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The Office Doggos

~Insert theme from “The Office” here~

Hey Panda Peeps!


It’s me, Witchy Panda, and I’m here to brighten your day with a little blog about dogs!

Did you know that the Sad Panda Studios office is dog-friendly? Every day, a handful of puppers and doggos come into work and make the day a million times more fun. And, I mean, let’s be honest – this is a video game company. Working here is already fun. The dogs just really take it to the next level!

So, I thought I would share a little bit of this office-related joy with you by way of introducing the core doggos of Sad Panda Studios.

First up: Ludo

Sometimes you’ll see what looks like a stick-figure drawing of a dog zooming across the office. That’s Ludo, who has no concept of the “Monday Blues.” I think he’s actually MORE chipper at the start of the week, happily greeting each and every Panda as they come through the office door. He loves people and he loves to play. Here are his stats!

  • Birthday: January 31st
  • Hobby: Sprinting & Sleeping
  • Favorite Job: Baker
  • Favorite Food: Chicken or Cucumbers
  • Gift Preference: Blanket
  • Occupation: Assistant Panda’s Assistant
  • Liked Trait: Outgoing

Next up: Chloe

Chloe is known around the office for her magnificent beard. She also has eyelashes for days – and they’re not even falsies! It’s literally not fair. This one’s a woo girl who likes to bork and bow wow at the door from time to time, but she makes up for it by knowing a TON of cool tricks, including how to “stick ‘em up” and “play dead.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve only ever seen dogs do that in movies. Here are Chloe’s stats!

  • Birthday: April 20th
  • Hobby: Eating Paper Towel Tubes
  • Favorite Job: Art
  • Favorite Food: Chicken or Tuna
  • Gift Preference: Tea Set
  • Occupation: Blush Blush Art Supervisor
  • Liked Trait: Buff

The Dynamic Duo: Tessa & Peanut!

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably familiar with Tessa. After all, she’s the inspiration for the adorable dog-themed Crush Crush girl of the same name! In real life, she’s a gentle giant who loves to visit all the Pandas at their desks before sprawling on the floor in the middle of the office for a long nap. Tessa’s stats are:

  • Birthday: October 10
  • Hobby: Blocking The Path To The Boardroom
  • Favorite Job: Zoo
  • Favorite Food: Peanut Butter & Bananas
  • Gift Preference: Cute Puppy
  • Occupation: Crush Crush Waifu
  • Liked Trait: Motivation

Peanut is the newest of the bunch. She came from a litter of puppies that was rescued from a wildfire last summer! She’s completely precious and basically spends all her time following Tessa around, just like an annoying little sister. When she’s in the office, she loves to wander around getting head pats and looking up at you with soft, curious eyes that seem to say, “Watcha dooooiiing?” Check out little Peanut’s stats!

  • Birthday: April-ish?
  • Hobby: Copying Tessa
  • Favorite Job: Love
  • Favorite Food: Cow Pies
  • Gift Preference: Shell
  • Occupation: Resident Puppy
  • Liked Trait: Funny

Honorary Mention: Irish (Work from Home)

Irish isn’t *technically* an office dog, unless you count the home office, which I do. After all, whenever I’m working from home she’s right there by my side, supervising every word I type. Fun fact: Irish is a chihuahua-pitbull cross. How does that happen? Well, when a male chihuahua is feeling very brave and a female pitbull can’t be bothered… Ahem, anyway. Irish is tough as nails but also super loving and affectionate. Here are her stats:

  • Birthday: June 6
  • Hobby: Roughhousing
  • Favorite Job: Space
  • Favorite Food: Rice
  • Gift Preference: New Car
  • Occupation: Script Supervisor
  • Liked Trait: Tenderness

And those are our office dogs! I hope you liked getting to know them a little bit. And if you did, maybe we can revisit the topic again? Most of us Pandas are pet people – we could do a whole other blog post about our remote-work doggos, not to mention the cats, cows, and chickens we have in our lives!

That’s all for now, peeps.

Signing off,

Witchy Panda

Mio has a Vtuber Channel!

Hey everyone! Artist Panda here.

Some of you may know by now that I’ve got a Mio Vtuber channel now! I stream myself drawing, playing games, and chatting on Twitch a few times each week. It’s been a blast, because I’ve enjoyed the communication and collaboration with the peeps in chat. Especially when I do draw streams, like coming up with new character designs for Crush Crush – it’s super helpful and awesome to have feedback coming in live from the chat.

