Poltergourmet

📥Click to Play Poltergourmet! 📥

What is this?

A game entry made for the very first Technically a Game Jam 2022 – a 1 week-long game jam for the Technically Art Discord Community of technical artists and games devs hosted by Harry Alisavakis and run by myself and the other mods from the community!

What was the theme?

What was your take on it?

“Like Cooking Mama but The Exorcist!”

You are the Cook-xorcist, a member of a long forgotten order of exorcists dedicated to the eradication of demons through the use of soulful cooking. 

Having received a desperate plea from a concerned neighbour, you have journeyed to Apartment 669 of the Seven Circles residential housing block, and upon arrival have found it lousy with demons. 

Grab your cauldron, prepare your ingredients, and get ready for a fight, because these demons don’t want to leave, and they’ll do everything in their power to keep a hold of their victim.

We wanted to put a twist on the thematic content of a well known game and we especially liked the idea of juxtaposing something innocent and wholesome against something sinister and mature. The blending of something vibrant, kid-friendly and casual with something dark, horrific and occult was an idea we thought would allow for plenty of absurdist comedy and gameplay innovation. We took the basis of Cooking Mama’s interactive premise – to prepare and cook meals as a chef from a range of ingredients with mini-games centred around each stage of cooking – and added a sense of threat with demonic enemies using their possessed victim to thwart your attempts to cure them. Even though we only had 1 week to make the game whilst also juggling our day jobs and busy schedules, we knew we wanted to add as much depth to the gameplay as possible. We started by dividing up the gameplay into diverse sub-mechanics correlating to different stages of food prep:

  • Seasoning – a memory game where the player is tasked with remembering a sequence of 3 different seasonings to add to the ingredient then selecting and adding them in the correct order. Fail to do so and the sequence restarts.
  • Chopping – a test of reflexes and timing where a target shop point is randomly placed on horizontal axis of the ingredient; a moving chopping point ping-pongs from right to left and it’s up to the player to click at the correct time when they overlap to chop in the right position. Do this three times with each required chop causing the line to move even faster to succeed. Missing spawns a new target line, the player only gets three attempts so 3 misses means the ingredient is tossed and they have to start chopping again.
  • Tenderising – a test of accuracy where the player has to move their mouse to move the tenderiser to overlap their target with the target on the food item then click to strike. The target on the item then moves to random position and the player needs to keep accurately hitting the targets until the meter at the bottom is full.
  • Grating – an endurance mini-game where the player simply needs to move their mouse up and down to grate the food item and increase the meter at the bottom as quickly as they can.

Simple enough right? Well we wanted the gameplay to centre around a constant feeling of threat and being under attack with a need to balance your cooking progress against defending yourself and your meals! To simplify things we settled on re-using an asset I’ve made previously so that the player is making soup rather than meals which would be more difficult to make assets for. In order to protect yourself and the curative, exorcising soup you will need to defend against demonic attacks:

Thrown Books – the demonic presence will levitate nearby books and launch them at the player to inflict damage to the player’s HP. The player sees a warning icon on screen and hears a sound effect to alert them to a book about to be thrown and that they have to look up. When the book is hurled towards them, time slows down and they have a window of opportunity to hit a button (E if the book is thrown from the right, Q if thrown from the left) and dodge out the way!

Projectile Vomit – our poor bed-bound victim is sick with demonic possession and just like in The Exorcist’s famous projectile vomit scene (actually pea soup!) as the player progresses they will occasionally be alerted with a unique warning icon and hear the sound of the victim retching. At this point they have to look up and hold the R button to quickly raise and open an umbrella to shield themselves and their soup until the sound dies down. Failure to do so will result in whatever progress they currently had preparing the food to be reset.

As the food prep stages are advanced through and as the player continues through the exorcism, the attacks will increase in frequency keeping the player in a tense state of completing the mini-games as fast as they can before the next attack begins. We considered, initially, having the player prepare food and defend against attacks all within the player’s viewport however we decided against it as it would make the screen real estate very busy and cause us to lose detail for the task at hand. As it turned out, making the player zoom into the chopping board and having to press W to look up and defend against attacks increases the tension and the scariness as the player feels more vulnerable when they can’t keep the possessed man in sight at all times.

