With a horde of zombies nipping at my heels, I scrambled over a collapsed barricade and into the privacy of my safe house. Without a weapon to my name, I was powerless against the undead horde. Thankfully, a weapon locker was there to greet me. Inside was an eclectic assortment of Dead Rising 3's finest armaments, ranging from swords and pistols to machine gun gloves and a mechanized cat covered in saw blades.
Wait a second, what was that last one?
Moments later I was outside the safe house, feline contraption in tow. As the zombies closed around me, I activated the device and watched it spring to life with the sound and fury of an old tomcat escaping a bath. It pounced wildly across the screen--seemingly at random--shredding all zombies in its path. I could only track its movement by the high-pitched, mechanical growl it emitted before each strike. After a few rounds of carnage, it finally came to rest at my feet. And then it exploded. Such is the temperament of sentry cat--a weapon so busted, broken, and brilliant that developer Capcom Vancouver had no choice but to include it in Dead Rising 3's arsenal. However, sentry cat wasn't always this unstable.
In many ways, sentry cat is just like a real cat: it goes where it pleases, lashes out at those around it, and explodes after wearing itself out. OK, maybe that last part is different, but you get the point. Sentry cat is a spring-loaded bundle of zombie death that sometimes obliterates all infected in the immediate area; other times, it bounces off into the sunset, never to be heard from again. In either case, sentry cat will self-destruct after a certain number of pounces. This makes it sound frustrating to use, but a mechanical cat that mows down zombies is too absurd and amusing to hold a grudge against.
As lead gameplay designer Roy McCombe recalled, sentry cat didn’t always have a mind of its own. The rough draft for this weapon envisioned it as a deployable item that was completely player-controlled. It could then be upgraded to follow player-issued commands, and later become fully autonomous. This initial design capitalized on work Capcom Vancouver had put into designing Dead Rising 2’s deployable freedom bear, as well as the team’s desire to have remote-controlled vehicles in the game. However, when they saw sentry cat in motion for the first time, that all changed.
"I remember the first time I was called over to review sentry cat," said McCombe. "Everyone on the team was like, 'Check this out, check this out!' They were so excited about the possibilities for this weapon, and it was just this little model that didn’t articulate in any way. When we plopped it into a group of zombies, it would go boing boing and spring into a zombie--and the zombie wouldn’t even die because it didn’t deal damage at the time. Then sentry cat would tip over on its side and stop working after a few jumps. Everybody thought this was hilarious, and were so jazzed we decided to leave it as is and moved on."
After the team moved on, sentry cat was placed on the back burner. Making a model cat bounce around in a room full of zombies was one thing, but turning that prototype into a fully functional weapon for the final game was another. It didn’t help that, unlike all the other weapons in the game, sentry cat was supposed to act independently of a player. It needed a sophisticated artificial intelligence that would prioritize enemies in close proximity to a player without getting in his way. This would cost a lot of time--and money--to create. Plus, all that work would benefit only one weapon. It simply wasn’t feasible to pursue, and sentry cat was subsequently put out to pasture.
But every cat--even a sentry cat--has nine lives, and this one burned them all to claw its way back into Dead Rising 3. It didn’t hurt that pretty much everyone who saw sentry cat in action was instantly enamored, from senior producer Josh Bridge to the team’s partners at Microsoft. It was simply too funny to let go. And so, sentry cat continued to grow behind the scenes. That sophisticated AI system never came to fruition, but other improvements were slipped in as the game progressed--such as an explosion that triggers when sentry cat shuts down. Ultimately, however, it was an earlier meeting with Dead Rising producer Keiji Inafune that cemented sentry cat’s spot in Dead Rising 3.
"Sentry cat is not my favorite weapon in the game," said senior producer Jason Leigh, "but the reason why it works, and the reason why we kept it, is because it is very Dead Rising. Not every weapon is meant to be a brutal killing machine. I remember one of the stories Inafune-san told us when we started working on Dead Rising 2. We were prototyping some weapons and were taking a very action-heavy approach to things. He pulled us aside and told us that when he was working on the first Dead Rising, the moment he knew the game had its own personality and was going to be unique was when someone added the bucket."
"The first time Inafune-san saw someone pick up the bucket and place it over the zombie's head—rather than bash the zombie's brains out--he realized that was going to be Dead Rising," Leigh continued. "That confused zombie stumbling around was how the game was going to be different from other zombie games. After hearing that story, we've always tried to make sure the killing machine weapons were tempered with some goofball weapons as well, like the foam finger from Dead Rising 2. And now I feel like sentry cat is one of those weapons that rounds out the spectrum and keeps Dead Rising feeling unique."
In essence, sentry cat is so bad, it’s good. Its function as a zombie-killing machine has become secondary to being a funny contraption that makes players laugh. And when viewed from that perspective, it’s not really broken at all. "In the end," Leigh added, "I think when people fire up [Dead Rising 3], they'll just get the fact that you build this ridiculous thing and sometimes it works and successfully kills all the enemies around you, and other times it has a mind of its own. That in itself is just funny."