Co-Optimus: Have there been any ideas for levels that you couldn't implement or decided weren't feasible? Like, putting players in a Chthonian plane where they have to fight against their ever dwindling grasp on reality as they fix a tomato soup.
Phil: We had a lot of ideas for levels which haven't made it into this game, nothing quite like the one you described but I like the idea of introducing a sanity metre into a cooking game; feels apt.
Generally when it comes to new mechanics or new environment we like to work backwards: we think of the experience we want the player to have and we create a scenario which encourages or enforces this. Mechanics wise, since we're such a small team, it also helps to focus on features which we can get multiple uses out of, if we can only build one level out of a mechanic then we have to really consider whether it's worth the implementation time.
Co-Optimus: You hinted at this a bit earlier, but is there a reason why the players themselves aren't given different roles to fulfill? For instance, one player could be a fry cook, the other a pastry chef, a third is sous chef, and so on. These kinds of duties are normal in a kitchen (depending on its size, of course), and having role-based characters is something you see in a fair number of co-op games.
Phil: It's actually something we toyed with early on in the development of the game, and in many ways you could make a very good game which used a similar mechanic: ie. giving each player different abilities or specialities and then working out as a team how you want to utilize them, but in the end we were just really drawn to the idea of all players coming at the game with equal standing. Again it ties back into this idea of players working as a team rather than as individuals: no one player has any advantage over any other. It also means that we can be quite clever with layouts and have levels where certain players are forced to chop and prepare ingredients and then create another level where they're assigned a different task, meaning players are constantly forced to try new things and organise themselves in different ways.
Co-Optimus: What's been one of the best moments you've had thus far showing the game off to others?
Phil: I don't know about best moment but certainly the most memorable moment for me was the first time we demoed the game in public. We took a very early prototype build to the Norwich Game Festival here in the UK (Fantastic event, completely free and open to the public, highly recommend it). We had been sweating over it for at least 2 weeks before, then we got there and we finally fired up the build we took a step back and just stood there... waiting for our first punter.... it was really early in the day so the crowds were a little thin but eventually this little redhead girls comes up, she must have been about 8 or 9, and Oli and I just looked at each other thinking "Oh crap" -the youngest person we'd tested it on up to that point has probably been like 25 so we figured there was no way this was going to end well- but she picks up the pad and we hastily explain the controls and we're sat there playing along holding our breath, and suddenly she just starts beaming, and it was just like an enormous weight being lifted, she started running about picking up ingredients and shouting at us to help her put them in the pot and she's laughing and we're laughing and it was just such an enormous relief.
We demo'd the game hundreds of times that day to hundreds of different people and that little girl kept coming back, she even started to explain the rules and the controls to other players, seems silly but when you've been heads down on a project for so long you really do start to doubt it's worth, so when you get that kind of positive reaction it can be really powerful.
Co-Optimus: That's an incredible! Says so much not only about your game, but it also captures that spirit of co-op we love so much around here. One last question for you. You talked about playing games with your brothers growing up, and later with your co-workers. What are some of your favorite co-op games, and what's been your most favorite co-op moment so far?
Phil: Hmmm always a tough question... Think I'd have to take the rest of the day off to answer this question so instead I'll just give you some of the first responses that came to mind.
Bit of a random one, but I actually really enjoyed some of the fan-made co-op levels in the original Little Big Planet. The main game obviously had to cater for 1,2,3 or 4 player combinations, but the community levels didn't have to have such restrictions so there were some really great puzzle levels which actually required 4 players to get through them. As I'm sure you guys are aware it's very rare that you get to play a game which has been designed specifically with co-op in mind, normally it's just something tacked on to what is primarily a singleplayer experience, so it was great to play levels which were built specifically around 4 players working together.
I played a lot of co-op games growing up, I have fond memories of Streets of Rage, Bubble Bobble, Toejam and Earl etc. Most recently I've enjoyed playing Lara Croft Temple of Osiris, Pixel Junk Monsters, Lovers in a Dangerous Space time; basically any game where you can play with friends and where you're actively encouraged to communicate and to work together towards a common goal always gets my vote.
Thanks again to Phil for taking the time to talk with us about Overcooked. The game is still under development, but will support four player couch co-op when it is released.