Since the initial announcement in 2020 Stray melted the hearts of the players. That’s because of its unlikely hero, a stray orange cat who has turned a sci-fi town into his personal playground. Considering that video game developers usually tend to humanize their furry leads, the idea of playing as a regular old cat, running around on all fours and scratching couches, seemed both compelling and fresh.
Take a look at a trailer for the upcoming indie game and it’s immediately clear that it was developed by cat lovers. This is exactly the case, as the BlueTwelve Studio developers used their own cats as a direct reference point for the project. In fact, the game’s furry hero is loosely inspired by an actual stray (albeit a much sleepier one).
The life of a stray
Visually, the resemblance between Murtaugh and Stray‘s fictional hero catches the eye at first glance. Now eight years old, Murtaugh is an orange tomcat with white whiskers and a black patch on his nose. The similarities between the two cats aren’t just visual, however: Murtaugh was a stray cat who was rescued by producer Swann Martin-Raget.
“It was actually found by me and my roommate at the time under a car,” Martin-Raget tells Digital Trends. “He was very, very young and not injured but quite dirty. It was a bit sad to see.”
Murtaugh’s age at the time of his rescue was unknown, although Martin-Raget says he looked only a few months old at the time. Soon after, both Murtaugh and another stray cat that Martin-Raget was caring for at the time were adopted by BlueTwelve co-founders Viv and Koola. The timing happened to coincide with the early stages of Stray’s creative timeline.
“That’s when they started working on the project, so Murtaugh worked with them from the start,” says Martin-Raget. “When they designed the main character of the game, they used him as a reference. It’s not an exact copy, it’s loosely based on Murtaugh – especially in terms of timing. Murtaugh spends a lot more time sleeping than the game cat.”
When Martin-Raget talks about the studio’s cats, he describes them as if they were colleagues and jokes (or maybe very seriously) that they’re the ones running the show. When I ask if the team has ever invited them to important meetings with publisher Annapurna Interactive, he states that they had no choice on the matter. Although some cats were careful to stand front and center, Murtaugh wasn’t quite as on his feet.
“Murtaugh is a CEO personality: he sleeps every day and whines about the food not being there on time,” he jokes.
Mischief in the office
Murtaugh is strictly an indoor cat, so he didn’t spend much time in BlueTwelve’s studio during the development of the game. However, the studio had two office cats that employees brought in regularly. One of them is Jun, a black cat who Martin-Raget describes as more of an executive (“He goes from desk to desk, looking at what you’re doing and trying to make sure you’re doing the right thing,” says Martin-Raget ) .
Having cats active in the office every day would be beneficial to the team in a number of ways. For one, it gave the developers a quick reference point for behaviors and other details that might be seen by observing a cat in its natural, everyday state. For example, the game’s lead animator made reference videos of the office’s second cat, a sphinx named Oscar, jumping around to capture the animal’s detailed movements in the game.
Of course, the office cats also brought some feline chaos into the development process. Although Martin-Raget explains that these annoyances also proved to be useful reference points during the development process.
“Having cats in the office is really a constant reminder of their personality,” says Martin-Raget. “You know, when they hit the power button just when you’re about to save your work to the computer, or when they start singing when you have an important call… I think that was a constant reminder of how playful they can be.” and how interesting it would be to have the personality of cats in play and to have some situations that make fun of the townsfolk.”
He’s not exaggerating. Martin-Raget notes that he lost a text he was translating between French and English because a cat turned off his computer (“Now that’s funny”). As a cat-proof measure, the developers had to place cardboard blockades over their power buttons to prevent disaster.
focus group cats
Aside from the typical antics, the office cats made a living in the studio. Martin-Raget notes that their presence provided the developers with a surprisingly useful focus group, letting them know if the game was on track.
“A nice moment we had in development was when the cats in the office started reacting to what was shown on our screens,” says Martin-Raget. “The sounds of the cats in-game making them raise their heads and trying to interact with the cats in the cinematics… I think that was a nice indication that we were on the right track.”
What’s especially fitting about the dynamic is that Stray itself is about the interaction of nature and machines. It stars as a stray cat wandering through a sci-fi city full of robots and interacting with them via a drone companion. This is reflected in the game’s actual development environment, as cats interacted with and affected a digital world, even if they were just trying to cause trouble.
StrayThe feline authenticity of is a testament to the studio’s compassion for animals and willingness to work with them. Hopefully Murtaugh, Jun and Oscar will be properly compensated for their work with goodies.
Stray Coming to PC, PS4 and PS5 on July 19th.