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Category: Flipline Rewind

Flipline Rewind: Steak and Jake Post-Mortem

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By , December 18, 2014 3:11 pm



Since the release of our casual game Rock Garden, we had been interested in ways to combine casual gameplay with more traditional video game genres, especially with the platforming gameplay seen in our earlier Papa Louie game. We went through a lot of different ways to make that happen, and eventually focused on the color-based gameplay we see in Steak and Jake, where the matches you make in the puzzle affect what you can do in the platforming world. There were a lot of challenges we overcame in making a game of this style, and some unforeseen stumbles were made along the way as we developed the game and saw it release to the public.


What Went Right

Balance Between Puzzle and Platforming

When we started designing the game, we knew we wanted the gameplay split into two sections: A platforming section where you’re guiding a character through the level, and a puzzle area where your actions would help the character in the platforming level. It took a while for us to figure out exactly how to combine these two elements, and what form the puzzle portion of the game would take. Some early versions of the game had a match-3 style of puzzle where you would slide rows and columns to make matches, and an alternate version where you would slide blocks around the screen like in our game Rock Garden.

We quickly realized that if you had to spend too long interacting with the puzzle, it was hard to keep up with the action in the platforming level, and the puzzle aspect of the game was just getting in the way. Rather than simplify the platforming part of the game, we decided to reduce the puzzle down to a simple matching-bubble style of puzzle. This way you could quickly glance down and see if there were any matches, and with a single click would be ready to interact with the main platforming game again. Having this simple mechanic for matching colors let players focus on the platforming experience and deciding how best to use their color matches.



Packed with Tons of Variety

We wanted to keep presenting the player with new things in each level, so we created many different challenges and special levels that would appear as you continue to play. Some levels have you defending Steak from multicolored Milk Bandits that require multiple hits to stop, and other levels have bosses attacking in helicopters which throw dangerous mines in your path. Players will occasionally race against the rival Cocoa Cow to the finish, and other times will be collecting balloons along the path or guiding a troop of Cookie Scouts to the barn. Along with these races and challenges, we also created dozens of areas and enemies that would automatically appear the further you get into the game. Within the levels themselves we also created a tons of objects that Steak and Jake can interact with, including stretchy worm bridges, moving platforms, springboards, and the ever-present blocks and ramps.


Platformer with Endless Play

Rather than having a set amount of levels or puzzles, we set out to create a platformer that could continue indefinitely by generating new levels on its own. The game combines a number of pre-made trail sections to build each level, and keeps things fresh by including boss battles, races, and other challenges in these generated trails. New content is revealed over the course of over 170 trails, so there’s always something new around the corner. The game will continue to generate new levels after this point as well, so players can continue playing as long as they like.


Created a System of Reusable Trails

To allow for the endless levels in the game, we first had to create a large number of individual “chunks” of levels that could be connected and remixed to create the trails. We developed a level editor to design these sections, which would automatically be reskinned with new tiles and new enemies based on whichever area it was used in. Every section was designed a certain way so that its endpoints would match up with the next room, and so Steak wouldn’t get stuck when a trail was generated. Some sections would also allow for branching paths at different heights which would connect to other similar sections — so even if you’re seen that same level chunk before, you may be on the top half instead of the bottom half. Though some levels (like Cookie Scout and Milk Race levels) were laid out by hand, most of the rest of the game is generated from all of the reusable parts.


What Went Wrong

Harsh Difficulty Level

As we were developing the game and playing levels over and over, we eventually reached a point where we had gotten so good at keeping up with the color-matching and platforming that it didn’t feel challenging anymore. Feeling that the game had gotten too easy, we kept adding more and more enemies and obstacles to the game, so you had to really pay attention and move quickly to keep Steak out of harm’s way. At the time we didn’t realize that we had tailored the difficulty for ourselves as now-expert players, but after it was released we quickly found out the game was very difficult for beginning players. If we had done further playtesting with other new players we may have caught this issue earlier, but after the game was released and spread virally it was unfortunately too late to do much about this harsh difficulty.


Restarting Trail is a Heavy Penalty

Another issue with the game’s difficulty is when Steak fails in a level and has to restart the entire trail from the beginning. Since the game is structured with roughly 6-minute trails, if you miss an enemy or bump into a wall right at the very end of the trail, you’re forced to repeat the entire 6-minute trail all over again, which became very frustrating for players. This could have been improved with some sort of checkpoint system, or multiple “lives” where it could restart Steak back on a safe section of the path, though unfortunately the game wasn’t designed with this in mind. In our newer platformers such as Cactus McCoy 2 and Papa Louie 2 we’ve added checkpoints to help with this issue.


