Nour is a surreal virtual toy that features soothing sherbet colors and tempting food. It’s raising funds on Kickstarter, and in the first five days, it’s already at the halfway point. When it’s released, it will be available for PC and Mac.
It has no story or combat; Nour is simply about interacting with glistening bowls of ramen and explosive kernels of popcorn. Its menu will include items such as sushi, donuts, and the flagship cup of bubble tea, which started it all. Developer Tj Hughes was inspired after visiting a local boba shop, and though he first approached it as simply a 3D art project, it evolved into a way to play with food.
“Every time I presented my bubble tea art to someone, they would remark about how it really made them crave bubble tea at the time, and I became fascinated with this idea,” said Hughes in an email to GamesBeat. “The idea that I could make someone crave a certain food simply by catching the visual aesthetics and colors and textures of a food.”
The name “Nour” is short for “nourishment.” Hughes says that he likes to think of the game as a way to feed your brain. When I played a demo at the Game Devs of Color Expo in New York, I did notice that it sparked an appetite for exploration. The food is presented to you calmly, in a Zen, minimalist environment that evokes curiosity about what exactly this thing is supposed to do.
Hughes says that he’s noticed a wide range of people trying out his game when he sets up demos. He thinks this is because there’s no “losing” or “doing it wrong,” as players are free to experience it however they want to.
“There’s no goals or objectives or ways to lose that might make a casual player become upset and quit playing,” said Hughes, “the game is really inviting to any type of interaction you want to have with it, and I really see the effects of that when demoing the game live at events.”
Aside from creating a peaceful space for people to play around and interact with objects, Hughes says that virtual toys like Nour can work for something called “stimming,” which is an activity or motion that can help folks on the autism spectrum.
“I’ve also learned that games like this can be used for ‘stimming,’ which is repetition of physical movements, sounds, or objects — like tapping your foot, playing with your pen, rocking your chair,” said Hughes. “The repetitive sensory stimulation can help calm one’s nerves, or satisfy the need for stimulation, which especially helps people on the autistic spectrum.”
Hughes is a self-taught designer, cobbling together a curriculum on game development using YouTube tutorials and forums. Right out of high school, he began working for a local game studio, Happy Badgers, and he was the technical artist on the game SmuggleCraft. At the same time, he independently released Feesh, an arcade game about surviving as a micro-organism. This year, he decided to start his own studio, Terrifying Jellyfish.
A big part of Nour’s appeal is the satisfying way the food responds to your actions. Players will be able to use their keyboards as well as the Midi Fighter 3D, which is a tool for DJs, to interact with the food. Hughes says that he’s designing Nour so that each press of a button will do something.
“When designing levels in Nour, I think about things in real life that feel really satisfying; pushing buttons, cutting paper, clicking the lid on a bottle of Snapple, popping bubble wrap,” said Hughes, “and I find ways to simulate similar kinds of stimuli with the use of button presses, visual feedback, and sounds. ”
The second part of the equation are the colors. Nour’s aesthetic features an array of pastels and rich deep hues. Hughes says that he developed a knack for color theory early on; his mother is a painter and he’s always had art in his life.
“I’ve always had a sense of color theory, so I sort of built my aesthetic around that,” said Hughes. “Nour as a project fits so perfectly into my aesthetics because of how colorful food is; I’ve found that using the right colors is really what makes people hungry when staring at the various foods in Nour. Which is why I became fascinated with this question: What are the exact colors that elicit hunger?
It is my hope that Nour can answer this question through play.”