(3D Mio)

I wanted to do a lil blog post talking about my setup and how I got started as a Vtuber. Maybe dig a little into the process Twitch has, and other tools I use. Most of my setup I learned about by reading online or watching other Vtuber’s videos like Girl_DM has a bunch that explain how her setup works. But I’ll go into mine below!

(Screencap from Mio’s debut stream)

Early on I knew I wanted Mio to be my character since her persona is closely aligned with my own, and she’s kinda already based on me 😛 So developing her design/character traits was easy because she’s already been established in Crush Crush and Hush Hush. Plus I wanted to do a hybrid approach where, yes I am Mio, but I am also me – the Sad Panda Studios developer. It’s nice because I don’t have to worry about slipping out of character or breaking the 4th wall with the ‘lore’ – I’m just me, being me. But I can definitely appreciate the Vtubers who go the extra mile to stay in character for the persona they’ve created.

(Lovely reference sheet made by Osiimi)

I wanna go over the things I got working ahead of my ‘debut’ – since there was a ton of work and time put into it before I even had my first stream. This isn’t meant to be a list for everyone to follow, it’s just my own checklist that I had leading up to it. In case anyone was ever curious! I recommend any new Vtubers or wannabe streamers start much smaller than I did. If you can do the art and modeling/rigging on your own – do it! Otherwise costs will stack up pretty quick the more people you commission.

  1. I reached out to my talented artist friend Osiimi to help design the model sheet & outfit for Vtuber Mio, because I know she had some experience doing something similar with her own Vtuber. She also had connections to a super amazing 3D modeler, so I took advantage of that 🙂
  2. Once I was happy with the design, I reached out to Rui who took on the task of modeling and rigging my 3D model so I could have different expressions and 2 variations of my outfit (jacket on/off). I also asked him to set up some special functionality with the rig so Mio’s eyes would have tracking enabled (ARkit is what he called it).
  3. There are lots of software options for hooking up a Vtuber model to sync with your movements, but I decided on Luppet because it had the nicest looking movements. It’s Japanese software and was a little tricky to get working, I gotta say!
  4. I bought an app for my phone called iFacialMocap which captures my face using my phone’s selfy camera, and translates it to a 3D character on the screen. This facial data is then sent to my computer so I can pipe it into Luppet, and Mio’s model will be able to match my facial expressions and head movements the same way my phone is seeing it.
  5. While my model was being worked on, I ordered a few things – 
    1. One was a device called LeapMotion which is used to capture my hand movements. That was a tricky thing to get working, and I’m still not 100% happy with how it syncs up to my hand/arm motions so I might have to buy a proper necklace to hold it in place.
    2. The other thing I ordered during this time, was a logo for my streams/channel. I simply went to Fiverr and there were so many options with different price ranges, it was really nice. It’s helpful that Vtubers are so popular right now; it generates lots of interest from artists who do commissions.
    3. Along with the logo, I reached out to an animator in Japan, Hoopyon (whom I found on Twitter by checking out other Vtuber’s recommendations) to help create some animated stickers and interstitial screens.
    4. During all this, I decided to commission Osiimi for some illustrations of Mio to use as my interstitial screens (in case the animator took a long time). She got those done super quick and then I sent them to another person to animate.
    5. Then I found an awesomely talented designer on Twitter (Izu) who was up for making my overlay. That’s the screen that has all those pretty animated stars and buttons, and he even animated my logo for me 🙂
(Some stickers/emotes made by Hoopyon)

Once I had most of those things finished, like the model and logo, I was ready to put together a little intro video. I drafted up a script, got Witchy Panda’s help refining it, and recorded myself acting it out with my Mio model using the Leapmotion hand tracking and iFacialMocap to capture my expressions and movements. I put that together with my friend Screenhog (who has helped us make most of our game trailers) and after a few weeks it was ready to go!

