In Lost Recipes, you play as a Ghost Chef in training, cooking for ghosts from Greek, Chinese, and Maya civilizations who long to pass on the traditional recipes of their favorite dishes. But unlike the fast-paced and often slapdash nature of many cooking games, Lost Recipes offers something different: a relaxing experience with a focus on cultural authenticity. And it’s available now on the Quest Platform for $14.99 USD.
To celebrate the launch, we sat down with Schell Games Senior Design Manager and Lost Recipes Project Director Melanie Harke for an insider’s look at the game.
What was the initial inspiration behind Lost Recipes? How, if at all, did the game change during the course of development?
Melanie Harke: When Schell Games first started thinking about Lost Recipes, we were exploring the idea of what could be an educational and relaxing experience that utilizes the strengths of virtual reality. This idea is how we first landed on cooking in various locations throughout the world.
At first, we thought it might be more of a traditional “cook a bunch of meals for customers” type experience. However, as we started learning more about each location and how universal and yet unique each culture’s cooking was, we started craving a more personal experience. That’s when we decided to lean into a simulated realistic and relaxing cooking experience. Instead of the game being about making food for customers, it was more about learning how to make meals from someone.
How long has Lost Recipes been in development for, all told? Any favorite anecdotes to share?
MH: We started prototyping some cooking ideas at the beginning of last year (2021), and actual development began in March 2021.
One of my favorite moments in development was when the project inspired us to try out the recipes as a big group. Together, we all tried to make tanghulu, a traditional Chinese snack of candied fruit, and we had been a bit spoiled by the way time was sped up for the VR experience. But, when the sugar was finally the right temperature, and we were able to get that hardened shell on our fruit skewers, it was magical and an incredibly satisfying experience.
How did you first get involved in VR development? What has that journey been like?
MH: Lost Recipes will actually be the first VR experience I’ve worked on that will be released to the public. Of course, Schell Games has made several popular VR games like Until You Fall and I Expect You To Die.
Before Lost Recipes, I directed a calm and relaxing VR project for a client, and this work helped establish the feel and accessibility we wanted in Lost Recipes.
I’ve also worked on many location-based and educational experiences over my 17 years (omg) at Schell Games, so those certainly helped when directing Lost Recipes. In location-based games, you have to constantly think about how the player’s body will move and utilize the physical space. In VR, you need to think about how the player is moving in the game’s virtual space, how they are interacting with the game, and how the player is moving in the physical space in which they are playing.
This knowledge led us to implement a very flexible movement system where players can play seated or standing with the whole room-scale or even in a small stationary space. When you work on such a great variety of projects like Schell Games does, you find inspiration and translatable skills sometimes come from surprising experiences. Now that I’m thinking about it, the very first VR game that I worked on at Schell Games was a bartending prototype we created several years ago, so I guess deep down, I’ve always wanted to make a cooking game.
Did you encounter any technical challenges optimizing Lost Recipes for a mobile chipset? How did you overcome those obstacles?
MH: Many of us had just completed work on another mobile VR experience, so I will say the Lost Recipes art and tech team were phenomenal. They really set us up for success working on the mobile chipset, so we didn’t run into too many problems.
One of the main things we had to rein in was the game’s physics. Early on, we decided we wanted to create a realistic simulation game, which means being able to pour liquids, stir things in pots, pour out a pile of grain, etc. Of course, when you’re planning for mobile VR, you want to minimize the number of items you’re simulating so that performance is high and consistent.
We utilized many tricks. For example, we simplified complex interactions like stirring solid objects in a bowl. Or we turned off physics simulation and explicitly attached objects to containers like plates and bowls. It took a long time to get things to behave the way we wanted them to, which was an experience that felt dynamic and real without hurting performance or causing the game physics to freak out and cause things to fly around the room.
What’s your favorite part of Lost Recipes and why?
MH: For me, it’s definitely roasting the cacao beans in the Maya scene. It’s so pleasant and calming to watch each roast and pop off the skin of each bean—I almost forget that I can’t smell it. And I can’t help but think of our voice talent, Amy, who was so excited to be able to share a bit about where her family was from in a game.
How did the team select the various cultures represented in the game? And what was your research process like?
MH: First off, let me say how incredibly hard it was to narrow down environments. We would have loved making many more places and recipes if we could. We completed interest surveys internally and with playtesters, but a lot of it came down to where we could get good variety—separated by space, time, and locations for which we could find experts.
We started with books like Cooking through History, but we knew we really wanted to talk to people from the actual cultures to present authentic recipes, language, etc. We found what we call “Subject Matter Consultants” for each environment, with whom we’d regularly meet to discuss everything from the shape of the bottles used for liquid to the recipe processes to the script itself.
We worked hand-in-hand with these experts so we could make something real. We also asked our voice actors to review the scripts, doing everything in our power to create an authentic experience.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
MH: At Schell Games, we always have a bunch of exciting things in the works, like our new partnership with Innersloth and Robot Teddy to develop Among Us VR, but I can’t speak about what I’m working on next quite yet. I do intend to keep using games and VR to educate and inspire.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MH: I’m very excited for everyone to try Lost Recipes. Making this game inspired many of us to find out more about these cultures and try new foods and recipes. In fact, we created a recipe book for fans of the game so they could recreate these tasty dishes in their own modern kitchens. I hope our players feel inspired as well!
Grab your apron and experience culinary history with Lost Recipes on the Quest Platform today.
To learn more, check out Episode 2 of That Other Gaming Podcast, which includes an interview with Schell Games CEO and Founder Jesse Schell discussing the game.