388 NomNomGalaxy Makes Soup Into Business

by Foster Douglas on January 23, 2016

Today marks an important day on this here game design journal blog thing! I’m having my first guest writer, Kevin, take over for a second and talk about what he loves most about the game NomNomGalaxy, which we recently played together via its local co-op mode:

Our manager at the massive soup conglomerate has given us our instructions. We land on a planet and search for a suitable place to set up operations. Market share is the only thing on our minds. Gotta beat the other soup company for control of the market! We start to farm the planet’s natural resources, mixing them together into delicious, delicious soup, which we ship via rocket to our anxious customers. But not everything goes according to plan… our well thought out structures collapse, the competing soup company attacks us, our robots harvest too much of one plant and not enough of the others, our customers don’t like the soup we’re making, and our manager is yelling at us from afar, “Market share, market share, market share!”

The first thing that defines NomNomGalaxy, a game about making soup and sending it to galactic customers via a system of robots and rockets, is its humorous tone mocking the goals and motivations of the business world. The main goal is market share and competition with other soup companies. We are lowly employees following orders and driven by this simple goal. We don’t even care about profit or money, except for how it helps us build our system to gain market share. Our manager is constantly urging us forward. We don’t build robots, we “hire” them.

This tone is entertaining, funny, and the central theme of the game, and it trickles down into the mechanics. As we play, we balance the need to make soup ourselves to get started with the opportunity to build an automated system of robots, tunnels, and rockets that will do all of the work for us. Sometimes the environment requires us to do extra work ourselves. As a game mechanic, this is unique because in most games you are working directly toward a goal yourself, but in NomNomGalaxy, you can theoretically set up an automated system to accomplish the goal for you. This is a lesson that anyone who runs a real business is very familiar with. The business should be an automated system of supply, demand, and revenue, but very often that requires more hands on work and maintenance than expected.

The business parody theme also changes the conditions required for winning a level. There’s no time limit or finish line. It’s a continuous arm wrestle with the computer-controlled competing soup company, and you only win once you’ve achieved 100% market share. This reflects the business world’s obsession with competition and dominating markets, and makes for a unique and interesting game experience.

One of the most satisfying parts of the game was solving problems and finding new opportunities creatively. As we played, we refined our system building strategies, experimented with alternative system layouts, and eventually settled on a structure of “farms”, “soup factories”, and “rocket platforms” that worked well. But as we navigated building these structural components, we had to think of creative ways to use the building materials available in new ways to make it work more and more efficiently.

Although it is a parody of business, in the end NomNomGalaxy gave Foster and I a true lesson in running a business. We learned about balancing DIY and system building. We learned about product development, resource management, distribution, and supply and demand. Most of all, we learned a lesson in dissatisfaction—as hard as we worked to build our system, there was always an inefficiency, a problem to solve, something to fix, incompetent robots, changing market conditions, and competing companies actively working to destroy our system. Because of these obstacles, even when we achieved 100% market share, we never felt completely satisfied with the system that we had built, which is perhaps the greatest business lesson of all in our soup-making MBA program.

[Kevin McGillivray is a web developer, teacher, and designer, and the co-founder (along with Foster!) of Sandcastle. He writes about mindfulness and creativity at kevinmcgillivray.net. His favorite word is studio.

[ Today I Was Playing: Magicka 2 and Professor Layton and the Last Specter and Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry ]

#game-opinion, #guest-writer, #kevin