Lulls in the Action

Despite filling the trails with enemies and obstacles to increase the difficulty, there were still times where there was nothing for Steak or Jake to do at the moment, aside from just watching Steak plod along at his constant pace until the screen reveals something new to do. Originally, we only had the speed-boosting speedometer available during the Milk Race levels in the game, and during the rest of the game you were stuck at the same slow pace. Thankfully before the game was released we decided to keep the speedometer in the game full-time to help with these lulls in the action, which did improve the pacing quite a bit.


Disconnect between Visuals and Gameplay

After working on Remnants of Skystone with its dark and gritty art direction, we wanted to create something at the opposite end of the spectrum which was bright and playful. We did achieve this look in the game, with its cartoonish characters and saturated colors, but with the difficulty level spiking in the game we ended up in a situation where the visuals no longer matched the gameplay. At first glance, one may expect this colorful game to be easy to casually play (especially for a younger crowd), only to be caught off-guard by the harsh difficulty.


Time Spent on Unseen Content

Unfortunately with the difficulty level of the game, many players may not stick around to keep playing and seeing everything included in the game. As the game continues we introduce a ton of new areas and enemy designs, though frustrated players may miss out on seeing all of this content unless they stick with the game. All 60 of the Challenges and Milk Races were also carefully crafted, and players will need to keep playing for quite a while to experience all of these levels. When we later decided to create a Halloween-themed spin-off of the game, we were able to adapt some of the Cookie Scout levels into “Midnight March” so players could get another way to experience them.



In the end, Steak and Jake turned out to be a bright and colorful platformer which incorporates puzzle gameplay in a way we hadn’t seen before. Though there were missteps along the way, we were able to create a new type of hybrid game with a great amount of gameplay and challenges, as long as you can survive the difficulty!

Play Steak and Jake!




Flipline Rewind: Papa’s Pizzeria Post-Mortem

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By , May 1, 2014 10:31 am


After finishing our first proper game “Papa Louie” in 2006, we wanted to use the same characters and universe that we established in that game and branch out into making other types of games. Instead of focusing on Papa Louie, we were curious what would be happening at the pizzeria while he was off on his adventures, and imagined that “Delivery Boy” Roy would get promoted and have to run the pizzeria all by himself. We had multiple options of how we could turn this into a game, but we were interested in if we could somehow create hands-on gameplay of carefully building pizzas, and blend that with a time-management game where you would have to keep juggling different tasks at the same time.

The final product ended up defining an entire series of games for us, and there were a handful of reasons why the game worked well and was popular with its fans. There were also a variety of problems that impacted the gameplay or made things too confusing for players, which we’ve tried to fix in later games in the series.

What Went Right

1. Hands-on Gameplay

Even though Roy started as a delivery boy, we wanted him to step into the kitchen and run the entire pizzeria for this new game, and we needed a way for players to help Roy in his new job. Instead of one-click operations like other time-management games, we decided each part of the game would involve hands-on gameplay that would grade you on how you perform each task. We focused on ways to turn each task into mouse-based actions that involved either some degree of skill (like dragging a dotted line at just the right angle for cutting the pizza) or some amount of planning and arrangement (like placing the correct amount of toppings on the correct section of the pizza.)

This type of hands-on pizza crafting was unique to Papa’s Pizzeria when it was released, and offered an experience that just wasn’t found in other restaurant games.

2. Balancing Realism and Gameplay

It was the first time we had faced the challenge of designing a “restaurant game”, and we had to find the right balance between those two elements — keeping the hands-on nature of food prep in a restaurant feeling realistic, but also sacrificing realism when needed so it was still fun to play as a game.

We knew we wanted multitasking and the hectic feeling that brings, and we wanted the player to be involved in each step as much as possible. We’re always disappointed with food games where you click a button and a pizza is automatically topped with pepperoni perfectly, so we knew that individually placing each item was going to be a part of the game. Instead of order tickets magically appearing, we intentionally designed the game where Roy has to stop and take a customer’s order and wait for them to say what they want, while the clock is still running and pizzas are still cooking (and possibly burning unattended). That was a very real part of working solo in a pizzeria which made multitasking a challenge — both in real-life and in the game — and we thought it tied in well with our focus on time-management.

