Indie developer Raconteur Games is setting out to make the animal game with Doggone, a platforming adventure that follows the journey of a lost dog that's trying to find its way home again. With its colourful, whimsical art style and adorable (very good) protagonist, there's something undeniably appealing about the idea of setting out on a journey as a dog. After all, if there can never be too much of something, it's dog content.
"It's like the game version of all those animal movies we all grew up with," explains Nicholas Laborde, executive producer of Raconteur Games. "Something we found is that animal stories are pretty universally human. If you go to any culture on this entire planet, there's animal stories, and I feel like it kind of ties us together in a strange way."
The team at Raconteur Games is evidence enough that animal stories can bring people together from across the globe. The development team is scattered all across the United States and Europe, with their collective passion to make this little game about helping a lost dog return home keeping the group together. "It's a medley of people coming together because they actually want to really make the thing [Doggone]," Laborde adds.
The game, which is currently still in development, also takes some inspiration from Playdead's platformer-puzzlers Limbo and Inside, but Laborde is quick to stress that it's mostly in terms of mechanics – Doggone won't be anywhere near as dark in tone or feel. "Now, it wouldn't be a story without a roller coaster up and down along the way, but we're looking for a happy ending," Laborde assures me, "I'm not looking for anybody to be downtrodden after playing this. This is this trying to be like an upbeat, generally happy thing."
Aside from the fact that it features a cute dog (which certainly makes me happy), the look of the game really lends itself to the "upbeat" feel the team are striving for. Filled with vibrant pink trees and bright colourful landscapes, there's a whimsical, almost cartoonish quality to it. Laborde explains that the artstyle is greatly inspired by the work of Eyvind Earle, a colourist who worked on Disney's Sleeping Beauty.
"Eyvind Earle's style was trademarked by like super vivid colors, sharp edges, like you see square trees and square bushes, things like that, and unusual shapes and interpretations for things that you understood. Like you could look at a tree and know it's a tree, but it doesn't look like any tree that exists in real life. So there's never really been a game that had an art style, similar to Eyvind Earle, and we wanted to make a 3D version of that."
As you explore this bright world, you'll be able to use various skills you'd naturally attribute to a dog. Some are core mechanics that you need to use to progress through a level, while others are there because it's what a dog would do. Smellovision, for example, is used as a kind of "helper hint system" that alerts you to things you can interact with. Dogs also love to sniff things, as Laborde rightfully asserts, so it's almost expected that it's what you would do as a dog. Likewise, you also dig to find collectibles, or get past obstacles. But the team also hopes to include features that add to the experience of being a pup.
"The one feature that we really want is the ability to just roll around. And that would just be like in Okami, where you can bark and there's no real gameplay purpose. You just do it because that's what you expect to be able to do. Just all of a sudden, lay back on your back and just roll."
When it comes to the world of dogs in video games, though, one question is on everyone's minds. Can you pet the dog? Thanks to the glorious twitter account dedicated to just that topic, we now have that answered for a lot of games out in the wild today, and it's one question Laborde says the team always gets asked whenever they post about Doggone online.
"So, petting the dog. Okay. We get that question all the time. Because of course, you know, there's that Twitter account, Can You Pet the Dog? It's got like an insane number of followers. And we get it all the time. Like, 'Okay, can you pet the dog?' – it's the most important question. It's philosophical, because you are the dog. So who would pet the dog?"
Just as Laborde says, it's hard to pet the dog when you are the dog, and this is one conundrum Laborde is hoping to solve in quite the creative way by creating a VR experience that stars the dog from Doggone.
"Sometime this summer, we are going to do 'You Can Pet the Dog' in VR. And it's going be the dog from the game. You can throw a ball, pet it, like a five minute app, a couple of bucks type of thing. You know, play on your wrist, your index, your Vive. And that would have the goal of, 1. answering that philosophical question, and 2. drumming up a little bit of interest."
Making the dog game
The journey to try and create this game about a dog has had its own fair share of ups and downs along the way. As Laborde jokes at the beginning of the call, "the story of Doggone is how hard it is to make Doggone". The concept for the game first began back in 2013, back when it was originally going to be a 20-30 minute experience, but the idea didn't really have any legs. While the team shifted their focus to creating a 15-minute walking simulator called Evangeline, the dog game was always at the back of Laborde's mind, and it was just something the team at Raconteur Games couldn't let go of.
"I find that there's never been an animal game, not necessarily a dog or a cat game, but just an animal game that was kind of narratively like an animal movie," Laborde ruminates. "We've felt particularly inspired to continue working on this for so long because we wanted to focus on sort of [creating] like an animal movie. Like an hour and a half, two hour experience. There's ups, there's downs. It's about the journey along the way."
As an indie developer that was originally formed when 25-year-old Laborde was in college, all of the games Raconteur has made so far have been self-funded. After launching a Kickstarter for Doggone that failed to hit its funding goal, Laborde went to events like GDC to meet with publishers, and despite all of the rejections so far, the team is still determined to bring this dog adventure out into the world.
The current plan is to release the game in episodes and see how well the first part goes when the team feels it's ready to launch, with the hope of showcasing more gameplay towards the end of the year. I don't know about you, but I'll happily wait as long as it takes to get the chance to guide a certified Good Dog™ back home.
For more, be sure to check out all the biggest upcoming games of 2020 on the way, or watch our latest episode of Dialogue Options below.