A Mobile Runner Game Project for Cat Lovers
You can’t stop two things: Creativity and love for cats. “Cat Run”, is a game that captures the soul of those two beautiful things and it’s also a project that belongs to the first days of Susam Creative.
Strong Ties with Cats
As a creative studio that is been named after a cat and for that reason has a cat on its logo, it probably is not surprising to anyone to hear that we have strong ties with cats. Seriously though, how do cats manage to make people bond with them in such a strong way? Even our illustrator and graphic designer Dilara, who had cats, dogs, fish, birds, turtles, squirrels as pets, has trouble answering this question. Whatever the reason is, it’s obvious that cats have a real charm.
As a result of our strong ties with cats, we wanted to create a game that shows our love and that’s how our game with the code name “Cat Run” was born.
A Mobile Game Idea
When we first had the idea about starting Susam Creative, we actually wanted to start as a game studio. In a time where Flappy Bird was the biggest hit, and Twitch Plays Pokémon was happening, it was a weird but a creative time frame. And us, two enthusiastic entrepreneurs, we loved playing games.
Dilara was an artist, who recently had been awarded the 1st place in a nationwide manga contest which had academist from a respected college in the art field as the jury. Mustafa, was an experienced UX designer, who liked coding in his free time with experience in developing projects. All in all, we were almost enough by ourselves for creating a mobile game. Considering all of this, we started creating the idea for a mobile game.
We wanted to create a game featuring beautiful art that is easy and fun to play, and we want to be able to show our creativity to its fullest extent.
We can say “Cat Run” was the first project of the game and design studio we were planning to start. Also, this is a project that helped Susam Creative to be the studio that we are today.
We started our research by learning about the cats and their origins. Trying to understand the journey of cats after they started living with us humans, helped kickstart our creativity.
We were already aware that cats have never been wholly domesticated. With their independent aspect and their savage acts, they are both charming visitors in our homes and ferocious hunters on the streets. Even the cats that were bred by people still managed to remain as wild animals.
Cats being wild, they take care of themselves sometimes by being a part of a group, but most of the times they’re just lone hunters living in the streets of crowded cities or in the urban areas taking care of themselves.
Around the world, in most places stray animals are collected and left in shelters for their impending death. But, especially in Mediterranean countries stray animals, especially stray cats are loved by people and you can find many well-groomed stray cats around. So, we started looking for the places which had lots of stray cats.
We already knew that the cities in Turkey, especially Istanbul is full of cats. And while we were doing research our game, we knew that there was a documentary that was being produced “Nine Lives – Cats in Istanbul” later called “Kedi” instead, which tells the story of a couple of cats in İstanbul. Greece, is just another country that’s known for their stray cats. Tashirojima of Japan, known as “cat heaven” is also a known place full of stray cats. Aside from these well-known places that are full of stray cats, we discovered even more of them. We took a note of cat population and how cats live in those places, found photos of those places and analyzed. Then, we listed all of these places to decide which of these places would be in our game.
Before we start planning our game, the broadest subject we needed to research was the breeds of cats and their properties. Aside from the breeds that arised naturally, there were also the breeds that were created by selective breeding. All of these breeds needed research, since they had different bodies, skeletal structures, furs, sounds and environments. If we were to create a game that was targeting cat lovers, we needed to learn about the breeds and needed to reflect their differences inside the game. After a long research, we had a long list of cat breeds and we had many guides and infographics about the properties of different breeds.
Planning the Game
After our research, it was time to plan our game. It would be a runner game with the purpose of petting as many cats as possible. Keeping the people who love cats in our mind, we started planning our game.
With our research, we managed to create a long list of places with a lot of stray cats. But, some of those places were either too small or not visually appealing. We wanted to select interesting places and as a result, we decided to create three maps.
We found out that unfortunately most breeds that were created with selective breeding, due to their physical properties and them being more prone to sickness, they weren’t fit to live in the streets. For that reason, it didn’t make sense for us to place every breed on the game to run in the streets. We also needed to figure out which cats would be in which map. There were lots of different breeds and we had to figure out which breeds should appear in which map. We used our table of cat breeds to figure that out.
Since we still wanted to include other cat breeds as well, to make them available in the game, we came up with a solution. Some cat breeds would only be available in specific maps and for the other ones, players would have the ability to include them into the maps after purchasing them.
Runner games are similar to platformers in many ways. But on runner games, players don’t need to make the character run and it happens by itself, the game flows by itself and the player interacts with the game while this is happening. Depending on the game, players might have the options of jumping, going up or down, going left or right and also might be able to interact with the map in different ways, such as shooting, throwing, picking up or charging forward.
