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Sometimes, the best foods are slow-cooked. In Nour, the interactive culinary playground from Tj "Terrifying Jellyfish" Hughes, you won't be able to taste the bowl of ramen it renders on screen, but each digital dish has had ample time poured into its creation. When I played it, each scene in the game made me hungry, but as I flipped through them all and played around with each food the game had to offer, Nour also wowed me with its fidelity and attention to detail.
It's fitting, then, that Nour is now headed to the PlayStation 5. Sony's been hyping up the console's next-gen sensory features, ranging from the DualSense's haptics to its new 3D audio solution. Nour has also recently picked up a well-suited publisher in Panic, the company behind Firewatch, Untitled Goose Game, and the Playdate handheld. Like Nour, all of Panic's other gaming projects have had no trouble generating buzz on social media. Soon, Nour will be amongst the first wave of indies to make a splash on Sony's new hardware.
Hughes, who spoke with USgamer back in 2017 when he launched Nour's Kickstarter, shared what he could about how the project has evolved over the last three years. As its new subtitle ("Play With Your Food") signals, Nour remains an experience that's all about experimentation and not about objectives. There's still a lot Hughes can only tease with regards to the PS5, but as for linking up with Panic and getting to tour the world with Nour, he has plenty to share about the delicious vignettes it has in store.
More Cooks in the Kitchen
Nour raised just over $29,000 via crowdfunding, which was more than Hughes had asked for, but still an extremely modest amount to fund development. While working on it, he's also brought Nour to shows, where it always draws a crowd of (sometimes salivating) onlookers. I personally played Nour just a few feet away from a demo of Untitled Goose Game in 2018—and, sometime after the Playdate reveal last year, Hughes started talking with Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser about his company's odd, crank-equipped handheld. Sasser's the one who brought up Nour.
"Later on," Hughes says, "Sasser reached out on Twitter and was just like 'hey, you need anything?'" Hughes did need help, it turns out. Nour had reached a point where it was fun to show off, but certain goals Hughes had for the project were out of reach. On top of some "high level technical stuff" he hoped to achieve, Nour was at that point still going to be just a PC and Mac release, and Hughes didn't think he had the resources to do a console launch on his own.
"Something that Panic has allowed me to do is I'm able to hire more of my friends to work on the project with me," Hughes says. "That was something I kind of dreamed about, but didn't realize 'oh, wait, this is something that'd be essential to getting the project where I want it.'" Now, with Panic's support and Nour development serving as his full-time job, Hughes has Joey Paniello and Marc Straight working on Nour part-time, and has enlisted musicians Fluke Nukes and Maxmilian Muller to craft the game's reactive music.
The PS5 version also came about with Panic's help, though it helped that Hughes had experience shipping on PlayStation. "It's really great to get the opportunity," Hughes says. "I'd worked on a PlayStation game before at Happy Badger Studio, our game SmuggleCraft, and it was really great to just get back in on the Sony pipeline, but with their new hardware. It's super cool, and I love what they're doing with the new controller, new platform—everything's so tactile and amazing."
From Button Press to Boba Pop
One of the big changes in bringing Nour to PS5 will be its use of the new DualSense controller. Demoed in the past with a Midi Fighter 3D—a DJ tool decked out with a motion sensor and 16 Sanwa arcade buttons—Nour will gain the haptic features that Sony has touted for its new controller. Sony's go-to example for the DualSense is a bow and arrow: the vibrations and resistance in the triggers are supposed to make it feel like you're really tensing the string. As for how it'll represent the feel of, say, spawning in a tilting tower of flapjacks, there are things Hughes can and can't say at the moment.
"We're still experimenting a lot," Hughes explains, while noting that there are also limits on what he can disclose. As for "any sort of new feature that's exclusive to the console," though, Hughes says the goal with Nour is to take them all as far as they can go. "Even things that you wouldn't expect to be able to control a game with, we want to have some sort of feedback," he says.
Hughes can't say whether Midi Fighter support will come to the PS5 version of Nour, but support for it and other Midi devices will stay in the PC and Mac versions as it's "the foundation of what made the game so fun at exhibits," in Hughes' own words. Even on the DualSense, the Midi Fighter-influenced philosophy behind controlling Nour hasn't changed. For instance, every unique, food-centered scene still has 16 interactions that can be triggered with a given button press.
It helps, also, that Nour's design principles make it instantly compatible with other Midi controllers on computers as well. Hughes says he's tried it with the Akai Mini MPK keyboard and Roli's Lightpad Block drum pad, both of which worked with Nour out of the box. Even the thumbstick on the MPK keyboard, intended originally for pitch modulation, mapped correctly to Nour's function of moving entire scenes around: play a note to pop a popcorn kernel, then flick the stick to send them all flying.
The Intersection of Beatboxing and Bento Boxes
With the musical influence stemming from the input method, it may come as no surprise to hear that Nour's approach to audio has evolved over time. In the course of demoing the game for countless people, Hughes noticed that some people would instinctually try to perform certain actions to the beat. With the support from Panic and in collaboration with Nour's musicians, Hughes is building rewards for that behavior right into the game.
"While it's hard to put into words how exciting it is without hearing it, it's incredible," Hughes says of the reactive soundtrack. "We're doing so many things to make the visuals match up with the music, and the game will notice when you're really playing [along] with it." Tetris Effect and Electroplankton, Hughes notes, are two of the big inspirations he has for making Nour a deeper auditory experience. "That level of audio activity is something I've always wanted to do," he says. "I feel like games have a lot of potential for audio interactivity that hasn't been explored yet."
Nour's approach to changing up the music as reward for curious play also dovetails with its trophies. Since it's coming to the PS5, trophies have to be included with Nour even though it's not an objective-oriented game. Still, with the kinds of secrets and amusing situations packed into each of Nour's scenes, it sounds like there's no shortage of trophy potential.
"The game just wants to be like, 'wow, thank you for being so interested and going in this direction, here's a trophy,' just as an appreciation for noticing this part of the game," says Hughes. "Things like 'did you get the chopsticks in the ramen bowl,' or 'were you able to fit the hoverboard in the meat grinder?'"
With Nour in the home stretch of development, Hughes promises there'll be more new vignettes to see and interactive quirks to discuss in the lead up to launch. Beyond the musical touches and trophy triggers, Nour has sort of become a meditation on some of the memorable culinary experiences Hughes has had during development.
"I feel like, even sometimes subconsciously, I pick up little things and design decisions, whether it be on food packaging or the actual decor of a restaurant," Hughes says, reflecting on what he's picked up while traveling with Nour. "It's definitely a project that's shaped by where it's been."
At the moment, of course, traveling isn't really an option. That said, hopefully we'll all get to live vicariously with Nour soon. At Hughes' mention of a bento box scene, one inspired specifically by his travels in Asia, I find myself wanting to chow down on some nori-wrapped goodness just as much as I'm eager to figure out the strange ways Nour will let me manipulate the meal.