In Kitchen Kauldron, an immersive game designed by a team within ArtCenter's Game Design program, players dare to join Wendy the Witch's kitchen crew to save her failing food truck. In this interactive, gamified experience, players pitch in by stepping into a trio of roles — barista, server and chef — taking and making orders throughout various magical lands. The team of professional game designers and students crafted everything — from stewing up the spellbinding story, to fabricating a food truck to understand how players could move about the space.
ArtCenter: How did the Kitchen Kauldron team come together?
Justin Finuliar (ArtCenter faculty/project mentor): Christophe Gomez, the Director of ArtCenter's Game Design track, approached me with the opportunity to teach and work with the College's talented students. We wanted to explore the intersections of alternative controllers, theme entertainment, and game design.
For Kitchen Kauldron, we assembled an awesome team of game designers and concept artists, who have strengths in their respective fields, but had never worked together to create a game — 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 those who regrettably decide to help Wendy the Witch and her struggling business.
AC: What inspired the Kitchen Kauldron concept of creating food in a magical food truck?
Jenelle Yuan (student/concept designer): We knew we wanted to make a food truck-type of game from the start. From there, we came up with a couple different themes that included a zombie truck or a kitbashed, sci-fi one. But one idea we all gravitated toward included the ideas of magic, fantasy and creatures.
Stella Golden (student/writer/voice actress/character designer): Ultimately, we landed on a witch theme as a group. I came up with the plot of the game, and the progression of the story, which led us to knowing what kind of themed game experience we wanted to exist inside the food truck.
This idea of a failing food truck, where things could be a bit off, or broken, allowed us to lean into this rugged aesthetic.Jenelle Yuan Student/Concept Designer
AC: What development tools did you use to build Kitchen Kauldron?
Sammy Gerolaga (student/game designer/producer): Unity was our main development tool for the virtual games a part of the Kitchen Kauldron. For production, we used JIRA and Airtable to plot out our roadmapping.
Nicholas Huang (student/concept artist): For the art assets, we used tools like Photoshop, Procreate and Blender.
Wilson Huang (student/concept designer/producer): The building of the physical truck, props, and alternative controllers included utilizing basic woodworking tools and techniques, 3D printing, laser cutting, among other skills.
AC: What physical materials did you use to make the truck?
Avery Taylor (student/game designer/fabricator): 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 and decorative decal furnishing, as well as tiling and adhesive. In addition to traditional means of fabrication, we also explored how decorations could either be 3D printed from models based on concept art modeled by the team, or collected from miscellaneous prop locations.
AC: How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?
Nicholas: Highly immersive. We wanted to make sure the controllers 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.
AC: What challenges did you face in creating a food truck-sized controller?
Nicholas: We had to consider size to ensure everything fit. We made prototypes to see what range of motions each controller could take and what assemblage would work best for maximizing the amount of space each person could have — that was one of the advantages of making a physical space we could play in.
Additionally, we wanted everything to fit the theme of the "world" we created to help people engage with the environment. Especially with 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.
AC: What ideas went into connecting the interaction styles so the three players would have to work together?
Simon Smith (student/game designer/lead programmer): We knew right away that we wanted it to be a party-type of game. As far as connecting the interaction styles, once we knew what the roles of our gamey kitchen would be, the rest just fell into place naturally. This makes sense because we modeled the game after real-life systems that happen in the real world.
AC: How did you infuse every element of the game with the witch-y theme?
Stella: 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.
Simon: From a game design and alternative controller approach, the group also took inspiration from witchy/magical tropes, like potion brewing for the barista game. For the server, we leaned into fortune-telling and mind-reading — so we have our crystal ball. For the chef, we ideated a lot. In the end, we landed on skinning ingredients and food as magical, and baubles did the trick.
AC: You included several unique props and pieces, as well as an 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?
Jenelle: This idea of a failing food truck, where things could be a bit off, or broken, allowed us to lean into this rugged aesthetic, rather than spend time and effort to create a super clean design. 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 L.A. food truck, with mythical beasts and characters — gave the tried-and-true theme of the fantasy genre a modern, relatable spin. Overall, it created a story with twice as much depth for the game’s backstory because we really cut loose in the blending of juxtaposing worlds.