An awful lot of people are looking forward to Overcooked 2. The first game really grabbed a lot of people, bringing diehard and casual gamers back to wanting to share a couch instead of chat room, to working together under the madcap pressures of a fantasy kitchen. Sure, it probably caused a few arguments, but it was hugely popular, and now the sequel promises to bring even more madcap culinary chaos when it’s out next week, and it will support online play this time – catch our hands on preview here.
We spoke to two thirds of Ghost Town Games – Gemma Langford, the Lead Writer on Overcooked 2’s barmy story, and co-founder Phil Duncan – and delved into that first success, the ways Overcooked 2 goes beyond the original, and the food-based puns.
TSA: I think the first thing I want to ask is if you were taken aback by the success and popularity of the first game?
Phil Duncan: Oh yes! Massively so!
TSA: How have you dealt with the kind of fame that’s come with?
Phil: Well, it’s just… no! I’m not dealing with it! I’m just ignoring it and coming out to these things and being freaked out every time I see Overcooked up on the big screen. I’m still freaked out when I say to people that I’m a game dev and it’s a cooking game, and they say, “Wait, not Overcooked?”
Gemma: There was a time when we were in a comedy club in New York and a guy came over because we got picked on and we’d said we were making a cooking game, and this random guy came over and said, “It’s not Overcooked, is it?” This is a comedy club in New York! That was very strange.
Phil: Yeah, it’s just weird isn’t it? It’s not something we were expecting, because when we were pitching the game originally we met with loads of publishers and platform holders, and everyone said the same thing which was that there really wasn’t much room for local multiplayer.
Gemma: At the time it hadn’t exploded the way it has done now, so they weren’t wrong…
Phil: So when it took off, it was a massive surprise for us, because I think we’d set our expectations pretty low.
TSA: Given that success though, there’s obviously been a wealth of feedback for you guys to draw upon, so what were the main things you learnt from the first game and how you’ve seen people playing?
Phil: I think the community that built up around the game has had the response of a AAA game. There’s hundreds of thousands of people messaging us, the Steam forums just exploded, and the biggest thing we addressed was that we didn’t have online multiplayer. Within the first month there were hundreds of pages of people saying, “Why isn’t this online?!” and we’re like, “We’re two people in our front room!” It was never an option for us.
Gemma: Yeah, and I think the attitude that the three of us had toward online has changed. We had one person in particular who was a kid and said, “My brother is fighting overseas, but I’d love to play this with him.” Before then it was just no, it’s local.
TSA: It is a shift in some ways, but I do think it’s an important one. Initially, I think hearing it’s got online multiplayer could dilute the local nature of the game, but I guess you’re seeing now that the can coexist.
Phil: Yeah, exactly. We’re saying that if you can play locally, then we encourage that because that’s the best way to play in my opinion, but for those people who can’t then that option is now available. It’s something we’re really happy to be able to do for the sequel and that’s why we teamed up with Team17 who co-developed this with us and can bring their expertise when it comes to online multiplayer.
TSA: Yeah, I think they’ve done a few local multiplayer games with online… [laughs]
TSA: From what I’ve played so far, and this might just be because I’m playing with people who are good at Overcooked, it feels like you’ve made it a bit easier to get three stars. Is that something you’ve worked on, or is it just people getting better at your game?
Phil: I mean, balancing the first game was one of the hardest things we had to do. At the time it was just me and Oli working on it and Gemma would play test with us in her spare time. We were trying to balance the game for one player, two player, three player and four player, so we had this big spreadsheet and we were bribing people with pizza and beer to come round and record their scores.
Gemma: Yeah, we were desperately searching for children! [laughs]
TSA: Did you try the parks? Just rock up in a white van with some video games? [laughs]
Gemma: [laughs] It’s tricky!
Phil: Yeah, but something we noticed with the first game was that the difficulty curve was quite steep and we obviously have quite the range of players playing it. It goes from really young to quite old, so it’s something we have addressed, particularly in the early game so it’s a lot easier to get three stars. It does still get tasty and harder later into the game, but I’m hoping now that people of all abilities will be able to experience a larger section of the game.
Gemma: I remember it being a really nice surprise in the earlier days, because you guys hadn’t set out to make a children’s game, and then when we took it to Norwich Game Festival, and kids were rocking up and playing it. That was a really nice surprise.
TSA: I guess if you did want to make it just for an adult audience, you could get Gordon Ramsey to come and do voice overs? [laughs]
Phil: [laughs] He’d be aggressively shouting at you every time you fail to do something. He’d be sat at the edge of the screen just berating you constantly!
TSA: It feels like you’ve gone for an even wackier story, which is saying something when the first game involved time travel and the end of the world. There’s now wizard schools? Outer space? What’s going on?
