Laura Hutton sits down with DualShockers to discuss Cake Bash, developing indie games in an age of uncertainty, and what constitutes a ‘cake.’
In 2020, there’s a lot on the mind of the average gamer — through a global health crisis and mass civic unrest, many games and high-level publishers are delaying their games to both respect the moment, account for changes in the work environment, and realize all possible press potential. In a way, it’s almost the perfect time for fledgling studio High Tea Frog’s first game, Cake Bash, to release.
Sitting down with DualShockers, Artist and Director Laura Hutton talked a bit about the indie minigame collection ahead of the demo’s launch next week as part of the Steam Summer Game Festival. Perhaps even more importantly, Hutton discusses a bit about Cake Bash‘s subject matter and what should be considered a “cake.”
Lou Contaldi: Watching some of the gameplay, you really get a Mario Party mini-game vibe–what have been some of the biggest mini-game inspirations in creating Cake Bash?
Laura Hutton: We wanted to capture a bit of the magic of the 90’s classics, which I still play with my family after 20 years! We watched a lot of videos from Mario Party and Pokemon Stadium for inspiration, and I think what makes them so memorable is their characters and scenarios. One of my favourites is “Burgerini” from Rayman Raving Rabbids – doesn’t matter if you lose because it’s such a good laugh – it’s a masterclass for what makes a great party game.
Each of our minigames has its own unique design, and we’ve kept focus on the baking theme for all of them. It’s quality over quantity for us and a lot of minigames we prototyped didn’t make it – I’d much rather have fewer great games than loads of games that are rushed! I’d say that Nintendo games have been our biggest inspiration.
LC: What game is the dev team currently playing that isn’t Cake Bash?
LH: Quite the list! Final Fantasy XIV, Satisfactory, Yakuza 0, Astral Chain, Stardew Valley, and Final Fantasy VII Remake, to name a few. We don’t really have a favourite genre, and try to play as many as we can. I think it’s important to try as many new games as possible, but FFXIV is our most played right now – it’s good team-building to work together to defeat primals. Before that it was Monster Hunter World, I’m a charge blade fan, Clement chose the hammer, and Tommy went for the hunting horn – of course he’d go for the bagpipes, being Scottish.
LC: High Tea Frog is new as a developer, but the three-person team underneath draws from a wealth of projects that most “core” gamers would recognize — Viva Pinata, The Division, Far Cry among a few. Has any of the work or experience in these past projects influenced the work on Cake Bash, either mechanically or in balance? If so, how?
LH: I think our experience influenced the way we work behind the scenes more than the content of the game itself, but working with realism on The Division definitely gave me the confidence to attempt a more challenging art direction for Cake Bash even though I’m the only artist! I went for a ‘drawn-to-life’ look, which needed the characters and environments to be as realistic as possible.
Being part of a bigger team before meant that we could adapt a lot of the processes which worked into indie life. We wanted to keep the good parts of the AAA development pipeline, and we’ve recreated our favourite tools and scripts which made our lives easier. Our past experience also means that we know how hard it is to make games, so we’re not knocked off track with unexpected curveballs.
LC: Moving on from Ubisoft, what has been the biggest surprise or hurdle in creating your own project from start to finish? What advice would you offer other soon-to-be indie developers?
LH: It’s a lot more pressure to have so much input in the game – when things go wrong there’s nobody but you to take responsibility! One of the biggest difficulties was at the start – we were bootstrapping (living off our own savings accounts) and struggling to find a publisher.
For the first six months of independence we were making a single-player game, but after it didn’t get any interest we went back to the drawing board and started from scratch. Three prototypes later we started working on Cake Bash while also doing contract work on the side to pay the bills. For contracts, AAA games in your portfolio go a long way. It was hard work but ultimately a good decision for us to start again, and we have a publisher now which means we can focus more on development.
LC: Cake Bash is a remarkably wholesome game — very much like an Overcooked — being released in a year with a ton of turmoil. Has this been a motivator in creating and sharing your game or a personal roadblock to overcome in the tumultuous indie gaming market?
LH: Thank you! Adapting to working from home has been a challenge, I’m often distracted by tea and snacks so my productivity has taken a hit, but it’s also difficult not to get demotivated by the bad news. Sometimes I worry that I’m not doing enough, in the current climate, by ‘just making games’, but I’m trying to remember how much comfort I found in gaming when times were difficult, and hoping that I can bring a little bit of happiness to others. When we launch I’m sure players will be looking for a bit of light-hearted fun, and hopefully we can deliver!
We’re still actually on target for our original launch date, even after everything that’s happened, and I’m really proud of that. We’ve worked hard to get this finished and can’t wait for people to start playing soon.
LC: Based on promotions, it looks like the definition of “cake” is fairly loose in terms of playable pastries. We have doughnuts, muffins, and eclairs on the list. How did you curate the pastry list in the game? What ended up on the ‘baking’ room floor?
LH: Hah, yes. We were considering adding a stack of pancakes at one point too, so the definition is definitely a loose one. We wouldn’t include cookies or else we’d have to call it “Biscuit Bash.”
LC: Existential Question: Is “ice cream cake” considered “cake” or “ice cream?” Follow up: is a muffin just an unfrosted cupcake?
LH: That is a difficult question. If it has layers of sponge, I’d say it’s a cake.
We have muffins and cupcakes in Cake Bash, and I did have a bit of a crisis there – are they the same character? Is this a Zelda / Sheik situation? But then I remembered why I chose them – all the cakes have a unique silhouette, even for their skins, and the cupcake always has a pointy bit at the top but the muffin is round. Muffins puff up more at the top and overflow at the edges of the casing, and they have eyelashes but the cupcakes don’t. They’re definitely different.
LC: “Fork Knife: Gateau Royale” is one of the better word plays in indie gaming. Will there be more dad puns or wordplay through the game?
LH: Oh wow, what a compliment! There are as many puns as I could squeeze in without annoying everyone. A good test for a successful pun was if our programmer, Clement, understood the joke even though English isn’t his first language. I also had the strict rule of only one pun per screen, otherwise it would have been a punderful overload. I also like subtle ones most like ‘prove yourself’, because they’re easier to sneak in…
We used to have ‘Thyme’ for the end match countdown but it was too savoury.
LC: The Campfire minigame has just been revealed, where did the inspiration come from and what was it like to design?
LH: Campfire is my favourite minigame! I can’t wait for people to play it in the Steam Summer Festival. We wanted to design something a bit more relaxed and this one was really fun to make. I looked at a whole bunch of references of different states of cooked marshmallows and worked out the best way to make them look realistic!
We also spent ages balancing the scoring, to make it fair yet challenging – we made sure that you can get really good at this minigame with practice. You can even get a perfect score of 100 in the ‘high heat’ of the fire if you’re a total pro!
It seems like forever ago but our first prototype of this game was rubbish – we nearly scrapped it! You roasted popcorn for some reason, and the player had no control over the heat level so it was a boring waiting game. Just goes to show how important iteration is, and I’m glad we kept trying with this one.
Cake Bash launches on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One later this year; if you are looking to dive into some of the dessert action, you can try out the game beginning June 16, 2020 on Steam.