Feature Article

Iron Chef in a World of Monsters and Magic

"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." --Brillat-Savarin

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Cooking and video games never seem to mix. At best, these games distill the art of cooking down to its most rudimentary tasks: chopping vegetables, grilling meat, or boiling water. Who wants to play a game about boiling water? These simple actions don't allow for the creative spark that so characterizes great cuisine. Video games have found so many diverse ways to burn, boil, chop, fillet, and otherwise butcher a human, so why can't they do the same for an eggplant?

Trinket Studios, a trio of game makers from an independent games collective on the Chicago outskirts, is looking to do just that. Their game--Battle Chef Brigade--aims to capture the intensity of today's cooking competitions and blend it with all the spellcasting and dragon slaying of the fantasy role-playing genre. I recently caught up with these three to learn more about their plans for Battle Chef Brigade's culinary combat, and to learn whether this game can get right what so many others have squandered.

An early mockup for Battle Chef Brigade. Mina (center) is playing with fire while her two sous chefs cook up a storm.

Trinket Studios' promise for Battle Chef Brigade is "fantasy Iron Chef." If all goes according to plan, you will be able to enter the battle pantry, slay a dragon, and bring its tasty meat back to the kitchen for preparation. Afterward, your pan-seared, herb-crusted fillet of dragon will face tasting and judging by a panel of experts. It's a three-stage cooking contest that will let you experience the thrills of creature combat alongside creative cooking.

The underlying concept for this game has been stewing in the minds of the Trinket Studio team for years. "The three of us would always be watching the food channel while taking breaks," said artist Eric Huang. "It was just on all the time, and all of us love food, so it just sort of came from there." Shows such as Chopped, MasterChef, Yakitate!! Ja-pan, and the legendary Iron Chef have all helped shape not only the rules of this game, but its colorful, energetic style as well.

Stove tops here don't run on wood or gas. They're powered by magic.

"Right now the plan is to make Battle Chef Brigade a sort of 2D action game mixed with platforming and plenty of big, scary creatures to get ingredients from," said Tom Eastman, president of Trinket Studios. "We've been playing a lot of Samurai Gunn and Awesomenauts at the office, and those are both great examples of the action we're after. We haven't nailed down our style of combat just yet, but the prototype has plenty of monster slaying."

All this monster slaying will go down in the battle pantry. Like the rest of the game, the battle pantry is a work in progress, but the team has several ideas on how this arena could function. You may be able to snack on collected items--instead of bringing them back to your kitchen--for a quick boost in power, or jockey against other chefs who invade the pantry for the best ingredients. When your pouch is full, you will return to your kitchen and turn these disparate items into a delicious dish.

For Trinket Studios, letting you put your own spin on a recipe is extremely important. Good food follows a checklist, but great food knows when to deviate. "We're currently finding a balance between predetermined recipes and adding your own personal flair," said Eastman. "For instance, you can make a pie--and that's not especially complicated--but in that pie you could add fruit or meat or make it into some weird fruit-meat-seafood pie. We want to allow that, and then have the judges give you points. We don't want you to just be locked into predetermined recipes."

Designing a game that can accurately assess the merits of a fruit-meat-seafood pie has been a tall order for the team. While most cooking games simply score you on how well you can slice a carrot, Battle Chef Brigade wants its judges to consider the totality of a dish. Was your dish well executed? Does it have a nice presentation? Do all of your ingredients pair well together? "At one point we had this massive chart showing how every piece of food paired with every other piece of food," said Huang. "Now we're trying to figure out a way to present that to players in a way that makes sense."

Battle Chef Brigade's esteemed panel of judges.

Battle Chef Brigade's food pairings are pulled from a combination of real-world ingredients and high-fantasy foodstuffs--from water and flour to eyeball eggs and unicorn horn shavings. This combination of real and imaginary has many advantages for the team. "The fantasy wrapper lets us have ingredients that people don't know intimately," explained Eastman. "We can say that dragon meat is tough and people will accept it, whereas if you have a chicken, people know what that's supposed to feel like." This is a cooking game after all, not a cooking simulation.

"We figure that the more real-life recipes we have, the more assumptions people will have about how things are made," Huang added. "We don't want people having to question why the judges didn't like their mom's lasagna recipe, or their grandma's apple pie. If you're dealing with new ingredients, then everyone is on the same page, whether you're a professional chef or just a kid. You're all learning this new world together."

Since starting work on this game, the team has learned a lot about the science behind their favorite dishes. This has led to some serious--perhaps even philosophical--questions as they struggle to codify so many different foods. "We have a lot of white board scrawlings that people could mistake for the rantings of a lunatic," admitted programmer Ben Perez. "There's stuff like: 'What is pie?' or 'How can you act on butter?' or 'Is a sandwich a tier-four recipe?' Hey, when you think about it, sandwiches are pretty complicated if you have to make the bread from scratch."

