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Venba celebrates South Indian culture through more meaningful video game cooking

When I write “cooking game,” I’d bet a pretty specific image comes into your head. Your brain might go straight to something like Cooking Mama, where you need to assemble several random recipes through a series of tactile minigames. That’s become a go-to format for developers looking to adapt cooking into a game, but it’s not exactly what developer Visai Games wanted to do for Venba.

Venba - Announcement Trailer - Nintendo Switch

Set to launch on July 31, Venba is an era-spanning narrative cooking game about a family of Indian immigrants settling in Canada. In order to tell an impactful story about a mother trying to pass down her culture to a quickly assimilating child, the team would need to bake that idea into its actual cooking systems. That would mean taking a more thoughtful approach to gameplay design that would resist the genre’s most well-established ideas.

During a press preview event ahead of its launch, Visai Games walked through the little details that make Venba more flavorful than your average cooking game. It’s a celebration of Tamil culture that’s taking great care to not just recreate real-world dishes, but contextualize them too.

Cooking for a reason

Billed as a “short and sweet cinematic experience,” Venba aims to tell a multi-generational story that begins in the 1980s and continues through the 2000s. It’s centered around the titular Venba, a mother who wants to make sure that she can pass down South Indian culture to her young son Kavin. For creative director Abhi, it was important that Venba’s story wasn’t just told through its visual novel sequences, but reflected in its gameplay.

For instance, players make recipes out of a cookbook passed down by Venba’s mother. Due to its age, it’s a little tattered, with torn pages obscuring parts of each recipe. That alone is a major difference between Venba and something like Cooking Mama, as there’s a puzzle element to each recipe. In addition to missing steps, players need to work around mistranslations and other cultural hurdles. The hope is that players actually learn the logic of its Indian recipes and use that knowledge to complete dishes.

A pot full of ingredients appears in Venba.
Visai Games

You can already get a taste of how that works in the game’s Steam demo. Recipes are less about button timing minigames and more about assembling a dish in the right order. One section has players making idlis via a cooking page that has a key line smudged out, one that will help prevent leaks. The puzzling section has players filling a pot with water first before dropping batter into idli racks and layering them correctly so steam moves through the tower correctly. Other segments will have players cooking biriyani, dosa, and more.

What’s more important is how each recipe is contextualized in its story. During the preview, Abhi showed a sequence where Kavin stubbornly demands his parents make pizza for dinner. Intent on sharing an Indian recipe with him instead, Venba convinces him to help her make puttu by telling him that cooking it is like “launching a rocket ship.” Players get to see that in action firsthand as they assemble a tower of rice that’s able to stand on its own once removed from its puttu kudam.

Similarly, Abhi explained the context behind the story’s biriyani section. That chapter takes place in 2006 amid an immigration boom in Canada that saw more Asian food stores opening up across the country. That makes it so Venba is more easily able to get the ingredients needed to make the dish, establishing a narrative reason for why she’s able to cook it at that time. It’s a bit of cultural education for both Kavin and players unfamiliar with Indian cuisine and its history.

Kitchen sounds

Authenticity was key for the team when creating the project. That’s why the developers at Visai vowed to make every recipe featured in the game multiple times in real life first to get it right. Abhi shared side-by-side comparison photos during the press event, showing how the team recreated its own cooking experiences in a sometimes 1:1 fashion.

A real plate of biriyani sits next to a digital version of it in Venba.
Visai Games

While creating visually appetizing dishes was important, the team was just as concerned with getting the sound just right. That wouldn’t exactly be easy, as a lot of free sound effects libraries don’t tend to be filled with authentic Indian cooking noises. Instead, the team would do some good old-fashioned Foley work, sticking fuzzy microphones directly next to sizzling pans to get sounds so accurate that you could play them over real cooking videos and match them up perfectly.

The overall goal here is to capture Tamil culture even beyond the kitchen. Tamil cinema was an especially big influence on the project, with certain character animations pulled straight from movies. Similarly, its original soundtrack (which plays dietetically through a radio during cooking sections) draws inspiration from Tamil composers from each of the game’s eras. Little details like that make it a multifaceted pop culture history lesson that Abhi hopes will make players curious to learn more about.

That’s certainly the case for me so far. I’ve gotten a chance to learn about Venba a few times over the past year and each time has made me more curious than the last. Visai Games seems to have a special project on its hands that’ll give players a thoughtfully crafted view of South Indian culture. And one that’ll leave them very, very hungry.

Venba launches on July 31 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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