If you’re feeling down about the general state of the world going into 2022 and in need of a pick-me-up, here’s an idea for you: How about a bunch of cute dog photos?
Especially the dogs in Pupperazzi, the latest game from indie studio Sundae Month. For the most part, per lead developer Isobel Shasha, it’s what it says on the tin. “It’s a game where you take pictures of dogs, and I think people can really do something with that.”
When I recently came to Pupperazzi myself, I find that Shasha is exactly right. I arrive at a beach shack where a chill pup named Sea Dog instructs me on how to use my camera and demands a photo of himself, before letting me loose on a dog-covered beach to shoot to my heart’s content. There is a pile of dogs, big and small in all different colors, chasing each other down the beach and, once I pet them, happily follow me too. I can throw a stick or (funny) a banana at them to run after them, or try to get a nice picture 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 feedback on my countless photos until my audience gets annoyed at me spamming them with cute dog photos (how dare!) and temporarily stop rating them.
Shasha has been with Sundae Month since the studio started eight years ago, when the founders met in Vermont at Champlain College. The team, currently made up of between ten and eleven people working on Pupperazzi, has an eclectic portfolio, including a side-scrolling comedy 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 have also kept the light on by doing a lot of work for outside clients, mainly game development and some educational apps.
By keeping that balance, Sundae Month has had to quietly cancel many projects, Shasha says, but with Pupperazzi, the team has managed to come together for a really “big” project. The idea for Pupperazzi came from an internal game jam the team did in late 2018 in which someone came up with the idea of taking pictures of dogs. The jam was originally supposed 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 eventually be, but it did deliver the seed.
“At the beginning of 2019, we had a live, local multiplayer arcade game for dog photography, where you were basically in the small arena, and it was on a split screen, and the goal was basically to take pictures of as many different dogs as possible. “says Shasha. “It was very stupid.”
Although the first experience was messy, the team found the dogs so cute and fun to play with that they chose to reboot the project into a truly full experience. They switched to single player and evolved the scoring system to focus more on taking creative shots rather than a simple dog scavenger hunt.
Shasha is delighted that Pupperazzi has seemingly come along as part of a wave of new photography video games, alongside New Pokemon Snap, Beasts of Maravilla Island, TOEM, Eastshade, Umarangi Generation, and Toripon – though it didn’t try to capitalize on that specifically. They say they think Pupperazzi’s ultimate form was inadvertently inspired by “the memory of Pokemon Snap”, but was shaped more by their fascination with online game photography communities – people who go out of their way to capture interesting photos in all sorts of virtual environments.
“Personally, while I love Pokemon Snap, I don’t think it’s so much a game about photography, in a weird way,” Shasha says. “The game doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on expressing yourself through the photos. It’s more of a scavenger hunt atmosphere. That’s fine, and it’s perfect for what it is, but… in the end what I hoped we’d What we could emphasize is that players can just mess around and take pictures however they want.”
Official Pupperazzi Screenshots
They add that because Pupperazzi is quite open about how you can progress — whether it’s exploring and playing with dogs, finishing photo requests, or taking pictures for fun — it avoids the trap of “overly-machining.” editing” is avoided. genre that can easily fall into the trap of focusing too much on random scores and stunting creativity. It includes plenty of adjustment tools like lenses and film that add different effects like fisheye, black and white and others, but all of that is optional and at the photographer’s discretion.
“I think for players who are very interested in taking unique shots, we tried to put in as much as possible for those people,” they continue. “Probably what most photographers in [games] is just being able to have a lot of control over the image so they can make it feel unique, and that’s interesting in some ways at odds with democratizing photography and making sure everyone has access to something that they can use to take a picture. Every player in [Pupperazzi] starts with taking the same photo of Sea Dog at the lighthouse bay, and that experience will still be unique to each player. So it’s not a problem that we have all these pictures that are basically the same, but it was a big ambition to add those tools so that some players can get more depth into the pictures if they want.”
Shasha tells me they suspect that Pupperazzi may be the last “big” project Sundae Month is working on for a while, and that the team is busy figuring out its own future while it’s outside the client’s job. phased out and considers what its individual members want to work on. But they’re still committed to keeping Sundae Month together, making their own games, and supporting Pupperazzi in the long run. Anyway, Shasha says their biggest hope is that Pupperazzi can surprise his audience, who might 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 this kind of instant, viral, superficial appreciation that people have for that,” they say. “It’s straightforwardly joyful to just pet dogs and see little hearts come out of them, throw some food at them and play with them and take a little picture, and that’s totally fine.
“I’ve played this game more than probably anyone else on Earth thus far, and I still enjoy taking pictures in the game, which surprises me because you’d think it would get old. But I like to standing in line take a cool shot and flip the camera between portrait and landscape and snap it just at the right time so it’s skewed and post it on slack and let the rest of the team say, “oh wow. That’s a cool picture. How did you understand that?'”
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.