With these elements the gameplay maintains a level of chaotic and frenetic pace in the same vein as Cooking Mama but with much more panic-filled energy!

Regarding the build up of tension, we pace it so that there are lulls in the action with other gameplay elements. The first of these is at the very start of each of the demons you face (three in total) there is a small investigative and identification element where the player is under no time limit. In order to make the correct soup for the demon at hand, the player needs to look around the room for a demonic symbol which can randomly spawn around the environment:

This symbol is then correlated with the symbols that appear in the recipe book to the player’s right:

As they flip through the pages they can identify the symbol which matches the one in the room and select the correct recipe to load in. They’ll also learn a few more details such as the demon’s name and the environmental effects and detriments associated with them.

Speaking of detriments leads us to the second gameplay element which gives the player a brief respite from the exorcism. We wanted each demonic presence to have its own character and visual impact on the scene so we came up with the idea that each demon would exert its own unique demonic powers on both the environment and on the player:

Fathuum, the Depths – inspired by Dagon, a Lovecraftian deity from the oceanic depths, indicates their presence with water impossibly falling from the ceiling of the room. As the player progresses with the soup, they will turn the room to sub-zero temperatures causing the player’s breath to appear in the air and frost to close in around the edges of the screen, restricting vision.

Oculis, the Watcher – inspired by Bughuul, the main antagonist of the 2012 horror film Sinister. Bughuul manipulates children into using camera footage to record themselves murdering their families, so he could use each of these films as his portal into the real world. And so, Oculis suggests their presence through distorting the player’s vision with a VHS tracking lines effect and changes the wallpaper to this effect. They can also fill the room with buzzing flies and cause the temperature to plummet.

Sepsis, the Plague – inspired by Nurgle, a god of of disease, decay, death, destruction and despair from Warhammer 40K. Sepsis hints at their presence by filling the room with flies and causing the walls to drip with green, oozing slime. They can also block the player’s vision with a swarm of buzzing bees.

So with these detriments and clues the challenge gets a little harder and the player has another reason to do a little detective work. However, there’s one remaining game mechanic which can both dispel these negative effects and encourage the player to search their surroundings – sigils. Initially during concepting we considered being able to block demonic magical attacks or pre-emptively laying down protection by having the player literally draw a variety of protective wards in mid-air, similar to the ‘signs’ in The Witcher series. The player would have to draw the correct one based on the type of attack incoming. However, we changed this to a simpler feature where the sigil would be randomly spawned around the room once the detrimental effect had appeared, leaving the player to find it and then once they had the camera would zoom in, normal gamplay would pause and the player has a brief minute or two to draw the outline of the symbol with a simple dot-to-dot mechanic:

To encourage the player to connect the dots in the correct order some subtle particles emanate from the starting point. Failing to draw correctly starts the process again. Successfully drawing it however backs the player back out to normal gameplay and the demons detrimental effect vanishes.

So after the detective work, triumphantly preparing the food, dodging attacks, repelling vomit and banishing demonic powers – what then? Now it’s time to deliver the exorcising power of soup! We brainstormed methods of delivering the cure to the victim and ultimately leaned into the occult magic we’d already established. When prompted the player can press F to levitate an undulating ball of soup up out of the cauldron and simply propel it towards the possessed man!

After which we get a sequence of light, animated full screen post-processing effects and a view of the demonic power leaving the body of the man. If there are more demons remaining, hideous, spooky sounds play and the next stage of possession begins. Otherwise, once all 3 demons are exorcised – YOU WIN!

Who made this?

All Design, Code, Art, VFX, UI, Audio by Dominic Feargrieve & Nick Pritchard

What comes next?

We have received a lot of praise from players and from the community and the game jam host especially concerning thoughts like “I’d expect this to be a full game!” and commenting on how much we got done in just 7 nights. We’re giving genuine thought to expanding on this and developing a full game and experimenting with a VR version. We’d love to be able to advance the cooking mechanics, the investigative elements, broaden the number of demons, rooms and victims, extend the narrative storytelling, and generally add more polish to the visual effects and audio.

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