Warning: This post is a bit of a downer, and talks about some sad stuff like losing a beloved pet. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to read about then you can skip this post.
Hi, Artist Panda here. AKA Morgan. AKA Mio?? It’s a bit confusing, I know. So I’ll explain that bit, but I just wanted to preface this blog post with a little apology. I’m going to talk about Crush Crush and some of the easter eggs in that game but the main purpose of me writing this is to help with my grief of losing someone very dear to me. My oldest and best friend in the world, Mio.
This is my cat. His name is Mio and he’s a long haired orange tabby with amber colored eyes. He’s one of the most chill and gentle cats you could ever meet. I know there are some cats out there who hiss, use their claws, and can be a royal pain, but not this little dude. He has always been a gentle soul with nothing but love, nuzzles, purrs and meows to share. This blog post is going to be about his story and how he played such an important part in the making of Crush Crush.
Rewind the clock to the year 2006, and younger me was in school having a hard time with some life stuff. So I decided to comfort myself by adopting a furry friend. Enter Mio! I met him at the local SPCA a couple months after Christmas, because I knew there would be a rush of people getting kittens in time for the holiday… Then sadly some would be left behind or even returned by owners who couldn’t handle the responsibility. So I wanted to adopt a kitty who had a low chance of getting a furever home. When I met him, he had a really cute scratch on his nose; probably from one of the other cats at the SPCA. But he was affectionate and chatty right away with me. It was pretty much love at first sight ❤ I took him home and he got settled in really fast. Loved to play, loved to nap in sunbeams, and sometimes slept in my bed with me. He was an adorable kitten, and grew up really reeeeally fast. I regret not taking more pictures of him as a kitten, but then again I only had a 2 megapixel crap camera at the time!
Mio grew up to be a big beautiful boy with a kind heart. He was always friendly and warm towards new people, other cats, and even dogs. There was a bunny rabbit who lived nearby and sometimes Mio would hang out with the bunny too, like it was just another cat. His favorite thing to do was hang out in the grass and soak up the sunshine. Unfortunately we had to move around to different apartments, and most of them didn’t allow backyard romps (because we were on the 2nd or 4th floor).
Later on in life, Quill joined the party. She was a complete ditz of a kitten when I got her, and SUPER needy. Like she would cry out as soon as I left for work. But she was a very sweet kitten and grew attached to me. She still continues to follow me around wherever I go, sleeps beside me, and even as I write this she’s heating up my lap.
When I got my first apartment and was able to live on my own, I had a lot of downtime after work. So I’d normally pick up art commissions to fill my time. But that was a major drag and felt very unfulfilling to work for Club Penguin all day and then work for another company at night doing these commissions. So I decided to focus on my own art and try doing the Youtube thing. I didn’t want to use my real name, so I made the alias ‘Mio’ named after my cat and started doing silly videos. I created some OC anime girl characters, and Mio was probably the first one.
“Mio” the character was kind of a mix of me at the time combined with Mio the cat. Her hairstyle is based on me, along with her nerdy/gamer-girl-ness but I wanted her to be cute like Mio the cat. She has ribbons in her hair because I would sometimes dress up Mio in pretty ribbons (lol) and the cat-bell necklace is a cat thing. There’s a more obvious connection with Quill’s design because she has the literal Quill on her shoulder (my other cat). Quill is a girl IRL but Mio (my orange kitty) is a boy. I know it’s a bit confusing.
