Venba: A video game about a South Indian immigrant’s story one recipe at a time

When Abhi, the creator of Venba, started telling the story of the upcoming Nintendo Switch title, it was clear that there was much more to this cooking game that explores South Indian cuisine. It is a story that revolves around the Tamilian Venba who left India and built a life in Canada, the sacrifices she made to raise a son with her husband Paavalan in a foreign country with few resources, and the family despite setbacks at loved each other. Venba’s story is told over several years as she recovers her mother’s recipe book and teaches her young son how to cook.

“Cooking becomes very essential because you try to say everything that is not said through food,” Abhi, 28, told indianexpress. com in a video call from Canada. “I thought it would be interesting to explore what if we made a cooking game with South Indian dishes and a story about a Tamil Indian family living in Canada,” he says.

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The indie game is currently in development for Nintendo Switch and PC and is scheduled to launch in Spring 2023.

For many years, immigrants from the South Asian diaspora have been stereotyped or underrepresented in popular culture, especially in films and TV shows. Venba seeks to cast a new light on the experiences of many Asian immigrants in Canada and the US.

The character of Venba is central to the story. (Image credit: Visai Studios)

Channeling the personal

Although there have been popular cooking games like Cooking Mama, until now no one has tried to communicate what South Indian food and local culture is about through a video game on a world map. Created by Toronto-based developer Visai Studios, the inspiration for Venba comes from Abhi’s personal space and meeting local Tamilian families in Canada while growing up alongside film and music references.

Abhi, born in Chennai and immigrated to Canada with his parents at the age of 12, says he experienced a cultural divide between his generation and his parents during his childhood. “In many Tamil households, I noticed that the children would forget the language and they spoke English at home. So for me, that kind of disparity in that relationship that I wanted to talk about is at play.

The premise for the game is that when Venba emigrated to Canada, she brought her mother’s recipe book which was damaged during the journey. Every time you cook a dish, you see the recipe, but you only see part of it. The rest has been torn apart. As a player you have to use clues from the recipe to put things together and prepare dishes in a certain way. “For me, cooking is more of a puzzle and I’ve tried to incorporate the same into the game,” says Abhi.

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Abhi says he has spent a lot of time researching the food and recipes, even though he cooks local Tamil cuisine at home. “As I researched this game, I realized how much depth and knowledge there is in our kitchen and how much history is associated with it,” he says, adding that many people will come across these recipes for the first time, so it was really important to get it right. to do.

Venba 776 Venba is different from popular cooking games. (Image credit: Visai Studios)

A glimpse into Venba’s life

The game often features stories that depend on the environment of the house, and as a result, players get a glimpse into Venba’s life, be it from the calendar hanging on the wall, which is a Tamil thing to have, or a room full of books since Paavalan is a writer. “I didn’t want to show stereotyped items as portrayed in movies. I just looked at what my house was like or my friend’s house looked like.”

The story is told from Venba’s perspective, with the most basic plot. Venba was a math teacher before emigrating to Canada. But when she moved to Canada, she felt very guilty for leaving India behind. She was unable to get a full-time job as a teacher and had to work as a part-time teacher instead. After giving birth to a son, she hated moving to Canada and living a new life far from India. “She had to go to Canada, not because she wanted to, but because there were certain circumstances in her life,” the protagonist describes [Venba] and her struggles to adjust to a new country.

Much of the media attention has focused on the younger Asian American population. But Abhi feels that the struggles of his parents’ generation were not portrayed properly or were sometimes completely sidelined. “The game sheds light on what their struggles might be and what they might be thinking,” he says. “She [Venba] is like an amalgamation of many of the mothers we see in our own families here,” he adds.

“Venba is all about discovering your roots, understanding why and where we come from,” says Abhi when asked about the game’s biggest takeaway.

