Alt.CTRL.GDC Showcase: Super Furry Neon Cat Heads

"Our controller is a cat tower with push sensor pads. The controller is mapped one to one with a model in VR, where the object of the game is to hit the neon colored mice on the beat of the song."

The 2017 Game Developer's Conference will feature an exhibition called Alt.Ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions. Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase. You can find all of the interviews here.

Super Furry Neon Cat Heads will have you acting as a feline DJ, hammering away at the levels of your cat house to the beat of the song for an audience of cats at the club.

Doing so will require the player put on a colorful VR headset covered in bright hair and lights, and then tap along to the music on parts of a modified cat house. 

The silly experience of Super Furry Neon Cat Heads was designed by a collective of artists, musicians, and designers, who created it during an exhausting drive to a VR hackathon. 

Gamasutra spoke with Shylo Shepherd, lead designer on Super Furry Neon Cat Heads, along with some other team members to find out more about creating an ALT.CTRL.GDC exhibit that will have players smiling before they've even played it.

What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?

Shylo Shepherd - Lead Cat Lady, Designer, and Motivation Generator.
Shea Rembold - Programmer, Game Developer, Electronics not-expert
Leonard Wedderburn - Stagehand, Level Designer and VR technician
Brian Webb (Feeyo) - Music Guy & Meow-Mixer
Martin Arnold - Cheer Leader & Tester
Mau-Team Mascot & Tester
Mieu-Team Mascot & Tester

How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?

Our controller is a cat tower with push sensor pads and a boing sensor. The controller is mapped one to one with a model in virtual reality, where the object of the game is to hit the neon colored mice as they reach each sensor location on the beat of the song. 

What's your background in making games?

Shepherd - My dad used to fix arcade machines when I was a kid, so I’ve always had a curiosity for it. I’ve been making games since 2011. It started with a monthly group meeting that eventually became I created Purrody Games LLC in 2013 where I have two long term projects still in development. 

Leonard and I co-created a group called HVREdev in 2015, which operates under, giving individuals the opportunity to be a part of a community VR project and gain hands-on experience developing VR. Our next project, Dreams, will be starting just after GDC. All of us have worked together on a few projects, some of them fun, some of them really stressful. Our emphasis has been on having fun while developing Super Furry Neon Cat Heads. If we have fun making it, then it’s probably fun to play. If it’s not fun, at least we can enjoy the process and learn something.

Rembold - I’ve been making small games on my own for about 12 years now. I more recently worked for game company Super Soul for 2 years and VR game company RalphVR for 1 year. During that time I helped complete games for PC, Android and iOS, PS4, GearVR, and Oculus Rift.

Wedderburn - I joined RunJumpDev to get into game development and I’ve been working with Shylo, Shea, and others locally on different game projects for the past 4 years. I’ve always been interested in making games, pretty much just being as creative as possible. I got into VR development in 2015 during one of the Oculus GearVR jams and I’ve been focused on it ever since.

Webb - I tried to make electronic music, but everything I made sounds like it should be in a game. So, I went to RunJumpDev to make music for games and ended up making edm for Super Furry Neon Cat Heads

What development tools did you use to build Super Furry Neon Cat Heads?

We used Unity 3D, Adobe Photoshop, 3ds Max, Gimp, Blender, Visual Studio, Arduino, Audacity, Ableton Live.

What physical materials did you use to make it?

We used a cat tower we purchased and added velcro to attach our addressable LED strips and push sensors. We made push sensors with felt, foil tape, plastic sheets, and insulating foam tape. The “boing” sensor was made with a spring made to close screen doors, an accelerometer, a felt covering, and “U” attachments screwed into the cat tower. We used an Arduino Uno to communicate with Unity, as well as lots of wires and electronic stuff. We also used the HTC Vive, and a PC. 

How much time have you spent working on the game?

Well, we came up with the beginning idea in early October 2016, and have been iterating on it since. 

How did you come up with the concept?