The cats and I had a good life at the apartment and I got lots of personal artwork done. What was I going to do with it all? Well, I was passionate about games and always wanted to make my own one day. A friend of mine from Club Penguin (Cody) was a really talented game designer, and we would chat about making games on the side. We tried a few and they didn’t get very far, so it was kind of a flop. Sad Panda was the title of one game we really wanted to make, but I’ll save that story for another blog post. Several years later I met Programmer Panda who changed everything! He was able to actually take our ideas and bring them to life. So we hacked on that for fun, and I left Club Penguin to pursue this new opportunity of making our own games, and it kinda worked out. Crush Crush launched in 2016 on Kongregate and had a really good following so we just kept iterating on it and adding features, more characters, and other good stuff. Mio became one of the most popular characters, which I find embarrassing and flattering because she’s basically me when I was younger. But I liked the idea of making her the mascot of the game, so that’s why you see so much Mio everywhere. She was also the first character I developed for what would become Crush Crush. Mio and Quill were the first girls ❤
When I decided to leave my job at Disney (Club Penguin) to go start my own game studio, I made a silly video to commemorate it. You can see Mio on my shoulder in that video at the 3 minute mark: https://youtu.be/7GZVrsJ2uck?t=182 That was how he traveled around the house – always on my shoulder. It was awesome having that big orange blob perched on my shoulder while I roamed around. If you don’t believe me, I made a collage to prove it:
Mio, my cat, would always sit behind me on my chair (it has a wide top) while I worked. He kept me company and it was really nice having him always be there with me. I would talk to him and give him little chin scritches, and when I think about all the hours we did this over time it must be in the thousands. I started drawing stuff for Crush Crush so many years ago, and he stayed near me every time I was drawing on the computer. We moved around a few more times, (but I still had that same chair) so our routine didn’t change much. Come home from work, eat dinner with the cats, and hang out with them while I worked on personal game stuff all night.
We moved around many times in my life, but Mio was my constant/my rock. After living in so many crappy apartments, the 8th and final place that Mio and I moved to was a house with a backyard full of tall green grass. It was really lovely, because I know how much he enjoyed being out there. I was worried about coyotes in the area, and the road nearby so I would go out to the backyard with him to make sure he didn’t wander too far. He loved every minute of it; chomping on the grass, rolling in the dirt, digging up the dirt, catching grasshoppers, and sunbathing in the nice fresh air. I always wanted to give him that, and make sure he had a good comfortable life. I think he did, but I still have my regrets.
In 2018 Mio started having health issues. The vet said his kidneys were failing, and he had a murmur in his heart. His lungs were also filling up with fluid because his heart couldn’t keep up with the work. So around that time I had the realization that he might not live much longer. The vet didn’t think he would, but he still prescribed different medications to see it any helped. So each morning I would wake up early to give Mio a heart pill called Pimobendan (vetmedin) and then he could eat his breakfast an hour later. After that he would get 1ml of Furosemide to help with the fluid in his lungs. There was another med he was on for a while but it made him barf, so I stopped giving him that one. The same heart pill + lung medicine had to be given to him each night so that became my routine.
Miraculously he seemed to bounce back. His appetite returned, and he switched to some kidney-friendly foods and was doing pretty well, all things considered. I definitely counted my blessings for this ‘borrowed time’ with Mio. Especially since I was working on Sad Panda stuff full time at home (thank you to all the players who have made that possible…). I was at least able to be home with him most of the time since that was where I worked. The thought of losing Mio cost me many sleepless nights and tears shed. He was just the best cat, best friend, and inspiration for so much of what I did. But like all things, they get old and eventually break down…
He started to show signs of labored breathing in November 2020. It was incredibly tough because the world had changed so much due to COVID-19. So when he went to the emergency vet (it was around midnight) I was told to keep my distance, stay outside, and couldn’t come in to see him. Handing him off to the vet without knowing if he would make it that night was really hard on me. I stayed up until around 3am waiting to hear back from the vet, and they gave me really bad news… His lungs were filling up with liquid like crazy, his heart was failing, kidneys were in rough shape, and he had a tumor. So the vet pushed me to euthanize him that night but I resisted because I wanted him to be comfortable at home. Not die in some cold strange clinic. No offense to the clinic, they were doing a good job and probably saw the euthanization as a kind way to put him out of his misery before symptoms got really bad (coughing up fluid / choking etc). But it didn’t feel right, and I put my foot down to say that I would take him home and monitor how he was doing. I felt like that’s what Mio would have wanted too.