Our game was going to be a 2D side-scrolling runner and the action from the user would be touching the cats to pet them. In most runner games, as the time passes the speed of the runner increase and the game gets harder. We decided to use that mechanic and at the same time, there would be a “love for cats” bar that would get empty with time. This bar would be filled whenever the player pets a cat and when the bar got empty, the game would be over.
Cats that were responsible for filling the bar, would be sitting or lying on the sidewalk and also would be on the windows of the apartments or other high places. We would also place “hidden” cats and they would be appearing in dumpsters, cat houses and inside carton boxes. If the player touched those places, cats would come out of those places in a joyful manner.
Since it wouldn’t be fine if the cats just stayed where they are after being pet, we decided that the cats would follow the player character for a while, after being pet. They would affect the bar in a positive way as long as they kept running behind the character.
Like almost in all mobile games, we needed an in-game currency and for that, we created “paw”. Paw, would help people purchase customization items and would allow people to add cats to the maps. We wanted to make collection of in-game currency in the game, since we did not like putting lots of zeros to the numbers for no reason. For this reason, there was only going to be a small number of paws to be collected for each run of the game. We decided to use kittens for the purpose of giving paws and they would mostly be the hidden cats.
In-game store, wasn’t a priority for us, but we have already brainstormed about possible items for the store. We planned to sell items like catnip that would make more cats appear on the map or items like cat food, that would make the cats follow the character longer. So, aside from the items that would help with the customizations, we would also put some items that would make the gameplay easier and runs longer.
Desired Final Product
At the end of our planning stage, we had an idea about how our finished game should be like. The game would consist three maps and the map of Cihangir in Istanbul would be the default map. After breaking certain thresholds with that map, Mykonos in Greece and later on Tashirojima in Japan would be available. Even though each map would have certain breeds of cats in the map, users would be able to purchase other breeds with in-game currency and would be able to include them into the maps.
The runner would start running at the beginning of the game and player would touch the cats that they can see around trying to keep the bar as filled as possible. Adult cats touched by the user would follow the character for a while, contributing for filling the bar, hidden cats if they were adults would increase the “love for cats” bar significantly and if they were kittens, they would give the player the in-game currency, paw.
We would also create items that would make things easier for the players, and using these items, players would be able to run for a longer period of time.
If the game was to be successful, we would increase the number of cat breeds and we were planning to add items to customize the look of the character.
A Trip to Cihangir
In a game that would feature real places, seeing the places with our own eyes would be really help us to reflect the real atmosphere in the game. But unfortunately, since not every place was within our reach, we couldn’t do that. Then, we visited the closest place we had, which was Cihangir in Istanbul.
Cihangir was not a foreign place for us, Mustafa spent his childhood in a place that is very close to Cihangir. Our aim was to be able to see Cihangir from the eyes of the cats. To do that, we grabbed our cameras and notebooks and we set off to Cihangir, to capture the soul of the place in the eyes of the real owners of the place, cats.
Cihangir, being a place full of cats, it is impossible to see them doing their daily chores, which are mostly playing and being cute. People embraced the presence of the cats in Cihangir and accepted them as their neighbors. Everyday, you can see native and foreign people petting those cats and playing games with them. Cat houses that are placed by Beyoglu Municipality gives those cats even more comfort.
Cihangir is also a historical place that displays the cultural mixture of Istanbul beautifully through its architecture with it’s wooden and stone buildings. Also, you have a beautiful view of the Bosphorus between the buildings. So, all in all, a beautiful place to visit if you love cats and history. To be able to capture this beautiful cats and the place, we took as many photos as we could and took a lot of notes during our trip. So much so that, our cameras have hundreds of photos of Cihangir and its cats.
After taking photos of every single building on the main street, we were about to leave and when we turned the corner, a surprising sign welcomed us to “Sesame Street”. (Our company name “Susam” is the Turkish version of the word “Sesame”).
After a day in Cihangir, we managed to feel just like the character we wanted to create in our game. We chased cats and fell in love with the beautiful place that is Cihangir. It was a trip that we loved taking.
After studying their poses for a time that felt long enough for us, we needed to study the different breeds. We already created tables on which cat breeds would be on which map and which cat breeds would be purchasable for players. With the help of these tables, we started sketching the breeds that would be on the maps.
Cats in the game had to be cute and most important part of cats that would allow us to make them cute would be their facial expressions, so we studied their facial expressions. After sketching their facial expressions a number of times, we were able to find the style we liked.
After the cats were done, another important step was next: Design of our protagonist. Character design, is an area Dilara spends time with to get even better at. So, this was her responsibility.
