The average app is a money making proposition first, and artistic statement or utility second. That’s why the App Store is loaded with clunky Angry Birds clones and pandering zombie shooters. But Hatch, a tamagotchi app by the two-man, part-time team at Impending, in conjunction with Realmac Software, is a rarely polished labor of love.
At Fast Company, we’ve been following the development of Hatch for almost a year. That’s because it’s not just another virtual pet app. It’s 15,000 cells of hand-drawn animation that look straight out of a Miyazaki film, bringing a pudgy little monster named Fugu to life—which licks, sleeps, and dances on your iPhone’s screen. Might 15,000 frames be a bit overkill for a $2 app? Impending doesn’t think so.
"It’s the difference between South Park animation and Jungle Book," explains artist David Lanham. "Of course it takes a lot more time, but in the end, it’s something you’re going to emotionally connect to a lot faster. It all boils down to, how can we make the engagement with your pet as deep as it can be?"
To deepen that engagement, Lanham also had to deepen the cute. Early in development, he made Fugu’s eyes 50% bigger to appear more innocent. But it’s Fugu’s simple gestures that will win you over—eyes that perpetually gleam with affection, a particularly soft lick of the paw, or even the sporadically adorable smooch. In fact, the closer you look, the more the animation feels too cute for any single entity, like a hybrid of pet cute and small child cute. And what do you know—that’s not a total coincidence.
"When we started I’d gotten a dog. That helped in the beginning," Lanham says. "Then I had my daughter a year and a half ago, and that helped drive another side to the animations. You need that base impression from real life. The unexpected things make your heart melt."
Co-creator Phill Ryu concurs that, "His daughter is super cute. I’m not just saying that in terms of being a friend. Once, we were walking around and other mothers would ignore their children."
"She can be quite a monster at times, believe me," Lanham retorts.
Hatch is available now for $2.