Touch Pets: Dogs Preview

Whether you are a pet owner, animal devotee, or just a lover of all things cuddly, there’s probably an app for that. If nothing has yet tickled your fancy (or rubbed your belly), ngmoco might have what you’ve been searching for with their new Touch Pets series headed to iPhone.

The first entry, Touch Pets: Dogs, is being developed with the expertise of virtual pet veteran, Andrew Stern, who worked to create the pivotal Petz franchise in the late 90s. We recently had a chance to discuss his newest project with him via e-mail.

“I love animals, and recently have had pets I was very close to,” Stern told us in an email.

“I think the thing that excites me the most about creating virtual pets is the art, craft and technology involved in creating the illusion of life: how a combination of artificial intelligence, expressive animation and a direct interaction user interface all work together to form this virtual living being that has emotion, awareness and can form relationships with you. It is a fascinating pursuit,” he told us.

Virtual pet sims have been years in the making, but this one is looking to take advantage of some of the iPhone’s unique features. For starters, Stern says, the iPhone “has better rendering capability than the PCs I developed on my previous virtual pet projects.”

“I think there’s something very compelling about having a fluidly-alive virtual dog right at your fingertips, that you can carry around and play with anywhere you are.”

It was probably Nintendo DS’s Nintendogs that really gave us our first taste of a truly user-friendly and portable pet care experience. You’ll probably notice some similarities between that game and Touch Pets: Dogs, but there are some key differences worth noting.

“The quality of the illusion of life combined with the immediate, direct interaction the puppies offer; the depth of the stats, goals and careers for the puppies that we’ve created; and of course, the ability for you to socialize and network your dogs with your friends dogs, and follow their friendships and romances over time” really set this one apart, Stern told us.

The unique touch controls and motion sensing capabilities of the iPhone could take pet sims to the next level. “You can draw hand gestures to train your puppies to sit, lie down, raise up, hop around, and do all kinds of flips,” Stern wrote. “And, you can tilt the phone to roll an Agility Ball around and train your dog to jump over and onto it. It’s really fun.”

Beyond the new interface, the so-called career aspect is equally impressive, if they can integrate it into the basic one-on-one time you spend with your pup. Want your dog to be a crime fighting hero or a scientific slueth? No problem, if you train it right.

“Your role is to prepare your dog to go off and accomplish a career on their own; they run offscreen and come back a little while later succeeding or failing the current Career Step,” Stern described. “To do this, you warm up your puppies by feeding and doing Strength Training with them, you equip them with tools such as Laser Rangefinders, GPS or Grappling Hooks as the case may be.”

“You can pursue puppy careers in Search and Rescue, Crimefighting, Science, Politics, and even become a Celebrity dog,” Stern said.

The best part is that you won’t be tackling this alone, thanks to play dates. Stern walked us through the process. “[Play dates] are asynchronous, meaning that I can invite your puppy over to play on my device while you are simultaneously playing with your puppy on [yours]. When that happens, it’s sort of like parallel universes. But whatever effects I have on your dog ‘“ such as feeding her, giving her attention, even getting her to fall in love [with] my dog-’“ those changes shortly thereafter get merged with whatever you’re doing with your dog. You can also set permission levels to say how much or little other players can affect your dog.”

Your pals can keep track of what you’re doing with your canine companion by following a global Twitter-esque Dog Feed. “[You] can follow other players and read about what they and their dogs are up to. For example, if I’m following you but you’re not following me yet, I can invite your dog to my device, but can’t affect her stats. Once we’re mutually following each other though, then we can care for each other’s dogs.”

What about if your online friend has a mean streak? No worries, because “all interactions are positive in Touch Pets,” said Stern. “The worst you can do is to neglect a dog by not feeding or playing with it for a while. Puppies won’t starve (the game automatically feeds them for you) but your dog can become sad and lonely.”

“If that happens, all other players in your network will see postings on the Dog Feed such as ‘Rex is lonely and needs to be fed’ ‘“ encouraging you to feed your friends’ dogs if they’re slacking off.” Doing so earns you extra Puppy Points, which you can presumably use to unlock new items, clothes, and advancements.

Whatever you decide to do with your newfound best friend, it seems like Touch Pets is going to allow you to do it in some form. With the online social aspects, the career tracks, and innovative touch and motion controls, this is one to to put on your watch list.

As to what’s next for the franchise, Stern was predictably mum on future additions, but we’ll be as unsurprised as Droopy if they don’t have a follow-up game in the months following its release. Keep your eyes peeled and stay tuned to Slide To Play and the official Touch Pets website for more info as the game nears its release.