River, the gorgeous German Shepherd who played Dogmeat in Fallout 4, has died. She was owned by Joel Burgess, former lead level designer on the game, who would bring River into the studio so the developers could learn from her behaviour. In a lovely Twitter thread that's made me a bit teary, he talks about River's role and how she wasn't just Dogmeat's in-game model, but a companion to both the player and team.
I said goodbye today to River, who most of you know as Fallout 4’s Dogmeat.— Joel Burgess (@JoelBurgess) June 27, 2021
Heartbroken doesn't cover it, but I won’t eulogize her here. For twitter, I thought it'd be appropriate to look back at her impact on that game.
(plus, writing about game dev hurts less than grieving) pic.twitter.com/ayN1Vd6oqQ
Burgess explains that River was "the antidote" to one of his biggest worries with Dogmeat - that the pup would be treated as "a canine weapon, and nothing more". He would bring her into the studio, partly to be recorded and studied, but mostly so the devs could spend time with her. Ultimately, she wasn't just a dog actor, but a companion to everyone who worked with her.
"The Dogmeat team was just a handful of us early on - as River stole hearts around the studio, however, more and more folks found ways to pitch in and help bring her personality into the game," Burgess says. "She was more than a mascot or an inspiration - she was part of the team."
Because of her expressive markings, River's looks were "almost directly replicated in-game". Burgess says she was patient and gentle too, allowing the team to get all the animation references and audio they needed from her. She even inspired some of Dogmeat's more specific behaviours: he won't travel too far from you, he protects you in combat (holding back enemies, rather than trying to attack them), he'll look back at you often to check where you are, and he absolutely loves bringing you large and occasionally useless objects.
This one has hit me particularly hard this morning because I had to say goodbye to a family dog just last month. Losing a beloved pet is so tough, and my thoughts are with Burgess, his family, and the whole team who got to work with River. Give your pets an extra big hug today from me, reader, and maybe pay Dogmeat a visit in Fallout 4 to give River some love too.
Dogmeat is a tether. He grounds you in the world, will always stand by you, lead you to your family, and anticipate your needs. He wants you to be safe and happy.— Joel Burgess (@JoelBurgess) June 27, 2021
In other words, he loves you.
And if love is River's legacy, I am contented.
Rest in peace, big girl. pic.twitter.com/XiUszPtOnM