Growing up in the 80s in Asia, family road trips were quite the adventure. We would pack everything but the kitchen sink into the car, with my sister and I making the backseats into our playroom for the next few hours while our parents would take turns driving. There would be music on the radio and I would lie on my sister’s lap while staring up into the skies, watching the telephone lines dance by.
The journey itself would always have a sense of anticipation, of something to come at our destination. Often, it would be a fun holiday or an exciting family visit, but sometimes, there would be trepidation too, knowing that we were driving into unpleasant situations, like my grandmother’s wake when I was just seven.
Wherever we went though, food would follow. Visiting relatives and friends meant home-cooked comfort foods at our destinations, while holidays meant new or different foods to explore. Even visits to the cemetery meant a picnic on my grandparents’ graves after we’d offered up the food to the dead. It is impossible to think of any road trip without food or relatives.
When I joined the Just Add Oil team to develop Road to Guangdong, I knew that it was a chance for me to bring these nostalgic memories into the game. We had decided early on that the game was going to be a buddy driving game, going around early 1990s Guangdong with narrative puzzles. My task from then was to create characters and stories that would bring this to life.
While I was working on the narrative structure, we tested the first driving simulations and I was delighted to find that the driving experience was zenful and reflective of those childhood drives. In the 80s and 90s, while highways were just being built, most of our trips would go through old roads, which were a lot harder on cars. If we were not careful, we would find ourselves by the side of dusty roads with an overheated engine, or a punctured tyre, or even with no petrol. All we could do then was wait for passers by to offer help, or for a tow car from the nearest garage to come by.
The graphics, though upbeat and modern, also inspired a sense of timelessness which guided the development of Sunny and her Guu Ma (aunt), two characters who come together in a tragic circumstance of Sunny’s parents’ deaths.
In the game, you play Sunny who inherits the family restaurant and needs to visit the extended family to gain their blessings for her to run it. And the only one who can guide her through the trip is her Guu Ma. Through the story puzzles, Sunny needs to make the most out of the visits to family whom she hasn’t connected with in a long time. Though there’s a sense of familiarity, there’s also a need to rekindle old connections.
And like my childhood trips, no matter what happens, food is involved. We know that cooking for someone is a way to show our love, but in the Chinese culture, coming together to eat means so much more. Showing up at the dinner table is saying sorry and thank you and proving your love and respect all at once.
So, if you’re looking for an adventure, a chance to explore an unfamiliar place and time that’s wrapped up in food, family and warm feelings, come join Sunny and her Guu Ma on their quest. You might just collect some recipes on the way too.
Road to Guangdong is out now on PS4.