Originally released in 2022, Stray‘s tale of friendship and a search for home captivated the collective attention of the gaming world and the internet at large. Initially, that was all thanks to its biggest hook — playing as a cat. A nameless, adorable stray that had many charmed before it’d even launched.
And, to my surprise, what originally sounded like a gimmick turned out to be one of the year’s most creative platformers. Refreshingly, Stray had proven me wrong.
In Stray, you’re an orange tabby in an underground cyberpunk world of robots, many of whom have lost hope that there is a world outside. In a surprisingly heartwarming story with the robot B-12, you go on your quest to find your way home. It’s a semi-open world, giving you areas to explore along its linear tale. In typical cat style, you aren’t limited to the ground and are encouraged to come up with creative solutions to climb and leap around.
If you want to thank anyone, developer BlueTwelve points to the many team cats who served as inspiration. There’s also the adorable real-life stray, Murtaugh, who influenced the game’s protagonist. Little Murtaugh was found under a car, but now lives a comfortable life with one of the co-founders and, occasionally, is lovingly referred to as “the Boss.”
Stray‘s just saw macOS port in December 2023, and has a movie on the way, bringing the tale to the big screen. Though it’s still early days, Annapurna Animation’s lead, Andrew Millstein, explains that the the game was chosen for adaptation because “it is just wildly popular.” In an interview with Swann Martin-Raget from BlueTwelve Studio, Destructoid discussed the world of Stray and what’s to come next.
Stray — On the big, the small, and the fuzzy
Destructoid: Stray mostly takes place in Walled City 99. Its cyberpunk aesthetic is beautiful but dystopian, with some inhabitants doubting whether it is even possible to leave the abyss they dwell in. By the end, the game offers a hopeful answer. Was the plan always to make a hope-inspiring game?
Martin-Raget: What we really tried to do is to not add a moral point of view to the themes we’re approaching in the game. We’re only showing possibilities through the eyes of a very neutral character without taking sides between good or bad and we let the players decide what to make of it and if they think it’s overall a sad or hopeful message.
Destructoid: Stray has plenty of action-packed segments, but what really captured me were some of the calmer moments, like just hanging out with Morusque the musician. What was the motivation for including these moments?
Martin-Raget: We paid a lot of attention to the rhythm of the game in general. Having a good variety of action-paced sequences, some more puzzle-oriented phases and also times where you just have to look around and enjoy the vibe is very important to keep the story and the world engaging. But also nothing is more typical of a cat than just sleep and do nothing so it was a very natural thing to add!
Destructoid: B-12 is lovable! How did the character come about, and what were the influences?
Martin-Raget: There was actually a lot of iteration on B-12’s character like how robotic his personality should be and whether his general tone should be more dramatic or more hopeful. It was a very fine balance that required a lot of different trial and error to identify who the character really was and so we are super happy to see people and players reacting well emotionally to him.
Destructoid: The game relies a lot on environmental storytelling, and it is led by a protagonist who can’t speak. Did you find this style of storytelling a challenge?
Martin-Raget: It’s definitely a wide-reaching constraint that changes a lot of things in how you approach the storytelling and the world building. But we also found that it opens up a lot of very interesting possibilities and it’s super helpful to “show and not tell” when we want to leave some room for the player’s imagination to fill the gaps. Creatively it ended up being something really inspiring and motivating for us.
Destructoid: Having a cat protagonist made for an interesting gameplay experience. Were there any unique challenges that made you wish you had just opted for a human protagonist instead?
Martin-Raget: Cats are definitely a very challenging character to portray in a video game for a lot of different reasons. Whether it’s the camera that is too close to the ground, the collisions that needs to be very precise and the fluidity in the navigation that really needs to be perfect, everything is a bit more tricky than usual and would be much simpler with human protagonists. But it also gives a very unique point of view in the world and a refreshing way of not only navigating the city as a player, but also of designing it and building the gameplay so we never regretted this choice.
Destructoid: Stray was developed by a relatively small team, which makes the game all the more impressive. What are the advantages of working with a small team and do you wish for BlueTwelve Studio to retain its size?
Martin-Raget: We have a lot of variety in careers and experiences in the team and quite a few of us have known bigger studios with bigger teams and more complex organization. We know that communication between the specialties and emulation between the people can be very limited in bigger teams where the layers are deeper. As developers, we really enjoy the freedom and the flexibility that working in a small group gives and we will try our best to remain a size that is relatively small and human sized.
Destructoid: Were there any ideas you had to pass on that you wish made it into the final game?
Martin-Raget: There’s always on any project a million of ideas and inspirations that you do have to eventually let go to be able to actually finish a game and release it for others to enjoy. So the answer is of course yes, but knowing that we are such a small team with limited resources, I’m really happy to see how many cool ‘cat features’ and ‘cat moments’ we still managed to add in and there was not a lot of real heartbreaker in the end.
Destructoid: As an occasional Mac player, I’m quite pleased that Stray has made its way to the platform, as it is often neglected. What was the motivation for the port?
Martin-Raget: As game creators, our goal is always to have as many players as possible being able to enjoy our game and visit this world we made with our hearts. So we were really happy to have this opportunity to allow Mac players that are as avid and passionate as the others to experience and enjoy Stray.
Destructoid: There are still so many mysteries by the end of the game. Are there any plans for more stories set in Stray’s world?
Martin-Raget: Murtaugh said I can’t answer this question or else…
Destructoid: A film is on the way, which is very exciting news. Can you tell us anything about it?
Martin-Raget: The only thing I can say is that it’s still very early, but we’re extremely excited by this project.
Destructoid: How’s Murtaugh?
Martin-Raget: He’s doing great! Living his best life as usual. We still call him “The boss” here in the studio and he has been visiting us in our new office quite a few times and seemed to like it, so all is very good. He is pleased that you asked and said you are a good human.