Two years ago, a Kickstarter campaign for a cooking competition game set in a fantasy world and called Battle Chef Brigade raised just over $100,000. With the game, which Trinket Studios developer Tom Eastman calls, "one part combo-based action hunting and one part puzzle-based action cooking," tentatively scheduled to release early next year, we've talked to Eastman about how it came to be.
Eastman met his partners at Trinket Studios, Eric Huang and Ben Perez, when they all worked at Wideload games. "We left Wideload/Disney creatively frustrated and excited to make 'small games with big character',! he says, "which worked out extremely well for our first two games. Those two mobile games, Color Sheep and Orion's Forge, had shockingly short but very fun development cycles."
After releasing those two games, however, the team had trouble coming up with an idea for their next project. Until, that is, one fateful day when they watched Food Network programming over lunch. "It was an instant realization that cooking games have yet to capture the frantic pace and improvisational skills seen on cooking competition shows," says Eastman.
"From there, mixing in fantasy was a clear next step, partially to enrich the setting but also to get away from standard fare and expected recipes."
Iron Chef's humor and Chopped's pace are quoted by Eastman as two key inspirations for Battle Chef Brigade, but they didn't take inspiration solely from cooking shows.
"Our art style draws from a long line of great anime films, though we've made a point to avoid watching food-related anime so that we can keep our story-line untainted. Many, many games have guided us, especially Super Smash Bros. to Guardian Heroes," he says.
Eastman believes that Kickstarter was essential to the creation of Battle Chef Brigade. "The validation it provided, of both our ability to execute on a large project as well as the strength of the game's concept was invaluable. We're going to be sending out a demo to backers at one of the higher tiers soon and we can't wait to see what they think. Even the feedback on our monthly updates help guide us in the right direction," he says.
Looking back on the Kickstarter campaign, though, Eastman talks about how some of the promises they made are causing them difficulty now. "The biggest misstep was promising too much early on," he says.
"For instance, our campaign structure and combat systems were originally much simpler than they are now, so promising four playable chefs didn't seem daunting. Now, especially with how much animation goes into each chef, it's scary! If we were to do it all over, we probably would have made fewer promises at launch and let backers help decide which areas to expand on."
When Trinket Studios started work on the game, they knew that creating a satisfying action cooking system would be a challenge. "Our approach to systems design involves throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks, similar to the spaghetti wall test," says Eastman, referring to a fun if slightly messy way of testing spaghetti noodles to see if they're done.
"We spent over a year prototyping dozens of ideas that each tried to capture different facets of cooking. There's a huge space to explore with cooking and we wandered through it for a long time, using both digital and paper prototypes."
What the developers didn't expect was the challenge of getting the combat right in the hunting sections. "We'd worked on combat systems before, but there are so many little things that make an individual hit feel great," Eastman explains.
"That took a long time to get right, especially in the context of hunting instead of brawling. Unlike a standard left-to-right brawler, our chefs need to find particular ingredients and want to run right by monsters on occasion. Drawing inspiration from games with fun systems while also exploring the areas where we diverge was difficult."
The hunting arenas are designed as whole biomes, with monsters and plants interacting on their own throughout. "We designed each level from multiple angles at once and then merged them into one concept. Monster roles, including predator, prey, and scavenger each need different spaces to function separately and sometimes collide, hopefully when the player is watching," says Eastman.
"It's also really important for a level to encourage the use of different chefs' movesets and jump heights, so we do a lot of tweaking and testing simply running and jumping around a level as each playable chef."
Eastman's favorite thing about development is simply working with his teammates, who he trusts to do great work. "Making a food game with [Ben and Eric] is especially fun," says Eastman, "since team meals are even more fascinating and delicious."