We all belong to a group of game developers in Lexington Kentucky called Several of us applied to go to MIT’s Reality Virtually Hackathon, and the three of us got in so we decided to drive up. By the time we needed to find a hotel, we couldn’t find a room. All the hotels in the area were full because of some event. 

So, we had to keep driving. We began to brainstorm ridiculous concepts for games to stay awake. We don’t advocate driving while exhausted, but brainstorming while loopy like that was fun, fruitful, and fortunately a good way to stay awake. We are all really into creating VR experiences, and we were on our way to a really awesome VR hackathon, so we thought of the feelings and impressions we wanted to explore in VR first, and then fun and interesting ways to experience it with game mechanics. 

We wanted something fun, colorful, and totally about cats... Actually it might have started with the name. We were humming Super Furry Neon Cat Heads for days after. When we decided to continue working on it, we began with a sort of patty cake cat fighting game in VR. We explored several ideas with paper and cardboard. We thought out loud without restraint. We said wild and crazy things. We wondered what goes on in the minds of cats when they suddenly do a backflip or run sideways out of a room.  

Through inspiration and iteration, Super Furry Neon Cat Heads evolved into a rhythm game about a cat imagining themselves as the DJ in a meowsic group called the Super Furry Neon Cat Heads, using their cat tower as a means of acting out their fantasy. 

Super Furry Neon Cat Heads has players playing a rhythm game in VR with a cat tower. Why mix a musical game with a cat's plaything? What unique experience does that give the player through their interactions with an animal's toy? 

As mentioned above, the game is played from the perspective of a cat using their imagination to pretend to be something else, and acting it out on their toys. The cat tower is iconic when it comes to a cat’s playthings, stirring preconceptions of cats and play. The tower is also conducive to cat-like interaction on a human scale with its size, layers, and attachments. 

We stand the player on level with the tower, giving them the perspective of a cat, putting different layers within reach, and then, through music, give them a reason to swat at different parts at different times. We don’t actually expect you to feel like a cat, but it’s fun to let go and wonder. 

What does the VR Cat Head add to the experience? What does it do that a regular VR headset cannot?

As children, and for many in adulthood, role play and pretend are entertainment staples. We hope to evoke feelings of nostalgia and whimsy as players let go of themselves to play a game that requires putting on a furry neon…well actually head, and swat at a cat tower covered in LED’s to the rhythm of a meow-mixed dance beat. Role playing the cat with the cat head and immersion through VR are important to assist with the feeling of pretend. Wearing a furry cat head that changes color also helps the game feel lighthearted and fun for the sake of fun. Besides, it looks cool.

Silly controllers can set a certain lighthearted mindset as soon as players pick them up. What drew you to create this feeling within your players? How do you create fun just from looking at the tools that allow you to play the game?

This is an awesome question. So, imagine seeing this tower on a table. It’s sort of ridiculous to see a cat tower in the middle of GDC right? You’re already smiling, or even laughing on the inside, unless you are a total grump. The juxtaposition is enough to set the tone to put all seriousness aside for a moment, which is our goal for the game. 

We really wanted to have fun while developing Super Furry Neon Cat Heads. We want our players to feel the enjoyment we had creating game through the colorfulness, the playful attention to all the little kitty details in the game, and the ridiculousness of the situation. Just looking at the player in front of you should bring you joy, watching them become a child again as they pretend to be a cat, pretending to be a DJ in another world, and swatting at a cat tower covered in sensors and LED’s. 

How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, wearable tech and sensors are going to permeate everything. We are no longer looking through a window at another world pushing buttons, we’re in it controlling it with gestures, eye movements and voice control, even thought control. 

If that’s now, think of the future. Role play and environmental immersion are going to take on new levels, augmenting the world around us. Everything could have the capacity to become an interface device just by looking at it. It’s less about the technology and more about the rules of the game at that point. Those that can think outside standard interfaces now will definitely have a head start in the future of game development, and could help blaze the trail for others. 

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