Kittypocalypse is not a game for cat people. After playing through an extensive preview of the game, during which I must have slain thousands of deceptively adorable felines, I found myself casting a paranoid eye towards the several moggies that crossed my path on the way home.
Beyond the off-beat premise—wherein hordes of aliens disguised as cats are attempting to take over your base—lies a surprisingly addictive tower defense game, not to mention an illuminating showcase for how virtual reality can enhance and evolve the strategy genre itself.
Danish studio Bolverk Games has been working on Kittypocalypse for a little over a year now, but as hard as it might be to believe, it is clear from my discussions with CEO Bo Bennekov that the game was born out of a love for virtual reality, rather than any impassioned bitterness towards cats (though Bennekov does admit that the studio is almost entirely made up of ardent dog-lovers).
In fact, Bolverk Games was formed shortly after co-founder Lasse Tassing bought his first Oculus Rift Development Kit. After witnessing firsthand the awe-inspiring potential of this new technology, Lasse, Bennekov and fellow co-founder Jenns Gudman Buhler sat down together and found themselves agreeing that the future of interactive entertainment was virtual reality. This belief went on to form one of the central principles fueling the studio’s work.
Fast forward to the 2016 Game Connection conference in San Francisco, where I’m sat opposite Bennekov for a preview of Kittypocalypse. As soon as I put on the Oculus Rift, now in its final development stages as the first virtual reality headset due for commercial release, I am transported to a world ravaged by inter-galactic cat-astrophe (sorry, it had to be said). I’m sat in the commander’s seat of a spaceship, which acts as the menu hub for selecting the game’s various modes and features. Once I jump into the first mission, it immediately becomes clear just how significantly different it is playing a strategy game in VR. Being able to fluidly look around the map by simply turning my head freed my hands to use the Xbox controller as more than just a glorified cursor for scrolling across the landscape.
To select a tower to build and upgrade, all I have to do is focus my eyesight toward the designated spots dotted across the battlefield. I can zoom in and out using the gamepad’s triggers, but my primary means for surveying the landscape is conducted via the headset. The possibilities with this kind of observational power are pretty much endless, I think.
My mind is wandering, but I have to quickly re-engage my focus on the matter at hand; it’s time to kill some alien kitties.
Despite Bennekov’s insistence that these kitty-kats (yes, in case you hadn’t yet figured it out, I’m running out of synonyms for cats) are “diabolical extra-terrestrial monsters”, the poor things look like the kind of hapless fur-balls you’d find in a Disney Pixar movie. The result is a darkly humorous take on classic tower defense combat, as you mercilessly dispatch wave upon wave of kittens via bullets, electrocution, missiles and more. Before I knew it, those pesky cats were pouring into my bases and the round was over.
While Kittypocalypse is due to release for Oculus Rift this week (May 25, in fact), Bolverk Games also plans to bring title to other virtual reality platforms in the future. Still, virtual reality technology is a baby industry, and the growing pains are felt by everyone involved in the market, developers included. Bennekov explains that the constantly updating hardware means the studio has to deal with a new problem or bug “every other day.”
This is of course an understandable speed bump that comes with the opportunity to work with new and highly ambitious technology, and with the resolution of every issue, development studios like Bolverk Games are only become more familiarized with the nuances and complexities of VR. There’s work to be done in making sure Kittypocalypse releases in a stable state, but—as far as Bolverk games are concerned—the prospect of fighting alien kittens in virtual reality is worth the extra development effort. I have to say, as a newly enlisted recruit to the future war against our feline invaders, I have to agree with them.
Alex Avard is a British freelancer currently living in Santa Rosa, California. You can follow him on Twitter @alexavard95
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