(Screencap from the Intro video)

The whole process from original character design, to getting everything ready to launch took around 9 months. I debuted near the end of February, and the first stream went super smooth! I had no audio issues or internet dropouts (aside from the one at the very start… thanks Starlink >.>)

All that time I watched as many Vtuber videos as I could and instructional YouTubes about how to set up and use Twitch. Turns out there is a TON to learn. But I installed Streamlabs which made it easier, and leaned on some Pandas who had experience streaming to give me tips. At the end of the day, streaming is just one of those things you learn quickly once you start doing it. The schedule I’ve been sticking to is pretty demanding on my time, but I’m hopeful that it’ll become easier and will turn into a fun relaxing hobby. Of course I still get nervous just before going live on stream, but after a while it starts to feel like I’m just hanging out with a big group of friends. And it gives me time to game, which is something I really missed doing. I’m always working on making games so that was my ultimate goal with this whole Vtuber adventure – play more games and have fun! Even if nobody shows up to watch, it’s OK, because I’ll be doing what I love.

(This is my setup – you can see my mic, my leap motion attached to my collar, phone with facial tracking, etc)

Thanks to everyone who has checked out my streams. If you want to join a live chat then please consider following me on Twitch here: https://www.twitch.tv/mioschannel

Or if you just want to watch some of my past streams, they’re all archived on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKVx-05Sz1vYHwUZsCC9ehQ

I love you so hard!

~Artist Panda

The Cost of Making a Visual Novel

(And what I mean by that is the cost of making a game like Cabin Fever)

Hey everyone! Artist Panda here.

I’ve wanted to do a blog post on this subject for a while now, because as an indie game developer I find articles on this topic extremely helpful for understanding the actual costs of making a good game. I’m talking about articles written by devs who outline all their costs that went into making the thing, and in this post ‘the thing’ in this case is Cabin Fever.

Key Art for Cabin Fever (available here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1336600/Cabin_Fever)

If you haven’t checked it out, Cabin Fever is a short visual novel with lovely artwork and full voice acting, and it’s available on Steam. You can read more about that game in my other blog post from July 2021. This post is going to go into some depth on the costs associated with making a game like Cabin Fever. Why? Because maybe it will help aspiring indie devs who want to make a visual novel the same size as this, but have no idea about the scope of the project and need some help budgeting for something like this. In this post we’ll talk about cost in terms of hours worked. The reason for this is that a dollar value isn’t as applicable to understanding what goes into a game like Cabin Fever, as hourly rates change depending on where you are around the World.

I’d like to stress that it’s possible to make a visual novel like this 100% for free if you have the time to spare, or talented friends to help out. There are lots of amazing resources online now such as https://opengameart.org and https://pixelsticky.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/free-ui-resources-for-game-developers/ that have oodles of open-source/royalty-free stuff you can use in your games. The Unity asset store also has some freebies, and there are sites like https://www.storyblocks.com/audio that has hundreds of royalty-free music files you can use (for a subscription fee). 

I don’t want this post to discourage anyone, it’s meant to be an eye-opener so you have a realistic idea of what costs go into making a visual novel like the one we made. Maybe it’ll also help people understand why we charge money for games like this, and can’t make everything free. So without further ado I’ll dive into the costs!

The main categories I’m going to break these into are Art, Audio, Writing, Miscellaneous/ Development time. Those will be broken into subcategories for more details.

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Art: My favorite place to start 🙂

The artwork for Cabin Fever can be separated into 4 parts; the Background art, Character art, CGs, and logo. Usually the UI would be lumped in here too, but I made all the UI and it was pretty basic (took me less than a day to put together) so I won’t count it.

Background art: There are 167 unique backgrounds (including some that were never used) in the game. Some of those backgrounds were used in the CGs, but I’m classifying backgrounds as any illustrations of a setting (no characters). I worked with 1 artist for all of these but had a heavy hand in crafting the settings; so if you don’t have an art director then be prepared to spend some time putting together reference images and writing out descriptions for all the backgrounds your game needs. This will help save lots of time later on so your background artist knows exactly what you’re looking for.

