I spent a lot of yesterday and this morning thinking about how to have disappearing foodstuffs, and as I sit down to write this, I actually came up with how to do it! This is what blogging is all about!
I was planning on having palette cycling for the conveyor belts (DMEnduro's idea, as mentioned in my first post) as well as for appliance steam and possibly for the sous-chefs' animations. So why not have poofs of smoke (palette cycled) as each food item disappears? This will certainly add an aura of mysticism to the proceedings, which is highly appropriate given that the Sphynx from Wonderboy in Monsterland is Chairman Kaga's analog in this game. (I was thinking - who is weird and has a kick-ass outfit?)
The other idea I had involves heavy compromises and lots of work, and might not solve the problem of excess VRAM updates. It involves keeping the code for animating player 1 untouched (the six tiles appropriate to the character's direction and animation frame are loaded into VRAM) , while for the other player, all possible tiles are loaded into VRAM. The latter case is how I had initially coded the animation, but with 6 tiles per player, 8 possible directions and 3 animation frames, for two players that added up to 288 spots in VRAM taken up. Oops. But I already have this code. This would limit the number of foods to 26.
The more I think of this other option, the less I like it. I want a fairly broad palette of foodstuffs so it'll be hard to make the same dish twice. Plus, as I mentioned, I like the smoke.