Your Game Face Got Whiskers: Tall Tails Puzzle Adventure Is Dog’s Best Friend for Gamers • Long Beach Post

Map of Levels

The media abound with studies focusing on the effects of video gaming on children and adults. A number of TED Talks distilled some of the implications; they included correlations with improvements in multitasking, tracking and seeing detail in clutter. One talk by game designer Jane McGonigal considered generalizing “world-saving missions” in such games as Worlds of Warcraft to problem solving in the real world.


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With respect to a certain game coming soon to your electronic device, I hope the implications are true. Tall Tails Puzzle Adventure from indie gaming company ZuulLabs.com, scheduled to launch in July, presents rescue, adoption and responsible pet ownership in such an enjoyable way that kids may not realize that they’ve learned something until after they’ve played for a while. The game is also challenging enough for any adult to play as well—a parent or teacher may note that the game presents an opportunity to communicate with children about pet care and responsibility. And if this awareness transfers to the player’s life, the creative team’s dream will have come true.

The gamer’s role is to be Dog’s Best Friend. The central idea goes like this: Jake, a little rescue mixed breed, makes his way along a path to rescue another dog in one of five situations based on familiar storybook tales: Alice in Wonderland, “Sleeping Beauty,” “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” and “Hansel and Gretel.” The player pays for Jake’s license—that’s the first connection—from a cache of “coins” provided at the start of the game, chooses a costume and hat for Jake, and then chooses a level of play.

Personality-graphics-01
Costumes and accessories for Jake do run a singular gamut.

The objective of each level is to reach the end of the path by stepping on every tile on the board without using up the supply of “ink” given at the start. Coins are awarded when each level is successfully completed; these may be exchanged for more accessories for Jake, more ink, “monster bombs” to get rid of bad guys, or “adoption fees” for another muttly dog—another life saved. It’s sort of like donating your airline points to bring military personnel home to their families.

Muse

One of the adoptive dog characters has three legs. A late member of the Montgomery-Cox household, aptly named Muse, inspired her.

In the course of journeying from level to level, Jake gets help from his best buddy, Skip, who gives him subtle tips for success, and from Professor Barkington, an anthropomorphically tricked-out canine academic—a sort of combination Wizard of Oz and Help button—who shows up when he senses the need, as dogs will. Jake’s obstacles include Pathwalker, a random nuisance; the Toll Troll, who steals all Jake’s coins; and Huggles, a well-intended furry stumblebum who’s full of good intentions but fouls up whatever Jake’s doing. You may know people like that.

The tile paths get increasingly more complex, and the player needs to look before leaping so that the little pen doesn’t run out of ink before Jake reaches the end—think laterally and be in two places at once, as described by ZuulLabs’ community outreach officer, Rachel Valentine. As the levels increase in difficulty, so does the task of saving up the ink in the pen—the jump tiles that seem to be rooting for Jake suddenly throw him where he doesn’t want to go; and arrows that promise to spin him to success can also throw him for a literal loop, trapping him hopelessly in a circuit until the ink runs out. When I played Tall Tails, I only made it to level 4—not that I’m an expert gamer, by any means, but when I was given 10 to try—fuggedaboutit. And there are 125 levels in the game, with more to be added, so if you think that the construct of the game is juvenile, I have some candy I’d like you to crush.

Kate intent

Clockwise from left: Rachel Valentine, Marty Cox, Rick Kenton, Jane Reed and author trying to get to level 5

“If this game is remotely as successful as Candy Crush, we’ll make a huge dent in the animal rescue effort,” said Marty Cox, ZuulLabs’ CEO. Tall Tails was conceived not only out of gamer enthusiasm but also a passion for animal rescue and welfare, dogs in particular. Louise Montgomery, Cox’s wife, has been heavily active in dog rescue for 25 years (she is one of the active volunteers for Animal Match Rescue Team; the small dogs in their care can be visited Sundays from 11AM to 4PM in front of the Petco on PCH and Second Street), and her devotion to dog rescue was the chief inspiration for the game.

Except for Cox and Montgomery, Zuul Labs’ creative team consists of former students from the Art Institute of California-Orange County who are rabid gamers (no doggy pun intended). Many of them had gained experience in other multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft and mobile games like X-Factor Mobile and Storage Wars Mobile. “We’d hang out and say, wouldn’t it be coooooool to be able to create a game?” said Jane Reed, the company’s visual design director.