Along the way we had to take some liberties to make certain tasks more interesting or make things flow better as a game. Nobody orders a specific number of pepperoni on a specific quarter of a pizza in real-life, but this helped players understand how many toppings they should be using in that station, and challenged them to arrange the items just right. This extreme pickiness became a theme in all of the future Gamerias, with customers always being very particular about what they’re ordering. We also made some changes to the oven (real pizzas take much longer to cook of course) and with how many ways customers could ask for their pizza to be cooked. Most pizzerias can do regular and well-done pizzas at best, but the other time options added some more variety and more challenge to the oven, so players would have to keep an eye on tickets to know when each was ready. Also, most people wouldn’t stand around all day in the lobby waiting for their food to cook!

We constantly have to find just the right amount of realism in our Gamerias and know when to make changes for gameplay, but Papa’s Pizzeria proved we were on the right track and gave us a good idea of how to approach this in future games.

3. Unique Customers and Orders

When we looked at other restaurant games, most had only a few graphics for the customers who visit the shop, so the restaurant would soon be filled with clones of the same three characters over and over. We’ve always been interested in developing unique characters, so we decided to go the extra mile with Papa’s Pizzeria and create an entire cast of customers who would visit.

We wanted players to connect with each customer as an individual character, so we started with giving each person a unique look and name, and had the game keep track of everyone who visits in a customer file rolodex. We also made certain to include and expand upon all the pixelated customers who appeared in Papa Louie. Instead of having customers order a random meal, we gave each customer a unique pizza that they always ordered as their favorite. Players could get used to these orders, and recognize and remember them as the customers come in and keep asking for the same thing, helping players make a stronger connection with these characters.

In later games we would sometimes remove some characters when we introduced new customers, but we’d often get complaints from players that their favorite customer was missing from a certain game. We now include the full lineup of customers in all of the newest Gamerias, so when players really get attached to a certain character, they can look forward to being reunited and serving them again in the next game.

4. Embraced Multitasking

Most food games have you prepare one meal at a time, going through each step before moving on to the next and finishing the order. With Papa’s Pizzeria, we wanted to bring an element of realism to the restaurant, where one worker all by himself wouldn’t have the luxury of only doing one thing at a time. Roy would need to multitask to be able to handle topping, baking, cutting, and serving as the orders start piling up. We were confident we could make this work in a food game, offering up a challenge to players without getting unbearably frustrating. Seven years later, this element of multitasking is still one of the hallmarks of the Gameria series.

5. Releasing as a Web Game

After working on “Rock Garden” as a paid downloadable casual game, we originally thought we would do the same for Papa’s Pizzeria, where players would buy the game and play it on their desktops. There were a handful of popular time-management games as paid downloads at the time, and the casual download market was much larger than it is now.

After having some success with “Papa Louie” as a web game and earning money from ad revenue, we decided to change our plans and try making Papa’s Pizzeria playable on the web and see if the same model would work for a time-management restaurant game. The game quickly became very popular once it was released, easily finding an audience since anyone could play it for free. In the end this was definitely the right decision for the game, and we were able to reach a wider fan-base (and earn more from ad revenue) than we could have done if it was a downloadable game.

What Went Wrong

1. Confusing Ticket System

In Papa’s Pizzeria, we thought of the side panel as the main interface for dealing with orders. You would need to drag a ticket onto that panel for buttons to appear in each station, and when you clicked the button to serve an order it would automatically serve it to whomever’s ticket was sitting on the side panel at that moment.

We didn’t explain the specifics of this during training, and while you’re busy multitasking on multiple orders it’s easy to mix up tickets and have the wrong ticket on the panel when you click to serve the pizza. Players would end up serving pizzas to the wrong customers, and didn’t realize why it was happening. We cleared this up in later Gamerias, but the system in Papa’s Pizzeria was much too confusing for players.

2. Multiple Topping Confusion

One of the most common questions from players was what to do when a customer orders two pizzas. At first we didn’t understand why this would even be a question, since customers never order two pizzas at once! We eventually realized why players were confused: We never explained that multiple toppings on a ticket should all go on the same pizza.

