A massive orc towers over me, his giant fire daggers drawn, berserker rage gleaming in his eyes. My knives are out, I’m ready. Our duel begins with with a shout, “START!”
We turn our backs to one another and run full sprint for the pantry.Battle Chef’s “cooperation; not competition” sentiment reminds me of many of my strange experiences working in the indie game industry.
We put our weapons to work, harvesting monsters innards for our cooking showdown. I run back to the kitchen where our battle started. After tossing monster stomach in my frying pan, I flip it with precision. Two minutes later, I plate my caranha stomach mapo tofu for judging. The judge compares my dish to the orc’s: she likes both, but mine edges out . It’s a surefire hit with the judge, Kirin, who wants to taste the elements of earth in the dish. But he’s not mad. He’s not even upset. He’s thanking me for the opportunity, and encouraging me in the rest of the Battle Chef tournament. This orc, Thrash, even offers me friendship and a high-heat oven—he wants to see me succeed.
Thrash isn’t the only opponent to turn friendly. Every challenger in the game puts up a front of ferocity until my plate outperforms theirs: then suddenly they remember it’s about cooperation; not competition. We’re all vying for the ranks of the Battle Chef Brigade—who protect the world from monsters by serving them as delicious entrees.
Every Battle Chef foe I’ve faced has offered me a neat new kitchen tool (power-up) as a symbol of their hope that I continue to succeed. Even the viciously begrudging vengeful opponent, Weiz, bows and offers his gratitude when you best him, and even though he offers a vain autograph as a reward, the sentiment of camaraderie remains.
Battle Chef’s “cooperation; not competition” sentiment reminds me of many of my strange experiences working in the indie game industry. Previous design and advertising endeavors burned me out with the endless cutthroat nature of competition, but many of my best indie game trailer contracts have come from fellow indie game craftsmen like Marlon Wiebe and Derek Lieu.
This indie spirit isn’t limited to my weird little subset, it’s palpable in the kind of environment that Battle Chef Brigade comes out of. In 2013, Kotaku reported that Trinket Studios’ Chicago was the home of a new indie gaming renaissance. Five years later, we can establish that as fact, with Trinket’s Chicago comrades releasing Kentucky Route Zero, Octodad, Divekick, four JackBox Party Packs, and countless other indie success stories. If the Chicago based allure for the shops behind these games are any indication, it seems an encouraging spirit of camaraderie sustains it.
When Drew reflected on Battle Chef, he said it reminded him of The Great British Baking Show, which balances fierce competition with friendship. While Trinket’s Ben Perez cited Iron Chef Japan as the greatest influence on the game, I can’t help but wonder if Great British Baking Show’s friendship dynamics is a more apt comparison?
To talk about Battle Chef’s friend-making dynamics almost seems disingenuous because of how multifaceted the experience plays: every showdown begins with a monster hunt, cutting down deadly beasts for the freshest set of hydra lungs or dragon hearts. Next, you’re picking which livers, stomachs, and ribs you’re dropping in your pan matching three elements by stirring a grid of icons in a pan. That sounds simple until you realize there’s specs and unique kinds of pans/ovens for flipping particulars. And honestly I got quite overwhelmed at a few encounters, making it hard to progress until I learned of how to transform a dish with sauces. But when you boil everything down (or saute it up), it leads to that final judging moment: where you find out if all of the last eight minutes result in your victory or defeat. The moment you win, you gain something that’s more important than the Squickle Tentacle Srispy Noodles you made: you gain a friend.