Anime and bubble tea inspired this food physics sim

You know what it’s like when you’re hungry. Your stomach rumbles, your mind slips, and before you know it, you’re dreaming of double-decker sandwiches and endless ice-cream sundaes.  

Nour is an upcoming game from indie dev Tj Hughes about these fantasies. An interactive art game with no goals or objectives, Nour lets you play with animated food presented in beautiful, bubbly hues. Everything we’ve seen so far bursts with color: a shower of rainbow sprinkles on a bowl of ice cream; ramen noodles sloshing through broth; exploding kernels of popcorn; slices of toast springing across the screen.

I watch a lot of anime and Japanese cartoons, and they tend to portray food really well. You see it and you immediately get hungry.

Tj Hughes

The idea for Nour started two years ago when Tj tried bubble tea for the first time. "It was just this amazing drink," he says. "I loved the colors and the flavor of it, so I made a 3D model of a cup of bubble tea, wanting to nail the feeling of this food in 3D form. I did that and the response was really interesting, like, 'Wow, I crave bubble tea now, this really makes me hungry,' and I found that so interesting. I wanted to expand upon that, so next I modeled a bowl of ramen and it was the same response, like, 'Yo, that looks so good, now I crave ramen.' I wanted to explore that notion: how can I make someone feel hungry through colors and visuals? That’s kind of what the game aspires to do."

Nour looks like the ultimate game for foodies. Anyone who’s glued themselves to YouTube videos of skillet cookies baking on the hob and drooled over hi-res Instagram pictures of smashed avocado on thick sourdough bread will find something to love here. Playing on the simple pleasures of looking at beautiful food, Nour’s saturated color palette and use of poppy electronic music turn it into a fairground ride for the senses.

"I wanted to capture the aesthetics of food to the point where you get hungry, but I also wanted it to be absurd," Tj explains, "so it’s like my dream food land. Another part of it is that I watch a lot of anime and Japanese cartoons, and they tend to portray food really well. You see it and you immediately get hungry. Even though it’s cartoon food, it looks so good and so appealing. It just makes you salivate. I wanted to emulate that kind of thing."

Since announcing Nour, Tj, who also makes games under the name Terrifying Jellyfish, has gotten some buzz on Twitter. It’s easy to see why: with his upbeat presence, penchant for bubblegum pastels and unabashed love for food, he’s like a cartoon come to life. In September he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game and was astounded at its success, which passed his initial goal of $25,000 to make more than $29,000. 

"It was humbling to see so many people support this idea because it’s always a risk working on experimental indie games," he says. "You never know how much interest there is or if you’ll go broke working on this game because it’s so niche and would appeal to only certain kinds of people. But thankfully through Twitter and Tumblr, I was able to find that audience. Then they would share it with folks they knew, so it was just an amazing snowball effect of finding the right people who would like this weird art food game."

...when games don’t have any clear objectives, or any wrong way to play them, people approach it much more willingly.

Tj Hughes

Tj grew up playing PC games and making technical art, but music is also a huge part of his life. While you’ll be able to play Nour with a keyboard or regular controller, Tj has also made it compatible with the Midi Fighter: a musical grid of buttons that light up in different colors when you press them. Tj chose to do this after watching videos of electronic artist Shawn Wasabi, and becoming fascinated by the look and feel of the Midi.

"When I playtested the game with a Midi Fighter, I realized this is how the game is meant to be played," Tj says. "At first I was controlling it with a keyboard and that was great, but when I used a Midi controller it added an element of mystery and wonder, and another layer of fun. They’re arcade buttons and already so fun to press on their own, and I wanted to add to that. Pressing a button and seeing an immediate reaction on the screen, it just makes the whole experience a satisfying one. It really challenges what you know about games." 

Another challenge to convention is Tj’s decision to shrug off the idea of having set goals for the player to achieve. "I find a lot of the time when demoing games, [having something to beat] can alienate people who aren’t necessarily gamers and who haven’t grown up with games," he explains. "And when games don’t have any clear objectives, or any wrong way to play them, people approach it much more willingly. They’re less afraid to interact with the game for fear of doing something wrong."

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Tj is completely self-taught. Through online tutorials and YouTube videos, Tj learnt the basics of game development and how to make 3D art at a young age. He now hopes Nour will be a catalyst for others to do the same. "For people interested in game design, I’m hoping I can inspire them to make games and 3D art. I want them to feel like they can really do it. I often share my practices online and sometimes I stream elements of the game, to let people know they can create."

Nour may have a simple premise, but it comes with a simple purpose: to inspire instant pleasure and peace of mind. From its bright palette to the therapeutic sensation that comes with creating delicious food, Nour is a perfect combination of culinary art and gaming.

"I want it to be an experience that makes people happy," Tj says. "Something that’s calming and really gratifying. A lot of games can make you frustrated—this game will be what you turn to when you want to kick back and have a fun time. Or to be on at a party or music space, where folks can come by and play with it real quick, to discover something neat through it. No matter who you are, there is something you can take from the game."

Nour will be released in 2018. Keep up with Tj on his blog Terrifying Jellyfish and on Twitter, where he shares information and news about Nour.