Behind the Curtain: The Making of Cooking Academy
A few weeks ago I was able to sit down with Cooking Academy developer Fugazo and learn about the creative direction that led to their newest title — Cooking Academy – Restaurant Royale! Check it out here after you read the interview below:
Please introduce yourself & your development team…
Andrew: I’m the CEO and Creative Director at Fugazo, Inc. When we started in 2007 I was the only game designer! As we’ve grown we’ve had to hire additional game designers. We now have 3 full time game designers that I work with on a weekly basis. Besides the Cooking Academy series we also have created the World Mosaics series and many other casual puzzle, H, and simulation games.
Before starting Fugazo, I worked at Sandlot Games where I worked on Cake Mania, Snail Mail, Tradewinds, and Super Granny.
How did you come up with the Cooking Academy game series?
Andrew: I’ve always been a fan of cooking and food games. In Dec 2004 I played Diner Dash for the first time and fell in love with it. I was inspired by the game and shortly after started working on my first food game Cake Mania, which in 2006 became the best-selling casual game on Yahoo & Real Arcade.
When I started Fugazo in 2007 I played a DS game called Cooking Mama and I loved the realism of all the mini-games. I instantly realized that we could create new recipes and mini-games and craft a similar style of cooking game for PC. However, I also realized that the game needed challenge & progression. So instead of having a mother teaching you to cook we created a school where you would not only learn to cook but also take cooking tests. And thus Cooking Academy was born!
What made you want to be a game developer?
Jeff: I grew up playing them, and I love the feeling of making things for other people to enjoy. The two naturally go together.
How do you get inspiration for a game?
Jeff: I look at some fragment of a real-world activity, like gardening or crafting or running a restaurant, and brainstorm ways of turning that one aspect into something interesting and challenging.
How long does it take for you to design a game from start to finish?
Andrew: It depends on the game but typically a game designer works on the game for the entire project. PC download titles typically take between 6 and 9 months but free to play games take much longer. We actually have been working on Cooking Academy: Restaurant Royale since March 2012!
What is your favorite game at the moment and why?
Andrew: Right now I have two favorite games: Candy Crush Saga and Plants V.S. Zombies 2.
I love combining power-ups in Candy Crush Saga. It’s really satisfying swapping a striped candy with a wrapped candy to make a giant striped candy!
Plants V.S. Zombies 2 takes everything I love about the original and adds a whole bunch more stuff! There are ton of new zombies and plants to learn about!
Any advice for new developers?
Jeff: Get used to not having an ego! No one is smart enough to come up with all the best ideas themselves. On any given day, your coworkers, your boss, your publisher, your customers, even your friends may have a clever thought that makes part of your game better, and all ideas — especially yours —need to be tried out by sample players to discover how good they really are. Almost nothing will make it straight from your head to the final game without changes.
What does your development team do that’s different?
Andrew: The biggest thing that Fugazo does differently than most casual game developers is that we make unusual games. While we’ve done our fair share of Hidden Object and Time Management Games we definitely experiment with different genres. I think it’s safe to say there isn’t any game on Big Fish quite like Cooking Academy and very few games on Big Fish that are similar to World Mosaics or Word U.
As a developer, after shipping a game, do you enjoy playing it just as much as you enjoyed making it?
Jeff: By the time a game ships, I’ve played it heavily for months, so it’s rare for me to keep playing it a lot after that. Even if it’s fun, I’ve had enough!
Have you ever had to sacrifice a feature you really didn’t want to give up to keep a game in budget or meet a deadline?
Jeff: Absolutely. Some features take longer to make than expected, or a sudden bug can stall your team for a week.
It’s not just budgets or deadlines that cause this. Sometimes an idea simply doesn’t work as well as you thought it would. It’s important in any creative endeavor to recognize when this happens and either try something else or simply take it out, whether you’re creating a game or carving a sculpture or writing a book.
How many ideas have you had to abandon or drastically change because someone beat you to the punch?
Andrew: Haha, way too many to count. We have actually cancelled games on occasion because a similar game was released. We’ve also had to change the title to a game because we discovered someone else was building a game with the exact same title!
What do you find is the best approach for starting a new project?
Jeff: The best starting approach is to get a clear idea of what the player will be doing in the game. What actions can she take? What is she trying to accomplish? When these ideas are simple and focused, it’s easier for players to understand, and it’s easier to get a prototype version of the game running to test whether it’s actually fun.
Great art and story might keep some players interested enough to stick around to the end just to see what happens, but if the game isn’t fun in the first place, they won’t enjoy the journey.
What do devs think about the people who get mad about a particular aspect of a game?
Jeff: Ideally, neither! Taking it personally is unprofessional in any field, and ignoring it outright doesn’t help the game. Feedback from real players is crucial in figuring out which parts are confusing or unexpected.
Sadly, though, we can’t address everyone’s concerns. Features that really bug some players are the best part of the game for others (sometimes a lot of others!) Someone who loves Time Management probably won’t be a huge fan of any Hidden Object games we make no matter what they’re like. A specific suggested change might be technically infeasible, or make things too easy, or make our game too close to some other game. But just because we didn’t change what you wanted doesn’t mean we didn’t hear you!
Do developers ever realize that the game they’re making needs a major overhaul? If so, is there a process to improving a game in the latter stages of development?
Andrew: This has happened to us on a bunch of projects including Cooking Academy: Restaurant Royale. The best process for improving a game during the latter stages is to design your code flexible so changes are easier.
We brought Cooking Academy all the way to Beta milestone and realized that while the cooking mini-games were fun the kitchen management was way too basic. We went back and redesigned and re-implemented about half the game. Thankfully, because the code was fairly flexible we did this in less than 2 months.