The Steaming Cauldron is available on itch.io.
The Steaming Cauldron is a café management sim set in a fantasy world. Play a new employee at an alchemy café—take orders, prepare espresso drinks, and keep the café nice and tidy for patrons. As you learn the ropes, you’ll unlock new café layouts and customization options to increase the challenge and make the place your own.
Subject Area, Learners, and Knowledge Domain
The game focuses on day-to-day work in a coffeeshop—the prototype narrows this to solely drink preparation—and as such, the target audience includes both new coffeeshop employees and aspiring coffee enthusiasts. The 2D perspective limits the ability to intuit 1:1 correlation between real and simulated action, so some general gaming knowledge is necessary. Additionally, a conceptual understanding of customer service and coffee making is beneficial. Procedural knowledge is the sole domain for the prototype, though a full implementation would delve into soft skills as well.
After playing The Steaming Cauldron, learners will be able to apply the processes required to prepare common espresso drinks quickly and accurately. To progress through each shift, players pick up ingredients from their space behind the counter and combine them to create espresso drinks according to patron orders. For example, if a customer orders a latte, players must put coffee beans in the espresso machine, wait for them to grind and deposit in the brewing platform, and brew coffee into a hot drink vessel. Then, they must get milk from the icebox, steam it, and add it to the coffee before serving it. In the full game, this will be supported with animations (or, potentially, interactive mini games) for each step, to draw a stronger connection with the real-world tasks represented.
At the end of each five-minute shift, players receive a managerial evaluation of their work comprised of tips and customer surveys. In addition to a baseline value for each drink served, tips include bonuses based on speed and accuracy. The full game’s evaluations will also provide players with a summary of positive and negative feedback from their customers, which highlights what they are doing well and what needs improvement. Evaluations conclude with a summative rating from zero to three stars based on the total value of tips earned. These thorough evaluations enforce development of optimal procedural knowledge, which can be directly applied to effective work in a coffeeshop.
Gee’s Principles on Gaming
Jim Gee (2013) identifies a set of thirteen principles through which games can become exemplary teaching tools. Of these principles, the two with the strongest presence in The Steaming Cauldron are situated meaning and skills under strategies. A manager can and should provide a verbal overview of the work a role requires, but actions provide deeper association than words. Playing through the process of fulfilling orders with clear feedback for desired proficiencies will prepare learners for work in a coffeeshop.
Skills under strategies will play a larger role in the final game, which will allow players to step outside of the counter space and take care of tasks throughout the shop. These tasks may have their own timers, and customers’ patience does not wait for them. As a result, players will need to develop the skills to balance needs from multiple sides using strategies that work in the game.
Game Goal and Description
In The Steaming Cauldron, players aim to fulfill customer orders quickly and accurately within five-minute shifts. While a recipe book may cover the steps to combine components into a beverage, the balance of drink preparation and customer service cannot be adequately represented—hence the development of this simulation. The primary benefit, then, is the ability for new employees to practice in a lower-consequence environment before (or concurrently with) their service of real-world customers.
To avoid heavily leaning upon the branding and environment of any one coffeeshop and add a layer of narrative interest, The Steaming Cauldron takes place in a medieval fantasy equivalent to a coffeeshop. Players take the role of an alchemist fresh from an apprenticeship and ready to provide caffeinated concoctions to the masses—an unorthodox application of the real-world understanding of alchemy, but fantasy tropes march on. The closest fantasy approximation to a coffeeshop is a classical adventurers’ tavern, so much of the game’s audiovisual components take cues from such locales. As such, light acoustic music and the faint murmurings of others’ conversations provide the backing to the closer sounds of coffeemaking equipment. Later layouts and customization options may bring with them new aesthetics, but the tavern theming will remain constant.
The current prototype is controlled entirely using a mouse; a full game would likely include keyboard-based movement controls as well to allow players to navigate the shop. Taking significant inspiration from the core loop of Five Nights at Freddy’s (Cawthon, 2014), players are stationary behind the counter, able to rotate from left to right to access customers, ingredients, and equipment. Players’ inventory takes the form of a UI icon in the upper right corner of the screen; players may hold one item at a time, and can click the icon to drop what they are carrying.
Narrative and Characters
At present, there is no in-depth story driving the gameplay beyond the level of set dressing. Initial concepts which explored The Steaming Cauldron as a narrative-focused game fell flat; while there were ideas which may be worth revisiting, there are no current plans to do so. However, the likes of Legends and Lattes (Baldree, 2022) and Coffee Talk (Toge Productions, 2020) were significant inspirations for the overall tone and concept, alongside an existing preference towards fantasy settings. From there, centering the idea on a new alchemist provides in-story justification for the more didactic elements—especially for an eventual tutorial—while presenting espresso drinks as a particularly extensive family of potion is an entertaining means of incorporating an African and Arabian crop into a Europe-inspired setting.
