Cooking Up Success – The Game Kitchen

by on May.29, 2014, under developer diary, featured, the last door

In 2004, a group of friends and colleagues in Spain began gathering together after work to practice the craft of making their video game dreams a reality. They all shared similar stories of growing up in love with computers and video games; and though not all of them had the support of their families back then, as they grew older their parents started to see video games as a viable career with such a large industry that included great success stories like Minecraft. These friends helped each other learn how to master the necessary tools at their disposal to make video games, piecing together various projects and losing much sleep in the process.

“Beauty sleep? We don’t need it!”

In 2009 these friends officially called themselves Nivel21 Entertainment. They created a variety of games – mostly under contract – with their most successful being Rotor’scope which won multiple awards including third place at Dream.Build.Play 2009 which net them a $10,000 prize. This was the same competition in which Dean Dodrill took first for his game Dust: An Elysian Tail. The recognition they received from this event boosted their confidence and so they decided to leave their day jobs to pursue video game development full-time.

Nivel21 Entertainment soon rebranded as The Game Kitchen and the team began working on some of their first titles. These weren’t just any type of game, however: The games they created had a focus on accessibility – using video games as a tool to teach, to help those who usually get forgotten in this industry. Their purpose was to creatively give back to that one love that had given to them so much for so many years, and also make it available for everyone. They soon began branding these games under the name AccessAble Games.

From 3D modeling to pixel art – they can do it all.

One of their first games in this brand was Slalom, a game based on the real-world competitive obstacle course Wheelchair Slalom. Slalom replicates the obstacle course in the digital space, having the player navigate in and around posts in certain ways as they attempt victory over their competitor. It comes with a variety of accessibility options such as contrast adjustment for sight impairment, speed options for those with difficulty being able to keep up with the game, and a variety of input options to ensure the game is easily controllable across a variety of handicaps.

A great show of sportsmanship between competitors.

The team continued to make a variety of accessibility-themed games including an educational app for children with autism, a game that teaches children about the reality of living with deafness, and games that can be played by the blind or that can be played with a single key, eye movement, or a microphone. Their list of games shows a team who desires to include as many people as possible into the world of gaming.

The Last Door provides accessibility options such as closed captioning for sound and a dyslexia-friendly font.

Things were going well, but then Spain fell into a financial crisis. Contractual work started drying up with pay becoming less and payments arriving less frequently, and loans became nigh impossible to secure. Some of the team members had to move back in with family because they weren’t able to keep up with the bills. The hardship continued to the point that some even had to quit and leave the country because of this. Sadly, with 1 in 6 citizens left unemployed, leaving the country in an effort to escape the crisis was a common occurrence.

A team determined to not let their dreams die.

The team reached a “now or never” realization. They wanted to move forward, and they needed to get past this financial obstacle, and to do this they needed to come up with a brilliant new concept. The group brainstormed and eventually came to agree upon the new idea: a horror game that was designed to bring to life the same feelings caused by classic horror books, where you rely heavily on your imagination to depict the scenes and situations.

Planning the game using a visual flowchart made of sticky notes.

This was the birth of what came to be known as The Last Door. In 2012 they struggled through a Kickstarter campaign, but ended up surpassing their funding goal by 20%. The Last Door was successfully funded on December 21, 2012. A passionate community soon formed around the game, with The Game Kitchen having created their own site for the game which included a forum where the community would post their ideas, feedback, bugs, and even their own translations. Starting with Episode 2, the developers created their “Leave Your Mark” campaign, where they asked the community members to suggest descriptions for in-game items that were intentionally left blank for this purpose.

They also like to show off their grammy.

After the successful Kickstarter funding for Episode 1, The Game Kitchen decided to take the crowdfunding idea and bring it home. A redesign of their website, including a new account system, enabled people to pledge toward new episodes right from the website. Time and again the community rallied behind them and funded each new episode.

When thinking of the future, they hope to continue to present and express their creativity independently. It hasn’t been easy, but they survived most of the indie battle so far, and The Last Doorhas opened up options for them to continue pursuing more stories to be told. There’s not much set in stone after this horror adventure, but they are still working hard to come through with new worlds and experiences to share.

A grateful team celebrating their hard work and achievements.

With nearly a decade of passion for creating computer games under their belts, eventually seeing them win third place in a global competition winning a $10,000 prize, from their dedication to raising awareness about accessibility issues faced by many in society to their recent work on the crowdfunded success story of The Last Door, the team at The Game Kitchen prove that with hard work, dedication, and a passion to achieve your dreams, anything can be possible.

Drew Beardall
Social Media Associate
Phoenix Online Studios

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