reality game is all about, we spoke to Pawmigo's Spencer Stuard — "I started the company, but I'm also the designer, the engineer, and work on the art," he says — and played a round of the game. We found out how exactly you sort the cats, as well as what happened when they brought the game to CatCon, America's largest cat convention.
GameCrate: Okay, I'll bite: What is Cat Sorter?
Spencer Stuard: My background is in mobile development, and I wanted to translate some of that into a fun Vive game, in the sense of it being fun as well as easy for anyone to pick up and play, like if they're just walking by and they watch someone play for a few minutes.
So the basics of the game are that cats come down a conveyer belt, but they may be totally messed up and may have tentacles or antlers or stuff like that. You have a set amount of time to fix them by pulling off the tentacles or whatever, then replacing the noses or legs from these bins and putting the on the cats. Then, when you're done, you put the cat in one of the tubes that will suck it up, and you get a certain number of points based on the number of parts you replace. It also depends on which tube you put the cat in. Like there's a basketball hoop, and you get double points if you toss the cat through the hoop. Also, they're worth more points the more fixed cats you get in a row. Though once a bad one goes through, that resets.
GC: Do you have to grab the right nose? Do you have to keep pulling noses from the bin until you find the right one?
SS: No. You just grab the first one and it will adjust to the cat. All of the parts are universal, and will automatically change colors to fit the cat.
GC: But cats are not always symmetrical. Do you have cats where it might have one brown eye and one black one?
SS: We do, but in that case, it might have something else that needs to be fixed. Like it might have a bug in one of its eyes, instead of a pupil. As you go one, the changes can get smaller. Like it might have a heart where its butthole should be, as opposed to having giant bat wings.
GC: Now, one of the other cats looked like someone had just glued a fin onto its back for some reason. In a case like that, you don't have to replace it with anything, do you?
SS: No, those are parts you're just taking off. But there are others where the leg might be replaced by a lobster claw, in which case you have to take off the claw and get it a new leg.
Basically, you're trying to get it back to a regular cat.
GC: Are there any times when a cat might be missing something? Like just have three legs and you have to give it a fourth?
SS: Currently no.
GC: Now the cat that just came down the conveyor belt had a little top hat. I would've let him go, he looks like going to attending a fancy dinner party.
SS: Right. And we are considering having some special accessories. But for now, you're just trying to fix them. In fact, this past weekend when we showed the game off at CatCon some people definitely wanted us cats with crazy stuff on them, like cats with hats.
GC: Yeah, we're going to talk about CatCon in a moment, but first, what happens if you pull a part off a cat that's supposed to be there?
SS: You get penalized. You don't want to let a cat get through if it only has three legs.
GC: And I assume there are no tail-less cats in the game.
SS: Right, they're all cats that should have tails.
GC: So what happens if I don't pick up the cat and just let it go to the end of the conveyor belt?
SS: It'll get sucked up into the tube. Which is fine if the cat is good, but if it's bad, you'll be penalized.
There's also a control panel that lets you speed up or slow down the conveyor belt. You can kind of think of that as a difficulty meter.
GC: Now, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you're not really sorting cats. You're fixing them.
SS: Yeah, yeah.
GC: Why not call it Cat Fixer VR?
SS: Well, we sort of look at it as you're sorting through the good and bad cats. You're basically sort them, and then fixing the ones that need to be fixed.
GC: And why cats instead of dogs or koalas or lemurs...
SS: Because I have two cats, and they were great research subjects for this game.
GC: Right, but real cats aren't into being picked up, let alone have you pull off their legs and then tossing them through basketball hoops. Does the cat ever flip out on you and scratch your face?
SS: Well, they do not enjoy it, so they will hiss at you, and they might move a bit, which will make it harder to replace a part. But no, they don't attack you.
GC: The game has a very cartoony look, which I think fits perfectly. But did you ever experiment with a more realistic one? Because the cats are kind of stylized, their bodies are actually a lot rounder than real cats. They look like they just swallowed a football whole.
SS: We actually started pretty realistic, but it was actually terrifying when you had to pull off their parts. We also had this setting because the game has a loose story about this being Heaven, and this is the cat making machine, but the machine is old and broken, so you're basically in charge of quality assurance for the cat machine. Though we also changed the shape of the cats because them having a rounded shape makes it so you have to pick them up to look at them and make sure they're okay, you can't just look at them on the conveyor belt and see if they have all the right legs or whatever.
GC: Wait, does that mean...I'm God?
SS: No, you just work there.
GC: Drat. Now, when I was playing, one of the cats had tentacles where his nose should've been. It kind of looked like Cthulhu. Or Cathulhu, I suppose. Are there cats that are inspired by pop culture things?
SS: Absolutely. But not a ton. Our big thing was other animals. A giraffe leg does not work on a cat, for instance. But there's also things like big fangs like a vampire or back spikes like you'd see on a monster.
GC: Now, at the moment, it's only coming out for the Vive...
SS: Yeah. We tried some of the other VR helmets, but the Vive has the best sense of room scale, and feel like you're really in that space, doing that job.
GC: Right. But you mentioned how you used to make mobile games. This seems like it would work really well as a mobile game.
SS: Oh, yeah. There's been mobile games like this before, like that game Papers, Please. It's also like those games where you're trying to spot the difference in a picture. There's a ton of those.
We would love to do a mobile version of this game. Though it would obviously need a bit of a redesign since it would be 2D environment instead of 3D.
GC: Finally, you mentioned taking the game to CatCon. What did the people there think of your game?
SS: It was the weirdest place to premiere a game, but it was also super fun. Especially since I would say that 80% of the people who dropped by the booth had never tried VR before, and we had a really good mix of everyone from little kids to, well, crazy cat ladies. And I think 95% of the people who tried it got it right away and had fun with us. It was super cool for us to see.
Cat Sorter VR is available now for the HTC Vive.