How cooking games are highlighting the cultural importance of food

Although franchises like Cooking Mama have made cooking games a popular genre, more games are putting emphasis on the cultural aspects of food.

Why it matters: Food preparation isn’t just about following recipes and creating delicious meals — there’s history behind some culinary creations and meaning to how they’re prepared.

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  • In “Soup Pot,” a new game from developer Chikon Club launching later this year for Xbox Series X|S and PC, players cook different local or traditional Filipino recipes while juggling social media and livestreaming for an in-game audience.

  • Art director Trina Pagtakhan told Axios, “It’s the first time you’ve ever seen Filipino food be the main spotlight in the game. … To be able to see a dish that [Filipinos] grew up with and make it on their own for the first time, I think that will really have a special meaning.”

Soup Pot” isn’t meant to be an ultra-realistic dive into cooking, however; ingredients will scream their names. Pagtakhan’s art, though meticulously rendered, reflects that personality.

  • “I don’t want to go too realistic with the food,” she said.

  • “I want to have this sort of balance between being stylized and being real. I want to have its own personality, so to speak.”

Between the lines: Making food you can’t taste, touch or smell look mouthwatering requires a lot of playing with textures and lighting. Pagtakhan says she researched food photography to figure out how to best present any given dish.

  • YouTube videos, which provide a fuller view of food prep than any recipe photo, were also important to her process.

  • “There’s this one recipe where we have to make soup and then we have to wrap it inside a banana leaf,” she said. Photos can’t capture the motion of it, which is crucial for the game.

The big picture: For Pagtakhan, who loves to watch cooking videos, food is a way to de-stress. “I am a very introverted person, and I don’t have any other outlet to de-stress,” she told Axios.

But Pagtakhan says she spends “an unhealthy amount of time” staring at food as part of the job, at least eight hours a day.

  • “I’m up from 1am to, like, 6am trying to nail certain parts of the model, so I’m just at that time looking at videos and pictures of so much food.”

  • Eventually, it’s bound to make a person break. “Yesterday, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I ordered McDonald’s at like 3am.”

Image: Trina Pagtakhan

When it comes to her own art, however, Pagtakhan has literally seen too much of the sausage being made to find it appetizing.

  • “When I look at my art, I only see, mm yes I made that texture using this method. So it becomes really fake for me.”

  • “I only look at this as a collection of models and textures and lighting.”

As part of her process, Pagtakhan keeps a mood board to set the tone for recipes showcased in “Soup Pot.” “Sometimes I kind of lose track of my original vision,” she said.

  • With the mood board, it helps her to quickly reference both ingredients you’ll find in the game, as well as the vibe of the Philippines.

  • “I wanted to reflect that by making the palette really warm. It’s really hot here,” she said. “And I wanted the overall feel of the game to feel like it’s happening in someone’s kitchen here in the Philippines, in real life, or someone’s grandmother’s kitchen.”

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