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Midwest meets Malaysia in Rapid City-inspired video game

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 1:47 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - South Dakota is no stranger to being on camera. It has been the setting for classic films and contemporary Oscar-winners, like “How the West Was Won” and “Nomadland”.

Now, Rapid City will soon be depicted in its own video game with a strange background and even stranger premise.

“Midwest 90: Rapid City” is an upcoming PC game in development by Hidden Chest Studio, a small indie game studio almost 9,000 miles away in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Players are given their own diner right across from Interstate 90 - hence the title “Midwest 90″ - where Rushmore Mall’s Red Lobster restaurant would be, but set in 2034 during an alternate timeline where America experienced a second Great Depression.

The game is a restaurant management game played from an isometric view - think “The Sims” or “Zoo Tycoon”.

During the day, you and your staff serve patrons a smörgåsbord of Midwestern cuisine, locally sourced from a run-down meat market based on Tuscany Square. Players can customize their restaurant, menu and equipment of their staff, but whether the meat is FDA-certified is a bit of a gray area, according to Kesh Ganesparan, the studio’s game director.

This gameplay screenshot shows a herd of "zoids" bursting through the walls of the player's...
This gameplay screenshot shows a herd of "zoids" bursting through the walls of the player's restaurant and attacking staff. One of the unique features of "Midwest 90" is the monster raids, where players must protect patrons from rampaging mutants while also serving them meat carved from the beasties.(Hidden Chest Studio)

Here’s the twist: once the sun sets, mutated Black Hills wildlife approach the roadside sanctuary under the cover of night, and they’re not picky about what - or who - they eat.

Players must arm their staff and equip them with protective armor to prevent monsters from dining on them in return. Ill-trained waiters and cooks might simply abandon the restaurant based on an in-game “reliability” stat. Tables can also be placed in specific formations to prevent any beasties from running amuck.

The game takes players on a culinary journey to investigate where the freaky fauna is coming from, why they’re so drawn to Rapid City, and, most importantly, how to cook them.

Veronica is one of many characters you'll serve while operating your restaurant. If you're...
Veronica is one of many characters you'll serve while operating your restaurant. If you're kind, she might pass along tips about hidden recipes and other tidbits about Rapid City.(Hidden Chest Studio)

Along the way, a cast of characters from South Dakota and across the United States will provide restaurant owners with advice and recipes.

If you’re from South Dakota, you’ll likely recognize references to West River landmarks and sights while talking with others: Mount Rushmore, The Hotel Alex Johnson, the Sanford Underground Research Facility and various Lakota sites.

“Some people might come to Rapid City - might pay a visit to the restaurant - and they might talk about the Alex Johnson Hotel, how they’re staying at the hotel, and how certain monsters have been found in Canyon Lake,” Ganesparan says.

The Food

A zoid, prawnzilla, three pit pugs and another monster get ready to launch their attack in this...
A zoid, prawnzilla, three pit pugs and another monster get ready to launch their attack in this concept art for "Midwest 90: Rapid", a PC game set for release in October. Players will have to defend their diner while serve abominable, Midwest-inspired dishes to their customers.(Hidden Chest Studio)

Hidden Chest based much of the Midwest 90′s menu on real South Dakota dishes. Chislic, hotdish and a sample platter of deer-based foods can be made in-game, albeit made out of mutated variants of Black Hills wildlife. “Pit pugs” and “prawnzilla” serve as abominable stand-ins for prairie dogs and crawdads, respectively.

“I understand hotdish is a common dish in the Midwest, so we’re trying to create another dish that is quite similar to hotdish, which is a white, square casserole dish ... but you’ve probably got some claws sticking out of it.”

“Zoid”-based foods will also be a recurring menu item. Zoids - mutant deer - can be butchered and the meat used to make zoid burgers, steaks and deep-fried eyeballs.

Midwest Meets Malaysia

Betty's Midwest Kitchen, a Midwest-inspired diner in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, served as the...
Betty's Midwest Kitchen, a Midwest-inspired diner in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, served as the inspiration for "Midwest 90: Rapid City". The diner serves a variety of American meals, like classic meatloaf and cheeseburgers.(Kesh Ganesparan)

Just like many American cities have an Italian or Chinese restaurant, Malaysia is home to its own Midwestern Restaurant: Betty’s Midwest Kitchen.

Ganesparan says he got the idea for Midwest 90 during an imaginative lunch session at the diner, where he started imagining monsters bursting through the walls while mid-bite of his burger.

“What if monsters started attacking the restaurant?” he wondered.

From there, he began developing the game under his first start-up company, Templer Entertainment, in 2019. Templer rebranded to Hidden Chest Studio later in the development cycle.

Ganesparan, a gamer himself, says games like Fallout, a post-apocalyptic role-playing game, are influences in Midwest 90, while the neon light aesthetics and mystery themes borrow from the critically-acclaimed Netflix series “Stranger Things”.

So, Why Rapid City?

A mystery bigger than the monster crisis in the game is what led a Malaysian video game studio chose Rapid City as the stage for their “Stranger Things”-esque story.

“So, I started doing a lot of research into the Midwest and, oh boy ... and it really opened up my eyes in terms of a lot of things about America, its history. Really fascinating stuff, especially South Dakota,” the game director said. “From the alien landscapes of the Badlands [to] the iconic Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills; the Homestead Gold Mine; even the local Lakota heritage ... there’s a handful of these varied, but interesting elements, but there’s so much for me to draw inspiration from, especially once I started reading into it. And, at the center of all of this is Rapid City.”

Ganesparan adds that it was notably easier to familiarize himself and his team with the City of Presidents and its culture as opposed to a much larger metropolis, like New York City.

Despite being created on the other side of the planet, in a weird way, South Dakotans could feel right at home in this novel take on Midwestern cuisine.

“If circumstances were better, I would have surely revisited Rapid City to learn more about Rapid City and its people just to give the game a better sense of place.”

If you want a taste of the game, Hidden Chest Studio says a demo of “Midwest 90: Rapid City” will be released in October.

If you’d like to follow the development of “Midwest 90: Rapid City”, their Facebook page provides occasional updates.

Ganesparan also encourages readers to join the “Midwest 90″ Discord server for potential access to betas and demos of the game.

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