Total cost: 400 Hours

~~~

CG & Character art: There are around 80 unique CGs and over 1,000 unique character poses (not all of them are used). Like I mentioned above, all the backgrounds for the CGs were counted in the above subcategory. All of the CG art applies to just the character illustrations in the cutscene/fullscreen CG images; and the Character art includes every unique pose/outfit/expression for all the characters. I worked with 1 artist for all of these but also spent a great deal of time adding extra expressions, drawing over top of the sketch and final art to keep it on brand, drawing the different mouths for lip-sync etc. I spent quite a few days of my time working on all that, so some of the cost associated with my time is lumped in here.

Total cost: 760 Hours

~~~

Logo: Normally I would make the logo myself, but I’m not super great at making them and I wanted to get a professional to create something really pretty. The logo can play a huge role in your game’s branding, and when you consider it’s the first thing many people will see on your game’s thumbnail – that might make them want to click on it to learn more, so it’s super important. I was happy with the result but it definitely wasn’t cheap!  :”)

Total cost: 36 Hours

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Audio: Music & Voice Acting

All the music and voice acting really helps set the tone and breathes so much life into the static 2D art. Personally, I feel that one of the most important parts of creating a good visual novel is to have a strong cast and beautiful music. I found the best people to make that happen, and they delivered fantastic results. I’ll break the audio into 2 subcategories; Voice-acting and Music. All the sound effects were either found on a royalty-free site or made from scratch.

Voice acting: A game the size of Cabin Fever has a surprising amount of lines. The count for all the voice-acted words totals 20,412. That also includes a few lines used specifically for game trailers. We don’t have many characters in the game, but we do have 2 different voice options for the main protagonist (that’s something I really wanted for this game). That doubled the amount of voice-acting lines just for 1 character; a feature that not many games would bother to worry about. Something else that’s kind of silly but I’ll mention here – there were a few small parts that I ended up voicing myself 😛 Hopefully I didn’t bring down the quality bar by including myself but I really enjoy voice-acting and it’s kind of fun (and cheap!) to voice some lines yourself if you can. 

