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Inside the full size food truck controller of Kitchen Kauldron

Kitchen Kauldron sees players working together in a life-size food truck controller, running one of three different stations as they save this struggling, but spooky, business.

Joel Couture, Contributor

February 9, 2023

14 Min Read
Three strange witch's brews

The 2023 Game Developers Conference will once again feature Alt.Ctrl.GDC, an exhibition dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions in new, exciting, and clever ways. Ahead of GDC 2023, Game Developer will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase.

Kitchen Kauldron sees players working together in a witch's food truck, running one of three different stations as they save this struggling, but spooky, business.

The Kitchen Kauldron Team took some time to talk with Game Developer about their unique food truck controller, discussing the challenges that go into making a food truck-sized control scheme, how they infused cooking with a magical touch with the three playable stations, and the design details that made the truck itself tell a story.

What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?

Smith: I’m Simon Smith and I am a game designer and lead programmer for the game.

Gerolaga: I’m Sammy Gerolaga and I am a game designer and producer.

Taylor: I’m Avery Taylor I am a game designer and fabricator for this project.

Golden: I’m Stella Golden and I am a writer, voice actress, and character designer.

N Huang: I’m Nicholas Huang and I am a concept artist on the project, where I came up with the style guide, developed environments, and created our mascot Wendy the Witch.

Yuan: I’m Jenelle Yuan and I am a concept designer for Kitchen Kauldron, designing the ingredients, food, and some of the characters.

W Huang: I’m Wilson Huang and I am a concept designer and producer.

Finuliar: I’m Justin Finuliar and I am the project mentor and helped direct the production of the game and experience.

How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?

N Huang: I would describe it as immersive! We wanted to make sure we had a collection of multiple controllers that supported the narrative as well as the gameplay we were pushing. The goal was to make sure that players felt like they were truly working with Wendy the Witch, so some of the controllers like stirring the cauldron or moving the crystal ball were made with that in mind.

The overall experience goes beyond just alternative controllers as it requires players to engage in a physical trailer and work together as a team in an immersive, interactive, gamified set. Players join Wendy the Witch's crew and help turn this struggling magical food business venture around as they embark through a gamified food truck experience. Together they work in three different roles (chef, server, and barista) as they take and make orders throughout various magical lands.

What's your background in making games?

Finuliar: I previously worked for Two Bit Circus and was influenced by their take on escape rooms, which were called Story Rooms, where players did not always necessarily need to escape from anything as a part of the gameplay, but rather focused on experiencing a narrative. I started an internship program as a part of their educational efforts that allowed up-and-coming creatives to explore the basic concepts related to creating immersive and gamified experiences.

I was then approached by Christophe Gomez, the Director of the Game Design track in the Entertainment Design program at ArtCenter College of Design. There, I was given the opportunity to teach and work with talented students and explore the intersections of alternative controllers, themed entertainment, and game design.

For Kitchen Kauldron we assembled an awesome and talented team of game designers and concept artists who have strengths in their respective disciplines, but have never worked together as a whole to create a game together, let alone an entire immersive physical experience that embodied the co-op game itself. Despite this, through experimentation and tinkering, we created a charming, magical fantasy-food-truck that continues to delight all those who regrettably decide to help Wendy the Witch and her questionable business practices.

What development tools did you use to build Kitchen Kauldron?

Gerolaga: For Kitchen Kauldron, Unity was our main development tool for each of the stations’ mini-games. We used JIRA for production and Airtable to plot out our roadmapping.

Yuan: The art asset development team used tools like Photoshop, Procreate, and Blender to create the characters, environments, props, and UI.

W Huang: The building of the physical truck, props, and alternative controllers included utilizing basic woodworking tools and techniques, 3D printing, laser cutting, mold making and casting, among other skills.

What physical materials did you use to make it? 

Taylor: A big part of the project was refurbishing the trailer from its dilapidated state to an environment that suited our gameplay goals. We used an assortment of woods, from plywood to 2x4’s, and even found decorative items and furnishings. We even worked with tiling, resins, and adhesives to achieve the desired effects. In addition to traditional means of fabrication, we also explore how decorations could be 3D printed from digital files based on concept art modeled by the team, and we also collected items from miscellaneous prop locations or created from home brew.

