Saving Cats in Outer Space – How Drexel Students Designed a Mobile Game That Supports Animal Welfare on Earth, Too

Kittens are floating off into the cosmos and you’re their only hope. Sheer terror collides with utter cuteness in a mobile game designed by students in Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio. But Galactickitties, the first offering by student startup Sweet Roll Studio, LLC, is more than just a furry take on Gravity. It’s an experiment in harnessing the addictiveness of mobile gaming for a good cause.

A flying ball of yarn is the last hope for thousands of cats floating off into space.
A flying ball of yarn is the last hope for thousands of cats floating off into space.

“We’re supporting the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,” said Timothy Day, an undergraduate computer science major and co-founder of Sweet Roll Studio, LLC. “So while you’re saving cats from floating into oblivion, you’re also helping the ASPCA’s mission of saving lives.”

Day, and his design team, Travis Chandler and Jasmine Marcial, share a love of animals to go with their affinity for game design.

“We’ve all had pets growing up so it’s a mission that’s important to us,” Chandler said. “And it’s a way to make this more than just another mobile game.”

Gameplay is fairly straightforward – you’re a ball of yarn whizzing around the galaxy while trying to gather as many helpless free-floating cats as possible and beam them back to terra firma via a periodically appearing portal. The more cats you save, the more points you earn. And having more points means you can buy better outfits for the cats –like a wizard hat, a colorful wig or even a robotic exoskeleton.

Sounds easy, right?

The trouble is, there are also pesky asteroids, satellites and other space junk that you’ll need to avoid –lest you lose your lassoed lot of kittens. And there are space treats, of course –cats work up an appetite even in zero-gravity.

The team was inspired by a similar game, called Katamari Damacy, in which the player rolls a giant ball through an obstacle course. Day started working on it as class project in a course taught by EGS founder, and the man behind Philadelphia’s skyscraper gaming phenomenon, Frank Lee, PhD.

Sweet Roll came together in a manner not unlike space cats clinging to a ball of yarn. Lee, spotting Day’s design ability and attention to detail, pushed him to continue improving the game even after the term had ended.

“It was a cool idea in the abstract, but I just didn’t know how much fun it would be to play especially after looking at early versions of the game,” Lee said. “I told him that although I thought it had potential, he needed to simplify it and focus on the details of making the gameplay enjoyable.”

Day’s vision was to have the game be a side-scroller –a game like Super Mario Brothers where the scene changes perpetually as the character moves from the left side of the screen to the right. The trouble with this style is that it takes a long time to build the graphics and details necessary to keep each level unique. If he was going to get the game off the ground, Day knew he would need some help.

Day took Lee’s advice and redesigned Galactikitties as a single-screen arcade game, which also made it optimal for mobile devices. Then he recruited Chandler, an undergraduate game art production major, who had worked with Day on a co-op at Shenandoah Studios.

Wizard hats, ninja garb and colorful wigs are just a few of the wardrobe upgrades that await high-scorers.
Wizard hats, ninja garb and colorful wigs are just a few of the wardrobe upgrades that await high-scorers.

The pair added Marcial, an information technology major with a penchant for graphic design, to the team in the summer of 2013 to give it an aesthetic makeover. She also came up with the cats’ smart, new wardrobe.

“We went from a sort of disco look to the space theme. Jasmine helped make it a cleaner look that was less busy, which made it more visually appealing and easier to play,” Chandler said.

By the spring of 2014, the final touches had been added to the game, namely a variety of challenge play options and additional feline livery. It received the seal of approval for posting in the Apple App Store and Google Play, and also passed muster with its biggest critic.

“I’m proud of this group,” Lee said. “In the end they persevered and came up with an elegant and simple game that is fun to play. But more than that, they’re also showing that games can be more than just for entertainment –they’re using this game as a way to help animals.”

Sweet Roll, LLC is the first student startup company to spring from Lee’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio. The studio provided funding, technological resources and Lee’s expertise to help get the company off the ground –a model Lee hopes will continue as the Studio grows.

“This is only the first year for the EGS, so we’re learning how best to support these student startups,” Lee said. “I want to encourage them to be entrepreneurial and start their own companies as early as they can, in their freshman year, so they can learn about the challenges of starting a company in a safe and nurturing environment while being a student at Drexel. I would love for their startup to succeed the first time but, for me, I would be just as happy for them to fail so that they can learn from their mistakes with the safety net of still being a student.”

The game is currently available for iOS and Android platforms in the Apple App Store and Google Play. It costs 99 cents and each download helps support the mission of the ASPCA.

For media inquiries contact Britt Faulstick, Office of University Communications,