Blue Goo Games interview on Space Chef
Swedish indie studio founders analyze space comedy's workflow with Arcweave's web API
Shortly after releasing our update including the web API feature, we wanted to do a case study on a team that uses it in their workflow. Blue Goo Games is a Swedish company currently making their first game, Space Chef, a cooking sci-fi comedy. We interviewed founders Niclas Marie and Tobias Tranell on their Arcweave workflow, as well as their approach to making their debut game.
So, tell me a few things about your team. Who is behind Space Chef?
TOBIAS: My name is Tobias and I am the co-creator of Space Chef, along with Niclas. I am the art director and the main artist.
NICLAS: And I am the main developer and the project lead, so I program the game but also hold all the strings, deal with budgets, contact our publisher, etc.
T: We live in the same town and we have known each other for 30 years or so, since we were kids. We have worked on several small game projects over the time, as a hobby, but never released anything such as this.
N: We have worked on Space Chef for 4 years now.
T: I think me and Niclas compliment ourselves pretty good; he’s all about the code and I’m all about the graphics. It’s a good match.
N: Regarding the rest of the team, we have several developers, two artists except Tobias, a composer from Germany, and a sound designer from Sweden. So we are spread all over the world. We have also tried to work with some writers, a little on and off. Still, we find it hard to have someone really figure out what we want, to get our style through, so we usually end up doing edits and rewrites.
What is the game about?
T: Space Chef is a space cooking game where you take the role of a chef in the Horse Shoe Nebula, explore and gather resources and ingredients, cook food, and deliver it to hungry customers all across the space.
The cooking is the main part of the game, of course. Then, we have the exploration; we are exploring the galaxy and find planets, asteroids, abandoned space stations, new settlements, resources, and new NPCs. With the NPCs, you can interact, talk, and create relations.
Finally, there is an element of action; you hunt creatures with various weapons and some will fight back; even plants will try to eat you.
N: Various elements unlock new regions with new customers sending orders in. So, the more you explore, the more customers you get, the more famous you become, across the nebula.
There are a lot of puzzles; you need to go from one place to another, to find parts and blueprints you use to invent new machines to make your cooking better. For example, when you start the game you just have a basic barrel grill. Later, you are able to craft a cutting board and a knife.
Besides, you use various things in various ways; you can use a knife to cut food, but also as a hunting weapon. You can use a shovel to whack creatures with, but also to dig up carrootsfrom the ground.
T: About the names… we took Earth names of plants, vegetables, and fruits and gave them a little comical twist. Niclas mentioned “carroots”—from carrots, of course. We also have beefles, which are beetles that you can grill like beef.
N: We have sweat potatoes, too.
T: Yes, instead of sweet potatoes. So, players will recognise what all these are, while still perceiving them as alien.
N: There are a lot of ingredients and recipes in the game. You progress by unlocking recipes and blueprints.
You are not forced to do that; you can basically do whatever you like. To progress and reach the end of the game, though, you have to follow a couple of objectives. There is also a main plot, referenced in a lot of the dialogues, with some mysterious things happening. You can ignore that part but, if you play along, the story will unlock step by step and the rest of the game will become more interesting.
Where did the cooking idea come from? Do you cook?
T: No, but we like to eat. (Laughter.) We think the cooking part is something we developed over time. Niclas wanted to make a sci-fi pixel art action game, of which the character had a backstory as a chef. Then, we wanted the chef to be able to actually cook something. I think, from there, we deviated a lot from the original idea and made something else.
What do you think makes a cooking game appealing?
T: In our game, we included many aspects of the cooking process. We have frying, cooking, blending, grilling, baking… Each part is a small mini-game in itself. For example, you put some beefles on the grill and you can see them slowly change colour, turn crispy, sizzle and fizzle… There are also sound effects to it, adding to the visual change, and creating a nice feeling of something happening. And then you put the prepared ingredients together according to the recipe and create a meal.
N: Plus, to get the best quality, you have to take the beefles off the grill at a certain time… Since the player will be cooking a lot, we tried to make each part of the process slightly different, so it does not get too repetitive. You need to find pieces of the various puzzles, to unlock better materials and cooking equipment, to make better food, and to get better ratings from the customers.
What emotion are you going for? There is obviously a comedic element.
T: Yeah. I think we want the game to feel genuine and personal to the player. We want the player to feel the NPCs have a life and personalities of their own. To experience the cold and lonely space, as they explore. To encounter strange alien life forms, plants, and creatures. The music adds to that atmosphere, too.
All these elements together create this scrapyard game world, with its feeling of being lost somewhere in the uncool part of the Galaxy, trying to make a name out of yourself and satisfy the customers with your food.
“We have been inspired by games such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Space Quest, and Kings Quest-classics by LucasArts and Sierra.” —Tobias Tranell
Have you had any reactions from play testers?
