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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2020 2 months ago

Ryan Feldman helps develop popular cooking game

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“Family Style: Co-op Kitchen” started as a simple gaming project during West Orange High alum Ryan Feldman’s senior year at Cornell. Then, it turned into an international hit.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

In the world of mobile gaming, there are no certainties.

Developing a game is a long, difficult process, and drawing attention to it is tough — there are more than 900,000 games on the iOS App Store alone. 

Yet, somehow, 2015 West Orange High School alum Ryan Feldman was able to help crack the code. 

His game, “Family Style: Co-op Kitchen” — which began as a project during his Advanced Computer Game Development class at Cornell University in 2019 — quickly became an international hit by the end of the year.

“I expected 50 or less people to play,” Feldman said. “I didn’t expect this at all — it’s crazy. We have about two million downloads.”
 

COOKING UP CHAOS

The game itself involves two to eight people — although Feldman said it’s more fun with three or more — sitting in a circle and requires players to act as a team to put dishes together for hungry customers.

For instance, if you have a recipe for nachos and cheese, you may only have nachos but no cheese. From there, it’s getting the needed ingredients from other teammates, who swipe the ingredient from their phone to yours.

“That starts very slowly with everyone working together, and then it gets to this chaos mode where everyone needs things at the same time, and everyone has too many things,” Feldman said. “It’s very hard to communicate, especially if you are playing with seven to eight people.”

The Chef Party team. (Courtesy photo)

The game’s development kicked off early during the spring semester last year, when Feldman — along with classmates Gabriel Lane, Jacob Gleberman, Jeremy Storey, Rena Ryumae, Sameer Khoja and Ziyad Durón — sat down to begin brainstorming what their game should be. 

Each had gone through an intro class, so they had some familiarity with what they were doing. For inspiration, the group — which named itself Chef Party — looked to co-op games such as Overcooked and Spaceteam.

“The original idea for the game came from, ‘OK, we know this is going to be a mobile game, what can you do on mobile that you can’t do on an Xbox or a PC?’” Feldman said. “We found the biggest thing we can think of, which is in mobile you can have multiple people and simulate that they are physically around something.”

After months of work — and bribing other students with pizza in the school’s engineering hall for feedback — the group finally was able to unveil its creation at the annual Game Design Initiative at Cornell Showcase.

Set up at the front door, Chef Party team members were decked out in their chef aprons and hats while they tried to corral people to try the game. It was stressful, and things just didn’t seem to be working out, Feldman said.

“Our game was breaking the entire time, so I was convinced we were not going to win, because it was very unstable, and we could only have a couple of groups play at once,” Feldman said. “So at the end of that, it was just super relieving.”

It was worth it. The game won the top prize in both the judges and audience categories.
 

IT’S IN THE GAME

After graduating, Feldman and his group have kept in contact while keeping the game running, but what they didn’t realize was that they were sitting on a proverbial goldmine.

Months later, on Nov. 14, Family Style had jumped up to No. 6 in the family game category in the Apple store. A little over a week later, Apple featured the app in its store.

“We hit 90 in the App Store of all games, and then we were featured,” Feldman said. “So if you were to open the App Store and open games, the first thing you would see is Family Style, which is the coolest thing to us, because then you would swipe right and see things like Minecraft.”

From there, it exploded. The app was seeing 10,000 downloads every day, which forced Feldman to constantly work on the game to ensure stability.

A screenshot of the game. (Courtesy photo)

The boom continued in January, when the game went viral on social media in Thailand. One review on Facebook alone by a Thai user had garnered tens of thousands of shares.

“We woke up to hundreds of thousands of downloads from Thailand, which was terrifying and awesome, because again, our game could not handle that,” Feldman said. “That was super hectic, super stressful and exciting. I way redid how it’s done, so basically, any number of people can play now.”

Feldman, who now works as a software engineer at a large tech company in Seattle, still keeps up with the game, making adjustments whenever necessary. But with a full-time job now, it can be difficult to give the game his full attention.

Family Style is also probably going to be his last game for the foreseeable future — although he is leaving the door open for another opportunity at some point, he said.

“I would definitely be interested in making another game, and I could definitely see myself doing that, but this has definitely taken a toll,” Feldman said, laughing. “For a bit, I’ll let this ride out and decide how much I want to keep working on this and take a little bit of a break before diving into another one.”

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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