Battle Chef Brigade is a uniquely appetizing gaming creation; an amalgam of genres and inspiration that combine to become an experience better than its parts.
In shaping the cooking, puzzle, hunting, foraging role-playing, combat, platforming game, its developers looked to shows like Chopped and Iron Chef and games like Monster Hunter and Bejeweled for inspiration.
But that was just the beginning, what started the three-person studio down the path of Battle Chef Brigade in 2013.
“We spent about a year and a half prototyping making cooking fun,” said Tom Eastman, president of Trinket Studios. “Then we ran out of money.”
So the team turned to Kickstarter in 2014, ultimately raising $100,000 to help wrap up the game.
The trio knew they wanted to make a cooking game combined with the need to gather your own ingredients by hunting in platformer-fueled combat sections of the title. They knew they wanted players to have to create dishes for judges using those ingredients to win contests. But the initial hang-up was how to turn the creation process, the cooking, into a game.
During those early prototyping days, whenever the team would run into a brickwall, they’d go to a restaurant and just stare at their food, trying to figure out how a person would categorize what they were eating.
“We had a lot of design debates about the difference between a quiche and a pie and a pizza,” Eastman said. “We even did some team cooking events.”
Eventually, they realized they needed to get away from the categorization problem because it was, Eastman says, “horrible” and led directly into unanswerable debats over things like whether a hot dog is a sandwich.
Next they tried leaning into a game that had a sort of chemistry focus. Ultimately, though, they decided that was too complex for what they were trying to do, Eastman says, adding that there’s still a good game in there somewhere.
Instead, the team ended up with something that abstracts cooking down to a process that is understandable to the players and the in-game judges. It doesn’t deliver the reality of cooking, but instead focuses on the feel of cooking.
“You experience the rush of making a dish and serving it,” Eastman says. “You’re using multiple types of cookware, determining pots and pans, then choosing your ingredients to see what fits together.”
As the game progresses, things get increasingly complex.
“You get bones and sauces and poisons and chopping,” he says.
During a short demo of the game at the Rolling Stone offices, I had a chance to try out the easiest challenges in the game. There is a story ingrained into the game, but it’s all held together by two core sorts of gameplay: the action combat of hunting for ingredients and the puzzle solving of cooking.
After learning the basic moves and concepts between both sorts of play, I visited a nearby town to challenge a chef to a cook-off.
In this early challenge, a single judge told us what main ingredient we needed in our dish and what sort of flavors he personally enjoys.
Next, I left the kitchen to go on the hunt for ingredients. I was looking for a massive over-sized boar for my main ingredient and then had to figure out what sorts of other things I might want to include in my dish. There is no recipe, but animals and vegetables show me what sorts of things they drop, clueing me into what would best go together and best match the tastes of the judge. In this case, the judge likes fiery food.
Gathering has me making my way across a platform-like level, looking for animals and attacking them with physical and magical attacks. The creatures can attack back, they can even kill me. Once I kill the creatures, or break loose vegetables, I can pick up the items, they drop for use in my culinary creations. In the case of my young chef, I needed to go back to the kitchen a couple of times, dropping off ingredients, and then return to the hunt to gather more items.
The cooking involves choosing ingredients and dropping them into your pot. When dropped into the pot, ingredients are converted into a mix of colored bubbles and the game essentially becomes a sort of match-three game. Stirring the pot allows you to rotate the bubbles in an attempt to line up three of a kind. Once you find a match, the three combine to become one bubble of a stronger version of that color. This allows you to drop more ingredients in your pot and increase the score, or taste, of your dish.
The game is already made slightly complex by the need to both introduce that key ingredient and sort of flavor, but things get much more complex as the game progresses.
Soon, you’re having to please three chef judges with varying tastes, making multiple dishes, using cutting boards to change the type of bubbles you have, sauces to change their colors and ovens to pre-cook ingredients to make them more powerful.
And, sticking to the driving force behind all cooking shows, there’s a timer. Even on the easiest level, trying to appease, get a high taste score and do it all under a time limit, can be a challenge. But it’s fun and, as the developers aimed for, rewarding when you succeed.
If a player wants to make things more challenging for themselves, they can try to approach the cook-offs in different ways. For instance, a player could in theory stick to vegan dishes and still win, Eastman says.
“You can even win without including the theme ingredient if you get high enough points,” he says. “But you would need to really change your load-out, make your cooking set-up a lot of better. Buy a lot of sauces to change gem colors.”
Each area of the game’s biomes has three vegetables or fruit as well as about five different monsters, each of which drops multiple items. Those items can be combined in a variety of ways to create any of the hundreds of slightly fantasized real-world dishes in the game.
To put all of those creations into the game, the trio hired a team of contracts to hunt down and create the recipes and create art for them.
One member of the studio would come up with a cuisine and some examples and then that would be sent to a contractor who would find reference images and then pass it along to a second contractor who would create the art and name for the dish.
In play, a final dish’s image is based on the first ingredient you drop in your pot. Then it can get a particle effect and dominate flavor based on other ingredients. Finally, you can modify your creation in a number of ways.
That attention to detail helps drive the immersion of the game and has even led to some people recreating the fantasy dishes in real life.
Pixelated Provisions, for instance, has recreated a number of the in-game dishes in the real world, providing not just images of the dish in the real world, but a receipe for creating it.
The game is set for a release on Windows PC and Nintendo Switch later this year and the team is already talking about ways they may extend the game through extra, downloadable content.
“We’ve joked about our first piece of DLC being called Just Deserts,” Eastman says.
They’ve also talked about introducing new food through food-themed events in the game, like a Fourth of July celebration in a town that adds hot dogs.