Hooked Gamers: Firstly, how did the team at High Tea Frog come about?
Laura Hutton: We worked together at Ubisoft for several years and eventually started working on games like Grow Home as part of a much smaller team. It was a big difference to what we were used to on AAA [games], and finally we were responsible for large parts of the game and had a lot of creative input. Our final game was Atomega, where I was art director and Clement [Capart] was graphics programmer.
We worked really well together, solved many difficult issues and I really appreciated Clement’s positive attitude - it was so refreshing after working with other programmers who would just say no, it’s too much work or we can’t, to hear him say “anything is possible”. It became like our catchphrase; we’d always give things a try and could almost always work something out! With that mindset, we thought it was time for us to take the leap and try things out on our own, so we left our jobs in September 2017 to start our indie adventure.
Hooked Gamers: How has it been working on a game that ostensibly encourages people to come together at a time when laws mandate us to stay apart?
Laura Hutton: We’re glad we have online play! It’s been rewarding to see people playing our game together while maintaining a good social distance, sometimes across the world. The online was originally suggested by our publisher Coatsink, as we didn’t have the funds or the time to make this work on our own, and we’re especially glad to have the feature now as people need to stay away from each other, and as you say, this is a game to be enjoyed with friends.
There’s not much better to feel close to your friends than online gaming, and I hope we can help players get through some of 2020 with a smile. I think people are enjoying it locally too and I’m hoping to get back to see my family sometime to play with them in person. It reminds me why I started making games in the first place, to make people happy, and nothing beats seeing people laughing when they’re playing something you’ve made!
Hooked Gamers: How has your work routine been affected during the pandemic? Has it slowed you down/ forced you to adapt? Uncovered elements of your work you didn’t anticipate?
Laura Hutton: Fortunately, our pre-production was all done when we had to start working from home. It would have been a bigger issue if we still had to do daily brainstorms and go back and forth on new ideas but at this point, we knew what we were doing and “just” had to get it done.
We had to adapt by moving our equipment and arranged things with the different platforms so that we were allowed to use their dev kits from home. All of them have been super helpful and did all they could to make it easy for us in that difficult situation. Overall, I’d say we had it easy compared to other studios. Being such a tiny team gives us a lot of flexibility.
Hooked Gamers:Are you still able to work alongside each other in an office space or are you working from home? If so, how has that transition been for the team?
Laura Hutton: We usually work in a small office together but decided to work from home a little before lockdown was official here in the UK. As we’re only two full time developers it wasn’t so difficult to organise.
Luckily our internet connections are both good enough for any meetings we need to have online. We also don’t live far away from each other and have been sharing shopping and meeting up when we can, usually playing games so we feel a bit less isolated. I feel quite lucky that we work in tech and have still managed to release our game despite everything going on. One silver lining of not being in the office every day is that I’m less likely to drink loads of fizzy, or eat too many snack foods, but I do miss working together in the same room!
Hooked Gamers: Has the context of 2020 affected your practices/principles as developers?
Laura Hutton: Things are definitely changing in terms of how games are played and enjoyed, I think being on mobile can be a huge benefit in China for instance, but we just didn’t have the time. Also, I think there’s more of an expectation for games to be really cheap thanks to the mobile market.
Many events had to be cancelled of course, so event organisers, publishers and developers all had to adapt quickly and think digital. Coatsink took Cake Bash to PAX Online x EGX Digital which was great - we’re lucky that we could just focus on getting the game finished and less about the marketing, but I can see how disappointing it must have been for them. We all had to adapt to a completely digital way of discussing our game and getting it in front of players, and spent time making our free demo so people could try from the comfort of their homes!
Hooked Gamers: What games have you enjoyed during 2020? Any that have inspired you as gamers/developers/producers/animators/etc.?
Laura Hutton: My favourite I’ve played this year (though it released in 2018) has to be Wandersong. I played it on Game Pass expecting a short, gimmicky experience where you sing at stuff, but instead got a really fleshed out storyline with interesting mechanics and memorable characters. It’s such a clever game. Indie titles like this make me excited to create more worlds for players, and it’s always more impressive to me when surprises like this come from small or one-man teams. Hollow Knight is another top example of this, and Thumper! Again, nothing from 2020... what came out this year again?
We’ve also been quite invested in Final Fantasy XIV, bonding over defeating primals and saving Eorzea. It’s helped to pass the time in style on many a slow evening in. We also played Stardew Valley and got a chicken called Brolly, and completed Overcooked 2. I’m very grateful for everyone out there putting so much love and effort into making good games!
Hooked Gamers: What are some of your favourite puns that you put into the game?
Laura Hutton: For me it has to be ‘Fork Knife’. I saw a video where a player is looking through our demo, sees the name of the minigame and bursts out laughing. We actually built the whole game mode around that pun, with the subtitle ‘Gateau Royale’ - you avoid knives and forks on a shrinking cake. I’m also a big fan of 'The Chosen Bun’ and ‘Risk Caker’, seems like achievements are a good place for terrible puns!
It was fun being a writer on this project for the first time, though you can see when I finally started to unravel a bit in some of the Collection Menu topping descriptions. Too many different jobs to do, and no brain power to think of something normal to write about a gummy cherry-drop sweetie, hah.
Hooked Gamers: Finally, what are you most proud of from your time spent developing Cake Bash?
Laura Hutton: Probably how much we’ve managed to make with so few of us. We wanted to make a game which didn’t look like it’d been made by a tiny team and I think we managed that! I also learned how to rig properly, which is when you put a skeleton inside a 3D model in order to animate it. It was a trial by fire as I learned by making the pigeon of all things - the wing feathers splay out using maths, and I think it looks pretty good!
I’m also very proud of our UI [User-Interface] which I also learned on the job. Comparing my first attempts with what we shipped with is a real contrast in improvement. A career making games might mean I’ll be a student forever, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hooked Gamers:Thank you so much for your time Laura. It has been a pleasure to chat with you. We're looking forward to seeing what High Tea Frog has in store for us next.
Cake Bash is available now for $19.99 SRP on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam, Stadia and will be compatible with PlayStation 5 & Xbox Series X|S. It’s also coming to Nintendo Switch a little later this year which just needs a little longer in the oven to ensure a perfect bake.
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