This interview has been edited for clarity
Cooking is chaos. That’s the singular truth at the heart of Fruitbus, the culinary adventure from Krillbite Studio that’ll have players dishing outdelicacies to cute critters as they breeze around a diverse archipelago in their trusty food truck.
Krillbite CEO Tobias Fossheim and gameplay programmer Jonas Odden explain the title is more systems-oriented than the studio’s previous releases, and was born out of a desire to create something “gameplay-driven” after spending years working on narrative projects like Mosaic and Among the Sleep.
“During the pandemic, we wanted to explore something different, so we started thinking ‘okay, what do we want to do?’ It turns out we just wanted to have a lot of fun and laugh while we developed a game.We also wantedto serve smoothies to cute animals,” says Fossheim.”Those were the two things, and it evolved from us wanting to create a smoothie stand to us wanting to put a food truck in an open world.”
As the idea evolved, Krillbite committed to going the whole nine yards. If the team were going to make a cooking game, they were going to make a cooking game. “On a higher level our initial pitch hasn’t really changed,” says Odden. “We wanted you to feel like you’re a chef in your kitchen.” They explain that resulted in them implementing a tactile two-handed control scheme where players must use their two grabby appendages to interact with every single item in the kitchen (and even the the world beyond).
“We looked at games like Surgeon Simulator, where a lot of the fun actually comes from making a mess. Because in the kitchen–at least, in my own experience–I still make a mess even when I feel like I’m in control. We wanted to convey that feeling where, even when you’re pretty confident, there might still be some spillages and other unforeseen hiccups.”
In play, the buttons on the right side of thecontroller will be used to operate the right hand, and the buttons on the left side will correspond to the left hand. It gives players a level of control that feels natural,because that’s how most people interact with their kitchen in the real world, but it alsomeans mistakes can happen if they’re not focused.
“For example, if you want to cut something you’ll need to grab the knife in one hand, then look for the food–let’s say, an apple–that you want to chop and start cutting it,” adds Odden. He notes the system has evolved slightly from the studio’s first iteration, where it was a little too chaotic.
Take the apple, for example. Initially, Krillbite required players to pick up every individual apple slice by hand in order to move them. Now, the slices are a single object that can be transported en masse. It’s a small tweak, but one that results in a “controlled mess” as opposed to utter bedlam. “If Armais the hardcore cooking game, then we’re Battlefield,” quips Fossheim.
Fossheim notes that another part of the challenge facing players is figuring out how to optimize and run their kitchen. “We have some friends here in Oslo that are professional chefs, so we had them come in and give us a rundown of their day-to-dayprocesses like food prepping and how they accommodate a full house,” he says, adding that in-game players will be able to give themselves more control by doing the relevant prep or arranging appliances in a way that streamlines each service. If you want to make a soup, get that stock on the boil. If you’re rustling up a stir fry, chop that veg.
They’ll also need to figure out what each customer likes and dislikes by experimenting with a range of foraged ingredients (which they’ll need to collect themselves by exploring on foot) to create a bespoke menu. Some animals, for instance, might prefer solid foods or bitter meals. Others might have a sweet tooth or a craving for salads. Players will need to have a chinwag with their customers to fill in those blanks, but they won’t be punished if they occasionally miss the mark.
“They’ll generally like your food unless you purposely serve them something that’s the complete opposite of what they want,” says Fossheim. “But we do have a tipping system. So, usually they’ll pay the base price, and then depending on what kind of success parameters you hit they might leave a tip.”
Fossheim explains the studio chose to focus on positive reinforcement to really encourage players to cut loose in the kitchen. It’ll also hopefully give them a reason to learn more about Fruitbus‘ island residents and form meaningful bonds.
“Our philosophy with Fruitbus is to ensure players aren’t placed intostressful situations unless they seek that stress out. That’s why we didn’t want to have a bunch of mechanics that punish the player, and why we didn’t go too deep into the realm of puzzle mechanics,” he adds.
Meals on wheels
As for where those mechanics fit into the core gameplay loop, Fossheim says players will generally be foraging, creating, cooking, and then selling or upgrading. The incentive, then, is to ensure your customers leave tips so you can buy better equipment that grants access to new areas, ingredients, and tools.
Fossheim compares the progress in Fruitbus to that of the early Pokémon games, noting how the open-world is sectioned off into islands that are somewhat compartmentalized. “You’re going to need certain things to progress, but we still want you to feel like it’s an open world,” he says. “Sometimes it might a narrative thing that enables you to visit new places, but on another occasion it might be an upgrade.”
Dividing the world into islands gave Krillbite more control over progression, but it also solved some technical problems. This is the studio’s first open world project, and the team was keen to avoid biting off more than they could chew. “[The islands] allow us to get a feel for how much fruit players should be able to forage in one area and dictate what food they can find and where,” says Odden. “It’s also just really expensive to create an open world when you haven’t done it before, so having tinier islands worked on that level.”
Digging deeper, Odden explains one of the biggest technical challenges the team faced concerned world streaming, including how to save, load, and maintain positions. “You can exit the truck and then explore on foot, going up into mountains and forests and jungles to gather ingredients, before coming back to your truck. Maintaining that cycle and ensuring it feels good for the player had been a challenge,” he says.
Chiming in, Fossheim notes that everything in Fruitbus has a physicality and that “nothing gets reduced to a UI number.” Having that in an open world, where everything needs to work with level streaming and physics calculations, was a “steep learning curve” for the studio.
Still, it’s a challenge Krillbite was happy to take on if it meantcreating a safe space for players to explore new culinary horizons or perhaps even rekindle their relationship with food. “There aren’t many people who don’t have a connection with food,” says Odden. “I feel like cooking games are a very safe space for people to revisit those memories or recreate their favorite dishes. There’s a lot of feeling involved in food, and I feel that–especially after the pandemic–there’s a comfort in playing cozy games that prioritize relationships and therapeutic pastimes.”
Fruitbus is slated to launch in 2024 for PC and consoles.