Stray, the adventure game starring an energetic feline, has captured the hearts of many. It’s a uniquely charming game with gorgeous graphics, tight gameplay, and a beautifully animated cat protagonist. Those who have played Stray might not know that it had a long and interesting development cycle. Built from the ground up by a very small studio, the story of Stray is downright inspiring.
One great thing about Stray and its development team, BlueTwelve Studios, is their obvious love for cats. When playing, cat owners will likely remark on the natural feel of the cat’s behavior, their movements, and even their trademark meow. Love for cats is evident throughout every single step of the game’s development process.
10/10 Annapurna Helped Out A Stray Cat Charity
Stray and feral homeless cats are a huge problem in many large cities. This is bad not only because cats are man’s second-best-friend, but because they’re an invasive species that spreads like wildfire. To help out, Stray’s publishers, Annapurna Interactive, are working with Cats Protection, a great charity that finds new homes for stray cats. They’re giving away six free copies of Stray to lucky participants. Those who sign up for the giveaway are highly encouraged to make a small donation to the charity. There are millions of stray cats in the U.S. alone that deserve to be cared for. Annapurna raising awareness of this fact is a touching move.
9/10 The Stray Cat’s Inspiration
Stray’s furry protagonist is based on a real cat owned by the cofounders of BlueTwelve Studios; a handsome fellow named Murtaugh. In a Playstation developer blog, BlueTwelve shared that Murtaugh himself was once a stray cat. “[He] was found in the streets near the city of Montpelier, France under a car”, they said. Thankfully, Murtaugh seems to be doing much better now. He even has a nickname at BlueTwelve Studios — “The Boss”. And while it’s not a direct 1:1 recreation, the resemblance between Murtaugh and the cat in Stray is pretty clear. Both of them are beautiful orange tiger-striped beasts.
8/10 The World of Stray is Based on a Real Place
In an interview, a producer at BlueTwelve stated that “[the developers] were fascinated by a place that no longer exists called the Walled City of Kowloon”. Kowloon was an urban development in Hong Kong with a giant population density of 111,450 people per square mile. It was made of tightly interlocked apartment buildings, and it was pretty terrifying. Still, Stray’s developers saw that “it would really be the perfect playground for a cat”.
Not only did Kowloon have a fascinating look, but because everything was so tightly packed, a cat could explore virtually anywhere without much trouble. The world of Stray is noticeably similar, with plenty of tiny apartments, narrow alleyways, and jumpable rooftops to play across.
7/10 Oscar The Actor
The developers of Stray employed a number of felines — nearly two dozen, according to the game’s credits. Each played a slightly different role in the game’s development. One such cat was Oscar, a sphinx who was used for animation reference.
As BlueTwelve themselves say, “Animating a quadruped is already quite challenging, but the subtleties of a cat’s movements are incredibly precise and hard to convey properly.” That’s why they needed a reference, and Oscar’s breed likely made him perfect for the job. Sphinx cats are naturally energetic, so all the running and jumping BlueTwelve asked him to do must have felt great. Also, due to his lack of fur, his movements could be seen very clearly by the animators.
6/10 Level Design Was Ten Times Harder
The way a cat sees the world is obviously very different from the way we do. Stray captures this well. It’s intimidating to have human-sized robots lumber over you, and the shift in perspective makes the world look so much bigger. BlueTwelve worked hard to make their world feel fun for a cat to play around in, which led to some interesting design challenges.
“In any other game,” they said, “you add an aircon unit or a pipe going around the building … but in our case, it’s a new path and a new place that players will want to go to.” Hence why the sandbox areas in Stray are so tightly packed. Due to their verticality, every inch of these levels needed thorough design and testing.
5/10 Lala The Voice Actor
Another cat in the game’s credits is Lala, a grey kitty who worked as a voice actor. It seems she recorded mostly meows and purrs, voicing not just the main character, but the cats from the beginning of the game as well. One can only imagine how hard it must have been, trying to get a cat to remember her lines.
At the end of the day, Lala did an excellent job, and she’s clearly a professional with a bright future. It helps, too, that Lala could be a cat model. She’s managed to catch the internet’s attention with her soft fur and dignified face.
4/10 The Stray Cat’s Crafted Look
Viv and Koola, the cofounders of BlueTwelve, did many iterations on the appearance of the game’s feline protagonist. Though the stray cat in the game is indeed based on their cat Murtaugh, their appearance is slightly different, capturing recognizable cat features. Stray’s protagonist has a curious face with beautiful big eyes, and is overall just plain adorable. It’s pretty common for characters to go through multiple design changes, and the work on refining the stray cat’s appearance seems to have paid off. It’s possible that the game’s developers drew inspiration from some other cats around their office. The protagonist of Stray noticeably resembles Lala in particular.
3/10 Jun the Director
In true cat fashion, it seems some of the cats behind Stray didn’t work all that hard. Another cat who appears in the credits is Jun, who was brought up by the developers in a blog post. He has a very impressive title at BlueTwelve, and his duties apparently included “monitoring the team’s efforts” and “making sure everyone was working on the right topic”. As Jun is pictured taking a nap, we can guess what he spent most of his time at the studio doing. Moral support is big in the difficult world of game development, and to provide that, Jun came in to visit BlueTwelve Studios every day.
2/10 BlueTwelve’s Work to Balance Stray’s Gameplay
Stray strikes a careful balance between fun gameplay and a semi-realistic cat experience. The excellent animations really feel catlike, but the experience rarely feels awkward or sluggish. BlueTwelve put in quite a lot of work to refine the gameplay of Stray. For instance, one choice they made was to remove the possibility of failure, having the cat make every jump with ease.
Of their earlier prototypes, BlueTwelve said “they [the players] just kept missing the jumps.” And while cats do miss their jumps sometimes, the developers decided it wasn’t fun, and that “jumping around very easily is something that really fits with the fantasy” of being a cat. Therefore the game changed, and maybe for the better, as jumping around in Stray really does feel simple and satisfying.
1/10 BlueTwelve Grew From a Team of Just Two
Stray has been in development for many years, with news of the game coming as early as 2015. At its inception, BlueTwelve was a studio of just two people. They were two artists with a clear vision of a cat adventure game, working out a prototype in Unreal Engine 4. According to them, “the general direction of the game remained very stable for the whole project”, which is actually quite impressive in the world of game design. A strong vision is important, and that clarity is apparent in Stray’s tight controls, its charming story, and its beautiful graphics.