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Venba, Venba Nintendo Switch, Venda Cooking Game, Venba Game PC, Venba Game Release Date, Venba Game South Indian Food Venba’s story follows her and her family. (Image credit: Visai Studios)

Investigate properly

Abhi and his team spoke with professional and home cooks and researched the history of the recipes to understand why they are cooked in a certain way and to make sure which dishes are suitable for good gameplay. “I also had to research what makes sense to cook in Canada because [Venba] came here in the 1980s. As each decade goes by it gets easier and easier to get these ingredients, but back in the 1980s it was probably much harder to get something like Biryani. It could have been much more difficult then than it is now,” he explains. “Our recipes are very complicated… they have many steps and ingredients. I also thought it was a really fun way to tell the story,” he says.

Abhi feels that as a Tamil he has a responsibility to represent the people, culture, music and food in the game in the most authentic way, serving as a truthful voice through which India can tell its diverse and compelling stories.

“When you make something into gameplay, it’s not like the cinema because we can’t capture it exactly as it is. Since a game is interactive, you should also take into account whether the players find it engaging and fun. So it’s a balance for me, without sacrificing accuracy,” he says.

You never feel like you’re playing a video game, instead you feel like you’re watching real people’s lives unfold before your eyes. Venba gives the player a glimpse into the life of a local Tamil Indian family in Canada through a love of cooking. Very reminiscent of how a Tamilian family navigates a day, it creates a visual link between Venba’s aspirations and her reality.

Venba, Venba Nintendo Switch, Venda Cooking Game, Venba Game PC, Venba Game Release Date, Venba Game South Indian Food Players in the US and Japan are much more open to indie games, says Abhi. (Image credit: Visai Studios)

A dash of Ilaiyaraaja, a pinch of AR Rahman

From the music to the appearance of Venba’s house, nothing seems strictly forced and inauthentic. “The music in the game is set so that every time Venba starts cooking, she turns on the radio. Cooking at home was very similar to me… There’s always a TV or the radio or something in the background,” says Abhi.

Abhi relied on traditional Tamil music that combined metaphors to describe the emotions of Venba and her family. He and the team composed the background music that reminds us of every era since the game begins in the 1980s and goes all the way back to the 2000s. So in the 1980s, the songs played on the radio reminded players of Ilaiyaraaja songs and by the 90’s the music of tunes changed and the songs sounded like AR Rahman music played on the radio. “We not only showed Tamil music and culture, but also how it has changed over the years,” says Abhi.

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For Abhi, Venba is essentially a global game that can be played by players of any age. It is a casual game that can be completed in just two hours.

“Venba is all about discovering your roots, understanding why and where we come from,” Abhi says when asked about the game’s biggest takeaway.

Venba, Venba Nintendo Switch, Venda Cooking Game, Venba Game PC, Venba Game Release Date, Venba Game South Indian Food Visai Studios is a Toronto-based game studio. Abhi (center) next to his team. (Image credit: Visai Studios)

Ready for the world

Before Venba, Abhi and his team were working on an action platform game, but abandoned the game after working on it for six months. Instead, they turned their attention to Venba and started working on the game.

Venba was first announced over a year ago at the WholeGames festival, and earlier this year, in June, the game’s first look was unveiled at the Tribeca Games Showcase. It was initially a PC game, but the big moment came when Venba was part of Nintendo’s Indie Showcase World event in November.

“We are not the ones who contacted Nintendo, but they contacted us very early on when they saw the first trailer for the game, and they wanted to help us bring it to their platforms,” says a delighted Abhi , adding that Nintendo insists on games that are fresh, unique and interesting. for Venba, Raji: an ancient epic appeared on Nintendo Switch, a testament to how lately games with Indian characters and stories are going global.

Abhi agrees that local Indian game developers are generally still unconvinced to tell their deep-rooted stories to a global audience and that works against them. “I haven’t seen too much change here. There is a lot of resistance to saying the game comes from an Indian culture or context,” he says. But he hopes things will change in the future. “I feel that game developers in India and Pakistan should focus on making small stories from their own homes. I think the world is ready for that.”

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