If you can’t get enough of cats in actual reality, you can now obsess over kitties in virtual reality, too. The adorable Cat Sorter VR is exactly what it sounds like: a game where you sort cats. It hits Steam and Viveport, the HTC Vive content platform, on August 29.
The Cat Sorter demo was chaotic fun. I found myself in the middle of some kind of Willy Wonka-esque feline cat-aloging factory. As cats rolled by on a conveyor belt, it was my job to pick them up and examine them for any weird non-kitty parts. If it had something suspicious on it — a lizard eye, wings, a pirate hat, etc. — I plucked off the offending bit and replaced it with a proper cat part from the sorting bins behind me.
Once I fixed the cat, I put it back on the conveyor belt to be sucked into a pneumatic tube that I can only assume leads to purr-gato-ry. Each round starts with 180 seconds on the clock to sort as many cats as possible, though little tricks will earn you more time. Off in the distance stands a basketball hoop, and you can fling the cats into it to get extra points.
Cat Sorter VR is the first title from indie studio Pawmigo, which designer Spencer Stuard founded a little less than a year ago. He says that his team knew from the start that they wanted to make a VR game and a game with cats. He drew on his experience designing for Disney Interactive as well as for Jam City (previously known as SGN Games), which has released viral hits like the match-3 mobile game Cookie Jam.
“I pulled in a lot of my mobile background to try to make a game that was very accessible for most people, something that anyone can see 10-15 seconds of and immediately get what the game is and how it works,” said Stuard in an interview with GamesBeat. “But just to make something fun and accessible for people to play in VR. I feel like a lot of VR titles are getting pretty complicated very fast.”
Because it has a timer and the conveyor belt is constantly moving, Cat Sorter VR can get hectic. Pawmigo wanted to make sure to control the chaos and provide a VR experience that wasn’t too overwhelming. Stuard says that they went with a “spot the difference” kind of mechanic because it was intuitive and simple. They experimented with other features, discarding things like a weight machine and an ominous-sounding “meowting pot,” because they were either too much to keep track of or playtesters simply never used them.
“We were thinking, oh, it’ll be cute and funny and stuff,” said Stuard of the “meowting pot.” “People just never wanted to use it, because you don’t want to melt cats. We tried to stay along this fine line where everything is fun and comedic and silly. There were bits like that where some things made more sense than others, and were fun as opposed to terrifying.”
In addition to keeping the mechanics simple to grok, Pawmigo was focused on creating short sessions where folks could play a little bit and then hand off the headset and watch someone else compete to get the new top score. Stuard says they’re excited to see whether VR arcades will adopt Cat Sorter.
“We are currently signed up for the Viveport subscription plan, which is essentially what that’s for, the arcades. We’re definitely opting in to that,” said Stuard. “We think this is a great fit for VR arcades. Again, it’s the quick loop that’s very engaging, fun, anybody can pick it up. It’s fun for a group of people to watch their friends playing it.”
Cat Sorter is slated only for a release on the Vive, primarily because of its room-scale capabilities. Stuard says that they’d love to bring it to other VR headsets as well, such as the Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR, but there are design considerations that they’ll have to address. For instance, they’d want to create a 270-degree field of view for the Oculus Rift as opposed to the 360-degree field that they currently have in the Vive version.
“I guess from the consumer side of it they all seem very similar. They’re all headsets you put on,” said Stuard. “But when you’re designing a game, they’re different enough to where you’ll make key design choices differently for one versus another. Especially for a small studio like us, it’s hard to find ways of splitting a design and keeping them all fun and interesting.”
The game has one mode right now, but Stuard says that players have commented on other features that they’d like to see. One thing that seems to come up a lot is whether or not finding a hat on a cat is something that should be “fixed.”
“Right now it’s just that one mode, but we’ve already gotten a lot of feedback about things like cats with the hats,” said Stuard. “We have other ideas. Do we have a recipe mode, where you want cats with hats, or cats with wings? We’d love to eventually come out with a few different modes, because we’ve had a lot of people have fun just building the cats.”