Overrun with Puppies

2010 Connect2Media

Platforms: Apple iOS and PC (Windows)

This is a smaller piece intended for inclusion in The Games That Weren’t book that didn’t make the final cut. As a result, please note that it hasn’t been professionally proof read compared to the published pieces in the book. As part of our Bonus material series, here is the full raw article for your enjoyment.

The boom of mobile opened us up to a new era in gaming, with a plethora of titles in many shapes and sizes. With something for everyone, the ease of access further enabled those not into games to get involved in gaming. On the other hand, it’s been seen as a contributing factor towards a sea of ‘shovelware’, with cheap cash-ins and titles lacking on depth or real value.

Scratch beneath the surface and many gems can be found amongst the rough. Starting life out on PC via Steam, Plants vs Zombies was one particular success story back in 2010 on iOS and became a favourite amongst mobile gamers. The game can be filed under the Tower Defence genre, where you must defend territory/items from attack. Early genre examples include Missile Command, but it was Atari’s Rampart which set a standard for placing defences that automatically ‘attack’ incoming enemies.

Overrun with Puppies (iOS). Starting in your run down kitchen within the main game.

No doubt inspired by the success of Plants vs Zombies, Overrun with Puppies was to be a brand new Tower Defence style game, aimed at younger audiences. Designed by Andy Needham, the game was scheduled for release on iOS in 2010 by Connect2Media, a mobile game publisher. Andy was unfortunately unable to comment about the development due to legal issues, but described the game as a simple and casual version of a Tapper/Plants vs Zombies style game with a talented team behind it.

Connect2Media originally had their own UK development team at the time, and this was to be another game from their stable. Part of the team was programming veteran Carleton Handley, who had previously worked for companies such as Software Creations. “I was an in-house developer. I’d done loads of games for mobile devices and as the company was a publisher, we had weekly meetings to vote in new projects to develop.” Carleton began. “Overrun with Puppies was picked and I was available.”

Working alongside Carleton would be Aileen Raistrick, who would create artwork for the entire game. Martin Oakden would complete the team working on the title, overseeing testing and contributing level designs and ideas throughout the project.

The game was single player only and started with a story mode where you control Pippa, who has just opened a Puppy Day Care centre. Pippa must navigate through 24 levels, each with a series of puppies to look after and various traits to contend with. Puppies and obstacles appear from the right side of the screen, and move in various ways across to the left side of the screen. No puppy must get across that is left unfed and unsatisfied – otherwise it is game over.

“The grid layout and onslaught of ‘enemies’ was similar to Plants vs Zombies, but there was no concept of energy.”

Each level represented a day in the centre and came with its own scenario to play out, either within the kitchen or the garden. The first day for instance had you looking after a set amount of Labrador puppies, but as the day’s progress – you would be introduced to different breeds that would be quicker, have varying behaviours and appear more frequently. A bone meter at the foot of the game would give indication of how many puppies are left to deal with to complete the level.

mini game1
Overrun with Puppies (iOS). One of the many mini-games featured in the game.

Varying traits for the different puppies within each day created unique challenges for the player across levels. With puppies that are dirty, you must scrub them first before they contemplate their food. Some puppies come with fleas, which needed removing before they too begin eating. Upping the crazyometer, other puppies fly in on balloons (which you must pop) or wear helicopter hats (which you must knock off) – whilst others ride in on skateboards.

Successful care and feeding required use of instance, there was a large bowl for a Labrador and a small one for a Poodle. Each breed would be gradually introduced throughout, with relevant items for breeds present for you to make use of. Towards the end of the game, your worktop of items would soon become full, and the possibilities for placement more complex.

To help contend with the challenges, special items would appear during a game which can help reduce the amount of interaction required. A steak would attract a nearby puppy, who would begin to run off with it, with puppies in the same row following the chase. However, as no interaction is made, it could reduce the possibility of getting a 100% ‘love’ grade for the level – represented on a ‘love’ meter.

The meter was filled by collecting hearts left behind from puppies successfully attended to by Pippa. “You could collect these before they disappeared to fill the heart meter at the top of the screen.” Carleton explained. “This lead to a % completion for each day and to get 100% was quite a task later on. It was to encourage people to replay levels.”

Based on the percentage, you were either awarded a bronze, silver or gold rosette on completion of a level. It becomes a risk trying to collect all the hearts left behind, as it means leaving the other puppies unattended. Making the risk worth it was the higher amount of money earned from higher rosette awards. You could also ‘grind’ [1] levels to get more money according to Carleton.