During training, the first two orders only dealt with pepperoni as a single topping, so some players expected all pizzas to only have one topping. When customers started ordering multiple toppings, they thought each topping was supposed to go on its own separate pizza, and they didn’t understand what to do with those orders. We thought it was obvious that everything would go on the same pizza, but since training didn’t prepare them for this we could see why it could be confusing for some people. We learned our lesson from this, and in all of the later Gamerias, we make sure that training covers what to do with multiple ingredients.

3. Waited Too Long for a Followup

We released Papa’s Pizzeria in August of 2007, and within a few months we noticed how popular the game had become both on our site and across the web. Around the same time, we had started on our large-scale MMO “Remnants of Skystone” for Kongregate, and with the scale and scope of that game we needed to work on it full-time until it was completed. We ended up working on Skystone for over two and a half years, and throughout that development period we didn’t have time to release any other games. Even though we knew that Papa’s Pizzeria was popular and that fans would love a sequel or spin-off, there was nothing we could do until our schedule was finally open again in 2010. When we finally released Papa’s Burgeria in late 2010, we were thrilled to find out the fans were still there, though we wished we could have followed up with a sequel earlier instead of having a three-year gap between the games.

4. Using Money for your Score

Instead of earning points for each meal served, we decided that customers would give Roy tips based on how well he had done. As Roy earned more tips, he would gradually level up and unlock more customers for the restaurant. This worked fine as a leveling system, but all of the focus on earning money made players disappointed that they couldn’t actually spend this money on anything in the game. Starting with Papa’s Burgeria, we added a separate tally of points that would determine leveling up, and added an in-game shop where players could spend their hard-earned tips on upgrades and lobby decorations. In newer games we’ve also added clothing that can be purchased with the players’ earned tips.

5. Not Enough Features

Beyond unlocking new customers and building pizzas, there weren’t a lot of additional features for players in Papa’s Pizzeria. At the time we weren’t even sure if players would be interested in a restaurant sim game, so we kept things simple and focused on the food preparation in the game. Since the release of Papa’s Pizzeria we’ve gradually added more and more features to each of the sequels, where players can now customize their experience with clothing and lobby decorations, play mini-games, design their own workers, unlock new ingredients, and celebrate holidays with unlockable ingredients and decorations. Papa’s Pizzeria feels a bit lacking today without all of these features, but it provided a great starting point to build on for the rest of the series.


Papa’s Pizzeria was the first in our series of restaurant games, and it helped define our unique brand of time-management games blended with hands-on food preparation. The gameplay and design proved to be popular and built a large fanbase craving more games in the series, and focusing on unique customers helped set us apart from other restaurant games. We learned from our mistakes in the first game to make the user interaction much clearer in the sequels, and by combining the original’s winning formula with an array of new features, we’ve built a series of games that are still enjoyed by millions today.


Play Papa’s Pizzeria!




Post Mortem: Papa’s Taco Mia

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By , April 15, 2014 5:03 pm

Hey Everyone,

Several years ago we put together a post mortem of Papa’s Taco Mia for Mochi Media’s blog. What is a post mortem you ask? After a game has launched and the public has had a chance to play it, developers will sometimes write up a post mortem of the game. It is an in-depth analysis of the ups and downs of the game’s development and how the launch went.

The reason why we are publishing it here is because our long-time friends Mochi Media have unfortunately been closed down by their parent company. They supplied the ads that played in our games, and they also sponsored Papa’s Burgeria and Papa’s Taco Mia. Mochi Media and their ads made it possible for us to make free games for all of you and keep Flipline Studios alive and growing throughout the years. Their blog was also taken down when they closed up shop, so we wanted to salvage this post so it wouldn’t get lost forever. Don’t worry about us, we have made the tough transition to a Mochi-less world and will continue to make awesome games for all of you. We also plan on doing more of these post mortems in the future, so let’s get started:


Papa’s Taco Mia! is the third game in our series of hands-on cooking sims, with Papa Louie expanding his restaurant empire and branching out into the taco business.  The original time-management game in the series launched way back in 2007, and since then we hadn’t seen very many restaurant-themed games, which had us wondering if there was still an audience for the multitasking and hands-on gameplay found in the original Papa’s Pizzeria.

When we decided to step back into the series and develop a sequel, we wanted to add a number of additions that fans had requested over the years, and to avoid making the game seem like only a “deluxe” version of the original we branched out with a new food and new mechanics with 2010’s Papa’s Burgeria.  There was a great response to the new game and the fans were clearly still there, so soon after Papa’s Burgeria had spread virally we started thinking of where else we could go with the series.

