Ever since it was first announced in 2020, Stray has been melting players’ hearts. That’s because of its unlikely hero, a stray orange cat that has turned a sci-fi city into its personal playground. Considering that video game developers usually tend to anthropomorphize their furry leads, the idea of playing as a regular old cat who walks around on all fours and scratches up couches seemed both irresistible and fresh.
Take one look at a trailer for the upcoming indie game and it becomes immediately obvious that it was developed by cat lovers. That’s exactly the case, as the developers at BlueTwelve Studio used their own cats as direct points of reference for the project. In fact, the game’s furry hero is loosely inspired by a real-life stray (though a much sleepier one).
Visually speaking, the resemblance between Murtaugh and Stray‘s fictional hero is noticeable at first glance. The now eight-year-old Murtaugh is an orange cat with white whiskers and a black spot on his nose. The similarities between the two cats aren’t simply visual though: Murtaugh was a stray cat who was rescued by producer Swann Martin-Raget.
“He was actually found by myself and my roommate at the time under a car,” Martin-Raget tells Digital Trends. “He was very, very young and not injured, but quite dirty. It was a bit sad to see.”
Murtaugh’s age at the time of his rescue was unknown, though Martin-Raget says he looked only a few months old at that point. Soon after that, both Murtaugh and another stray cat that Martin-Raget was caring for at the time were adopted by BlueTwelve co-founders Viv and Koola. The timing just happened to coincide with the early stages of Stray’s creative timeline.
“It was the moment when they started working on the project, so Murtaugh has been there working with them from the very beginning,” says Martin-Raget. “When they were designing the main character of the game, they used him as a reference. It’s not an exact copy, it’s loosely based on Murtaugh — especially in terms of schedule. Murtaugh spends a lot more time sleeping than the cat in the game.”
When Martin-Raget talks about the studio’s cats, he describes them as if they’re co-workers, joking (or perhaps very serious) that they’re the ones running the show. When I ask if the team ever brought them into any important meetings with publisher Annapurna Interactive, he notes that they didn’t have a choice in the matter. Though some cats were intent on being front and center, Murtaugh wasn’t quite as paws-on.
“Murtaugh is a CEO type of personality: Sleeping every day and whining about the food not being there on time,” he jokes.
Murtaugh is strictly a house cat, so he didn’t spend much time around BlueTwelve’s studio while the game was in development. However, the studio did have two office cats that employees would bring in regularly. One of those is Jun, a black cat who Martin-Raget describes as more of an executive (“He walks from desk to desk looking at what you’re doing and trying to make sure you’re working properly,” Martin-Raget says).
Having cats actively around the office every day would serve as useful for the team in several ways. For one, it gave the developers a quick point of reference for behaviors and other details one might see when observing a cat in its natural daily state. For instance, the game’s lead animator took reference videos of the office’s second cat, a sphinx named Oscar, jumping around to help nail the animal’s detailed movements in-game.
Naturally, the office cats brought some feline chaos to the development process as well. Though Martin-Raget explains that even those annoyances proved to be useful points of reference during the development process.
“Having cats in the office is really a constant reminder of their personality,” Martin-Raget says. “You know, when they step on the power button just when you’re about to save your work on the computer, or when they start singing when you have an important call … I think that was a constant reminder of how playful they can be and how interesting it would be to have the personality of cats in the game and have some situations that make fun of the inhabitants of the city.”
He’s not exaggerating. Martin-Raget notes that he lost some text that he was translating between French and English because of a cat switching off his computer (“it’s funny now”). As a cat-proofing measure, the developers had to put cardboard blockades over their power buttons to prevent a disaster.
Typical hijinks aside, the office cats earned their keep around the studio. Martin-Raget notes that having them around provided the developers with a surprisingly useful focus group that let them know if the game was on the right track.
“One nice moment we had in development is when the cats in the office started reacting to what was on our screens,” Martin-Raget says. “Having the sounds of the cats in the game making them raise their head, and trying to interact with the cats in the cinematics … I think it was a nice indication that we were on a good path.”
What’s especially fitting about the dynamic is that Stray itself is about the interplay between nature and machines. It stars a stray cat who wanders around a sci-fi city filled with robots, interacting with them via a drone companion. That’s mirrored in the game’s actual development environment, as cats interacted with and influenced a digital world even if they were just trying to cause trouble.
Stray’s feline authenticity is a testament to the studio’s compassion for the animals and willingness to work alongside them. Hopefully, Murtaugh, Jun, and Oscar are being properly compensated for their work with treats.
Stray launches on July 19 for PC, PS4, and PS5.