Posted on June 27, 2010
Vacation Game Storm #1: Free Budget Breakfast Buffet
Note: I’ve always felt that the best time for me to come-up with new ideas for games is when I’m on vacation. I recently went on vacation with my family. These are some of the game design notes I took.
On our first night of the trip we stayed at a nice little family hotel that had a very satisfying ‘free breakfast buffet’. As far as I can tell the ‘free breakfast buffet’ in the USA is based on the idea of the ‘Continental Breakfast’ that was served at the hotels I stayed in the UK a decade ago. However, like everything Americans suck-in and make their own, our hotels have taken it and ran with it. The ‘free breakfast buffet’ in the right hotel, is a complimentary, hot breakfast with a magnificent variety of foods piled-up in quantities to that could feed a battalion of hungry soldiers.
That is the idea anyway.
Now, there are also places that serve-up the idea of the ‘free breakfast buffet’, but don’t always follow-through. Our family once had the opportunity to stay at a small hotel near Disneyland. I won’t tell you the exact name, but they offered the world’s worst Free Breakfast Buffet at an adjacent restaurant that will not be named, however I will describe how it worked and how it might be an interesting game.
Apparently many of the local hotel and motels that don’t have their own facilities for a ‘free breakfast buffet’ offer free tickets to this specific restaurant to their guests so they can bullet-point ‘Free Breakfast Buffet’ in the advertising materials. However, this specific restaurant is not necessarily interested in serving the ‘free breakfast buffet’ at all. The minute you walk-in, they attempt to up-sell you on a ‘full cooked breakfast’ for $9.95 a head, which is considerably more than anyone who is staying a budget hotel/motel looking for a ‘free breakfast buffet’ is willing to pay. The normal restaurant is down stairs. It was waitresses, silverware, hot coffee, and smiling faces. However, if you choose the ‘free’ option, you are unceremoniously sent upstairs.
And then the mayhem starts.
When you arrive, you must find your own table. This is the easy part, because the upstairs room is a vast wasteland of tables. Rows and rows and rows of chipped wood veneer tables, and torn orange vinyl seats. Enough tables for 100’s of people. You locate the best looking one for your family, and sit-down. So far so good. The seats are a bit gross, but it’s ‘free’, right?
Next comes the best part: Getting food. This is where the game starts. You see, unlike a ‘free breakfast buffet’ at a regular mid-priced hotel, the food at this ‘free breakfast buffet’ is not on display at all times. It needs to be ‘released’ from the kitchen in batches. Throngs of hungry budget travelers surround the empty hot plates, waiting for food to arrive. When the kitchen door opens, anticipation mounts. When they food is spotted, calls start going out ‘bacon has arrived!’ The workers don’t stick around very long, but run back through the swinging doors to the kitchen as fast as possible. The crowd pushes toward the bacon, forks ready to grab whatever they can get their hands on. Pushing and shoving ensue, fights break out, then it all calms down a bit while the collected scraps of food are consumed.
The food itself is awful. Brown water for coffee, runny eggs, bacon and sausage coated with enough grease to fuel a Ford F-150 Super Duty all the way back to Alabama. Babies cry, kids get yelled at, adults curse one another and argue about who gets to eat what. It is humanity at its most basic and most ferocious: trying to feed hunger.
This process repeats itself in 5-10 minute intervals for the entire morning. It might not be medieval, but it’s definitely 3rd world. It feels like the way markets in the Soviet Union were described to us during the Cold War (true or not). Oh, did I mention that most of the people fighting for their share of the ‘free breakfast buffet’ area bit on the humongous side, so ‘their share’ might just be the same amount of food an entire small African nation consumes in a single day.
This memory has prompted a game idea for me: Free Budget Breakfast Buffet
Here is the idea. You start the game with a family of 3 on a 2 week vacation. You enter the upstairs and must first be assigned a table (closer to the food on easier levels). You then position your resources in the best places to try to get as much food as possible. Visible clues will guide you toward which hot plates will be filled next. Your job is to fill the tummies and reach the necessary caffeine level of your family in the allotted time. If you do it, you gain money for the day the amusement park (the money saved by eating the free breakfast buffet). However, if you don’t succeed, you lose money because you have to buy very expensive food at the amusement park. The goal is to make it through the 2 weeks without going broke.
As the game progresses, more people arrive that are in your family. They need to be fed as well. Caffeine levels rise as your stay at the ‘relaxing amusement park’ wears on. You can collect bonuses that help in your quest: bad odor spray will make (certain) crowds disperse, or fake ‘arriving food smell’ generators will make crowds swell in areas that you choose.
The picture below is a rough drawing of what the screen might look like (without a design). The Green Stars are your resources, the Red Diamonds are the other patrons trying to get food. You need to collect food and take it back your table (green) without having it stolen by others on your way back. Collect bonuses (like bad odor spray) on your way back. The game is part resources management and part action. It happens in real-time.
That’s it, my first idea from vacation. I have no idea what I will do with it. Hopefully it spawn better and more interesting ones.