In the mythical world of Battle Chef Brigade, players will choose a chef, defeat monsters in combat, harvest their meat, gather unique culinary tools and enter cooking competitions in order to win the awe of judges.
It all goes down in a gorgeously hand drawn environment filled with all manner of beasts, creatures and humans.
This is a game currently in development for PC (with Steam as one targeted platform) and consoles like the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U. It's being made by Trinket Studios, and it has a Kickstarter campaign planned for this fall in order to get Battle Chef Brigade out.
You might know Trinket Studios from one of their two mobile titles, Color Sheep or Orion's Forge. Color Sheep is certainly the most successful of the pair, bearing an Editor's Choice badge on the Google Play Marketplace. That 99 cents offering has sucked a few hours of my life away with its visually and aurally pleasing design and addictively simple emphasis on quickly mixing colors and blasting away wolves.
Sound nuts? It is. You should play it.
Trinket Studios seems to have developed a quick penchant for creating unique games out of original source material. After Color Sheep and Orion's Forge, the small three-person team is out to conquer bigger platforms with Battle Chef Brigade.
Eric Huang, Tom Eastman and Ben Perez (in order in the picture above) are the trio that makes up Trinket Studios. They all have a background in game design, and they each worked at Wideload Games prior to firing up their own indie effort. Wideload was acquired by Disney back in 2009, and the team was made to focus on mobile titles after a restructuring.
Tom, Eric and Ben left to chase down a different future of game design. They, like so many other Chicago-based gamemakers, embarked on an odd journey of building crazy games. Their new project is being made with the assistance of George Hunfagl and Tom Dunkin on music and Christine Chong and Yann Blomquist on art.
We had a chance to chat with President, Co-founder and Programmer Tom Eastman about Battle Chef Brigade.
First We Hunt
"It's a 2D fighter in a similar sense of Awesomenauts or Super Smash Bros.," Tom told us as we started talking about the combat portion of Battle Chef Brigade. He explained that Eric Huang, Trinket's Co-founder and Artist, has a love of retro action games, so we can expect some elements of that genre peppered in.
Players will take their chef into a hand drawn world in order to go after specific beasts for their food making ingredients. "It's all against these monsters that are varied in what they do." These monsters have, say, the meat that you need to make your meal for an upcoming food competition.
The chef that you use to bring them down will also be unique. "We want each of the chefs you play as to have very different play styles in both the arena and the kitchen, and that lets us play around with the more RPG or D&D classes and mixing them in with our fantasy characters."
You'll build your chef with, as the team currently intends, a sort of RPG-styled progression. You'll get better at certain things, you'll unlock individual skills and you'll stock up on tools that are catered towards the way you hunt and cook.
The arena combat itself, a point affirmed by Tom, could almost be a full blown game. "There are some cool connections to the kitchen that we can exploit, like sharing mana or eating things that give you buffs in the arena."
This isn't just a monster-kill-a-thon, though. "You're not just going into the arena to kill everything for points," Tom told us. "You'll target monsters for specific ingredients in order to cook dishes."
With hunting monsters, there's also going to be an inherent system of risk and reward. If you want that exceptionally rare and delicious rack of troll meat for your competition-worthy dish, you'll have to tangle with an exceptionally tough troll in order to get it.
"Our focus right now for the playable demo is having a dragon be that huge risk/reward character. He's really hard to kill, but if you do kill him, well, the dragon meat is really valuable."
It doesn't stop at targeting and killing a monster for their meat, either. Tom told us that how you bring these beasts down will affect the quality of their drops. "We're also playing with different ways to get different cuts of dragon, for instance. How you combo, how much damage you deal or how long it takes for you to kill him will influence the quality and cut of meat he yields."
Then We Cook
When the monsters are dead and their meat acquired, the game transitions into cooking segments. You'll use the ingredients you've picked up and the tools you've acquired in order to prepare a meal that meets the demands of the judging panel.
When we asked Tom how this compared to other cooking games, namely Cook, Serve, Delicious! and Cooking Mama, he immediately told us that it doesn't.
"We're trying to not be any of those! I think our primary goal is to not have mini-games like Cooking Mama or have dishes dictated to you in the way that Cook, Serve, Delicious! is done."