W Huang: On the electronics side, programmable LED lighting created the intended atmospheric effects that further created a sense of immersion. A big part of the project was the wiring configuration and making sure it was out of sight so as to not break that immersion. That includes details such as using decorative trim to hide the borders of the tv sets in order to make them feel like windows to the outside world or kitchen cabinets within the food truck itself. We used an assortment of cables and monitors that all hooked up to a single machine to run the game.

What inspired the creation of Kitchen Kauldron? The idea of creating food in a magical food truck?

Yuan: We knew we wanted to make a food truck type of game from the start. Being in LA, they are a part of food culture here and a great source of inspiration to try to create a simulated game environment around. From there, we came up with a couple of different themes that included a zombie truck or a kit-bashed sci-fi one, but one idea we all gravitated towards included the ideas of magic, fantasy, and creatures.

Golden: Ultimately, we landed on a witch theme as a group! We came up with the plot of the game and the progression of the story, which lead us to knowing what kind of themed game experience we wanted to exist inside of the truck.

What challenges did you face in creating a food-truck sized controller? 

Finuliar: The same kinds of constraints of any project were the same for this one: if only we had unlimited time, money, and help we could have developed a lot of the amazing ideas that were ultimately shelved, such as having an interactive queue outside the food truck for awaiting players, or even a fourth mini-game station such as a driver.

The whole set-up process of getting the trailer up-and-running in itself is a challenge. It isn’t as easy as putting in a cartridge and hitting the power button, or double clicking an application to run. We have to do a hardware and button input test for each station, check to make sure all four monitors for each station are sized correctly, adjust the surround sound volume, make sure set decorations and props are properly placed and secured. We have great empathy for when a ride goes down at a theme park, or for the reset time for an escape room!

Another challenge specific to this project included when we were considering the size of the props, cabinets, and physical game stations, and making sure everything fit in the trailer itself. We made prototypes out of cardboard to see how players would interact outside of the trailer first before building the final form factors and moving them into the trailer.

You include lots of different props and interesting things to look at, as well as some interesting backstory, in your setup for Kitchen Kauldron. Why was it important to really cut loose on the look and feel of the food truck controller's environment? On the story and characters for the game?

Finuliar: The theme we ended up choosing lent itself really well to utilizing found objects and repurposing them either as props for the fantasy world we were creating, or as the controllers and cabinets themselves. This idea of a failing food truck, where things could be a bit off or broken, allowed us to lean into this rugged aesthetic of the eclectic upcycled objects we were sourcing rather than spend time and effort to create a super clean design such as a futuristic sci-fi space station, which arguably would have been harder.

The crazier and wackier the ideas were, the more interesting the world we were creating became. This idea of mixing two different themes together: a typical LA food truck with that of mythical beasts and characters gave the tried and true theme of the fantasy genre a modern and relatable spin. Overall, it created a story with twice as much depth for the game’s backstory and a feeling of a rich history due to the fact that we really cut loose in the juxtaposing of worlds and the items associated with each.

N Huang: One of the advantages of making a physical space we could play in is that we can make the players completely live and buy into the worldbuilding! We wanted everything to fit the theme of the 'world' we were creating to help engage them with the environment. Especially due to the pandemic, a lot of people missed having physical interaction and sharing a space with friends, so this was a part of the core experience we really wanted to emphasize.

How did you infuse every element of the game with the witch-y theme of the game? How did it affect every layer of the game's design?

N Huang: Overall, we did a lot of research and shared references! We were all really inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli and 'cottage-core,' and we tried to find a way to integrate those ideas into all of the props and art assets! We found ways to make all our props sillier and more 'witchy,' be it by having expression sheets to make creatures and characters more wild, or by sticking foliage in the environment to emphasize the overgrown and run-down nature of the environment.

Golden: There were many different approaches at every level of design where we could infuse witch-y themes. For instance, in the games themselves, we developed a color palette that would be used throughout the games, having lots of witchy purples and greens to fit within the world.

Smith: From a game design and alternative controller approach, the group also took inspiration from witchy/magical tropes for each of the station's mini-games, like potion brewing for the barista game for example. So, to create drinks, you end up as this fun hybrid between a potion master and a barista.

For the server, we leaned into fortune telling & mind reading. Thus, we have our crystal ball that allows the player to 'divine' the order out of the customer as opposed to the customer explicitly telling you what they want to eat or drink.