Total cost: 20,412 Words (we used words here because many Voice Actors/websites will quote on word count, and not by the hour)

~~~

Music: Ahh the music is my favorite part about this game. I constantly find myself humming the main theme’s tune, it’s just so catchy. There are so many wonderful tracks that just suit the scene so well, and that wouldn’t have been possible without my super talented friend who somehow got inside my head and pulled out the exact music I was picturing in my mind. There are 18 tracks, a few of which are ambient sound (crickets or rain with a tiny bit of music added, that sort of thing). All of the tracks loop, and most are around 2 minutes long. One last thing to mention here, is that I did spend some time putting together a detailed list of all the tracks I needed and pulled lots of reference songs I could point to. So if you’re working with someone to make custom music, it’s really helpful if you can make time to do something like that – and time is money 😛  

Total cost: 240 Hours

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Writing: Words ‘n stuff

Writing is crucial to the Visual Novel genre. I’ve played games that have walls of text and little to no visuals, and still managed to suck me into their great story. You can have crappy art, music, and no voice acting as long as your story (the writing) is strong. There’s always the outliers that can pass a ‘meh’ story with gorgeous art and gameplay, but for me personally I feel like the story is what carries the game, and draws you into that world. Oh – I should also quickly mention that writing doesn’t just apply to the game’s script. You’ll need writing for the game description (for Steam/whatever game store you’re releasing on) and marketing (if you make a trailer) etc.

Script: I am not a great writer, but I wanted to challenge myself with this game. I had a story in mind and really wanted to tell it, so I worked after hours in the evening and on my weekends to jot down my draft and finessed that over and over until it started to sound like a half-decent script. I used my 3rd draft of the script to hook up into a prototype so that Witchy Panda (one of our writers) could take a look and see what needed fixing up. She graciously spent a few weeks collaborating with me to refine the script and make it sound awesome. There were lots of back-and-forths and we pulled in Assitant Panda (Alanna!) to help spellcheck and read through it a bunch. OjiPanda gave me some really great writing tips and once I had all the art in, he was the first person to play it (I was so nervous he would hate it haha but he gave it so much praise).

The final word count for all narration and dialogue in-game is 40,827 words. It went through around 7 drafts before the final game-ready script was in.

I also spent a good chunk of time formatting the game’s scripts into an easy-to-read document for the voice actors, and added direction notes for them. Then I made a draft for the game trailers, which later on was cleaned up and rewritten by Witchy Panda. There are always little things like that you don’t plan for, that end up eating into your time. That’s just part of the fun of making your own games 🙂 You gotta wear many hats!

I’ll preface the total writing cost with an explanation of what contributed to them – tons of hours of my time writing the initial script, then Witchy’s punch-up script time, Alanna’s time reviewing it and acting as editor, plus all the other miscellaneous tasks (store descriptions, etc) that took writing time.

Total cost: 400 Hours

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Miscellaneous: Everything else

We had some of the Pandas help with this project, even if it was just to play the game and leave feedback. Their time is valuable; I pay them a salary, so I’m rolling some of their time into the miscellaneous costs. On top of that we had the usual software license costs, subscriptions, etc. I also worked with someone to help make the trailers.

Unity pro license – yearly subscription: $2,000  (sidenote – if you are developing a game on your own / solo dev then you can get Unity for free, the personal license)

Audio Blocks (I grabbed some royalty-free sound effects from here) – yearly subscription: $200

Adobe Creative Cloud: $2,000 – multiple yearly subscriptions

Panda time (editing the voice-over files, programming, playtesting, QA to find bugs, setting up the game in Steam) : 700 Hours

Trailers: 60 Hours

Total Cost of Cabin Fever

~$4,200 CAD in tools, 2,536 Hours of work and 20,412 Words of Voice Acting

As of writing this, Cabin Fever has not made back its money. It launched in July 2021 and has had over 19,000 wishlists but around 4,400 actual installs. It’s worth mentioning that Steam takes a 30% cut, and there are also chargebacks and fraud that can diminish the total number of sales.

There’s usually a peak of interest at the launch of a game and then it peters off pretty quick. Something random I’ll mention here – the reason why Cabin Fever doesn’t have Trading Cards, Backgrounds, or Emotes on Steam is because the game hasn’t met the ‘target revenue’ yet. My guess is that’s around 50k USD so when/if that happens then I’ll be able to add those in.

There’s no easy way to market the game, since Steam doesn’t support that and your best bet is just word-of-mouth or to have a big influencer shine a spotlight on the game. So it’s hard for people to discover the game organically. We’ll do the occasional news alert to let our players in Crush Crush know about it, like when it goes on sale etc. But it’s leveled out to only get on average around 3-5 installs per day. The ROI (return on investment) might happen before the end of NEXT year (2022), but it’s hard to tell. You can’t predict how games are going to perform, and not every game you make is going to be a hit. It’s always a risk… But for me, making Cabin Fever was something I wanted to do to prove it to myself that I could. I’m really proud of it and whenever I read the comments on our Steam forum, my heart fills up seeing all the positive things players have said ❤

Final thoughts:

As of writing this, I am super happy to announce that Cabin Fever has been approved to launch on the Nintendo Switch November 26, 2021!! I really hope it finds an audience there, because I know the people who have found it on Steam said they enjoyed it. And honestly, if just 1 big YouTuber discovers it there and plays it on their channel then that would change everything. I could write a whole blog post about the impact of having someone like Markiplier play your game, but I’ll save that for another day. In any case, wish us good luck!! And thanks for reading this long post – I hope it helps give some insight into making games and the costs/time involved.

What’s Cabin Fever?

Hiii~ Artist Panda here!

Some of you who follow us may have noticed that we recently announced a new game. It’s a small visual novel called Cabin Fever, and I wanted to chat about it.

How’d that get in my Library??