T: We have delivered the game to some alpha backers from Kickstarter and they were very positive; they loved the graphics and found the concept unique. They also liked the comedy.
N: Some person played the game for 40 hours! There is not that much content in the game, yet, so I’m not sure how he did it. He collected everything you can find, kept on stacking everything, and he was waiting for something to happen.
Have you had any previous experience with writing? Screenwriting? Comedy writing?
T: I have been an RPG Game Master for 28 years, so I have been writing a lot, creating roles, creatures, NPCs, and dialogues. I think I have that part, at least.
T: That counts, yeah. (Laughter.) And when it comes to comedy… we like to think we are funny.
N: We like the kind of wacky humor in the classic game Space Quest, with people saying weird things or little quirky things happening in the background. The world building and the art add to that comedy feeling. It may not be jokes all the time, but still a subtle amount of humour in the background.
T: We have been inspired by games such as The Secret of Monkey Island—the dialogue there is great—Space Quest and King’s Quest. Classic games by LucasArts and Sierra.
N: We like to say we are inspired by the point-and-click games so there will be some parts in Space Chef where you can pick up something and use in on something else, but this is not the main part of the game.
Also, the dialogue is not the main part of the game, either. It is not a text-heavy game. In fact, we tried to keep the dialogues pretty short and witty. No long-winded and complex dialogue trees.
How are you finding the experience of writing in Arcweave?
N: We started looking around for lots of different tools, but we could not find the one that really worked for us. Then, we found Arcweave. We thought, “this is really easy to use!” It also has export features allowing us to export into Unity.
T: It is easy to navigate and we can jump back and forth, getting a quick overview of all our dialogues trees.
N: We have each NPC as a separate board, so we can get a quick overview of the dialogue.
T: Also, the coding part: I’m not a programmer and I can use it with ease. So, it is a big plus for me to use Arcweave.
I understand you make regular use of Arcweave’s web API.
N: Things changed a lot when you added the API feature.
So, this is the Arcweave import feature of the Dialogue System by Pixel Crushers.
Before, we had to open Arcweave, press Export, wait for a few seconds, and save a file. Then, extract the .zip file into a folder, and finally import it into Unity. Now, with just three clicks inside Unity, everything updates. Much easier now, so thanks so much for that feature!
What do you think can be improved in Arcweave, to help you as a team?
T: We have a lot of relation variables. When you speak with someone, you get a new relation with them. Then, the dialogue changes, depending on the relation. It would be good to go back to the start of the conversation, in Play Mode, and try a new dialogue option, without resetting the variables.
N: You already have the feature to monitor and edit variables in Play Mode. It would be good to also be able to restart the dialogue without setting all the variables one by one.
During the 4 years working on Space Chef, I am sure you have learned a lot—some things probably the hard way. Do you have any advice you could give to people starting their first game project?
N: The best tip I could give to someone new to game development is: try to make your first game simple and small; not a huge project that will take 5 years. Even if you think it will take 2 years, it will probably take 5.
Also, try not to make too many parts in the game. We have the space part of the game, the cooking, the planet exploration, the home decoration, and the dialogues… There are so many different parts in our game.
Try to make a simple game with fewer amounts of different scenes. That will save you a lot of time.
Yeah, but where’s the fun in that?
N: Yeah, exactly. (Laughter.)
Would you cut anything out of your game, saying, “oh, this is too much, let’s not have it?”
T: We have tried, but the publishers want everything. So…
N: Another advice related to dialogue: keep the word count small and avoid complicated dialogues. If you can keep it simple with the same result, better do that. Also, consider that some languages have longer text, longer words than English, needing bigger dialogue panels in the game.
Of course, it all totally depends on what kind of game it is. Still, you will save a lot of time and money if you have to translate shorter dialogues into 12 different languages.
How has the Kickstarter campaign gone so far?
N: The Kickstarter campaign ran in 2021, so it’s been a while, but we raised about $50,000, which we are very happy about. We got a lot of enthusiastic backers, who really loved the game, and it is great fun to show them new stuff and get feedback. Also, the campaign attracted a publishing house called Kwalee, that wanted to market and publish our game. We are really happy to work with them. They also have a QA team helping us with bugs. It takes a lot of time to play-test the game thoroughly, so that helps a lot.
The plan is to release the game in September 2023. It is already on Steam, if you would like to check the trailer.
It was a pleasure. Thank you for this sneak peek behind the scenes of Space Chef and for choosing Arcweave to write its dialogue!
N & T: Thank you.
We, the Arcweave team, are always thrilled to study our users’ workflow and methods. Such case studies help us understand pain points and implement necessary features, essentially improving Arcweave as a narrative engine. We are therefore grateful to teams like Blue Goo Games, who open their projects’ hoods for us to take a peek and witness all the amazing ways in which they use our app!
If you are also making a game using Arcweave, get in touch—we would love to listen to your story, too!