Purrfection: How the “Stray” video game pierced cats

PARIS: Cat lover Enzo Yaksic was immediately taken with the recently released video game Wander which allowed him to explore a luminous, kaleidoscopic underworld of puzzles as a feline avatar.

He was surprised to find that his own cat was equally fascinated.

READ ALSO : “Stray”: How a virtual orange tabby helps real cats

“My cat, Hobbes, was kidnapped by Wander from the minute I loaded it onto the screen. It monitors every movement of the cat,” Yaksic said.

Thousands of cat owners have taken to social media to post videos of their pets reacting to play, and the “Cats Watching” Twitter account Wandernow has over 37,000 subscribers.

READ ALSO : Review: ‘Stray’ argues sci-fi dystopia is better with cats

The phenomenon delighted the developers, who say they did not suspect that it would trigger the craze.

“When the studio cats started reacting to what was happening on our screens, we thought we were going in the right direction,” Swann Martin-Raget of French studio BlueTwelve told AFP.

“But we never imagined that so many cats would try to jump into the TV.”

Wander is far from the only game to feature an animal as a central character.

Of dog’s life” and goat simulator to the wild wolf in Okamiexamples abound.

But cats rarely figured – and Wander turns out to be the surprise hit of the year.

“A real passion”

The game’s feline protagonist was modeled after Murtaugh, a stray cat adopted by the co-founders of BlueTwelve, and fellow team member beloved pet Oscar.

Many members of the team own cats, including Martin-Raget whose two roommates are known as Tao and Litchi.

READ ALSO : A wave of technology for four-legged friends

He says creating a realistic animal was a huge challenge, but the team managed to get the computer cat to purr, meow on demand, snuggle up for a nap and of course take great pleasure in defacing the furniture.

“We couldn’t make a cat game without also making him a sofa to scratch his claws,” says Martin-Raget.

“We made this game with a real passion for our companions.”

It is the highest rated game of the year on Steam, a game download platform, and has an 83/100 rating on Metacritic.

Some reviewers noted it for its simplistic adventure, but most praise the graphics, dreamlike atmosphere, and sense of freedom provided by the feline protagonist.

And feline critics seem to universally approve.

“Every time I play, the silhouette of his two ears blocks the bottom of the screen,” Curtis Amrein, from Houston, USA, says of his short-haired girlfriend, Bebe, 17.

Yaksic, a researcher from the US city of Boston, told AFP that eight-year-old Hobbes reacts to danger and hides from bad guys, just like his IT counterpart.

“I wonder if I’m stressing out Hobbes because he tends to look around thinking there’s another cat in the house before he sees the cat of Wander on screen,” he told AFP.

“Very natural”

Animal behaviorist JoAnna Puzzo of UK shelter Battersea Dogs and Cats Home told US website GameSpot that the realism of the animated cat was key to eliciting reactions from real-world cats.

“They really picked up a lot of very natural cat behaviors,” she said of the developers, pointing out the virtual pet’s grooming, squeaking and scratching habits.

“They also included some nice subtle behaviors like the pupils that dilate when he’s alert enough, those spinning ears, and the defensive posture.”

Another sign of the enthusiasm for Wander is that fans have created “mods” – modifications that allow players to change the appearance of the main character.

For a laid-back approach, players can choose to be lasagna munching from the ginger cartoon “Garfield.”

For those looking for maximum sweetness, Marie, the grey-white kitten from Disney’s Aristocatsis also available.

More controversially, enthusiasts have strayed where felines are afraid to tread: the world of dogs, with dog lovers able to transform their avatar into an adorable pup. -AFP