To The Rescue: UA Little Rock gamers create simulation about saving dogs at rescue shelters

UA Little Rock graduate students Olivia Dunlap and Tanner Marshall are developing a dog rescue video game, To The Rescue.

Two University of Arkansas at Little Rock students are raising awareness of animal rescue shelters while creating a fun, interactive game that will melt your heart. 

“To The Rescue” is a dog shelter simulation game that allows players to understand the ins and out of running a dog rescue shelter.

UA Little Rock graduate students and best friends Olivia Dunlap and Tanner Marshall have been working on the game as a pet project for the past 2 ½ years. Dunlap and Marshall are roommates and the proud pet parents of a dog jovially named Keanu Reeves.

“We were walking to class one day, and Olivia pointed out that there are a lot of interesting emotional decisions to make if you create a game about running a dog shelter,” Marshall said. “You have limited resources, limited time, and you have to help as many animals as you can while making some hard decisions.”

In the game, a player is the sole volunteer who is responsible for running the shelter, taking care of the dogs, and making sure they are adopted into their forever homes. 

“The goal is to keep the shelter open for as long as possible and to get as many dogs adopted as possible,” Dunlap said. “You rely on donations to keep the shelter open. Some dogs have certain health or behavioral issues that make it more expensive to take care of them. People come in looking for specific things that will affect how likely they are to adopt.”

The player also has to make tough decisions that Marshall and Dunlap admit can be heart-wrenching.

“One of the game’s unexpected challenges is disease outbreaks,” Marshall said. “Your shelter can be running along fine and suddenly you get a heartworm outbreak that is very expensive to treat. You suddenly have to make a decision about if you have enough money to treat all the dogs, or if you might have to euthanize the dogs if you don’t have enough money to keep the shelter open while treating all the dogs. That’s a good example of the kind of emotional decisions you have to make. It’s sad and it’s part of why we wanted to make the game. Someone out there has to make these decisions and help as many animals as they can. It’s good for a potential pet adopter to think about these things.”

UA Little Rock graduate students Olivia Dunlap and Tanner Marshall are developing a dog rescue video game, "To The Rescue." Photo by Ben Krain.
UA Little Rock graduate students Tanner Marshall (left) and Olivia Dunlap (right) are developing a dog rescue video game, “To The Rescue.” Photo by Ben Krain.

Although there is a child-friendly mode for younger players, the game makers feel it’s important to raise awareness about the issues faced at rescue shelters.

“It’s a fun game, but we didn’t want to shy away from some of the issues that people might be unaware of,” Dunlap said. “We want to raise awareness for animal shelters. That’s why we will donate 20 percent of the profits to animal shelters.”

The game was created with Joseph Williams, associate professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing, who worked on sound design, and Byron Buslig, a UA Little Rock alumnus who served as the game’s artist. 

“Part of our journey was seeking out like-minded people, and Joseph Williams was the most influential person in that regard,” Marshall said. “We have done several independent studies with him. That is how we met Byron, working on a small independent game prototype. That is how we were able to get a game-oriented education. Having access to the CRUX lab in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing has been invaluable. We are happy that it is here on campus since the workspace really helps us to develop our games.”

The game creators will launch a Kickstarter campaign for “To The Rescue” on Aug. 6, where they hope to raise enough money to complete the game and manufacture the first orders.

“To The Rescue” is expected to be available on PC and Mac OS computers in early 2020. The game is available to add to your Steam store wishlist.

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