Overrun with Puppies (iOS). Choose your purchases from the shop carefully to help you progress.

Your earnings would allow you to later buy cosmetic and decorative items to make your initially run-down kitchen and garden more presentable. Choosing better appliances provided the most benefits, with items such as a ‘Golden Tap’ that helps you fill water bowls faster. Enhanced bowls available also enabled puppies to finish eating a lot faster.

Complete all of the ‘story mode’ and you would still have the choice of replaying all the levels to try and achieve 100% love status for all. You would also be rewarded with a new ‘Marathon’ mode, where the levels are completely random, and Pippa must survive an onslaught of puppies for as long as possible – extending the life of the game and value for money.

Saying Plants vs Zombies was an inspiration is an understatement when looking at screenshots of the game. Things bear more than a striking resemblance, suggesting the game was just a straight clone with the graphics changed. But Overrun with Puppies did come with its own twists and ideas in comparison to the original game, ones which would help to give the game its own identity and still appeal to fans of the Plants vs Zombies franchise.

“The grid layout and onslaught of ‘enemies’ was similar to Plants vs Zombies, but there was no concept of energy.” Carleton reasoned. “Instead you placed whatever you liked in the play-field, but this could end up cluttering it, so you had to plan it well. You also had to collect used items (empty dog bowls etc.) to leave space for other items. You also had to interact with the dogs, otherwise they ignored their items.”

Minus energy, was Overrun with Puppies a deliberately more simplified experience compared to Plants vs Zombies, so that it would appeal better to younger audiences? “I don’t think it was any simpler really, and the finished game is actually fairly difficult.” responded Carleton. “It’s a lot more frantic for a start. There’s no sitting around waiting for sun symbols, and the constant tidying up of the play area kept you busier than in Plants vs Zombies.”

The concept that inspired Overrun with Puppies, Plants vs Zombies (Steam PC edition pictured here).

To draw players in, the game needed to have some solid artwork and animations behind it. Aileen would ensure that this would be the case, producing vibrant cartoon-based artwork across the game as a whole. Clearly defined menus and options were provided throughout to make for a game which would be quick to pick up and get playing right away with the minimum of fuss.

Splash screens and interface designs were originally a cute mimic of Facebook, with a naming of ‘nosebook’. With probable concerns of the big corporation kicking off with their legal team, the design was changed to a more conventional old fashioned board game layout.

Overall, the game was something to be proud of, and the team behind it was just that. Employees at Connect2Media enjoyed playing the game, and it was felt that it could be a winner for the company. After 5-6 months, and relatively smooth development, there was very little else left to do. “Basically it was done pending any changes a publisher may have requested.” Carleton confirmed. “Anything from adding their splash screens, to major gameplay changes – had they been willing to pay.”

Although initially an iOS only project, other platforms were also a viable option for Connect2Media. “We had a development library which meant we could actually code and run simulated versions on the PC itself. It also meant easier porting to other devices (Android was starting to take off, we still supported more powerful mobiles like the K800 etc.).” Carleton explained. “After 3 or so months the iOS version was mostly done and was considered pretty good, so I was asked to make a full blown PC version that we could sell to one of those PC gaming portal sites, like Big Fish.”

An Xbox 360 version could also have been made available due to the PC edition being developed with Microsoft’s XNA game studio framework. As a result, it would have been trivial for the game to have been converted, but it was never considered by the studio.

level select
Overrun with Puppies (iOS). Choose your day/level to play.

The PC version was started once the core game was fully completed on the iOS edition. It expanded heavily on the original, due to a higher price point than the iOS edition. Justifying this higher cost was the inclusion of a staggering 16-mini games (including the unlocked ‘Marathon’ mode already mentioned). Each of these were unlocked as you played through the main story mode. Carleton kindly gave a detailed breakdown for all of the minigames and what they involved:

  • Puppy Pairs: “One of those memory pair games. Click on two different kitchen tiles to reveal a dog/bowl etc. Then remember where they are to match them with others. There was also a stand-alone Jack in the Box, which when revealed, shuffled the items!”
  • Pippa’s Portraits: “Like those slide puzzles you got as a kid.”
  • Bowl-a-Rama: “A version of Lights-Out [2], replacing the lights with dog bowls.”
  • Follow the lead: “A version of the old game Simon. You’d be shown a sequence, which you then had to repeat.”
  • Spot the Difference: “Self-explanatory. This was actually really good and worked quite well. Aileen drew this with 50 removable items. We took out 5 randomly for one of the pictures and away you go. It was tricky even when you were familiar with the pictures.”
  • Mole Mayhem: “A wac-a-mole clone.”
  • Best in Show: “A sort of complicated Match 3 type game where you had to choose a puppy, which would cause a chain reaction of puppies. You had to pick the puppy which would remove the amount shown at the top of the screen.”
  • That’s My Boy: “25 tiles are filled with different objects. You have to tap the one displayed at the top of the screen. You’re timed on how quickly you can clear the level. A lot of the mini-games had difficulty levels and this one was the meanest. On hard the item to tap would change every second, just about the time you’d taken to find it!”
  • Catch: “You had a flying puppy (!) on the left of the screen. He was controlled in a Flappy Birds style and you’d have to get him to the correct height to knock back balls bouncing in from the right, like Pong.”
  • Stand in line: “Similar to ‘Best in Show’ but with a timer and scoring.”
  • Balloon Lander: “Puppies would float from the right. They had 10 balloons attached. Pop all the balloons with correct timing, so the puppies dropped onto targets.”
  • Wacky Wheels: “Puppies skateboarded from the right, you had to push them backwards 3 times whereupon they’d leave.”
  • Butterfly Garden: “Lots of butterflies floating about, tap them to collect them and avoid the bees.”
  • Puppy Pairs Extreme: “Same as ‘Puppy pairs’, but the joker also shuffles when revealed as one of the pair items.”
  • Follow the Lead Extreme: “Same as ‘Follow the Lead’, but the sequence changes each time instead of just expanding.”
  • Marathon: “Like the main game, but randomly generated and pretty extreme. Love hearts built up special items to help.”

A rather generous addition which would add much to the longevity of the game. It was possible that the mini-games could have later been added to the iOS edition of the game before release, though the tide was about to change for all involved. With the game almost complete, Connect2Media made a decision which would have significant impact on the impending release. “Sadly in 2010, they got rid of their [UK] development team and concentrated on publishing only – so I was made redundant.” explained Carleton.

spot the difference
Overrun with Puppies (iOS). One of the many mini-games featured in the game.

Even with the devastating news for the development group, the company was still keen to see Overrun with Puppies released. Carleton’s notice period was therefore extended whilst the PC version was finished. That work was completed within a few months and Carleton moved onto pastures new, fully expecting to see the game appear online shortly afterwards.

“I expected it to be released at some point, but it just never happened.”

Months would pass, and nothing was to surface of the game on either iOS or PC. “I’d left when they were trying to sell to publishers, but I assume they didn’t get any decent offers.” Carleton suggests, when asked why that may have been. “I expected it to be released at some point, but it just never happened. The iOS version is hopelessly outdated now.” The game was being written for the iPhone 3 at the time, therefore no retina support and no iPad support – it would need to be re-written now.

Although reasonable enough that the PC version non-release was just due to a publisher not being found, the fate of iOS version was bizarre. It was after all a key supported platform of the publisher. “It was just about the time the app store became a 59p race to the bottom. This may have been why they didn’t release the iOS version. Before this we had released games on phones for around £5.” explained Carleton. When Connect2Media was asked for their reasons for not releasing the game, no response was given.

Chances of actually being able to play Overrun with Puppies in its current state are remote, with the potential for the idea to be resurrected for today’s platforms. Connect2Media are going strong today, and it is therefore a possibility. However, with the amount of time that has passed, it is becoming more unlikely. It means this particular puppy could be locked away in its kennel for the foreseeable future, unless something miraculous happens of course.

This piece was originally to be a part of The Games That Weren’t book, but didn’t quite make the cut – so we are presenting it here for free. If have enjoyed the piece and want to check out more and support us, please check out the link above.

[1] Also known as ‘Farming’, a process of taking part in repetitive tasks to gain materials within a game. Some games today allow you to make ‘in app’ purchases to mostly bypass the task, which many more ‘old school’ gamers dislike.

[2] An electronic game that was released in 1995 by Tiger Electronics, where you are presented with a random pattern of lights on a 5×5 grid. Pressing a light will toggle it, and 4 lights that surround it. The aim is to simply switch all of the lights off.

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