We felt there were still a number of improvements we could make to the overall structure for these types of games, and by switching to new food items we could keep each game fresh and unique with brand-new mechanics, without feeling like a recycled version of the previous game.

With Papa’s Taco Mia, we decided to focus on tacos as the theme of the new game, which would bring a number of new cooking and building mechanics that would be very different from the previous games.  During development, there were a number of things that really helped shape the game into one that fits well with the others in the series, and often times improve upon them.  We also had a number of struggles and difficulties during development, though by pushing through these rough patches and learning from them we were able to craft an even better experience for the players.

What Went Right

1. Checking the Suggestion Box

Before starting on Papa’s Taco Mia, we spent a lot of time reading up on players’ suggestions from playing the first two games.  We had a number of new ideas to spice up this game, but we also wanted to address any popular requests that seemed to come up a lot from the fans.  There were a few key features that we implemented based on player suggestions which we feel added a great extra layer to the game.

With Burgeria we finally added the much-requested feature of spending tips to buy things in the game, but players then started to argue that they shouldn’t have to spend THEIR hard-earned tips to make Papa Louie’s restaurant run better!  With Papa’s Taco Mia, we added a new weekly Pay Day where the player earns a sum of money to spend towards upgrades, which also adds something more to look forward to over the long term.  Some players had also commented that earning new customers wasn’t quite enough of a reward for leveling up in rank, so one of things we added to improve on this is a raise in the player’s wages every time they level up, so they can earn more on each Pay Day for doing so well.

Since Papa’s Pizzeria, we’ve received a lot of complaints about the process of taking orders and giving orders taking too long.  We’ve always thought that time spent with the customer is part of the whole multitasking challenge, but we wanted to address those complaints by tying it in with the customers leveling up with stars and Customer Awards.  Now when a customer earns a bronze, silver, or gold Award, they’ll also place and receive orders quicker than before, so you get an extra bonus for doing well with each customer.

2. Added Variety with Closers and Food Critic

In previous games, there hadn’t been a lot of variety over the course of a single day – different customers may come in, but serving the last customer of the day is not that different from serving the first, aside from it possibly being more hectic.  The customers who arrive on a specific day also haven’t made much difference in the gameplay, unless the player is trying to earn Customer Awards.  In Papa’s Taco Mia, we wanted to keep the familiar aspect of serving a series of customers, but also to add a twist where serving a certain customer might have higher stakes than the others.

To change things up, each workday ends with the arrival of a Closer – a sort of mini-boss for each day that is much harder to please, and who uses a different grading scale when receiving their tacos.  These Closer customers also use a different system for visiting the taco shop:  Each of the Closers will only visit once a week, so it’s even more of a challenge to earn stars and Awards for them, since players won’t see them as often.

To add even more variety (and a helpful tip bonus), we introduced the Food Critic as a Closer customer, who orders something completely different every time he visits.  If he’s happy with his taco, he awards the player with a Blue Ribbon, which is displayed in the lobby for three days and prompts any other customers to give higher tips.  These two changes to the customer system add more variety to the gameplay throughout the day and across multiple days, without straying too far from the familiar arrival of customers.

3. Solving the Mechanic “Hooks” for the Game

With each game in the series, we try to center the gameplay on the type of food being served, and come up with ways to turn that food’s preparation into enjoyable game mechanics.  There were a variety of challenges in coming up with both the cooking and building phases for serving tacos, and lots of refining that went into getting the mechanics just right to capture the feel of the series.

All of games in the series have a cooking phase in its preparation, and up until now the way to add variation to orders was by cooking food for different lengths – making a burger well-done in Burgeria, or cooking a pizza for a brief time in the Pizzeria to lightly bake.  With tacos though, people don’t order their ground beef well-done or rare, so we needed a different hook for the cooking phase that made sense for preparing tacos.  We first decided that we would have multiple kinds of meats that would form the basis of customers’ orders.  This added variation to the preparation of an order, but wouldn’t make much difference to the cooking phase if preparing beef was no different than preparing chicken.  To capture that aspect of cooking variation from the other games, we decided that the preparation of each meat would be made of similar components (cutting and flipping), but would require different timing for each meat type.

