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Building the Sweetest Gameplay – An Interview With Cake Bash Devs High Tea Frog

Building the Sweetest Gameplay – An Interview With Cake Bash Devs High Tea Frog

Written by Eric Hauter on 10/14/2020 for PC   PS4   STA   SWI  
More On: Cake Bash

Cake Bash is the party game that you didn’t realize you needed. A throwback to the N64-era of four-player minigame collections, Cake Bash is a refreshing ray of charming sunshine in the sometimes overwhelmingly dark world of video games.

Cake Bash was developed by High Tea Frog, a micro-indie made up of Programmer/Director Clemant (Clem) Capart and Artist/Director Laura Hutton. Hutton and Capart left Ubisoft in 2017, where they had worked on many giant AAA games. Together, they formed High Tea Frog to make titles that appealed to their personal sensibilities. Their AAA experience allowed them to make a very polished, playable game, released across multiple platforms simultaneously.

Gaming Nexus had the opportunity to speak with High Tea Frog leading up to the release of Cake Bash. We asked them about life as an indie studio, the inspirations for their charming game, and whether the cakes in Cake Bash are aware of the dark fate that awaits them.

 

GN: Your team collectively left UbiSoft in 2017 to create High Tea Frog and work independently. What are some of the differences in your day-to-day life now that you are indie developers?

Clem: Well, it’s really different. We aren’t going to the office anymore, even before the [COVID] change. We went from working on a huge, open floor with hundreds of people to being in a smaller room with two people. Which is good, and less good sometimes, because you have less people to interact with, you have less people to get input from. But you also have full control over what you are making. You can make decisions more quickly. You don’t have to ask 10 people before you put something in the game.

So it’s been really good—really, really different. Like another world. But yeah, we love it. I think we are really at peace with that change.

GN: Many indie developers focus on a single platform, then port the game slowly over to other platforms one by one. With this being your first indie title, what led to the decision to publish on every platform simultaneously? [Editor’s note: The Nintendo Switch version of Cake Bash will be releasing slightly later this year.]

Laura: We just love pain. [Laughs] We love stress.

Clem: I think it’s easier to do it that way. We already had that opinion before, when we were working with Ubisoft. I think it’s easier if you think of the game in terms of the platform that you are going to put it on, rather than retroactively make it fit onto other platforms.

We thought that the game was perfect for the Nintendo Switch, but it could work really well on all the other consoles. I think it’s more difficult later on to make your game work on platforms. Even when the game was just a prototype, we put it on consoles. We made sure that it was running well, that it was fun to play. We feel that it is easier to work that way, but that comes from experience. We were working on consoles before, but it’s not the same for everyone. But I think we will continue to do it this way going forward for all of our games.

GN: Will there be cross-play between any of these platforms?

Clem: There is cross-play between Stadia and Steam when you are using matchmaking. In multiplayer, you can’t invite your friend across platforms to play with you, but when you want to use matchmaking to play with random players, there is cross-play between Stadia and Steam. These players will be able to play together, to create a bigger player pool.

GN: What were some of the inspirations behind the gameplay of Cake Bash? Were there other games that you looked at as templates?

Laura: I think one of the biggest inspirations for us has to be Pokémon Stadium, back on the N64. Short, easy to pick-up games that are really fun to play. Even if you lose, it’s not horrible to lose. It’s still fun and good to play with your family. It was an important reference for us, because I haven’t really seen anything like that recently.

Every time I go home to my family, we tend to bring out the old N64 instead of playing new games. There’s something special about them, I think.

Clem Capart – Programmer/Director

GN: How did you decide on cakes as your subject matter?

Laura: We were prototyping games, and one of us said, "What about a game where you are a doughnut, and you punch each other?" I thought that sounded really silly and fun. We decided to just go with cakes.

It’s kind of inspired by that “drawn to life” thing, where people draw arms and legs on photos of things in the world, bringing them to life. I wanted to try something similar to that.

GN: My family has been playing for three nights straight, and we are still unlocking stuff! How did you decide on the cadence for unlockables?

Clem: We wanted a cadence where every time you played through Get Tasty [Cake Bash’s primary game mode], you would unlock at least one new thing, whether it’s a map, or a minigame, or a “Bash Mode” game. You will always unlock one thing. So that’s the first rule.

But we also don’t want you to have to play the same game over and over again. So we wrote an additional rule that says that if you don’t have enough minigames, forcing you to play the same set of minigames over again, we will unlock something else. So when you first start the game, your first Get Tasty runs will unlock more things, and the more you have unlocked, the less you will unlock new stuff. But you will still get at least one thing every time. So you will never be like, “Oh, there’s nothing,” unless you have unlocked everything.

GN: My children absolutely love this game, and their mother doesn’t mind them playing due to the gentle subject matter. What were some of your game design philosophies that led you to create such a family friendly title?

Laura: I think in our original document, we were looking at the violent old cartoons, like Hanna Barbera, Tom & Jerry, Wile E. Coyote, that kind of thing. So, it’s still quite violent, but it’s not horrible. It’s not like shooting people. I think we had enough of that when we worked for big companies. We wanted to make something that’s funny, but still a bit aggressive.

