Too many cooks…
Another day another delicious biscuit. We’re back from Blackpool after our second successful public showing and we’re brimming with new ideas, features and a few new bugs to fix too!
One of the best things we get to experience at these events (besides some truly bizarre cosplay choices) is a phenomena we hadn’t anticipated when we first started making the game.
We designed the game, at least originally, because we wanted to create an experience we could share together. I’ve touched a little on our days at Frontier where we would gather in the dark at lunch time to play all manner of multiplayer games (quick shout out to 505’s Wrecked, a game we poured an embarrassing amount of hours into and usually only on the same level) but we were all good friends and were well used to cursing colourfully into each other’s ear holes. We would shout and cajole and point with straining finger at the pick up our comrades were willfully overlooking.
That was the experience we were trying to emulate.
What we hadn’t banked on is what would happen when 4 complete strangers, strangers even to each other, would plonk themselves in front of our game demanding satisfaction.
What usually happens is this: Oli or I will frantically deliver our opening patter, describing the game in essence and introducing the controls (thankfully we only have 3 buttons so it doesn’t take very long). We then gaze into their faces trying to quickly glean whether they have been listening or not and then we stand back and wait.
The first level we introduce to people is incredibly simple: You have to make a salad. Two players on the right have access to the ingredients, the other two players on the left have access to the chopping boards. In order to complete the level the players on the right must pick up the ingredients and pass them to the players on the left to chop them. It’s a very simple bit of co-operation but it’s one which is at the core of the experience.
If we’re lucky our group of strangers might grunt at each other to ‘pass the tomato’ or ‘pass me a plate’, but it’s usually a fairly quiet affair. The next level is where things get interesting. Players must pick up ingredients, chop them up and this time add them to a cooking pot on the stove. In addition to this they now have 3 different types of order to deal with: Onion, Tomato and Mushroom soup. Suddenly players realise that grunting isn’t going to be enough, to keep on top of the orders they really will need some kind of system, and sadly their latent telepathy has yet to kick in, so… they start to talk.
“We need 3 tomatoes in the left pot and 2 onions in the right”
“Can someone chop me this mushroom?”
“This tomato soup is ready to go”
Just a few sentences here and there, just to keep on top of things, it’s not a lot but suddenly this group of complete strangers is engaging with one another. OK maybe it’s not a particularly deep conversation but for a brief moment there is nothing more important than serving up that hot bowl of Tomato Soup, or stopping those mushrooms from going up in flames!
By the 3rd level they’re old hands at this now, they’ve been through the perils of soup together and now feel more than comfortable screaming at one another as the orders start to stack up.
“Where’s the lettuce for this burger?”
“Someone wash me up a plate!”
“WHERE’S THE F****ING FIRE EXTINGUISHER?!!”
What’s even better is that whether they fail or not they always end the level on good terms and hungry to try again, ready to right the wrongs which undid them last time around. This group of complete strangers is now laughing and pointing and talking as if they’ve known each other for years. Their failure is a shared failure, their success is a group success. The multiplayer aspect of the game lives or dies on the team’s ability to communicate and it’s a challenge which thankfully most of our test subjects have so far more than risen to.
We still have the odd case where players will stubbornly refuse to talk to one another, the kitchen will go up in flames and everyone learns a valuable lesson. Some people will still far rather play the game with some good friends in the comfort of their own homes and that’s fine, after all that’s what we designed it for originally, but it’s nice to know that the game also has a way of bringing strangers together, even if it’s just over a bowl of digital soup.
Of course if you’d rather kill digital prostitutes with a digital golf club, well there are games for that too. What a world!