We went through a wide variety of mechanics and visual cues for this type of gameplay to work and make sense to the player.  Since we couldn’t rely on doing one “action” in that station at the halfway point of preparing a meat (like flipping burgers when half-finished), we realized we needed to prompt players on when to perform certain actions based on the meat.  In our early versions, the circular timer around each pan would complete an entire circle before prompting to flip, and would then complete an entire circle again before prompting to cut, which made it difficult to visually gauge how far along an order was.  Instead, we changed the pan timer to represent a full cooking time, and placed red and blue markers along that timer as visual cues when an action would be required.  Since these actions were important to the overall preparation, we also added bubbles prompting players on which action is required at each point.  There were some missteps along the way with cooking preparation (see our notes on this in the “What Went Wrong” section), but we kept fine-tuning the process until it worked well as a mechanic.

We knew from the start that we would have a lot of challenges with adding toppings to tacos.  We needed a topping system that lent itself to the food, and in this case it didn’t make sense to be placing individual tomatoes and pieces of lettuce on a taco.  What we needed was something closer to a particle system, which could pour bits of toppings onto a taco and have those cascade and form mounds on top of one another.  There were also two other important facets to dealing with dynamic, fluid toppings like these:  It would need to run fast without causing a performance drain on the game, and we would also need to come up with a scoring system that could make some sense out of all of the layers and mounds of food particles.

We spent a lot of time on tech demos for the system, trying to squeeze the best performance out of it so it didn’t bog down with hundreds of chunks filling a taco.  Once the solid foods were working, we spent time adapting the system for fluids like hot sauce and sour cream, which needed a different rendering system so they didn’t look like a bunch of separate blobs.  We fine-tuned each topping type so guacamole would have different speeds and stickiness than beans or rice, and so sauces like sour cream could look and act thicker than others like mild sauce.  In the end, we had a topping system that made sense for the food, and which felt like how you naturally prepare a taco.

4. Easter Eggs Turning into Strategy

One of our minor goals was to improve the cosmetics in areas like the “Start of the Day” scene.  While we didn’t anticipate any effects on gameplay, we wanted to add a bit of life to the outside shot of the shop that players see before each day.  To make things seem livelier, we added a few customers walking up or passing by, and decided to use the first and second customers who visit that day so it related to who walks in.

A happy accident occurred during playtesting when we noticed we were actually using these “Easter Eggs” during the opening scene to our advantage while playing the game.  Once we had started learning all of the customers’ meat preferences, after we saw the first or second customer in the opening scene we would quickly jump to the Grill Station and get their meat cooking before they even arrived!  This was a great benefit to actually learning customers’ orders, since it could give you that added advantage at the start of the day.  It also helped us nail down the most important aspect of a customer’s order, which we struggled with when planning the unlockable topping system.

5. Looking forward to unlockable toppings and achievements

In the earlier games, we struggled with the feeling of monotony over the course of multiple days, and didn’t feel that unlocking new customers was quite enough of a change in gameplay or a big enough reward for sticking around.  With Papa’s Taco Mia, we sought to remedy that with toppings and ingredients that would gradually unlock while playing.  This was especially helpful for this game, which may have felt overwhelming if all of the meats and taco shells were present and being ordered from the start.  We also made sure that once a new topping or ingredient was unlocked, someone would arrive within the next two customers to order that new item, so it felt like the possibilities were expanding and that the newly-acquired item would be useful.

On top of these unlockables near the start of the game, we noticed that some players would play for long periods of time (racking up hundreds of in-game days), and we wanted to add some long-term rewards for these players as well.  An achievements system was added to the game with 60 badges rewarding players for a variety of accomplishments, including serving a number of tacos in hard shells, earning blue ribbons from the Food Critic, getting 100% in certain stations, and buying upgrades from the shop.  With unlockable toppings, long-term achievements, new customers, and Customer Awards, players now have a variety of short-term and long-term goals to work towards in the game.

What went Wrong

1. Rethinking the Grill

One of our biggest issues during development was the gameplay surrounding the Grill Station.  In our original plan, meats would be scooped and poured onto tacos just like every other topping, except you wouldn’t have an unlimited supply of the meats.  Instead, you would cook up large batches of beef and chicken early in the day, and you could get a few orders worth of meat from each batch until the bin was empty and you needed to cook more.

