Despite his preoccupation with cooking games, Dave Galindo, the Creative Lead on the Cook Serve Delicious series, is not himself a cook. In fact, he doesn’t cook at all.
“I hate cooking,” he tells me by email. “I love the art of cooking, of watching other people cook or reality TV cooking shows, but actually cooking for myself is just so draining and not my favorite thing to do.” It’s perhaps from this place of culinary ambivalence that Galindo’s games, including a surprise title releasing today, are born. Says Galindo, “I think that’s why I can make these kinds of games—I’m not buried in the minutia so much and [can] fit cooking within my gameplay parameters without thinking, ‘wait, is this how an actual chef does it?’.”
Whatever his experience (or lack thereof) in cooking and restaurant management, Galindo is inspired by food service. His studio’s latest project, ChefSquad, is a restaurant management sim with a unique twist: it’s played by committee. Each round is streamed live on Twitch, with the streamer acting as the game’s host, assigning kitchen roles to viewers by way of chat commands, which allow them to opt-in to the game as well as assign themselves an avatar. The game’s kitchen floor holds several cooking stations, where individual ingredients for recipes can be prepared. As orders for food stack up in the window, the streamer places each player to a task that will help them prepare the meal, like cutting an onion, preparing chicken broth, or plating it for service. Each viewer-player must then follow the commands and enter them in the chat window to complete their assigned task. Once they are finished, the streamer will then assign the player to a new role, repeating until the day’s orders are finished.
The result is a frenzied fast paced game that evokes the panic of Cook Serve Delicious while being completely its own thing. I actually got a chance to play ChefSquad and see how it works up close through a private Twitch stream this past weekend. My big takeaway was how smart—in terms of timeliness and understanding the current release climate—it is to format a game for open group participation on Twitch. Building an audience on the platform is hard, and engaging followers is a necessary part of its formula for success. ChefSquad makes it simple for viewers to opt-in, and gives the streamer a way to make their followers feel included. Combined with how lively each session can get (there’s a slim margin of error that greatly depends on how fast the players can type) and I’d say at the very least, it has the potential to catch on.
My question for Galindo after playing ChefSquad was how the studio intends to make money off a free game with no in-game monetization strategy. His answer? They don’t. ChefSquad serves a few purposes for the studio, but not necessarily financial ones. The process was almost an experiment, with the goal of refreshing Galindo’s design skills while testing the waters for future projects. Of his desire to create ChefSquad, Galindo says, “We had been making Cook, Serve, Delicious games for nearly 10 years. Honestly for me [making ChefSquad] was doing a reset and figuring out how to make a game from scratch again. I knew I wanted to make a small unique game that could also have some tech in it that we could carry into future games that are single-player focused.” His expectations seem modest; throughout our online conversation and the preceding weekend’s private demo, he joked about the game’s risk factor, entertaining the possibility that it will not catch on with Twitch audiences. But he remains optimistic, in that the game does not need to be popular for Galindo to get what he needs out of the experience. He says, “If this game doesn’t get played, then we can still use the tech to add small Twitch support to our future games. We’re good either way, although I really have so many ideas for more games like this.”
So does this mean a more sophisticated version of ChefSquad’s concept is in store for later? Yes, says Galindo, especially if the game attracts sponsors and funding. While ChefSquad was more of a proof of concept/side project, Galindo says that the studio is big enough now to tackle two games at a time and that as a palette refresher, ChefSquad was a lot of fun to build. “But,” he adds, “we’re still making traditional single-player focused games. That won’t ever change, I feel.”
Galindo and Vertigo Gaming will also remain focused on cooking games for now. He says there are still a lot of innovations within the genre that he hopes to bring to future titles. Those who want to try out his latest take on the theme can tune into a Twitch livestream event with host WhatifJulia, which starts today, October 21, 2021, at 7 p.m. PST. The game itself officially launches at midnight.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.