Team

Tall Tails Puzzle Adventure team at work

When a mutual friend introduced the group to Cox, the latter enthusiastically accepted the challenge. “This was a great opportunity for me—I love anything technology,” he said. ZuulLabs was soon formed, with Cox, Montgomery and Rick Kenton as partners. Kenton is also the project manager; the other team members include Reed and Valentine as well as Anthony Romero, storyboard and art developer; Kai Sneed, game designer; Luis Villareal, developer; Will Lim, animator; Will Schroeder, programmer; Crash Reed, chief creative director; and Griffen Montgomery-Cox, chief inspiration officer. The next step was making Jake and his colleagues ready for their first adventure.

Griffen

Griffen Montgomery-Cox, CIO

The technical aspects involved forming the levels and creating and animating the characters. Kai Sneed showed me the rudiments of level production (my head spun) and showed me what I thought of as Jake’s cyberskeleton—it reminded me of the side view of the female mecha in AI, alive and beautiful but with the back part of her head missing. Jake was a lot cuter—he scratched an ear and wagged his tail 360 degrees at me.

storyboards--anthony romero

Anthony Romero’s original storyboards for Tall Tales Puzzle Adventure

To the same degree of attention to design, animation and stories is the care taken with Tall Tails’ intent. Cox said that the team deliberately excluded preaching from the game’s creation. “We’re not exposing kids to terms,” he said. “It’s not something didactic—it’s learning as they play the game and getting the idea to them in a playful way. Too much information will halt the game—then, nobody’ll want to play it. We want everyone to want to play it. We want to create a great game with a subtle message and, through its success, to promote responsible pet ownership and rescue.”

Valentine noted that with schools increasingly adopting technological delivery of curriculum through devices like iPads, Tall Tails can be used as guided educational play to help teach pet care and responsibility to a younger generation of people. She added that social media integration is on the way as well—players will be able to sign up on Facebook for socialization and ideas for help from fellow players or to get their alpha dog on in a competitive way.

zuul pop ups

Character pop-ups

Notably, ZuulLabs will go a step further from simply bringing rescue to the forefront in the players’ minds. When the team first organized, they made it conditional that part of the revenue will go to a good cause. “In the mobile-game world, there aren’t enough games that set to actually do, good in the world,” Valentine said, and in Cox and Montgomery’s world, that’s dog rescue. In this spirit, a percentage of the revenue from Tall Tails will go to selected local rescue organizations.

Montgomery commented that if Tall Tales Puzzles Adventures transfers to the real world as effectively as it presents awareness of pet rescue and responsibility, its players will be hitting adoption events instead of gaming conventions. This would make it perfect in every way but one—there’s not a single cat in the game. I objected.

Tall Tales 2, perhaps?” Valentine suggested.

Zuul coffee

What powers up the team

ZuulLabs is currently running a Kickstarter program to help launch Tall Tails Adventure Puzzles. If you want to help Jake and his buddies on their way, visit their Kickstarter here.

“All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.”
~ Samuel Butler

Virtually Pets

ojsunshinelilbear

OJ, Sunny and Li’l Bear

Take advantage of a rare deal! This Cute Kitten Video Kit can be yours if you qualify! The two boys, OJ (orange with blue eyes) and Sunny (orange with green eyes), and Li’l Bear, the black kitten and also a relative of her orange peers, would make a prizewinning cast of cats, especially in a loving human’s eyes. They’ve been together since birth, and it would be great if they could go home together. But even as only cats, they’ll perform a solo act on your heart. They’re all fully vetted and ready to go home on Father’s Day weekend. For information on adoption, e-mail [email protected]. (Be sure you ask Dad before you surprise him with a purring package.)

Pattys silly orange cat

Kibble

Pink

We’re delighted to let readers know that Pink, a California brown pelican that the International Bird Rescue (IBR) and “arguably one of the most famous patients in International Bird Rescue history,” made a successful flight to freedom June 3 at White Point Park in San Pedro. L.A. city councilman Joe Buscaino released Pink, accompanied by jubilant shouts by onlookers. As part of IBR’s Blue Banded Pelican Program, Pink was fitted with a blue band; anyone who spots a pelican that may be Pink is encouraged to report it here.

