E3 Highlight: Little Rock Games and To The Rescue!

E3 Highlight: Little Rock Games and To The Rescue!

E3 Highlight: Little Rock Games and To The Rescue!

Posted by Lawrence Rennie

14 Jun, 2021


Seldom do you find a game and a studio so dedicated to just bringing a little bit of bright joy and good back to the world, but with To The Rescue!, a cutesy simulator game about running your own dog shelter, Little Rock Games are doing just that.

I got the chance to sit down with Olivia Dunlap, writer and designer of To The Rescue!, to talk more about their studio, the game, and their goal with aiding real life dog shelters.

Making Real Impacts

“We were inspired to make this game through personal interest and knowing a lot of people that were involved in shelter work, and we were surprised a game like this didn’t exist already. It really fit well with our overall mission to try and make games that make a difference and we saw a lot of potential in this idea”, Olivia told me as she started the game to kick off our 30-minute preview. “We just really wanted to raise awareness to some of the fun things about working in an animal shelter, but some of the not so fun things too. As part of that too we knew from the very beginning that we wanted to donate a portion of our proceeds to a real charity that was making a real difference.”

Staying true to the small-time, Arkansas based studio’s guiding ethos—“Local. Ethical. Impactful”—Little Rock have committed themselves to donating 20% of the sales from To The Rescue! to the Petfinder Foundation, a public charity dedicated to the prevention of needless euthanasia of adoptable animals – a harsh reality that all too many animal shelters across the globe struggle with often due to resource and budget scarcities.

“We were very excited to have recently partnered with Petfinder Foundation – their mission really aligns with ours. They benefit shelters all across America which is really great because we wanted to make sure that the money goes where its needed, and we wanted to have a wide-reaching partner.”

As the game shows throughout, the running of a dog shelter is a far more difficult affair than it might at first seem. To The Rescue! puts you in the managing care of your own dog shelter wherein you’ll be running the day to day of bringing in new dogs, keeping them well fed and groomed, and, hopefully, getting them suitably adopted to a happy home. What at first seems like a cutesy jaunt – helped along by a fun 2D cartoon art style—can become a more stressful affair as your shelter becomes quickly overcrowded with more than dogs than you can handle at a given time.

“One thing that shelters have to deal with quite a lot is overcrowding because there always tends to be more dogs than people to adopt them. It’s definitely a real problem.”

Little Rock Games made sure to speak to plenty of dog shelters throughout the development of their game, taking on the feedback of the sheltering community to keep their game honest and aligned with the real-life picture of these environments. To The Rescue! ended up being an iterative process with the continued support and feedback of these shelters and the game’s Kickstarter community to keep adding or subtracting new and old features until they had a game that would resonate with the shelters themselves as well as the wider community it will soon be going out to.

“When we first started demoing the game we had a lot of people approach us to tell us “hey, I work in a shelter, and I like this and I don’t like this”, and it really informed a lot of our decisions. The biggest one probably being the “foster system”, because initially in the game we didn’t have fostering as a mechanic. But after talking with people that told us just how important fostering is to their shelter we knew we had to include it. Now there is a foster network in the game”.

At this point in the preview a visitor arrived at the shelter with very specific needs for the dog they wanted. Olivia showed me the process wherein you line-up up to five dogs for the prospective adopter to consider. Each adopter has a threshold that needs to be reached in order for them to pick a dog successfully. That threshold is met by the adding up the points that each dog you present contributes to their satisfaction. Things like dog cleanliness, hunger, and happiness will raise or lower those points as well as how closely their personalities or breed match-up to the customer’s wants.

On this first occasion the customer was not impressed and left without a dog.

Considering the Harsher Realities of Shelters

While the game typically chugs along quite pleasantly, Little Rock Games were clear in their decision to include one potentially controversial or upsetting aspect. Your day to day in the game is generally the fun dog-loving stuff: taking them into the playground to run around in a series of minigames like fetch, tug of war, and of course good old doggy pats; giving your pet pups a well needed wash in another optional quick minigame; ensuring your shelter stays stocked with the required foods, medicines and latest equipment’s to keep your dogs presentable and, above all else, happy. You can upgrade and build out your shelter more and more as well as your own personal abilities to make life easier in the long run. One customer not quite keen enough on any of the dogs? Maybe you take the ability to offer up your prospective adopter with a discount to tip their decision.

But away from these niceties To The Rescue! includes one often damning aspect of animal shelters: euthanasia. There is a menu option to remove the euthanasia from the game entirely, opting instead to just let dogs “go away” if capacity is not available, but Little Rock Games were very keen to ensure that this real-life difficulty of shelters was represented properly.

“From the very beginning we really wanted to include that in the game because we’re trying to represent some of the harder things shelters have to deal with, and to show what leads to shelters often having not much of a choice. In the game though it’s not presented as a goofy fun mechanic, we handled it very carefully. It’s also presented as a last resort—there are a lot of ways to get around it. But if you’re completely full on dogs and out of money it might be your only option for some of the dogs that are less adoptable than others.”

“Of course, we didn’t want to traumatise people either or force people into having an experience they didn’t come to the game for, so that’s why we do have an option to turn it off. If it makes people uncomfortable, or maybe if kids are playing and their parents aren’t interested in having those conversations right now, then that’s going to be an option to turn it off.”

You Can Pet the Dog This Fall

My final question to round out our interview? Of course, “can you pet the dog?” Answer: YES!

If that’s not enough to have you rushing to go pick this game up straight at its Fall release then consider the small indie studio dedicated to bringing some good back to the world to help push your decision.

With a monthly book-club podcast for games, frequently run community game jams for local gamers and devs, and a slate of wonderful tabletop games too Little Rock Games are a studio well worth your support. In the milieu of behemoth corporatized greed-filled publishers and game studios, it’s nice to still see a small indie kid making a real difference to do good and give back.

To The Rescue! releases fully this Fall for Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.


About Author

Lawrence Rennie

Lawrence is a Scottish-born writer with a love of games and films that he fortunately turned into a career grumbling about online. When not firing away the hours buried in a game or film he also co-writes 'Mechastopheles', an original comic series published by the UK’s leading comic magazine 2000AD as a naturally born-grumpy Scot; however, he asks that you don’t ask him too much about it though! Lawrence’s other musings include podcasts, fitness, his cat, and one day developing his own screenplay.

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