Discussing Year of the Dog with Creator Keane Ng
Last week, I wrote a piece about Foxdog Farm's upcoming title Year of the Dog, a "slice of life" simulator that places you in the shoes of a know-nothing dog sitter who must care for his partner's Shiba Inu over the course of a year. Enamored with the game's sense of humor and sincere storytelling aspirations, I reached out to developer Keane Ng for an interview. He kindly obliged, revealing a few insights into the development and inspiration for Year of the Dog:
Jared Elliott: What were your inspirations for the concept and story of Year of the Dog?
Keane Ng: The project is semi-autobiographical. I do actually have a Shiba (his name is Kiba) and I live in the neighborhood most of the game is set in. The places you'll see in the game are places I go to with my dog, so a lot of the game is pulled directly from my experience as a dog owner. Many parts of the narrative are fictionalized to add drama and structure to the game, but most of it has some foundation in real life. The game is sort of a my way of making a memoir about having a dog, but also a love letter to San Francisco, where I grew up and have lived most of my life.
There's also a lot of "stories with or about dogs" that I think gave me inspiration - stuff like the book My Dog Tulip, the manga The Walking Man, and others. Game-wise, I have always been really inspired by the concept of the Boku no Natsuyasumi series (though I haven't played it since I can't read Japanese), and more recently I found a lot of inspiration in Florian Veltman's Lieve Oma.
JE: Your previous titles are short and sweet. Some are goofy, like Frying Bacon, and others like Lake Madeleine project a surreal, story-like quality. What can we expect from Year of the Dog?
KN: Yeah, Year of the Dog is sort of a culmination of a lot of the ideas I've explored in my other games, and I think thematically and tonally you'll see the qualities that you mentioned. You can probably see in my other games that they're generally concerned with the mundane aspects of life and/or with storytelling. Year of the Dog is certainly about very banal things - picking up a dog's poop, talking to your neighbors - but that's the stuff life is made of. At the same time are also the mini-game interludes, which are a lot more silly/playful in tone for the most part.
On paper the game should last around 3 hours if you never spend much time lingering.
JE: Year of the Dog appears to feature more complex animation and gameplay elements than your previous titles. What are some challenges you've experienced during development?
KN: Initially the biggest challenge was getting the look right. I find it hard to motivate myself to build things if I don't have a strong sense of what the final product will be visually, so that was a process (I don't generally recommend this approach). The mental image I had for the game was very clear and specific, and chasing that has been a really rewarding challenge.
JE: What are your most important goals for Year of the Dog? In other words, what is your vision of the finished game?
KN: Hm, this is sort of hard to put into words. The core goal is to capture the everyday beauty and fun of having a dog, I'd say. The game certainly has its conflict, but for the most part I want folks to feel relaxed and at ease when they enter this world. I also want players to feel like they eventually have some kind of a bond with the dog, and for that to happen not just because he's cute or does funny things, but because of the experiences they have together over the course of the game.
It's also not just the dog, but the world too - the player should feel immersed in this neighborhood and feel like they know its people and places. A lot of times I think about games like Animal Crossing or Earthbound, where you can remember specific places and things you heard an NPC say to you. If players come away with strong memories and nostalgia for all the little things they do in this game, then I think I'll have succeeded.
JE: Are there any other games in development at Foxdog Farms at this time? If not, are there plans for other titles?
KN: I always have side projects that I start but never flesh out. So while I'd like to say I have plans for other titles, I don't really think I have the time and space to make them happen. Side projects are more for flexing design/programming/art muscles that I feel like I don't get to use enough, so inevitably I'll get the itch to try something new though.
JE: Keane, this has been great. Thanks a lot for your time. To wrap this up, do you have any final thoughts for the gaming community?
KN: Please look forward to giving my little game a shot! Follow me on Twitter (@keanerie) for updates and the occasional picture of my real-life dog, too.
Special thanks go to Keane Ng for providing his thoughtful answers.
Year of the Dog is projected to be released for PC, Mac, and Linux next year. For more information, check out the official Foxdog Farms website.