If you’re feeling let down by the overall state of the world heading into 2022 and need a pick-me-up, here’s an idea for you: How about taking a bunch of cute dog pictures?
Specifically, Pupperazzi’s Dogs, the latest game from indie studio Sundae Month. This is mostly by lead developer Isobel Shasha what it says on the tin. “It’s a game where you take pictures of dogs, and I think people might really relate.”
Going into Pupperazzi myself the other day, I find that Shasha is absolutely right. I emerge past a beach shack where a chill pup named Sea Dog teaches me how to use my camera and asks for a photo of himself, before unleashing me on a dog-covered beach to take pictures at my leisure. There are a bunch of dogs, big and small of all colors, chasing each other around the beach and, once I’ve petted them, happily follow me too. I can throw a stick or (awkwardly) a banana for them to run after, or try to line up a nice shot of a happy dog sitting in front of the lighthouse at the end of the beach, framed by the ocean. And then I upload my photos to “Dog Net”, an in-game social network where I get comments on my many photos until my audience gets mad at me for spamming them with cute dog pictures ( how dare!) and stop evaluating them temporarily.
Shasha has worked at Sundae Month since the studio began eight years ago, when its founders met in Vermont at Champlain College. The team, which currently numbers between ten and eleven people working on Pupperazzi, has an eclectic portfolio including a comedy side-scrolling adventure game called Dad Quest where you use your indestructible child as a weapon, and the anti-adventure game Diaries of a Spaceport janitor. They also kept the lights on by taking on a lot of work for external clients, mostly game development as well as some educational apps.
Maintaining that balance meant that Sundae Month had to quietly cancel many projects, Shasha says, but with Pupperazzi the team was able to come together for a truly “big” project. The idea for Pupperazzi grew out of an internal game jam the team did in late 2018 in 2019, where someone came up with the idea to take pictures of dogs. The jam was originally planned to last only two weeks, but instead it lasted two months. The game that came out of it was very different from what Pupperazzi would ultimately be, but it provided the seed.
What I was hoping to emphasize is allowing players to have fun and take pictures however they want.
“In early 2019, what we had was a head-to-head local multiplayer dog photography arcade game where basically you were in the little arena, and it was split-screen, and the goal was basically to take pictures of as many different dogs as possible,” says Shasha. “It was very silly.”
Although the initial experiment was complicated, the team thought the dogs were so cute and fun to play with that they opted to reboot the project into a proper full experiment. They’ve gone single-player and evolved the scoring system to focus more on creative photo-taking rather than just a doggie scavenger hunt.
Shasha is thrilled that Pupperazzi has appeared as part of a wave of new photography video games, alongside New Pokemon Snap, Beasts of Maravilla Island, TOEM, Eastshade, Umarangi Generation and Toripon – although he wasn’t trying to capitalize on this Specifically. They say they believe Pupperazzi’s ultimate form may have been inadvertently inspired by “memory Pokemon Snap”, but was shaped more by their fascination with online gaming photography communities – people who go out of their way to take interesting photos in all sorts of virtual situations. environments.
“Personally, while I love Pokemon Snap, I don’t think it’s so much about photography, in a weird way,” Shasha says. “The game doesn’t put much emphasis on self-expression through photos. It’s more of a treasure-hunting kind of vibe. Which is good, and it’s perfect for what it is. is, but… ultimately what I was hoping we could focus on is letting players have fun and take pictures the way they want.”
Official Pupperazzi screenshots
They add that because Pupperazzi is pretty open in how it lets you progress – whether that’s exploring and playing with dogs, finishing photo requests, or taking photos for fun – it avoids the trap of “over-mechanising” a genre that can easily fall into the trap of focusing too much on arbitrary scores and hampering creativity. It includes lots of customization tools like lenses and films that add different effects like fisheye, black and white, etc., but all of these are optional and at the discretion of the photographer.
“I think for players who are very interested in taking unique photos, we tried to put as many as possible for these people,” they continue. “Probably what most photographers [games] are after is just being able to have a lot of control over the image so that they can make it unique, and that in some ways is at an interesting contradiction to the democratization of photography and ensuring that everyone has access to something they can use to take a picture. Each player of [Pupperazzi] will start by taking the same photo of Sea Dog at the lighthouse cove, and this experience will always be unique for each player. So it’s not a problem that we have all of these photos that are basically the same, but trying to add these tools was a big draw for some players to dig deeper into the photos if they wanted to.”
It’s simple to enjoy just petting dogs.
Shasha tells me they suspect Pupperazzi may be the last “big” project Sundae Month has been working on for some time, and that the team is figuring out its own future as it scales back the work of the external clients and considers what its individual members want to work on. But they are still committed to keeping Sundae Month together, creating their own games and supporting Pupperazzi for the long term. For now, anyway, Shasha says their greatest hope is that Pupperazzi is able to surprise his audience, who may not expect there to be hidden depth in a game that seems so simple.
“Yeah, it’s just a game about taking pictures of dogs, and there’s kind of an instant, viral, superficial appreciation people have for it,” they say. “It’s very simple to pet dogs and see little hearts come out of them, throw food at them, play with them and take a little picture, and that’s great.
“I’ve played this game more than anyone else on earth at this point, so far, and I still love taking pictures in the game, which surprises me because you’d think that it would get old but i like to snap a cool photo and rotate the camera between portrait and landscape and take it at just the right moment so it’s twisted and post it to slack and the rest of the team be like, “Oh wow. It’s a cool picture. How did you understand?'”
Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.