It made sense on paper, especially since that’s how taco shops often prep their meats, but after we built up the system and did some playtesting we realized it was making the game feel off-balance.  While playing through a work day, we noticed we could get our cooking out of the way early and rarely return to the Grilling Station, so most of our time was spent taking orders and topping tacos.  Without needing much prep time for tacos, the gameplay started feeling more like an assembly line and less about multitasking and keeping track of multiple orders at once.  Even worse, you couldn’t really do anything until you cooked all of your meats and filled the bins, so every day started with a couple minutes of waiting around and orders piling up that you couldn’t start.

One of the main factors in the multitasking of our previous games was a certain part of an order’s preparation that took a while to complete – waiting for pizzas or burgers or cook – which would encourage players to multitask and work on a different order while waiting for something to finish.  We had that with this cooking mechanic, but the key difference was that the meats weren’t a part of a specific order – it was just busy work before you could get on with the real gameplay.

To keep players coming back to grill, we tried making the “batches” of meat fill fewer and fewer tacos, and it soon became clear that we needed that one-to-one connection between an individual order and its preparation.  We scrapped the original idea of stocking bins with the cooked meats, and instead went with an entire pan of meat going into each order.  Without a bin to pour the meat into, we were faced with new questions on how to transfer the meat between stations, until we decided to put all of the taco shells right on the stove and pour directly into them from the pans.

It caused a lot of hang-ups in our schedule and involved a lot of rethinking and redesigning, but in the end we had captured that feel of hectic multitasking again.  This design change really helped the gameplay feel like it was constantly moving forward, instead of starting each day with a long wait at the grill.

2. How do you pronounce that?

We’re notoriously bad at coming up with titles for our games, but we thought we’d have an easy time with this one.  “Papa’s Pizzeria” was a natural choice for the original game, and for the sequel we tried to build on that familiarity with the somewhat-goofy “Papa’s Burgeria”.   For the new game we originally decided on “Papa’s Taqueria”, since taco shops occasionally go by that name, and we had that matching “-ia” at the end of the title.

The more we looked at the title though, the more we realized how awkward it could be for players.  A good amount of our regular fans are from Spanish-speaking countries, so we liked having the authentic Spanish word “taqueria” in the title.  The problem is that the word is rarely used in English (unlike the familiar “pizzeria”), and unless you frequent a lot of taquerias you may not see the root word “taco” in the name, especially with the spelling change adding a “Q” in the middle.

We were actually hung up on the title for a few weeks, trying to find something similar to the earlier titles so it felt like it was part of the series, without confusing a chunk of our fans with awkward spellings.  We tried different suffixes and even going with a phonetic spelling, though it was hard to guess how to pronounce “Tacoria” when reading it out loud, and it sounded more like a fantasy kingdom than a restaurant.

In the end, we came up with “Papa’s Taco Mia!” – making sure “taco” was clear in the title, trying to evoke the feel of “Mama Mia!”, and also getting it pretty close to matching with the other games’ titles.

3. Customers and their Toppings

When we decided to gradually unlock toppings as you play through the game, we realized we’d have some issues with how customers ordered their food.  In the previous games, the customers always order the same thing every time they visit, to help players become familiar with each customer’s individual order and feel that each customer is unique.  In this case though, a customer might normally want to order a steak taco with peppers before either of those items is available, so we had to decide exactly how we’d handle substitutions or missing toppings.

We first attempted to have the earlier customers always order what would in theory by unlocked by the point they first visited.  This worked out fine at the start, but two main problems came up with using this system:   First, when these customers show up again later in the game, we ended up with a bunch of orders that were only variations of beef, lettuce, and tomatoes, which got a little boring.  Second, when we finally unlock peppers as a topping, we don’t have anyone who wants it on a taco!  We’d need to quickly unlock more customers that would also want these newly-unlocked toppings, and it also got a little boring with five new customers in a row all wanting those new peppers and steak on their tacos.

To fix these issues, we created a more dynamic order system, where customers would have a list of ideal toppings they wanted, and would only ask for them if they were available.  This way, while a bunch of your customers might want onions, they’ll skip that topping when placing orders until you have it unlocked – and then we also have a larger pool of customers who can order newly-unlocked toppings.

