You see them barking, jumping and running around in their little dirt track fiefdoms all over your cities. No jobs, no bills, no deadlines. They look like they're having so much fun. How much fun? A new game breaks it down for you.
Dog Park lets you be a dog. Not an anthropomorphized, talking, walking-on-two-legs canine, but a member of Canis lupus familiaris as they actually exist. The four-person game by game-maker Kevin Cancienne was created for New York University's annual No Quarter exhibition, which commissions all-new multiplayer games from game designers. In Dog Park, four human beings pick a dog from various breeds and proceed to cut loose in a spacious, enclosed park environment where they can play the same way dogs do.
That means scrambling back and forth, leaping, biting and barking. And, yes, mounting, too. Dog Park doesn't have any pesky humans to stop players from getting their hip-thrusting dominance on. Part of the game's charm is that it's total chaos, comprised of running around with neither a clear-cut goal nor any idea of how you're doing. Points float up next to the avatar of your canine character when they're clinching, biting and humping other dogs.
When the three-minute rounds are up, each dog's individual actions get tallied up and whichever dog had the most fun is crowned the winner.
Cancienne says that Dog Park is modeled after the way that dogs play and that his research included watching his own dog Princess gamboling around with her pals. "The balance [of points allotment] is probably pretty bad right now, as far as what's worth what," Cancienne said in an e-mail about his work-in-progress.
"I tried to set point values based on a combination of difficulty to perform and coolness, while trying to incentivize different kinds of dog play. Simply running gets you a persistent drip of points, but running while other dogs are also running near you gives you extra points for 'chasing.' Standing in a corner barking is a good way to net points, but will also likely attract the attention of the other players, who are likely to run over and try to wrassle you, or get you running away again. That kind of thing."
Cancienne continues to work on Dog Park, which includes adding new interactions, breeds and colorways for his game's playable pups. He's showing it at IndieCade next month and is eventually planning to include it into a larger package of games that will all be about dogs. "Dogs are actually acting out some meaningful and ugly stuff in their play," Cancienne told me last week. "It's how they learn where and how to hurt each other and how to reproduce. But they self-regulate and, in most cases, things don't get out of hand." If dog play is a simulation of important actions, then Dog Park is a simulation of that simulation. Cancienne told me that he made Dog Park partly as a way to highlight how essential play is to life. "In most scenarios, we need each other to do it," he said. "Even competitive play, which can be really aggressive, needs co-operation to happen."