For the chef game we ideated a lot. We jumped back and forth between things like casting magic to summon food, to simply making food (way more complex). In the end we found that skinning ingredients and food items as magical items and baubles did the trick. This also bled into the way we skinned our buttons: magical recipe books, tree stump tool summoning, and a magic circle zone to capture the motion of your hands.

What thoughts went into designing the three interaction styles players could take on? How did you work to make them feel different while tying them to the theme?

Smith: Overall, the three interaction styles differing between the three stations occurred seamlessly. The variety of tasks that happen in the real world for food preparation, crafting drinks, and customer service are very unique unto themselves, so translating them to unique game mechanics made sense. That resulted in three stations that all have unique inputs as alternative controllers. Whether that’s shaking a drink mixer or using your hands to magically grab food as a chef, there is something different for a variety of players that range in difficulty, interest, and physical interaction. But, ultimately, all of these roles rely on one another for a cohesive experience.

First, we figured out what the overall gameplay would be. In this case, it’s to serve customers food. So, we thought about how many games we could get out of this concept: "Well… we need someone to make the food. We should probably have a system for getting drinks and we need to know what the customer wants."

The server still has the name 'server' because we originally wondered about waiters/waitresses. Really, our server simply takes the order… or at least that’s where the gameplay ended up being the strongest. This also necessitates a system for keeping track of foods, drinks and customers.

Gerolaga: Regarding the Server game, we wanted it to be apart from the Barista and Chef games, which catered towards more physical movement and dexterity for their interaction styles.  We first tried making the server game rely on a similar playstyle, with it initially being a physics-based maze that players had to navigate, but this proved to be unsuccessful as it created a long bottleneck for getting orders. 

We were stumped and testing out different iterations of it while trying to get the player experience feeling good, but after studying Disneyland’s Smuggler’s Run as a case study for what made a fun themed entertainment experience, we saw the need to have a game that would be easier for people not as accustomed to gaming peripherals to balance and create synergy. From there, we simplified the server game to be a kind of hot/cold gameplay along with the physical aspects of it such as relaying the orders to the barista and chef.

What ideas went into connecting the interaction styles so the three players would have to work together? 

Smith: We knew right away that we wanted it to be a party kind of game, so we wanted vocals in some form. Kitchens tend to get noisy & chaotic, and Overcooked served as our primary point of reference for the vision of the game. However, we wanted to take it further and allow for role-playing to happen as you could physically become the Overcooked character.

As far as connecting the interaction styles so the players had to work together, once we knew what the roles of our gamey kitchen would be, the rest just fell into place naturally. Which makes sense because we modeled the game after real-like systems that happen in the real world.

Has building a game around a unique controller taught you anything unexpected about game design?

Taylor: The overall approach is somewhat the same, like trying to figure out the input mapping that was available like (WASD) or axes, and creating new innovative configurations to detect them. But overall, the challenge also highlighted the similarities between troubleshooting in software with that of hardware. The same kind of mental processes one would go through to find a bug in the console is similar to the systematic approach to find out if one of your solders came loose.

Overall, there was much insight to be gained for each of the interactions we developed, as the overarching theme here was to "hide" the controller and make it a believable prop in the story we were telling, and that was through experimentation of different form factors and technologies to house those desired interactions.

For instance, the stirring mechanic felt easy because it was ensuring the player had gone through full rotations of motion and counting the number of inputs pressed to get the correct number of rotations.

Our first approach for the shaking mechanic of the game was to use a Wii remote and detect its Gyro movement, this would allow for a wireless controller. However, this became more of a technical issue later down the line where a Wiimote signal could not go through the metal of a drink shaker container, so we resorted to using a single button within a shaker and having an object strike the button within the container when shaken.

For the liquid levels, we drew inspiration from real life barista stations and wanted to add a level of complexity by having them leak. This added a multitasking side to the gameplay that made it feel more frantic and challenging.

Gerolaga: With the Server game, I had a giant trackball and a witchy theme, so my automatic thought was: it’s a crystal ball. It divines orders through reading customer’s minds and we took it from there.

Trying to build a game controller around a track ball was interesting for me. It really forced me to think about what would be the most recognizable to players intuitively given the specific input and thematic constraints.

Making sure that our experience, from the games to their controllers were easily graspable by players was one of the biggest takeaways from this project. 

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