Lost in Blue: Bad Cooking

Cook, biatch, cook!

In this last short post about Lost in Blue, I will talk of the cooking minigame embedded into it and how bad it is. Curiously, the design errors I want to discuss seem to be quite common, especially among Japanese developers, which is why I consider a detailed analysis worthwhile.

The minigame hast two main components, both of which are flawed. First, the player needs to select the right ingredients, seasoning and the method to prepare the food. Normally the game takes names and colors of the ingredients and generates a name and an illustration for the dish. So most of the time, you get Stuff like “Sand Crab Strange Salad”. However, there are certain special combinations of ingredients which yield a special meal with a custom name and illustration. Seasoning Potatoes with salt and pepper results in “Baked Potato”. It is unclear whether the special recipes are more nutritional then the generated ones, but they certainly feel more desirable. The game keeps track of the recipes you have discovered so the player will feel encouraged to collect them all.

I wonder, why is it called “strange”?

Here comes the first flaw: the game offers NO CLUE on what ingredients might yield a special recipe. Finding a special recipe is a matter of pure chance and the odds are quite bad: There are 71 different ingredients, 8 seasonings and 6 cooking methods. Every dish consists of up to 4 ingredients and up to 2 seasonings. If I remember the stochastics class correctly, there are over 328 million possible combinations. Among these, the player is supposed to find 45 recipes. The chance to find a recipe is about 7 million to one – like buying two tickets for the lottery! In his first “Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!” Ernest Adams already criticized puzzles based on pure chance but this is a whole new dimension. Because it is not required to find the recipes to solve the game, I conclude that the game designers thought this would be fun to add some well hidden extras. Clearly, they lost their mind. There is nothing fun about mindlessly going through endless combinations.

Good for various recipies? Of course! Why didn’t I think of it. Now I simply have to find them – just a matter of time…

I agree that “stumbling” across something can be exciting but it only works if the odds are good and the process of searching is quick and forgiving. It works even better if the player can activly manipulate the odds. An improvement would be giving the players some hints. For example, after each meal, the characters could comment on the result on how to improve the recipe – something like: “Delicious, but I think it needs more salt”. Also, there could be some rules on which ingredients should be mixed – like: “Never cook meat and fish together”.

The second part of the minigame is the minigame itself. The player is required to quickly draw certain patterns with the stylus in a certain rhythm. It sounds OK at first but when you are playing as the girl, you have to cook about 8 times per “day” and it can take up to 100 “days” to finish the game. This means that you will have to play the same minigame 800 times. To make things worse, the minigame is the same whether you prepare a salad or a steak. You can imagine – it gets OLD! On top of that, as a boy you sometimes have to build furniture which is essentially the same minigame as the cooking minigame.

Cooking on the left, building furniture on the right. I cannot recall both being so similar in real life.

If a minigame has to be played so frequently you better make sure it is interesting enough to stand that kind of stress. Cooking Mama has shown how it is possible to make an compelling game where you do nothing but just cooking. One sure hint on how to achieve this is to match the game to the actual activity it represents. The generic rhythm game in Lost in Blue has little to do with real cooking and fails to reflect the meals that are being prepared. If the budget does not allow this kind of development, it would be wise to reduce the number of times the game has to be played.

On a more positive sidenote, the cooking minigame features a nice detail where the player is supposed to close the lid of the Nintendo DS for a set amount of seconds. It is quite refreshing to face a challenge where the objective is to do nothing.

The ultimate challenge for gamers – do notihing for 9 seconds. Just like loading times but without the loading.

Of course we have to consider that cooking as the subject of a game is generally a nice touch and certainly a welcome change to the usual shooting, fighting and killing. Cooking in a survival context is even more attractive as it provides interesting challenges and fits well into the fantasy addressed by the game. However, because of lack of precedent solutions, the game design needs special attention to be able to compete with more established, action-based game mechanics.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

8 responses to “Lost in Blue: Bad Cooking”

  1. Yu-Chung Chen

    I totaly agree, especially with the first flaw. I have always hated – and still do – when blind experimenting is being sold as something exciting. Do you remember how I criticized “Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne”? Exactly the same thing.

    I also think your proposal should be helpful. Those Japanese game companies really should start reading our blog and hire us.

  2. Krystian Majewski

    Yeah, we already discussed the topic. Franky, I frogot how that mechanic is implemented in Nocturne. Would you refresh my memory?

    By the way, I mis-calculated the odds of finding a recipe. They are not 20 times worse but, in fact, twice as good as winning the lottery – like buying two lottery tickets. I’ve corrected the mistake, sorry for that. However, the argument remains intact as the odds are still astromomicaly bad. Theoretically, you can play 9000 games without finding a recipe.

  3. Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel

    this truly sounds very funny. basically the great idea of “cooking”, and the simple concept “recipce by ingredients” are conceptualized by the developers and implemented into the game.

    but they feel as if they were never (seldom) tested, neither by a publisher nor onsite testers … too bad.

    btw: good idea to give hints after the meal is eaten what would improve the recipe (bring it closer to a “true”/hideen one)

  4. rafael van daele-hunt

    Presumably the designers assumed that players could draw on their real world cooking knowledge, so that finding a recipe would not be anything like a blind search. Of course, I don’t know whether they did this well or not; a frequent flaw in games intended to use “common sense” is that many possible common sense solutions aren’t implemented, which is frustrating.

  5. Krystian Majewski

    common sense knowledge – I agree, and I would also add that when it comes to “common sense”, there are huge cultural differences. In this case, most of the meals are asian and therefore copletly uncomprehensible for an european as me…

  6. Anonymous

    If you are interested in cooking or pizza games, you might consider visiting cooking games site.

  7. Merwok

    Stranded Kids, anyone? (Also named Survival Kids) Build a bow, build arrows, hunt a deer, build a firr, cook the meat, survive another day. With seven possible ends. That was a game.

    I totally love the idea of closing the lid and waiting :D

    Kind regards

  8. Krystian Majewski

    The Lost in Blue games are the DS sequels to Stranded Kids aka Survival Kids. But I’ve heard that the GBC original is supposed to be superior. I might give it a try, thanks for the tip!


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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