The first thing you’ll see is that the developer isn’t Sad Panda, but is this new studio nobody has heard of called “Steamy Buns” – basically the deal with that is it’s some of the peeps from Sad Panda, only it’s a separate studio. Steamy Buns is like the team B made up of me (Artist Panda), Programmer Panda, and Witchy Panda (one of our writers). For Cabin Fever I worked with Azahara for the character art (she’s awesome and has done a bunch of art in Crush Crush, like Charlotte/Shibuki/Sirina, etc). I also worked with Dao for the background art – she made all the gorgeous backgrounds in Hush Hush & Blush Blush, so it’s always a treat when I get to collaborate with her ❤

This is Witchy Panda

Cabin Fever was my little experiment to make a visual novel in preparation for Hush Hush, which is a MUCH bigger game. We wrote some cool new tech to accommodate the things I wanted, and learned so much about the development of making visual novels. So while OjiPanda was busy writing the script for Hush Hush (which is about the same word count as ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’) I decided to write my own mini VN to familiarize myself with the setup. It turns out that even a small visual novel like Cabin Fever is a ton of work, but I was really happy we made it because it’s taught us many good things that we’ll bring over to Hush Hush.

Cabin Fever’s key art

The story for Cabin Fever revolves around a loner character, living in a dystopian world that has been ravaged by a fatal pandemic. I started writing it at the very beginning of all the COVID-19 stuff that was happening, when the world was uncertain about everything. We shut down the Sad Panda office for a few months to keep everyone safe, and all worked from home. That meant I had some spare time to kill, so I got to work on this little story idea I had. 

Over the course of a year I dabbled in this other side project, getting help from my artist friends and a super gifted music composer to do the soundtrack. I figured all the pieces I needed to make a small visual novel were story, art, music, code, and voice acting. The writing was finessed by Witchy Panda over a 2 month period, while she was helping with other Sad Panda tasks. As for me, I did the bulk of the work up front and then oversaw the other pieces to make sure they stuck true to the vision. I would redline/critique artwork as it came in, giving my feedback and sometimes drawing overtop to show how I wanted things to look. I also took on the grunt work like exporting the hundreds of character sprites 😛 And added a few more expressions, etc to the CGs.

Dao is a fantastic background artist and does a great job translating my ideas into beautiful illustrations. We worked hard to get all of the backgrounds, and different scenarios, looking the way I wanted. She drafted up a blueprint of the cabin at the start, so I could fit the story around the house and make sure it all flowed correctly. A few scenes were written in after all the art was done, so I had to bug her again for more art 😛 But she did a great job matching the style and making everything look like it came right out of a gorgeous anime film.

I would sketch over top the designs Azahara came up with, to bring it more on model with my style 🙂
Initial layout plans for the cabin

Then I reached out to voice actors to cast the perfect people for the roles. I knew early on that I wanted the player to be able to pick their ‘voice’ which could sound higher pitched/more feminine, or deeper/more masculine. The writing in all of our games is gender neutral so anyone can insert themselves into the main character’s role. As far I knew, no other VN had 2 different versions of the protagonist’s audio. So that was kinda neat to put together. All the voice actors did a beautiful job, and it’s probably my favorite part when I get to load up the game and hear all the voice acting for the first time. Visual novels to me are like a low budget anime, so hearing the voices alongside the artwork was a real treat. It made me feel proud of all the heart we put in to make this little experiment into a finely polished game.

Protagonist Voice Options

The inspiration for Cabin Fever was one part my own experience during COVID, another part impatience with Hush Hush and wanting to just make a VN myself. I also wanted to tell a story inspired by VNs that I loved – one of them being Planetarian ~ the reverie of a little planet. Our game has many branching paths and multiple endings, so I hoped it would be fun for players to take notes and try going down alternate routes. I promise there is a way to have a happy ending! It’s just a really difficult path 🙂 Because sometimes that’s how life goes, but the reward is worth it.

Sad Panda will continue developing Crush Crush, Blush Blush, and will release Hush Hush soon. But don’t be surprised if you see a couple more games popping up from this ‘Steamy Buns’ developer. Honestly there are so many games I want to make, Steamy Buns was my solution to ‘clocking out’ at Panda each day, and switching to a different type of creative outlet at night. I hope you like our little game! And in case you’re wondering, yes the Panda Pass does work with it… haha.

Here’s a link to the Steam page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1336600/Cabin_Fever

Thanks for checking it out!

Xoxo

~Artist Panda

Mio the Cat who is also a Waifu

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.

Mio & Mio!

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.

Artist Panda & 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.

Wee baby Mio

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!

Add water and he grows! (He always loved being in the sink, from kitten to adulthood)

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).

Mio & Toko the rabbit

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.

Quill & Mio snuggle time

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 chillin on my home work station
some silly videos

“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.

Mioooooo

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 ❤

Mio in the (backyard) jungle

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:

He loooooved shoulder rides

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. 

Hanging out working on some Mio art

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.

Nothing made him happier than some sunshine and being outside

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.

At the Vet’s…

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…

Mio & Quill just chillin’

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.

Quill, Tessa, and Mio – all characters in Crush Crush!

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.

Mio helping me with Sad Panda work

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.

Pumpkin kitty sittin’ in a pumpkin patch, happy as a clam.

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.

Here’s Mio with his lion-shave haircut in Kitty Catsanova (a game we released a while ago)

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.

So many Mios!