Trinket Studios wants a diverse cast of characters, each with his or her own unique skills, abilities, and recipes to try out.

Learning their way around a kitchen has produced more practical benefits for the team as well. "After going indie, we now need to save our money, and cooking has therefore become way more important in our lives," Eastman added. "I figured I needed to learn how to cook, and we have all been cooking together and improving. It's really fun opening a recipe book and thinking about the systems involved in creating a single dish. It makes us appreciate the chemistry of cooking all the more."

Looking ahead, Eastman, Huang, and Perez are hoping to have a playable Battle Chef Brigade appetizer ready for PAX East ahead of the game's proposed release date on PC and consoles later this year. It's an aggressive schedule, meaning the heat is definitely on for this small team. Thankfully, Trinket Studios understands what makes the culinary arts so appetizing, and their mix of creatures and cutlery has got me excited for the main course.

Discussion

38 comments
Gegglington
Gegglington

as im a pro chef be great to learn how to cook dragon might even put it on the menu at work

Hurvl
Hurvl

The name Battle Chef Brigade sounds like Mortal Kumquat... ehmm, I mean, Mortal Kombat mixed with cooking.

ggregd
ggregd

He's a Master Chef, Lana, which, turns out, is not nearly as [sissy] a job as I thought it was. I mean, it's no secret agent, but it's way above Architect.

Halloll
Halloll

seriously none of the cooks wear any head covers at all, I hate it when I order a dragon kidney sandwich and find it full of hair.

LesserAngel
LesserAngel

This intrigues me, here's to hoping it'll be as good as this article makes it out to be. (The current state of the gaming industry has made me kind of cynical, sorry.)

foxhound_fox
foxhound_fox

Ore no Ryouri on the PS was an amazing cooking game. Zany and crazy hectic. Cooking games can be fun, they just can't be simulators.

Tanares
Tanares

Seems to borrow a bit from WoW.  Just.. the look... would be freakin' awesome if somehow they got Blizzard to co-op on this like Blizz has with other popular games in the past. Would love to see a pandarean cook it up!

SteveTwo
SteveTwo

Almost the exact premise of an anime called Toriko, made by the same studio that does DBZ. Hope they make a good game since I'd like to play!

AndCarlsen
AndCarlsen

I really like the artstyle. I'll have to see the some gameplay, but I'm interested.

Pffrbt
Pffrbt

I'm not sure I like this gross western anime style.

hadlee73
hadlee73

The dragon's raaaaaawwwww, Maxwell! Its f'n raaaaawww!

CovertChris
CovertChris

As soon as I saw this it reminded me of Toriko, which is an anime I found sometime last year.  It's like Dragonball Z meets Iron Chef.  Worth checking out if you're into anime at all.

Gotta follow this. 

GhoX
GhoX

A game that's not just about bashing skulls and nuking towns? I'm in.

pupp3t_mast3r
pupp3t_mast3r

This just made it to my most anticipated games for 2014 list... 0,0 Who would've thunk a cooking based game could sound so appetizing!

Jaxith
Jaxith

This sounds pretty great actually.  And I really like the art direction.  I'm definitely looking forward to this now that I know it exists.  I wish these guys the best of luck.

LomaxGnome
LomaxGnome

Cook Serve Delicious is fantastic and deserves a mention in any discussion of cooking games.

JURGMANDR
JURGMANDR

this sounds so fucking cool.

Thyasianman
Thyasianman

This right here is pure gold. So damn ambitious, it needs to succeed! 

Koes Hargianto
Koes Hargianto

this could be the cooking game I'm looking for beside Suikoden 2 cooking mini game! *no, cooking mama sucks*

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Damn I miss the original Iron Chef.

chuckles471
chuckles471

Isn't this just Suikoden 2's cook off side quests with less button bashing?

wookiegr
wookiegr

Were are the hairnets??? Teaching our children that its ok to cook in the kitchen with monstrous hair and no hair nets?? I find this offensive!! 

freedom01
freedom01 moderator

sounds interesting

LesserAngel
LesserAngel

@Halloll It's supposed to be that way, dragon kidneys have hair in them, duh.

justinka777
justinka777

@Pffrbt believe it or not but out here in the west we have had that style of animation for quite some time. just haven't seen it in a while since CGI animation movies are all the rage now days.

Maxwell
Maxwell moderator

@hadlee73 Oh man, I really should have asked if there's a Gordon Ramsay's boss encounter.

CoolCamel616
CoolCamel616

@wookiegr They are using magic hairnets obvi. Pssh, not spellcasting your hair into perfect form; what is this, 2005?

Battle Chef Brigade More Info

  • Coming 2014
    • PC