ALT.CTRL.GDC Showcase: Pat Pat Please!

Pat Pat Please! gives players a plush puppy to care for, asking them to love, pat, and talk to it to earn its affection.

The 2020 Game Developers 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.

Pat Pat Please! gives players a plush puppy to care for, asking them to love, pat, and talk to it to earn its affection.

The developers of this cute dog patting game spoke with Gamasutra about creating gameplay out of caring for a puppy, what work they did in creating a controller than encouraged empathy, and their thoughts in creating a competition in kindness.

Dog lovers

Hi! We are the devs behind Pat Pat Please! (André Ruiz, Letícia de Vicq, and Lucas Lima). We’re all from Brazil, where we met at our university, PUC-Rio. Although we all contribute in every part of the project, we mostly focused on these areas of production:

Ruiz: Worked primarily on game design, improving forms of interaction on screen and out, thinking of new options for game modes, and balancing the game over and over again!

de Vicq: Worked primarily on art and design inside and out of the screen, making the visual design of the dogs, and coming up with ways to make the interaction work on the plushie.

Lima: Worked primarily on the programming and electronics, also made the music and sound design, focusing on delivering the fun and light, but also energetic, tone of the game.

We were all part of an academic gamedev group called Rio PUC Games (one of our members actually gave a talk about our group at GDC last year) where we all met and made a variety of games with other students. As digital media design students, we don’t always have the opportunity to make games in a class setting, so this group was created so we can have a space to experiment with games in a team setting. Other than that, we all have different experiences in and outside of the group. Andre has made several board games and hybrid games, Lucas has made experimental and art games for a while, and Leticia has made art and design for a few games and worked on animation.

Creating a game about caring for a dog

When we pitch our game to a new person, it’s pretty easy to understand most of the time. Petting a dog is a familiar thing to most people, and that’s what our game is about. We always try to joke around a bit while pitching, explaining that the game’s commands are actually Lulu’s (that’s our first prototype dog’s name) favorite way to be petted and cuddled with and so on. Most players end up engaged in the roleplay of caring for the dog, forgetting about the technical side of the controller and treating it as a character on its own.   

On the tools used to create Pat Pat Please!

With the initial prototype, we were required in class to use Processing and Arduino, as it was a beginner programming class. So, we did the very first prototype with these tools. Later, we decided to port the game to Unity because it was more familiar to us and we could more easily iterate on it.

For the dog controller, we used gabardine for the fabric, synthetic filling, plastic craft eyes, arduino, microphone, accelerometer, and many cables and solder. Currently, we are using a capacitive touch sensor, but we are experimenting with pressure and other sensors to fine tune the interaction and considering adding vibration for tactile feedback.   

Inspired by unique controllers

We started this project as a final assignment in our design university’s class on microcontrollers that we were all taking. All that we were required to do was to create a project using an Arduino and some type of sensor. Leticia had been to GDC 2019 and was inspired by the Alt.Ctrl exhibit, and after looking at some past Alt.Ctrl projects, we decided on making an alternative control game. We came up with some ideas, and Pat Pat Please! felt like it would be the most fun to watch people play.

It started out purely as a simple game where the player patted the dog on the head and got points for it. Along the development, we started implementing more interactions, like the napping and babytalk(where the player has to speak to the dog with a baby voice) and experimenting with different game modes, like a battle between two players with two plushies, four players with one plush, time attacks, etc.

Creating gameplay around snuggling a dog

We were thinking about what sort of interactions are already fun in the “real world” that we could use to make a fun experience in a game. As dog lovers, we were a little biased. 

Starting off, we all wanted to make something relatable for every dog owner, so we focused on how to bring simple interactions that a person has with their pet to a game. After selecting most of the actions, we started creating game modes that fit well with the dynamic we created, establishing a competitive (or co-op) game where people compete by executing these actions in a limited time to discover who’s the best dog petter. 

For the technical side, we needed to find different sensors to match with our actions, so there’s an accelerometer for the napping motion, a capacitive touch sensor for the head petting, and a microphone, responsible for capturing our favorite feature, baby talk. All of these actions are captured with the Arduino and sent to a computer with a bluetooth module so that it can be processed into the game.

Fostering a nurturing instinct with the controller

It needed to elicit an immediate nurturing instinct so, of course, it had to be cute. We opted to exaggerate its features and go with completely unnatural, but soothing and fun, colors. The fabric used on the plushie was an important part, as it had to be soft to touch, but also resistant to constant interaction.    

A controller that's immediately familiar

We noticed that, as the dog has a very tactile, cute interface, the plushie on it’s own already elicits a reaction. At festivals, people became affectionate to it pretty fast, hugging it even before they pressed play. Also, the action of petting a dog is very familiar, so it doesn’t need much teaching to play the game. In a controller, you have to learn the conventions, like, you generally jump with the X or A button.  We aimed to develop the game around interactions that the player was already accustomed to do, and not introduce overcomplicated mechanics. 

Competing with kindness

Our initial idea was to create a type of competition where winning was inherently linked to caring for the dog, so to crush the competition, you just had to be really nice. There was also the aspect of playing with a toy - a very cuddly one - in a public setting as adults and making a space in which people could go back to that child-like place of play.

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