A recent article in the Long Beach Post described the heartless slashing of Pink’s bill, nearly severing the throat pouch from the bill itself. The act caused nationwide outrage against the cruelty; no suspects have been detained, and a $20,000 reward is still being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of responsible parties. Tips may be made anonymous to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at(310) 328-1516.

Although it’s difficult to eclipse what was done to the pelican, the volunteers at IBR did a pretty good job of it. Pink’s supporters and caregivers, in particular the Port of Long Beach, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, Terranea Resort and countless animal lovers everywhere helped Pink through two surgeries and weeks in care, leading to a “record recovery.” Good always trumps evil, and that’s what it’s all about.

Pet Projects

Dog Park Etiquette Class, Saturday, June 14, spcaLA PD Pitchford Companion Animal Village, 7700 E. Spring St. (in El Dorado Park), Long Beach, 4–6PM, $10

Be a good dog-park visitor. Understand and learn to recognize good and bad behaviors to encourage positive interactions at the dog park. This class is for humans only. Please do not bring your dog to class!

Woofstock Pet Adoption, Saturday, June 21, Unleashed by Petco, 600 Redondo Blvd., Long Beach, 10AM–2PM

“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep on watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.” The late John Lennon made this statement during the period of love, great music and abandon that was the Woodstock era, and even though we can’t really smell the patchouli anymore, the statement still applies. Don’t you want somebody to love? During the Woofstock adoption event, you can find him or her, and you’ll be loved in turn. And because love really isn’t all you need, you can get everything to keep your new best friend well fed, clean and happy at Unleashed by Petco! Come for the fun—there’ll be pet-food vendors, games, doggie ice cream and flowers in the fur.

Fund-Raiser for Friends of Long Beach Animals and Long Beach Animal Care Services, Thursday, June 26, Veggie Grill, The Marketplace in Long Beach, 6451 E. PCH, 4–10PM

Veggie Grill 6-26

It’s time to eat your nice vegetables and fund humane projects, the new ACS clinic, animal welfare and other good things. Mention the flier above or print it out and hand it in; 50 percent of the check will help fund these efforts. Even if Veggie Grill didn’t make delicious dishes out of vegetables, you’d still want to go and help, right?

spcaLA July Foster Class, Saturday, July 19, spcaLA PD Pitchford Companion Animal Village, 7700 E. Spring St. (in El Dorado Park), Long Beach, 10AM-Noon, FREE

Help a cat or dog better his or her chance to be adopted by offering a temporary loving home. SpcaLA is seeking foster parents for pets of all ages and needs. Anyone interested should complete and submit the application available at this link. SpcaLA provides the supplies—you provide the love and care.

Stray Cat Alliance Team Fund-Raiser for Strut Your Mutt, through Sept. 1, Online

Stray Cat Alliance (SCA) is presenting its major fund-raiser for the year as it calls for team members and supporters of the SCA team in Best Friends’ Strut Your Mutt fund-raising dog walk (click on the link). The walk’s mission is to help homeless dogs, and cats will not be left out. The walk itself will take place in the evening at Will Rogers State Historic Park; SCA’s Strut Your Mutt volunteer coordinator Debbie Rankin likes to call it “Date Night with your Best Fur-end.” Because cats prefer to stay at home, you can bring your dog or a friend’s dog to the event with a $30 donation, or if you can’t make it, you can join as a virtual team member or donate to the fund-raiser. Information about the fund-raiser can be found here.

The goal is to raise $25,000 by Sept. 1.

The walk is the only all-volunteer fund-raiser that SCA is holding this year to help offset operation costs and help as many cats as possible. Expenses were huge this year; they included Operation 74, in which SCA pulled 63 out of 74 hoarded cats from the shelter before they could be euthanized, vetted them and had them treated. Some are still being boarded. The organization also engages in daily trap/spay-neuter/ activities; those who can be adopted will be fostered; that takes funds, too. Rankin said that their working capital is at an all-time low.

To support or join, click here. Your donation is tax deductible, and SCA uses all funds to support their good work.

Editor’s Note: For several years, Kate Karp’s column on all things pets- and animals-related has been referred to as the “Pet Post.” Kate has recently informed us that there is another website in town known by the same name, and out of respect to her friends and fellow pets advocates, she’s asked that we change the name of her column. She has also asked us to make it clear that the new column name, “Scratching Post,” is in no way indicitive of an endorsement in the ongoing cats-vs-dogs debate; this column will continue to focus on all of our beloved furry (and feathered and scaled) friends, equally.

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