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Bumming about with Butt Sniffin Pugs: a co-op dog simulator

Sweet smell of success.

Butt Sniffin Pugs is a game about smelling canine bums. But it's about so much more than that. It's about peeing. And pooping. And barking. And biting. In short: it's a game about being a dog.

Shown off at GDC with a bizarre giant tennis ball/pug bottom controller (more on that later), SpaceBeagles' Butt Sniffin Pugs transcends vanilla concepts like good or bad, or smart or stupid.

Like Noby Noby Boy before it, there are no concrete goals in Butt Sniffin Pugs. You merely frolic about interacting with the scenery. But unlike Keita Takahashi's cult classic, Butt Sniffin Pugs can be played with two players.

Games are art!

In fact, you have to play it with another person as players switch abilities - so far limited to pooping, peeing, barking and biting - through sniffing each other's bums (well, their avatar's bum anyway). "All the surprises are cooperative," explains SpaceBeagles' Gabe Telepak. "So maybe I bark on the bush and I see a frisbee. Immediately I want to throw it with you and I want to play. That way we have a game that's fully accessible, and you can relax and just be a dog."

Indeed discovery is a big part of the appeal in Butt Sniffin Pugs, just as one assumes real dogs are constantly in awe of everything. "Every object on screen is interactive," Telepak tells me. For example, peeing on a squirrel will result in it taking out a tiny umbrella. Bark on a bush and find a frisbee lodged in it, which can then be thrown around with the other player. If you sleep near the squirrel it jumps on your back. If you then run near the other player, it hops on their back.

"We just wanted to make a game that brings joy to everybody that's also silly and fun," Telepak says. "The idea was to make an open-world game where you're a dog and you just have fun with a friend. So you just have all these interactions, all these surprises."

It wasn't always this simple, however. Initially Butt Sniffin Pugs was developed as part of a game jam where it was a competitive game. "There were like 40 pugs on screen and they all had hats. It was like this weird competitive game where you had to take territory with different pugs, using specific abilities," Telepak explains. "People didn't know what they were doing and there was too much stuff on screen."

Telepak calls this the "bad version of Butt Sniffin Pugs." But he already had an inkling that this wouldn't work as his girlfriend, Michelle Reyes, who has since become SpaceBeagle's "queen of pug game design" (as well as Telepak's fiancee, she's quick to point out), had told him that player goals were getting in the way of the true pug experience. "She was like 'no, just make it a virtual world that you can have fun in."

Watch on YouTube

The current build of Butt Sniffin Pugs is fairly basic with a one-screen dog park and only one time of day, though that's subject to change before its commercial release. Telepak admits that this early build was rushed out the door for GDC in order to gather feedback, but he says he'd like to add a day/night cycle along with more abilities and interactions. "People were like 'why can't I pee on the cup?' 'Why can't I eat my poo?' And I'm like 'Oh my god, you should totally be able to!'"

As far as platforms go, Telepak says he's aiming for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4 and Vita. He has a reason to be confident about the PlayStation versions as Shuhei Yoshida specifically called out Butt Sniffin Pugs in a Gamasutra interview where he's discussing exciting looking indie projects.

Queen of pug game design Michelle Reyes' amazing pug tattoo.

There's another reason SpaceBeagles is eyeing PS4 and Vita: the touchpad/screen controllers seem like they'll be a good fit for Butt Sniffin Pugs, which took residence at GDC's alternative controller showcase, alt.ctrl.GDC. You see, this expo build has players control the pugs with a giant trackpad designed to look like a tennis ball. As such, you're pawing the controller like an excited puppy to move around. To sniff another pug's butt, you smack the rear end of a stuffed dog protruding from the gargantuan controller.

It's certainly an eye-catching display, but not exactly practical for commercial distribution. But Telepak admits that it's only incidental to the experience. He likes the idea of running your fingers over a touchpad or touchscreen to mimic puppy paws, though he's not dead set on it and doesn't think it's entirely vital to the experience. "I don't want to be like 'I'm not going to give this to the world, or Xbox, because I can't let people run like a dog," he explains.

"And Wii U?" I ask. "It has a touchscreen."

"I would love it. That would be awesome!" he exclaims. Though he's a little unsure where to begin with the famously introverted Nintendo. "I'd love to talk to the Shovel Knight guys about how to get this on there. Because that platform, and how family friendly it is - yes please!"

Regarding when this dog will have its day on our TVs, monitors and handheld devices, Telepak says SpaceBeagles is hoping to have it out later this year, but he doesn't want to rush it. "We want this to have a lot of content," he says. "And we want it to be the best that it can be, so we're really taking our time on it."

Butt Sniffin is serious business after all.