Bonkers for Burgers was the title of the main project I made during my first minor: Serious Gaming. We did this project as a group with 5 people (3 Computer Scientists, 1 Interaction Technologists and 1 Creative Technologist). We used Unreal Engine as our game engine, which I thought was pretty exciting, as it was the first time that I worked with Unreal. But I had already worked a lot with other game engines such as Unity.
It is a VR cooking game where you cook burgers for a number of customers that come into your diner. It is completely physics based, which means that you can throw and catch and interact with pretty much every item around you. You can throw up a head of lettuce and baseball smash it into a customer with a frying pan, for example. This, combined with the VR, made for some fun, clumsy gameplay.
Serious Gaming was an optional, but really fun minor that I managed to fit into my study. I really like game design and development and serious gaming takes a whole different approach to games. The goal was to make a game that fulfills a 'serious' purpose. This purpose could be pretty much anything, but the 'holy grail' of achievements is to change the behavior of the people who play the game for the better. A lot of people understand the message that a game, or any other medium for that matter, is trying to convey to them. And often people even agree completely with this message. Despite all this, more often than not, these attempts fail to make long-term changes to people's behavior. Serious Gaming tends to overcome this challenge very well by presenting the message in a fun, immersive, non-lecturing, creative and emotionally invested context. This leaves the player thinking of their own actions and can create long lasting memories that lead to behavioral changes. It also requires little cognitive effort from the players, since they enjoy playing the game.
Our game, Bonkers for Burgers, aims to change behavior related to wasting food. A lot of food ends up in the trash, which is a shame. This can be for a number of reasons, but we won’t delve too deep into that. Bonkers for Burgers aims to address the overarching behavior and make people aware of the fact that they are wasting food. We do this by making a fun game, comparable to a lot of other cooking games (VR diner duo, overcooked), yet unique in and of itself. This game is fun to play, and we had no problems getting people to try it out and understand the mechanics. We then added some smaller mechanics that reward environmentally friendly behavior. These are not forced upon the player, but they do help you achieve the highest score possible and play for longer durations.
The basic gameplay is very simple. The player wears a VR headset (HTC Vive) and controls 2 virtual hands. There is a countertop in front of you with everything you need on it. Customers will come in and order burgers with varying ingredients. Some need processing, some don't. For example: The burgers need to be cooked, and the lettuce needs to be cut, but the bread buns are ready from the start.
The more ingredients a burger has, the more money the customer will pay for it. If you take too long making the burger, the customer will leave. If you give them a burger with the wrong ingredients, they will refuse it. The goal of the game is to earn as much money as possible from a set number of customers. Sounds easy enough, but if the customers come in too fast, it can be very difficult to remain organized.
Play the video above to see some gameplay footage. I do apologize for the framerate, we used powerpoint as screencapture software. Important lesson there.
Of course, things can go wrong. If you take too long, customers will leave, leaving you with half finished burgers. You can throw these away or use the ingredients for other orders. Doing the latter will save you money, as you don’t need to throw things away and thus have to use less ingredients. This is one of the mechanics that promotes environmentally responsible behavior. If you leave a burger on the stove for too long, it will catch on fire. The burger will be ruined, and you have to throw it away. You also have to extinguish the fire yourself with a fire extinguisher. If you serve an uncooked or burned burger, the customer will vomit on the spot and not pay you. Another mechanic that aims to change your behavior is the separation of garbage. If you screw up, and you're forced to throw stuff away, you have a selection of 3 garbage bins. The right items must go in the right garbage bin, or you'll pay double the cost of the ingredients. A bit of skill is involved here as well, since the garbage bins are further away from you, and you'll have to 'Kobe' them in.
The player is also offered the choice between real and plastic plates for each offer. The customer won't mind either, but your money will. Plastic plates cost you a small amount of money and impact your environmental score. Real plates need to be washed before they can be reused, however. You only have a set number of these, so you need to use them efficiently. If you serve food on an unwashed plate, the customer will vomit, and you won't receive any money from them. Doing the dishes also contains a subtle mechanic. Your sink can fill up until level 5 (0 is empty, 5 is full). With every plate you wash, a level disappears, and the water level will lower. If you turn on the tap, the water level will rise again. However, if you leave the tap on while the level is at 5, you'll pay a small amount of money for each wasted level of water.
You can work ahead in the game as well. If you have zero or just a few customers, you can prepare more ingredients than you need. For example, cut 5 slices of lettuce already, despite only needing 2 at the moment. However, if these are left over at the end of the level, you have to pay for them anyways. Lastly, one of the most subtle mechanics, the environment changes in real time according to your behavior. The player has a so-called 'environment score', which is calculated according to all of the abovementioned factors. The lower this score, the worse the environment looks outside of your window. This doesn’t affect you in any way, but it can be used as a form of feedback.