There are thousands of runner games for mobile and desktop, and if you take a look at the character design in those games, in most cases you can see characters that capture the soul of the game. In this game that targets the cat lovers, we decided that our protagonist would be a young girl whose purpose was to pet as many cats as she could.
Dilara, who is a person who loves the cats as much as our protagonist does, would fit the profile herself. Taking some initiative, she designed a brunette green-eyed girl with a ponytail. It was a dream for Dilara to walk or run around with cats and now, even though it would be in a game, would come true.
Since our protagonist was going to be running on the streets, she needed casual clothing, for that we chose to go with shorts and a t-shirt.
We also wanted to create the option of using another characters in the game and we designed other characters as well.
Places & Background Elements
The only map that was going to make it to our first prototype was going to be Cihangir, so we started looking at the photos we took and started researching the architecture of Cihangir. We wanted to be able to reflect the atmosphere, but if we created detailed backgrounds the focus was going to be in the background instead of the cats themselves. So, we studied on how to create minimal drawings of the background without sacrificing authenticity.
Aside from the main background, we also had some static elements such as; flower pots, street lamps and some animated elements such as; waste containers, cat houses and cardboard boxes that would have cats jumping out of them. So, these elements were also created with details first and simplified to fit the style.
After coming up with the idea of the game, Dilara was focused on the artistic side of the game and Mustafa was focused on UI/UX and project management. We worked on Unity for a little while, but having only two people for everything was really slowing down our process. And getting outside help for the project just made sense, so we decided to work with a programmer to speed up the production of our prototype.
The prototype was going to feature a basic version of Cihangir map and just to speed up the process, we created simplified graphics and decided to leave animation for a later version of prototypes. We planned a couple prototypes, to feature animations and hidden cats, higher quality graphics, more complicated graphics etc. and that would take us all the way to our alpha version. Dilara created minimal and colorful background images inspired by Cihangir architecture to be used in our first prototype. This two-part background would be following each other in random order with an infinite loop.
Some of the cats that were sketched got lucky and made it to our prototype with their fully colored versions. These cats were going to be static, since we would do animation in later stages and would give us some love to fill the “love for cats” bar. Also, to test the how getting our in-game currency “paw” would affect the gameplay, a kitten in a cardboard box was added.
For our protagonist, we created a running animation and that would also be just a test animation for the prototype, and this would be the only animation in our first prototype.
Since the prototype was only going to test the gameplay, we only included the most basic mechanics. We just created basic UI elements and did not even design a menu. Without an option to choose a map or anything else, there was just a screen with the kitten in a cardboard box and a text saying “Play”. There was another screen after the game, displaying how many cats were pet, how many paws were collected and an option to play again.
With the prototype we created using Unity, after testing the functionality ourselves, it was time to get to user testing. Part of our targets were kids and we wanted to test the game on kids first, so we found kids that were 8-13 age group and showed them the game.
Since it’s harder to get genuine reactions from kids, since they are mostly friendly and don’t want you to get upset. To keep our data clean, we had to pretend that it was already game in the market and test their interests based on that. First, kids saw us playing the game on our own phones and they asked questions about the game by themselves, so it piqued their interests. Then, instead of telling them about it, we just handed the phone over and the testing began.
After every kid played the game at least once, we asked them about what they thought of the game and if they would play this game. Answers were mostly negative and positive responses mostly came from girls and the ones who liked the game, they liked it because of the art. Most of the boys told us that, they preferred more action in a game. And some of the kids didn’t like the game being repetitive and were bored by the cats being static.
After getting all the data we could, without affecting its quality, we revealed the game being just a prototype and then of course explained what a prototype is. We talked about our vision of the game with animated cats, hidden cats, more maps and cats, and then they liked the idea. Most of the kids who said they would not play the game for a long time, changed their mind after hearing about our vision. One of the boys said he would play the game if there were more customizations to the characters, an idea which we were planning to implement at the later stages. One other boy said the game looked good, but he just didn’t like runner games.
What the test stage told us was, even though the art style and the idea looked solid, the game was too static to encourage people to keep playing. The idea we had, even though it looked on paper, wasn’t good enough when tested.
We went back to our desks to come up with ideas to solve this problem. But unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a great idea that would turn this game into a success.
We realized if we were to finish the games as we first thought about it, the game was just going to be regular a mobile runner that featured cats. We didn’t want to keep working on a project which wouldn’t make the impact we were looking for. And this was around the time we started officially creating Susam Creative, so we decided to focus on design and put this project on a shelf.
Codenamed “Cat Run”, still holds its value on our hearts as being our last project before we officially started Susam Creative.