Eat, drink, play: in video games the formula for unforgettable food

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You can’t taste it or smell it, but in video games, food and drink play a major role, providing everything from encouragement to hidden weapons.

Food in video games has always played an important part. It has given everything from sustenance to supernatural powers, from Pac-bonus Man’s fruit to Mario’s magic mushrooms – and food preparation has become a genre of its own in games such as Cooking Mama and Overcooked. Game makers have found that well-presented food is irresistible-even if we can’t eat it, like the writers of cooking shows and recipe books.

Food representation has become an art form in the modern game market, where attention to detail and authenticity are paramount. Kaname Fujioka, executive director of Monster Hunter: Universe, Capcom’s fantasy adventure, says, “We design ingredients and recipes based on the quality of the food as well as seasonal events to which it may be linked.”

Because we are unable to reflect the most essential elements of the food (taste and smell), to express that as best we can, we have to modify, exaggerate, or probably deform the visuals.

A lot of fine-tuning is done on specifics such as colour, lighting and softness, to make players think the graphics look “delicious.”
The team expected the most significant variables to be silhouette, form and color, says Fujioka, but instead it was the more subtle information that brought the food to life. “We found that it was important to portray the feeling of touch and warmth,” he says. We have created the right amount of bounce and texture if it’s a meat dish to express how “tender” it is.

In addition, to reflect the dripping fat, we add a little sparkle to the lighting and can show the flavor visually. With VFX of flickering oil or steam coming from the food, we round that out, which gives the impression of heat.

We hope that players can almost taste and smell the food on screen by incorporating all these components.

We think of food not only as a source of food, but also as one of life’s most essential pleasures,” Fujioka says. “I think there are so many different aspects, from consumption to enjoyment, surrounding the concept of food. It was necessary to give players a short moment of rest between [the hunt], we thought.
A vital part of world-building may also be food.

As a Narrative Artist, Sophie Mallinson worked on the steampunk adventure Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, and she studied interactive media with an emphasis on the role of food in games before entering Arkane Studios.

She sees food playing an important role: “Without considering the role of food, I can’t imagine building a new world; it’s almost always the first thing I think of,” she says. “A well-stocked pantry can tell you so much at a single glance about the agriculture, economy, and rituals of a fictional setting.”

Food is also a clever way to tell the public that this world of fantasy is similar to theirs, but not quite the same.

Through using delicacies like whale meat and rats on a spit, Dishonored does a decent job of this.
Mallinson says it is important to designing the video game version to consider real-world foods – not only how they look and taste, but the communities that grow around them. “My research taught me about the fundamental role of food in society, both materially and symbolically,” she says. “Perhaps the most exciting discovery for me was how members of The Sims modding community recreated their favorite instant noodle brands or street foods like falafel and koshari as a way to digitally immortalize culture and traditions.”
In Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, food is a symbol of class, just as in the real world. “At Arkane, when we design food for games, we first consider the climate and terrain of the region,” Mallinson says. Tyvia, for instance, is the northernmost island, so there could be winter vegetables like rhubarb growing there.

Serkonos has far warmer temperatures, similar to Greece or Spain, so peaches and figs are exported. We also think a lot about who lives in each house when it comes to organic storytelling, so you’ll find eclectic feasts in wealthy homes, whereas working-class homes may only have sausages and some stale bread.
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