Once we planned out this new system, we knew that we wanted customers’ requests to always be additive instead of replacing things – for example, Franco will originally order lettuce on his taco, then later add onions to the lettuce, instead of outright replacing the lettuce with onions.  We had two challenges again with this plan – how to handle meats and taco shells.  We obviously couldn’t ignore the taco shell if the type they want isn’t unlocked, and we didn’t want to serve meatless tacos which would cut an entire station out of the preparation.  At the same time, we knew we’d have some issues with mentally connecting a customer to their usual order if that usual order keeps changing drastically.

After trying a handful of possible solutions, we realized that the meat was the most important part of the taco that needed to relate to each customer.  It’s the main ingredient of the taco, and it’s the first thing you need to prep for an order.  It helped a lot to know that if you just took Wally’s order, he’s always going to want chicken, so you can plan what to put on the grill without having to pay too close of attention to the order ticket yet – and this especially helps if you use the outdoor Easter Eggs to get a jump-start on your day like we mentioned earlier.  To make sure customers didn’t change their meat orders, we had to carefully plan the unlocking sequence so someone didn’t visit before their meat was available (though we couldn’t get around this with the Closers who visit on a set schedule).  We’d still be stuck with customers flip-flopping on what kind of taco shell they want, but at least once their desired shell is available they’ll stick with that from now on.

4. Papa’s Coffee Shop

We had no idea if people would still be interested in cooking-sim games after Papa’s Pizzeria, so after we launched Papa’s Burgeria and saw there was still a demand for games like these, we started thinking of other directions to go with gameplay.  Before working on Papa’s Taco Mia, we had actually started making a very different cooking-sim game:  Papa was going to open his own coffee shop.

We didn’t get very far into development before we were faced with a mountain of problems.  We had a lot of trouble finding the right gameplay hook with coffee preparation, and it was hard to distill coffee-making into a multitasking process instead of just being a linear assembly line.  A lot of the same problems we had with Taco Mia’s grill were present in the coffee shop – how do we slow down the preparation to encourage multitasking, and keep it a hands-off process so you have time to move to another station?  Should you really brew a fresh batch of coffee for each cup?  Should you wait for pots of coffee to brew each morning before doing anything?  Aside from gameplay challenges, the color palette for ingredients was also pretty drab with browns and whites (coffee, cocoa, caramel, foam…) so it didn’t look very fun or interesting either.

The deciding factor was when we noticed that we weren’t getting the same vibe we got from the earlier games – there was never a moment of “that looks so good, I could really go for a coffee right now”.  We ultimately decided to scrap the coffee shop and switch gears to something else.  Tacos were on our earlier list of possibilities; though we had originally put it aside because of the challenges with creating pourable toppings and fluid sauces.  In the end, it was much easier to visualize and plan out the gameplay with taco-building, and despite the challenges it ended up being a much more enjoyable game to work on.

5. Struggle with Pouring Mechanics

After we ironed out the technical issues with pourable toppings and fluid sauces, we had some trouble deciding on the best way to actually pour those toppings into the tacos.  The first method we tried was a “click-and-scribble” mechanic:  You would first click on a bin of toppings, and the scooper would attach itself to the mouse as you moved around the screen.  You would then hold down the mouse button as you scribbled above the taco, pouring the bits out while you were “pressing” and dragging the scooper.

It felt a little odd when the scooper would attach itself to the mouse, as it wasn’t a mechanic we had used previously in the series – in Papa’s Pizzeria, you had to click-and-drag a pepperoni from the bin and release to place it on the pizza, and in Papa’s Burgeria you had to click-and-drag a pickle from the shelf and release above the burger to drop it.  It also didn’t match the mechanics elsewhere in Papa’s Taco Mia, where you use drag-and-release mechanic for moving pans, tickets, and the grill utensils.

The method that we finally used in the game is instead a “drag-then-wiggle” mechanic:  You click and drag from a topping bin to above the taco (just like toppings in the other games), and when you release the button you then move the mouse left and right to pour that topping evenly across the taco.  We went back and forth between these two mechanics a lot during development and had a rough time deciding on what felt the most natural.  There may still be a moment of confusion with toppings pouring out seemingly uncontrollably when you release that mouse button, but it stays closer in line with the rest of the mechanics of the game and the series – and after your first try or two the pouring feels natural.


On top of a great new topping system (which opens up possibilities for future games in the series), we were able to add many new features to give the game even greater depth than the previous ones, and add more variety and excitement for players.  Though we had a few difficulties during development, by looking at the problems and discovering the core of each issue, we were able to really hone in on what makes a game work within the “Papa’s” series.

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