It’s a late night shift and things are quiet. That nosy journalist who always says she’s working on a book took her espresso and sat down in the corner. A dapper looking elf wanders in with his literal succubus of a girlfriend. It’s gonna be a slow night in Coffee Talk, but that’s fine.
Coffee Talk is a narrative game by Toge Productions that focuses on quiet conversations and good company. As the owner of a small cafe, your job is to serve drinks and listen to stories. The project isn’t complete yet, but a free demo shows a cozy and relaxing game with a lot of promise.
They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Coffee Talk owes a lot to 2016’s VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action: both focus heavily on dialog and punctuate the conversations with short drink crafting segments. In VA-11 Hall-A, that meant mixing together a handful of futuristic chemicals to make alcoholic beverages. In Coffee Talk, the process is less involved—you pick a base of coffee or milk and add a few ingredients. I used to work as a barista and felt mostly at home, although I somehow managed to mess up a green tea latte. Often you’re required to make specific orders, but there are instances where you get to experiment and surprise guests. These moments capture the artistry and creativity inherent to barista work in a way that I really appreciated.
Of course, the dialog is the real draw. Coffee Talk is set in an alternate future where elves and orcs live side by side with humans. Customers range from intrepid journalists to star-crossed fantasy-race lovers. The conversations move at a natural pace and have just enough witticisms to keep things engaging. Some of the lines are clunky, but the situations are relatable. Tough deadlines, disapproving parents. We’ve all dealt with that, and we’ve all really needed a goddamn cup of coffee.
I like the structure of bartending games, particularly those that stress conversation with customers. Repetition is a powerful rhetorical device for video games, and getting to learn the steps that go into making someone’s favorite drink helps that character feel real. You chat, you mix, you chat some more. You learn about characters and take in their verbal tics and cadences. There are constants, like the rain on the windows, the light whirring of the coffee grinding, that one girl who always shows up right when the shop opens. Coffee Talk grounds you in a place and makes you feel comfortable. You’re just working a shift and shooting the shit. It’s not glamorous, but it feels right.
Coffee Talk’s short demo makes a strong impression. I like the idea of a low stakes story about day to day lives. In the last few weeks playing other games, I’ve been betrayed by a gang leader, cryogenically frozen in an underground vault, and raised a child in the zombie apocalypse. It’s nice to play something mellow and let other people take the spotlight for a while.