Gemma: So these guys, Phil and Oli, making the original game and they also did the story. At the time they obviously didn’t know how successful the game was going to be, so they did the story and it was cool and funny, but then it was like, “Oh, people are actually watching now!”
I’m a playwright, and they asked “Do you mind coming along to do a bit of DLC?”, then “Do you mind coming along and doing Overcooked 2?” This also meant there’s one person totally dedicated to the story, and yeah, it’s out there this time round. Oh yeah!
Phil: We went for a slightly more gothic vibe in this time. We liked the motif of the first game, starting with the apocalypse.
Gemma: It always has to be the end of the world, and I’m a huge horror fan, so for me I wanted it to be horror. it’s the ‘unbread’ it’s the ‘Necronomnomicon’…
TSA: That one took me a while to spot. Necronomicon is a long word anyway, so I think it was the second or third time I saw the word in the blurb that I was like, “Ugh… yeah…”
Gemma: I’m very proud of all of my puns! [laughs]
TSA: If your puns don’t get a physical reaction out of someone, then they’re not strong enough!
Gemma: What was great about being the writer on this was that I just focussed on making people laugh. That’s been so much fun and watching players actually laughing has been cool.
TSA: I’m not sure how hands on you were in getting this game or the port of the original on Switch, but there were some rough edges at launch there, so what have you learnt to help make Overcooked 2 on Switch even better?
Phil: A huge amount, I think. When we made the Switch port of the original game, it was the first time we’d developed on a Nintendo platform, it was the first time we’d seen the Switch, it was very early for the Switch too. One of the hardest things there was we didn’t know how to do things like going from full pad to split Joy-Con, for example. There were no other games we could really take it from because it was very early days.
We had our hands on the development kit, we had to try and find videos of games like Mario Kart to find out what they’re doing, how they’re doing it.
Gemma: Yeah, and emailing people directly asking how do you do this? It was kind of sweet and there was a really nice community of devs at that time. It was like a new frontier.
Phil: Whereas obviously with Xbox One and PlayStation, those consoles had been out for years and years. This time around, we knew exactly what we were doing, the codebase was solid, we’d already done the port and optimisation for the first game, so it’s really just using that experience. Also, we’re working with the developers at Team17 this time around – the first one, Oli basically did the Switch port on his own, this time around it was a team.
Gemma: For the first game, a lot of people were shocked it was just two people. We’d get emails and I’d go, “OK, well, I’ll ask Oli to do that later. He’s just eating a sandwich right now!” [laughs]
TSA: Have you moved on from working from a front room?
Phil: We’re up in the attic room now.
Gemma: We’ve literally gone up in the world!
Phil: This is why you’re writing for Overcooked! [laughs]
Yeah, we’ve got a little office now. We used to be in Cambridge, but we’re now based in Manchester. It’s just the three of us still, and the cat.
Gemma: The cat had to come along. Cat chef, he’s still there.
TSA: I was meaning to ask about that. I’m really not sure about the health standards in the world of Overcooked, but there are sanitation concerns when you get a racoon and furred animals in the kitchen…
Phil: The ecosystem and the hierarchies of the Onion Kingdom are a mysterious, even to us! The fact that the king of the Onion Kingdom is an onion, and yet you’re cutting up onions for onion soup is never addressed…
TSA: Does the Onion King eat onion soup?
Gemma: It’s a dark area. [laughs] There’s a lot of guilt involved… a little bit of magic!
Phil: We don’t really talk about it much, but I’m not sure what the divide is between sentient vegetables and just vegetables. Maybe one day we’ll go through it and write a proper lore.
TSA: Save that for Overcooked 3, definitely.
Gemma: I’m ready for it, bring it on!
TSA: What’s your favourite new recipe in Overcooked 2? Personally I’m a big fan of bao buns.
Gemma: I was going to say that was my favourite. I do like pancakes.
Phil: Pancakes are good, I like those… I also like sushi. There’s something really satisfying about when the ingredients all come together and you see the roll on the plate. I think that one because when were developing it, it took a long time before all the full assets were in for it, so when it finally came together there was a sigh of relief. It all came together in the end.
TSA: I guess that’s a lot like making sushi in general, really.
Phil: It’s a lot easier to make sushi in our game than it is in real life!
Gemma: I’m sure sushi chefs would be so offended! I love the dumpling levels. The little steamers are just so cute.
TSA: I quite like about the Kevin level I’ve played, with the bao buns is that you’re serving, but they never end up on his table, so what is he doing?
Gemma: He’s judging you…
TSA: So Kevin is the Gordon Ramsay of this game?
Gemma: Oh yeah, but he’s got that silent fury. He hates you so much he can’t tell you about it!
Thanks to Phil and Gemma to chatting to us about Overcooked 2. You can catch our preview from last week here, and keep a beady eye out for our review when the game launches next week on 7th August.