There were many incredible games during the Tribeca showcase and the Wholesome Direct, but Venba was one of the ones that stuck with me the most. A game about a foreign family growing up in Canada and going through the struggles of the difference in culture as their young one adapts. I definitely recommend checking out this charming yet emotional game! Now without further ado, here is the interview I had with Abhi.
In the Tribeca showcase video, the team mentions that the game was pitched in a paragraph. What about the pitch inspired you so much?
Often, we see stories of immigrant kids growing up here and being torn between two worlds. But something about the lives of the parents, especially their lives after the kids have grown up fully assimilated into the foreign culture, bothered me. I think the pitch was simply what I was feeling at the time and what was making me uncomfortable. I was able to express that in a few lines as a game and story to Sam Elkana (the art director) and Shahrin Khan (the producer and helps me with writing too!). I think what was bothering me must have been bothering them too, so they were able to resonate with it a lot.
It's quite clear, by the ambience and feel of the game, that Venba is a very emotional title to you guys. From what personal experiences has the team drawn during the development?
With a game like Venba, I very much drew from my experiences here. Specifically, in the third level of the game it's rooted in something specific from my life. But that being said, it's not an autobiographical story in any way. I wanted to capture what I think are general themes found in many of our homes, and I tried to draw from many of the families and lives I've met here growing up.
It feels like there's a greater message in the game. In your own words, what is it that you want to convey through Venba?
I think it goes back to what I said was bothering me about our homes. We want to explore that for ourselves through this game and share that through the story of this family with all of you.
You mention that there are an endless amount of incredible recipes, but that you chose the ones that could be implemented through fun mechanics. What dish did you have to skip out on that you really wanted in the game?
Oh, so many! The simple poriyals (a dry dish typically made with a vegetable like beans [or] potatoes) or a Mutton Kulambu are staples but are not necessarily mechanically interesting or different gameplay-wise. I also wanted to showcase things like Eeral fry (goat liver) and other atypical varieties to showcase how diverse the cuisine is. It does hurt to leave these out of the game, but I've to remind myself that Venba is not so much about cooking as it is about exploring this family's story through cooking and food.
What inspired the decision to add so much focus to the sound of cooking?
One of the key goals we had from the beginning was to make the player feel as if they've been transported to our kitchens. Sound and music play a very important role here. Neha Patel, our sound designer, puts a lot of care and affection into ensuring the utensils and cooking sounds and reminds us of our homes. A lot of these cooking ingredients and actions might also be the first time a player is encountering them in their lives, so the sounds are really important to sell how they feel and behave. The other very important pillar here is the music of the game. Every level in the game occurs at a different point of time in the family's lives, and Venba never cooks without her radio on. We wanted the radio to play music that would sound like the music we would hear in that era, and our composer, Alpha Something, has put a ton of effort into making an original soundtrack that's a homage to the wonderful music we heard growing up.
What stands out to you about your experience developing Venba?
It's been a very surreal experience. It was meant to be a very small and intimate game. We're completely overwhelmed with people's responses to our trailers and demos. Due to the nature of this game, developing it has been a very unique process. I've had the opportunity to talk to chefs, home cooks, eat a lot of food and cook each one of the recipes featured in the game, which are not typically things you do as part of game development. Neha (our sound designer) also has to cook a lot to capture the sounds of many of the dishes we show. Additionally, since the game's soundtrack is a homage to the musicals we heard growing up, we're firing on all cylinders to capture that with professional vocalists, quartets, and more which I think is unusual for an indie game.
What inspires the team so much about emotional and touching stories?
Once again, it goes back to the feeling we want to communicate. But it's also much more challenging to translate something real and intimate into a game. Games as a medium begs for abstraction and stylisation, but with Venba we also have to make sure there's authenticity. Finding that balance was very challenging but also a lot of fun!
Did you use anything from the experience of developing Balloon Man during Venba's development?
Not too much gameplay or content-wise. But we definitely learnt a lot about how to scope projects better and set more realistic expectations. Venba is a much less ambitious game in its scope and gameplay (but we ended up going way over the original timeline anyway, ha!).
Considering Venba seems to have touched the team in a personal way, was it ever taxing to develop it because of that?
I personally struggled a lot once it struck me that the game would probably be played by a lot more people than we initially expected. Since the game might [be] the first introduction to our culture and food for many people, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make the game as representative and comprehensive of Tamil culture and our food as possible. This was not a very healthy mindset for creating this game, and I realised what I was trying to create was more of an encyclopedia or a tourist guide. I just had to remind myself to focus only on what's important to this particular story, and I tried to stay as true to that as possible, and I think that makes for a much better game overall.
Has Venba caused any sort of accidental introspection of your own experiences?
Yes! I thought I was fairly knowledgeable already about our food and the history of it, but during the process of researching for the game, I realised how little I know and how much more there's to learn!
Is there anything else you'd like to mention about your game, the development, or anything in general?
We're getting closer and closer to finishing development and we're very excited to share the game with you all eventually!
What's your favourite dish?
What's your favourite kitchen utensil/appliance?
Kidukki. It's like tongs but much more versatile, and I use it constantly.
And that's all! Don't forget to check out the game or follow the developer on Twitter to show some support. Any questions I missed? Anything you'd like for me to better about my interviews! Feel free to message me some feedback on Twitter!