Muhammad Fajar Rafif from Panitia GameDev told us about the history and gameplay of The Chef's Shift typing game, discussed the development process, and talked about the game development scene in Indonesia.
I'm Muhammad Fajar Rafif. I'm the lead artist & UI/UX designer for The Chef's Shift. I'm relatively new to the field of game development. When I'm not working on The Chef’s Shift, I'm doing video editing and animation for a basketball media company. Previously, I worked with edutech startups, creating motion graphics in the form of explainer videos. So my previous experience wasn't related to the game development industry at all, but I'm interested in exploring opportunities there. I've noticed a growing presence of the industry in Indonesia recently, and as a gamer myself, this naturally piqued my interest.
In my spare time, I frequently participate in various game jams. It's a hobby I enjoy when I'm not at my day job. I consider game jams as experimental grounds where you can let your creativity run wild, try out new ideas, and gain valuable experiences along the way. Sometimes, the ideas succeed, and sometimes they don't, but that's perfectly fine since it's only a couple of days wasted. Plus, I can always repurpose and build upon the ideas that don't quite work out. My role in game jams varies. I often take on the role of an artist but sometimes I delve into programming. It's refreshing to step out of my comfort zone as an artist and gain a different perspective on game development. It's certainly an eye-opener to experience the challenges of coding a game, which can be quite a learning curve.
Panitia GameDev is a 6-person team consisting of three programmers and three artists from various backgrounds. We formed this team during the game jam we participated in last year. So we didn't know each other before, except for me and Ali, whom I've known from previous game jams, and Elvira, who is a friend from college.
So, aside from me, there are 5 other people on the team, all working remotely and part-time, as each of us has our own additional responsibilities:
- Ali Jaya Meilio Lie is the lead programmer and project manager. He also runs a printing business.
- Roni Setiyawan is a gameplay programmer and currently works as a programmer in a VR experience company.
- Jonathan Franzeli is another gameplay programmer and works in the same place as Roni.
- Mega Anjani Putri is a game artist specializing in environmental design. She is currently pursuing her animation studies at a university.
- Elvira Ayuniar is a game artist focusing on various aspects of game art, including characters and food. She is now working as a full-time graphic designer.
Game Development in Indonesia
I've noticed that the game development scene in Indonesia has been on the rise recently, and it has piqued my interest. As someone new to the industry, I've found the community to be incredibly supportive. It's heartening to see how everyone helps and supports each other. This sense of togetherness truly makes a difference, and it has made my journey feel more meaningful. Additionally, it's encouraging to see that the Indonesian government has recognized the industry's potential and is now actively supporting its growth through initiatives like IGDX. I think the combination of a supportive ecosystem, emerging talent, and governmental backing is a strong foundation for the industry's continued growth and success.
The Chef’s Shift
The Chef's Shift was born from a 2-day game jam we participated in last year. I'm the lead artist. During the jam, several themes were provided, and we had to incorporate at least one theme into the game. One of the themes was 'Easy to Play, Hard to Master.' We decided to create a typing game, a genre we believed could be combined with other genres, making it more flexible. We brainstormed various ideas, including racing and shooting games. We chose to go with the cooking game because we believed the two concepts could coexist beautifully.
The core gameplay loop was fairly simple. Players had to stock up on dishes beforehand by typing words above them. There was no limit to how many dishes you could prepare, so if you typed fast enough, you could stock up on over 100 dishes. Then you served customers their preferred dish by typing words above their heads. The game consisted of only one level.
On the visual side, because each of us had very different art styles (there were 3 of us), we decided to make the game black and white to create a more uniform style and save time. Initially, we had considered an art style similar to games like Good Pizza, Great Pizza, Hungry Hearts, and Resortopia, but we put that idea aside for later. For the setting, we chose an Italian restaurant because we believed Italian cuisine has a significant influence on the culinary world, and we just wanted to emphasize that this is a cooking game.
You can still try the game jam version here. When downloading, please choose the 'Original Game Jam Version'.
So after the end of the jam, we decided to go forward with this cooking theme through the incubation phase (it’s also part of the game jam) for around 2-3 months. The first thing we wanted to change was the gameplay because the jam version was too simple and could become repetitive. We looked at similar games and found that the Delicious game series was a perfect reference.
So the first thing we changed on the game is how the dish is being made. On the jam version, you just type the preferred dish to make and then type words above the customer to deliver. We decided to add one more step: moving the dish to the tray after it’s ready. The tray acts as some sort of inventory, so you can no longer stock up on 100+ dishes anymore, now you can only store 8 dishes at maximum, so players have to be deliberate about choosing which dish to prepare.
Taking inspiration from the Delicious game series, we also incorporated different dishes, each with unique ways to cook. Some dishes could be prepared instantly (like desserts and drinks), while others needed frying or processing first. Some dishes had their own variants, such as pepperoni pizza and mushroom pizza. From there, we kept adding more content, including additional levels to play, more restaurants, more customers with their own characteristics (like the mime customer who required players to type symbols instead of words), and so on. We plan to have 6 different restaurants on the final release, each representing a different food culture.
For the visuals, we decided to stick with our original vision from the jam. We also added a story alongside the gameplay to keep players engaged. Because the game was set in Italy, we thought it would be interesting to incorporate a mafia theme. There were several iterations of the story, but we wanted to make it really engaging, taking inspiration from series like Durarara!
We're using Unity as our game engine because it's the software with which all the programmers on our team are familiar. For the visuals, each one of us uses different software. For example, I'm using Inkscape, another team member uses Clip Studio Paint (CSP), and another one uses Photoshop. While we are all knowledgeable in using these software programs, we decided to stick with the ones we are most comfortable with, ensuring that each team member's work doesn't interfere with each other.
We designed the gameplay loop based on the Delicious game series as we found it enjoyable to play, and from there, we were able to add our own unique twist. Designing and balancing the core gameplay loop is a challenging process. The initial version was considered too difficult to play, although we believed the level of challenge was manageable. However, after hundreds of tests, we began to question our perception of the game's difficulty. To address this, we turned to playtests to assess the game's difficulty. This process involved sharing builds with friends and fellow developers and participating in game conventions like IGDX to gather more feedback about the game.
During these playtests, we typically asked for feedback from players, while also watching them play as they progress. As it turned out, the game was indeed quite challenging to play. We then went back to the drawing board to adjust and tone down the difficulty. However, this led to the game becoming too easy. So, we still need to find that sweet spot. In order to enhance player satisfaction in the game, we introduced features such as the pleasing chime of the cash register when successfully delivering a dish.
In the future, we'd like to place more emphasis on the rewards. This might take the form of upgrading the restaurant to help players feel a sense of progress as they advance throughout the game. This might also take the form of making the chime sound more impactful by triggering it at different times and at different pitches when receiving money from multiple customers (currently, the sound triggers simultaneously), and showing pop-ups to celebrate the player whenever they finally reach a 3-star rating in a level.
Apart from the difficulties themselves, there are also issues with the UI/UX aspect, which adds another layer of difficulty. As a typing game, it's quite challenging to get the UI and UX right without overwhelming the game with text. Often, players struggled to grasp the tutorial and the game's fundamental mechanics. However, once they crossed this initial hurdle, they could usually play with ease. This means that we still need to refine our approach to introducing players to the game, as the first few minutes of gameplay can be critical in determining whether players decide to continue or not.