The legacy of food in video games is as old as video games themselves. As soon as the earliest programmers realized that computers could be used to tell stories in new, interactive ways, food became a part of the landscape. Food healed your character. Food unlocked new powers. Food came to life and hunted you down.
Over the years, food has become intimately intertwined with video games, and in many cases has been a major driver of new gameplay mechanics. For Kirby, eating an enemy is a source of power. In Stardew Valley, food is a vehicle for self-discovery and an expression of love. In Portal, food is a cruel taunt from an evil robot.
With so much history and so much innovation already in video games, making a new game about food can mean standing on the shoulders of giants or being trampled by them.
For an indie game company like Mega Cat Studios, the latter is a real possibility.
Bite the Bullet is our attempt to leave our mark on the world of food games, to pay homage to the games, and the foods that inspired us over the years. With a small team and a small budget, however, we knew from the beginning that finding our place would be a monumental challenge.
So we looked to food for inspiration. That led us through not only the history of food in games but beyond. We talked to competitive eaters, chefs, and restaurateurs. The deeper we went, the more we realized that Bite the Bullet is more than an indie passion project.
Bite the Bullet is a love letter to food in video games.
Food is woven throughout the history of humanity. What a group of people eats is often a cornerstone of cultural identity, and the evolution of our relationship with food, moving from hunting and gathering to sophisticated agriculture, has driven the direction of our species.
When we look at how food is threaded through religion, art, and music, we should not be surprised that a relatively new medium like video games draws its inspiration so heavily from all things eating.
The earliest example of food in video games is older than the fruit in Pac-Man or the mushrooms in Super Mario Bros. To find what is perhaps the first use of food in a video game, we have to go back as far as 1959 to Mouse in the Maze. Believed to be the first game to use “light pen” technology, Mouse in the Maze was about a mouse pursuing cheese and was played on a TX-0, one of the earliest transistorized computers.
Pac-Man, or Puck Man as it was called in Japan, probably still deserves to be the father of food in games since a mainframe computer was nowhere near as accessible as the arcade halls of the 1980s. The brilliance of Pac-Man is how intuitive the goal of the game is to a new player. Pac-Man is essentially a giant mouth, and from the start of the game, it’s clear that Pac-Man eats the white dots as he moves around the screen.
Early on, the player discovers that ghosts can kill, and soon after the player discovers that you can consume ghosts if you first eat the right kind of special dot.
From there, the games industry experienced one of its first surges in popularity and a glut of food games filled the 1980s.
In BurgerTime, you are a chef fending off life-sized food.
In Plaque Attack, you are defending teeth from incoming food.
In Pressure Cooker, you are a cook scrambling to fill orders.
In Food Fight, you are trying to eat an ice cream cone, but for some reason, a group of chefs is hellbent on stopping you.
And then, in 1985, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros, and the power of a mushroom--as a 1up or as an upgrade for your character--entered popular culture where it stays to this day.
While dozens of games were released from 1980 to 1985, and many of them incorporated food in some way, these are some of the more popular standouts. It’s worth noting, though, that Anheuser Busch was one of the earliest brands willing to experiment with the crossover of real food and games. They developed an arcade game called Tapper that was controlled by real Budweiser beer tap handles. This franchise was later rebranded Root Beer Tapper and continued under that name.
To cover the breadth of the legacy of food in games, we are going to explore five pillars for how food is used in games. Next week we'll cover Pillar one: Food used as a buff or as a source of healing.
Bite the Bullet is available to wishlist now on Steam https://store.steampowered.com/app/1075550/Bite_the_Bullet/