Over the next few days I spent all my time with him, and watched to see if his condition worsened, ready (and dreading) to call the vet for an at-home euthanization. Sidenote – if you ever have to go through that awful experience of putting a pet down then PLEASE go in the vet room with them / pet them / stay with them while they pass!! There were a few bouts of coughing at first, but days went by and the time between coughs got longer, and then weeks passed and he wasn’t coughing anymore. He actually bounced back again, to everyone’s surprise! His appetite was great, he was moving around and jumping back up on my chair to keep me company. Mio was just a super warrior who kept on going despite all of his health issues. He wasn’t 100% back to normal, because you could still tell he had a hard time breathing but his quality of life seemed good. So I decided to spend more time with him, going outside, giving him tons of pets and attention, and let him eat everything he wanted. Tuna, ice cream, rice cakes (he loved those) and other treats. Normally that would be a big no-no because cats should only be eating cat food, but I figured he might only have a few days left so there was no harm in letting him enjoy those things. And the tough little guy actually held on for months! It wasn’t until March that he finally threw in the towel, and I am so impressed with his strong spirit and will to live. He made me very proud of how well he did. And I’m incredibly grateful for all the extra time I was able to spend with him, one last time.
The day he passed away makes me feel really sad, and full of regrets. Even though everyone tells me it was peaceful and one of the best ways he could leave this world, I still have a hard time accepting it. That day, I was really busy with work and didn’t give him much attention. There was an accident early that morning where he jumped off my shoulder in a hurry (because I was filling up his water dish – and he got spooked by the sound of the running tap), and landed on the ground awkwardly. I’ll never forgive myself for that, and will carry this guilt with me forever. Because even though he was eating fine and came outside to lay in the sunshine with me later that day, he really wasn’t in good shape. I could tell he was moving slower than normal and seemed pretty lethargic. But only a few days ago he had jumped up to be on my chair like normal… so it came as a surprise to see him struggling so much that day. I noticed him slowing down over the past few weeks but my stupid brain told myself he was doing OK, and would hang in there or let me know if he wasn’t feeling good. I think cats just do a good job of hiding things from us, so it’s harder to tell if they aren’t doing well.
He slept by the fireplace for most of the day while I worked upstairs, and then I had a phone call at 4 (which is normally when I would go spend time with him to give him his meds). So after my phone call ended around 4:44 I headed downstairs and didn’t see him by the fireplace. Now, I’m not really superstitious but in Asian cultures the number 4 is homophonous to the word death, so the time I found him is a little strange. I began walking down the stairs to the basement and was met with a really heart-wrenching sight: Mio had died, laying down on the floor, and his eyes were open looking right at me. I don’t understand how it happened, but after looking in the basement it seems like he started leaving the litter box while still doing his business and dribbled on the floor (which he’s never done before). I think what happened next was he made his way up to the top of the stairs, and laid down to rest. Then he never woke up. It could be that he suffered a heart attack and tried to go upstairs, but it tired him out, so he just couldn’t go any further. But it hurts knowing that I was probably only minutes away from discovering him after he passed. He was still warm, and I swear there was something in his eyes when I found him, but he was gone. He was really gone. I talked to him and scooped him up into my arms, apologizing and telling him how much I loved him. It devastated me, and I haven’t been able to stop crying ever since.
It took me a whole month before I could work up the courage to write this blog post… He passed away on March 3, 2021. It’s been really difficult, but each day I think it becomes a little easier to get back into routine with work and everything else. Some days are definitely harder than others, but I think the saying about how life goes on is sorta true; you’re just not the same but you can keep going. The hole in my heart is still there, and I think of Mio often. There are constant reminders about him everywhere – in my Sad Panda work, in pictures that I have around, and furniture that he spent so much time on (like the back of my work chair). My goal is to include Mio (and Quill) in everything I do, so their memories can live on. I’ll be sneaking Mio references in all the Sad Panda games now until I die, even in silly ways like turning him into a cute girl. So I guess if you’ve read this far then maybe you learned something new about Crush Crush, or at least the character Mio. Sorry it was a long rant with a ton of personal sad stuff, but I wanted to tell the origin story of Mio. He’s been with me longer than anyone else in my life and has become an important part of who I am. Crush Crush wouldn’t be the same without him! So we should all appreciate the amazing kitty Mio. Thank you for everything, old friend.
Since this blog post was taken up by me talking about how great Mio was and how he was always by my side, I think I’ll wrap it up by sharing a collage of Mio & me, just being together. He was always with me, and he’ll always be in my heart.