Cooking in VR: Can you learn anything from it?
The VR cooking simulation Lost Recipes is supposed to awaken the joy of cooking. As a cooking muffle, I dared to try it out myself.
I was so hyped when I first heard about Lost Recipes: I love stress-free VR games with a focus on hand interactions, and the VR studio responsible, Schell Games (I Expect You To Die 1 & 2, Until You Fall), is known for high quality.
Lost Recipes, I wrote before my review, is a VR cooking game unlike any other. Here, you'll visit three different eras and cultures, where you'll prepare dishes based on centuries-old recipes using the ingredients, utensils, and techniques of the time. It's meant to be fun and educational - which is why the studio has brought in experts to ensure a historically accurate cooking experience.
Another special feature of the VR game is that cooking is about precision rather than speed. The more precisely you follow the recipes, the better your cooking will be rated. This makes cooking feel structured and relaxing, unlike other genre representatives like Cook-Out.
Chatty ghost cooks
Lost Recipes came out last week, and I fired up my Meta Quest 2 that same day to try out the VR game. Over the next few days, I baked pita flatbread and prepared souvlaki meat skewers in pre-Christian Athens, boiled an oolong tea and steamed fish in Song Dynasty China, and whipped up traditional Mayan cuisine dishes like xec and mukbil pollo on the Yucatán Peninsula.
This was a unique VR experience for me, but it wasn't as entertaining or relaxing as I expected. There are several reasons for that.
For one thing, digital and physical cooking are almost identical. Here, as there, you do one thing above all: translate instructions into actions. Those who like to do this in real life will probably also enjoy it in VR. Those who don't like cooking won't become cooking fans in VR either.
To make matters worse, the game sometimes uses historical names of ingredients and utensils without repeating their meaning. What is a masa again, what is a comal? The fact that the assisting ghost chefs chatter incessantly and spout historical knowledge doesn't make things any easier.
Cooking is a VR benchmark
I was also irritated by how much the cooking simulation lags behind the physical cooking experience. No question: The studio put a lot of love into the design of the interactions and abstracted from complexity where necessary.
You can pick individual grapes from a bowl and cut meat into different sized pieces or slices. The VR implementation is well done. But virtual cooking is still far from feeling "right".
That's perhaps the biggest takeaway from Lost Recipes: how immensely complex the processes involved in cooking actually are, and how difficult it is to translate them into VR. From the finest hand interactions to the physics of roasting, baking, steaming, and the appearance of food and liquids in a variety of states. Also, the visual pleasure of cooking can only be satisfied to a limited extent with the technical means of Meta Quest 2.
That also applies to the haptics. How can you simulate shaping a dough into a ball with VR controllers? Only inadequately. Virtual reality is only ever an approximation of a physical experience, and that is particularly noticeable in virtual cooking.
A little more play, please!
Lost Recipes certainly didn't chase away the cooking muffler in me, but I definitely learned a few things about cooking. However, you also have to be aware that the VR experience cannot be transferred one-to-one into everyday life.
On the one hand, this is due to the fact that in the 21st century you have other tools and cooking utensils and have to switch to modern technology. On the other hand, many of the ingredients no longer exist. On its website, the studio offers a PDF document of all the recipes to try out - with modern equivalents for ingredients that are not or only with difficulty tangible.
Lost Recipes is more of a learning experience than a game, but a little more play wouldn't have hurt. It's not much of a challenge to get five stars in all categories of cooking, and once you've made all the dishes - and that takes maybe two hours - you've seen it all. Hopefully, Schell Games will deliver more reasons to return to the historic kitchens in the future.
Because the potential of cooking simulations is huge, whether they come close to the real cooking experience visually, mechanically, or haptically. Virtual Reality is ideal for learning patterns of action, and those who learn to prepare dishes through play thanks to gamified cooking will easily be able to transfer this knowledge to the physical kitchen.
You can buy Lost Recipes in the Oculus Store for Meta Quest 1 & 2. The price is about 15 US-Dollar.