Mini-games, Tom explained, are the type of thing they really want to avoid in the cooking process. They've caught themselves considering these development traps before, but they quickly scrapped those ideas.
Tom told us that they want players to have creative control over cooking. "We want the player to have the creativity that's demonstrated in, say, food shows like Iron Chef. You might be assigned a specific required ingredient, but everything else is up to you."
The judges might require you to include a specific monster's meat, or perhaps a choice cut or to yield a certain flavor. Beyond that, it's up to players to build a meal that they'll love.
"There's a little bit of a crafting system where you can discover that if you combine elements you can create a food," Tom went on. "The most basic one might be that if you combine butter, water and flour and mix them together in a bowl, you'll get dough."
The tough part comes from creating a system where judging the dishes makes sense.
Making food is about combining flavors, textures and forming a good general mouthfeel. Tom said that there's going to be a simple base of good food making rules, but what's going to make it crazy and interesting is the game's unique set of monster ingredients.
"We really like pie, for instance, as a good example. Making pie, you make some dough, you roll it out, you put it in a pie tin. The fact that it's a pie with crust isn't the really interesting part of that. It's the execution combined with what crazy stuff you put in there that makes it. Making a fruit pie versus a meat pie, for instance. Is it dragon meat? A weird plant, bug thing?"
Therein lies the interesting design problem Trinket's working with now. How can they teach players common sense things like flavor and texture in this completely unique world? Is dragon meat sweet or savory? Is it crispy or mushy?
"We started out with prototypes months ago where all of those things were numbers. The judges would specify what sort of taste and texture profile they wanted, and you would sort of match your dishes to get close to those."
Tom told us that they successfully demonstrated that you could make a game that way. The problem? "It's not fun, and it's not action oriented at all. It's like playing a spreadsheet."
So they're trying something else, something that, of course, could be scrapped in favor of another plan. They're trying to imbue textures in a common sense way away from numbers. Mixing something mushy with something crunchy might give it a pleasant mouthfeel, and that's going to be perceived by players with visual cues.
Taste, though, is tough. Their current plan is to, say, pair things together so that players sort of understand what food works with what. Maybe it's based on region of availability or type of ingredient, but it will be easy to pick up on what should be used and how.
There will be a common sense element here that will make creating food in Battle Chef Brigade approachable. This taste and texture challenge seems to be the most work-in-progress portion of the game, though it's obvious that Trinket is taking it seriously enough that they want it to be designed well.
PAX East was the initial plan to bring a playable build to a large scale gathering of the public. That show goes down in April, and Battle Chef Brigade was aiming to be a part of the Indie Megabooth there this year.
Unfortunately, as Tom explained, the Megabooth team is only picking games with playable demos sent inside their applications. The demand for floor space is high enough that they can do that. Trinket doesn't have a playable demo yet, so PAX East is out of the question.
"They did offer us space at Prime, though," Tom told us. PAX Prime hasn't been scheduled just yet, but it typically falls towards the end of August or beginning of September. Tom explained that they'll likely have something locally playable in the Chicago area soon.
Right now, the next big necessary step is Kickstarter. "Our other big deadline is a Kickstarter. Maybe during PAX Prime, or just before or after," Tom explained. "We need money."
"We started off with mobile games where building a community isn't really important or possible. But now that we're switching to PCs and consoles, we want to try and build a community, get ourselves out there and do some more open development."
I applauded Tom and the rest of the Trinket team there. They've been sharing their development work on their official blog, something Tom sort of chastised himself for not doing enough of recently. They're posting GIFs, art, mock-ups and discussion related to the game.
That's slated to continue, providing fans a way to keep up with the process and form an understanding about the decisions being made. They're looking to build up that community and then capitalize on it with Kickstarter.
So far, it's sort of hard not to fall in love with Battle Chef Brigade's ambition. The basic premise alone, mixing combat with cooking and RPG elements, is so instantly intriguing and exciting. Then you see the art and get an idea as to where this game is headed.
When its Kickstarter campaign begins, we'll be covering it. And we hope to see Battle Chef Brigade on the PC and console platforms soon. It's looking really good, isn't it?