In the age of indie titles, there is no shortage of simulators. Whether you’re walking, driving a bus, or blasting a goat into orbit, the concept has seen enough renditions to reach the point of banality – at least that’s what I thought before I discovered indie developer Keane Ng and the surprising level of depth planned for his upcoming game, Year of the Dog.
Keane Ng wants everyone to know first and foremost that his studio, Foxdog Farms, is neither a farm nor a dog. Thanks Keane. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get to the game: Year of the Dog is 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. This all seems fairly mundane – that is, until you take a closer look into the surprisingly interesting universe that Keane Ng has concocted.
The Year of the Dog is set in San Francisco and structured as an epistolary novel, meaning in this case that the plot is revealed through e-mail correspondences between the player and the dog owner. The game is set to include 12 vignettes about various aspects of dog ownership – one for each month of the year – which is intended to simulate the various trials, tribulations, and joys of dog ownership. Keane Ng says that the game is designed to encourage players to learn more about your Shiba companion throughout the game, and maybe learn something about yourself along the way:
Speaking of story, each chapter is a small snippet in the life of the player and dog, capturing everyday moments that are sort of boring but also poignant and quirky. The framing narrative that bookends each chapter is about how you become a better dog owner, but also about how your relationship with your dog makes you a better person and helps resolve some other conflicts you have in your life.
According to Foxdog Farms, players will be able to explore areas of San Francisco’s Outer Richmond district with their new friend, which includes real-to-life locales such as Sutro Baths, Land’s End, and more. Along the way, players will encounter other dogs, their owners, and a variety of local weirdos to interact and become familiar with:
The core of the gameplay is performing everyday tasks of dog ownership (training, walking, picking up after, grooming, and more) while advancing each chapter’s story and exploring the neighborhood / place you’re in with your dog at your side – that may mean learning about local landmarks, or having conversations with people. At a lower level, there are also mini-stories among your neighbors that will carry over across chapters, if you choose to engage with them (or find them all).
Though Foxdog Farms states that Year of the Dog will focus primarily on atmosphere and story elements, each of the game’s 12 chapters will include mini-game interludes in which players take control of the Shiba to do, you know, dog things:
These minigames have unique mechanics that will let you control the Shiba and challenge you with solving the kinds of problems dogs have: How to get every piece of peanut butter out of your Kong (you’ll control his tongue), playing fetch, finding buried trash, butt maintenance, etc. One of the minigames is my answer to the age-old question: What do dogs actually dream about?
Although no solid date has been announced for release, Foxdog Farms plans to release Year of the Dog for PC, Mac, and Linux next year. Until then, we will follow its development and announce updates as they occur.