GN: When creating your character models, did you use real cakes as reference? How did you come up with the idea of drawing doodle appendages on more realistic looking cakes?

Laura: We did! We actually tried to make them for my birthday during lockdown, and it was a complete disaster. We tried to make the cupcake, Kacey, and it didn’t look like that. [Laughs.]

GN: What did you do with the cakes afterwards? Did you eat all the cakes?

Laura: Yeah, they were still quite tasty.

Clem: You just had to not look at them.

GN: Which of the minigames in Cake Bash is your favorite? Why?

Clem: It’s always hard, because I love them all. We made sure as we were making each game that it was something that we really like. There were some that we didn’t put in the game because they didn’t really click. It’s hard for us now to pick a favorite, because we like all of them.

I think now—and it’s weird, because at the beginning I really didn’t like it—it’s Fork Knife. [Editor’s note: this is a minigame that has all four players dashing around a cake, trying to avoid a constantly attacking set of utensils.] It’s quick fun. Everyone can discern quite quickly how it plays. There are no complex mechanics, and it’s really easy when it ends to just do a rematch, because they want to try again. I think it shows that something doesn’t have to be super complicated to be fun.

Laura: I think my favorite is Campfire. [Editor’s note: This is a minigame that has players roasting marshmallows over an open flame. Timing is everything.] It’s funny, because those are the two that are in the demo. I think we chose them because "put your best foot forward" and everything. But I’ve absolutely loved watching people get better at Campfire.

The first time they play it, they burn the marshmallow, and they say, “Oh, it’s going too fast. It’s rubbish. I don’t understand.” And then you see it kind of click that when the fire goes higher, you need to take the marshmallow out and wait because it goes faster. It’s the kind of game that you can be really good at if you keep practicing, and I think that’s what makes me really love it.

GN: What’s your record on Fork Knife? How long have you stayed alive?

Laura: I think we nearly got to a minute!

Clem: Yeeeeahh…I think it was a bit lower. I think it was something like 52 seconds. It gets crazy, obviously. When you run out of space, and the fork and knife are going really, really fast, it’s completely insane. But yeah, I think it was 52, but that might have to be redone. The difficulty may have been different, because we tune everything all the time.

GN: Was there any content you were considering for Cake Bash that you had to leave out for time or budget considerations? Were there any minigames you created that didn’t survive?

Laura: So many. One of the most recent ones we cut is based on a game—I don’t know if you have it in America—but it’s called “What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?” Kids kind of sneak up on someone, and then they turn around at the last minute. We were trying to make something like that with the pigeon. We couldn’t make it fun, so we just scrapped it. But there were so many, we could probably fill a whole other game with canned minigames that we didn’t like.

GN: I like that in Cake Bash, no one ever “dies.” Do the cakes in Cake Bash realize they are competing to be eaten?

Laura: I’d say no. I think that they think that the human wants to be their friend. In Get Tasty, you get the customer order, and it says what the customer is looking for. And the cakes just want to be taken home and treated like a little pet. I don’t think they realize. It’s kind of horrible, actually. [Laughs.] I never thought of it. Horrendous.

Laura Hutton when I asked her if the cakes realize they are competing to be eaten

GN: Are there any further plans for more Cake Bash content? Will there be more levels? DLC? Cake Bash 2?

Clem: Not Cake Bash 2. Yet, at least. As far as DLC content, we have loads of ideas. A lot of things we think would be good and fun. But we haven’t started on any of that. For now, I think we want sort of a Cake Bash break, apart from fixing the bugs that will maybe come up.

But we have ideas. We have things that we know could fit in the game and be fun. So for now, we are just waiting to see if it is something we will do, and when we will do it. No fixed plan yet.

Laura: I think it depends on what players say as well. Like, if people ask for the same thing all the time, we’ll consider it.

GN: On the eve of the release of your studio’s first game, knowing what you know now, what would you tell the 2017 version of your team if you could speak to them?

Clem: Well, not directly related to Cake Bash, but still relevant, I think, is “Take more time to make things good before wanting to share them.” It’s funny, because I think that goes the opposite of what a lot of people advise, which is “Show your game as soon as possible and have people try it.” But I think actually, taking the time to make something that you are sure you like, that you think is good, is important. Because first, it’s more fun for you when it’s something you know you like, and it will have more of a “wow effect” when you show it.

Laura: For me, I think I need to try to not be so negative about my own work. It’s a bit of feedback I get quite often. I only see the bad things in what I have made, but people think the game looks good. People really like the characters and the world I’ve made, so I think I should try to be a bit easier on myself.

GN: What are the future plans for High Tea Frog? Are there any other projects in the works?

Laura: We’ve started thinking about our next game. We’ve got some ideas. We would just like to make another game, but we’re not 100% certain what it’s going to be yet. Like Clem just said, we would like to take the time to make certain that it is something that’s working, something that’s fun before putting loads of time into it. But yes, it will be another game, we hope. 

Gaming Nexus would like to sincerely thank Clemont Capart, Laura Hutton, High Tea Frog, and Coatsink Games for their participation in this interview.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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