Hello, and welcome to our new series which picks out interesting things that we’d love someone to make a game about.
This isn’t a chance for us to pretend we’re game designers, more an opportunity to celebrate the range of subjects games can tackle and the sorts of things that seem filled with glorious gamey promise.
I’ve had exactly one souffl in my life, and it was fine. I remember it purely because there was a sense of expectation. Ooh, a souffl! This is going to be special. And then? Fine. Not bad. Not life-changing. Absolutely okay.
Here is a theory that I haven’t in any way tested: not many of us eat souffls anymore. They are a pain to make – all that whisking or whatever it is! – and then they can sort of taste like biting into a gas cloud. A lot of warm air in there, but not much to get really excited about.
So I don’t think souffls are on the menu for many of us anymore. Where they live, instead, is on the TV, specifically in cookery shows, and more specifically in cookery shows that hinge on a bit of a competition. This is what made me think about souffls in the context of video games – okay, this and a recent anxiety dream in which I had to make souffls all night. Souffles are brilliant mechanics for this sort of show.
Masterchef USA. Not the best Masterchef – that’s Canada – but it’s up there. And Masterchef USA never met a souffl it didn’t want to turn into a tie-breaker. And this is because souffls are difficult to make, sure, but they’re also charismatic. Like Elvis and JFK, they work on television. You prepare the souffl – the clock is ticking, someone’s going to get eliminated! – and it’s just this puddle in a ramekin. A rarified puddle but still: not much to look at. Then you whack it in the oven and it starts to cook. Nothing you can do now! Nothing to do but wait. The judges start to whisper.
And this is where the souffl earns its superstar money. Because it starts to rise. It starts to creep upwards over the edge of the ramekin. Or it doesn’t! It doesn’t because you messed it all up! Either way, souffls have something not many other dishes have: they are their own progress bar.
As such, the souffl works perfectly with the ticking clock. It’s Mission Impossible cooking. Which is why chefs are still making them on TV, and why in turn people still get excited on the vanishingly rare occasion when someone says: Oh, I’m thinking of making a souffl. Anybody want one? They don’t taste that good, but they have a sort of mechanical charm. Fire up the physics engine – these things have bounce! These things have character!