In the prototype, the only characters are likely to be vaguely human silhouettes representing customers and the players’ cursor guiding the protagonist through their workday. In the full game, however, customers and other NPCs will cover a diverse range of genders, skin tones, and fantasy races. Players will have the opportunity to customize their own character within the same range, with more outfits and accessories available as they progress.
Dynamics and Reward Mechanics
Core Dynamic and Gameplay
The Steaming Cauldron employs Boller and Kapp’s solution core dynamic (2017, p. 7) As the goal is to fulfill a customer’s order, solution fits in quite naturally; there is one correct answer and the player’s task is to assemble it quickly and accurately. This, then, forms the foundation of the core gameplay loop. Players take the order of the first customer in line, which starts a timer representing the customer’s patience. Players then move items around their counter space to prepare their order: different vessels depending on drink temperature, coffee beans and water to the espresso machine, milk pitchers to the steamer for latte-based drinks, and cocoa powder or other add-ins for flavored drinks. Finally, players deliver the completed drink to the customer and receive a brief reaction as feedback before the next customer moves forward. This loop continues for five minutes, then players’ shifts end and they receive a managerial evaluation for the day’s work.
Scoring, Rewards, and Assessment
In the final game, players receive scores in the form of tips for each shift they complete and rewards through both tips and stars provided by managerial review. Each drink players serve grants them a tip—as described previously, these tips have a base level for delivering any drink and bonus multipliers for speed and accuracy. Delivering a completely incorrect beverage or taking too long to deliver anything will completely negate the tip. This will create a rather harsh learning curve, but this reflects reality; rarely will an actual customer provide a tip for an incorrect or excessively delayed order.
The managerial review presents feedback based on customer reactions—indicated at a basic level through emote-based reactions when players fulfill orders. At the end, players receive a summative score from zero to three stars based on tip thresholds. Like Overcooked (Ghost Town Games Ltd., 2016), the tip thresholds differ from level to level, and players’ star totals determine when they unlock new levels.
New levels are one form of reward, aimed at any achievers in the audience. For the more socially inclined, however, players can exchange their tip earnings for character and café cosmetics in an in-game shop. To discourage resource farming without progressing, players will receive reduced earnings in levels they have already completed unless they earn a star they did not previously have.
Construct 3 Prototype
This prototype focuses on taking orders and preparing drinks for customers. Players remain behind the counter, with limited movement to access necessary ingredients and equipment. In a single shift, players fulfill as many orders as they can, with the same goals of speed and accuracy as the full concept. At the end of the time limit, players receive an abbreviated summary of tips and the multipliers applied. Stars, tip thresholds, and all progression mechanics are absent for the time being.
Aside from the games and stories cited as inspiration, my primary resource has been the Construct 3 documentation (Scirra Ltd, 2023). However, to prevent myself from pouring too much time and energy down the pixel art rabbit hole, I purchased four asset packs on itch.io (Admurin, 2023a, 2023b, 2023c; Szadi art., 2023), which I intend to modify and add to as necessary. For clarity of citation, “Szadi art.” is written as such, including the period.
Admurin. (2023a, June 20). UI: 02 wood theme. itch.io. https://admurin.itch.io/ui-wood-theme
Admurin. (2023b, September 6). Admurin’s bonus items 08. itch.io. https://admurin.itch.io/admurins-bonus-items-8
Admurin. (2023c, October 20). Admurin’s bonus items 09. itch.io. https://admurin.itch.io/admurins-bonus-items-9
Baldree, T. (2022). Legends & lattes: A novel of high fantasy and low stakes (First edition). Tom Doherty Associates.
Boller, S., & Kapp, K. (2017). Play to learn: Everything you need to know about designing effective learning games. Association for Talent Development.
Cawthon, S. (2014). Five nights at Freddy’s [PC Game]. Salado, TX: Author.
Chilla’s Art. (2022). The closing shift | 閉店事件 [PC Game]. Japan: Author.
Gee, J. (2013, November 13). Jim Gee: Principles on gaming. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aQAgAj
Ghost Town Games Ltd. (2016). Overcooked [PC Game]. Cambridge, UK: Team17.
Scirra Ltd. (2023, March 9). Construct 3 Online Manual & Documentation. https://www.construct.net/make-games/manuals/construct-3
Szadi art. (2023, March 27). Sidescroll worlds village pack1. itch.io. https://szadiart.itch.io/sidescroll-worlds-village-pack1
Toge Productions. (2020). Coffee talk [PC Game]. Karawaci, Indonesia: Toge Productions.