It’s still a hot, smoky summer in the Pacific Northwest right now, but Toge Productions’Coffee Talk is a calm and cozy game set in the winter of a near-future Seattle. It’s a timely reminder that the heat isn’t going to last forever, and a great example of a game that knows how to set a mood.
It’s not just any coffee shop, either. Coffee Talk’s eponymous café is strictly open after sundown, and the game sets up a near-future where non-human fantasy races (elves, orcs, succubi, etc) have existed alongside humans for some time. The tone is very Shadowrun, but without the heavy cyberpunk influence. Instead, Coffee Talk relishes in the small, intimate moments of a café that only opens at night. Sure, there are megacorporations, but they’re basically our current megacorporations. It’s less a dystopia than a look a few steps forward of our modern society, for better and for worse.
Right now, the project is just a demo, and it’s free to download on Toge Productions’ itch.io page. It’s a cross between a straightforward visual novel and a restaurant management sim like Va-11 Hall-A, with a small puzzle section based around mixing drinks for customers between each dose of writing. It might take a second to figure out the right portions and mixtures, but it’s simple enough to feel very understandable after making your first few drinks.
It’s a simple structure, but the sort of one that lends itself to rich storytelling. The game’s few initial characters help flesh out the world, with mentions of the complex politics of interspecies relationships and the hardships of being a working writer in a new and changing metropolitan Seattle. There are hints of commentary there, not just in the fantastical elements but the more familiar ones. The coffeeshop is a place of rest for many folks in the city coming off of long workdays or just looking for a calm nighttime hangout, and the stories that they tell make up the bulk of the game.
Even in the short experience of the demo, the game creates an atmosphere of comfortable familiarity. The sound of rain outside the café contrasted with soft sounds of clinking utensils and sipping drinks helps set the tone as a place of refuge from a busy world outside.
Coffee Talk feels like the kind of game that you could think of as your own refuge space, and that sort of experience is just as valuable as any big budget mega-game that sells itself on maximum interactivity or realistic graphical fidelity. There should be a space for cozy in games, and it’s heartening to see projects like Coffee Talk exemplifying this design.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.