Even if the world’s going to end, the party must go on. In Small Talk, you wander around a shindig and chat with fellow revelers. Outside the windows, meteors streak across the sky. But rather than break down in an existential crisis, you instead engage in fleeting conversations, chit-chatting with people about their first loves, childhoods, and long-held secrets. It’s the debut from three-person studio Pale Room, and it’s planning on releasing for PC, Mac, and Linux in 2018.
Pale Room showed off Small Talk for the first time at Double Fine’s indie festival Day of the Devs this past weekend. I played through a few scenarios and watched others uncover different stories as well. It’s got a lovely crayon aesthetic, squirmy red and blue lines against a stark white background. Though you’re exploring a three-dimensional world, it looks like a flat cartoon. The childlike whimsy of characters’ designs match this aesthetic. One has bacon and eggs for a head, and when you chat with them, they reminisce about their eggy childhood, at home in a bird’s nest.
“We went with kind of a boiled-line look, similar to [Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist],” said Pale Room artist and game designer Gabrielle Genevieve in an interview with GamesBeat. “I love how it’s very animated, very alive. Having a 2D sprite game in a 3D world, you don’t want it to look too weird. Just something unique, something that gives it just a little bit more texture in the overall game world.”
You’re a silent protagonist, and though you can select dialogue options at times, you never volunteer that much information about yourself. Instead, it’s almost like you’re there to bear witness to these other characters’ stories. I got a melancholy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind vibe from the experience, diving into other people’s memories and seeing representative moments from their lives.
“I guess the inspiration is kind of wanting to share that connection with other people and show levels of empathy and themes of loneliness and overall connection with other people,” said Genevieve. “Just like that connection with yourself and you and other people, people whom you don’t know, essentially.”
Genevieve and programmer Chris Chappelear cite writer David Foster Wallace as one of Pale Room’s major influences, along with schools of philosophy such as stoicism, which involves ideas such as accepting life moment to moment and examining the natural order of the world. Many of the little vignettes also spring from Genevieve’s personal experiences, and they all have a contemplative and sometimes pensive feel to them.
“It’s very hard to talk about that stuff,” said Genevieve. “You want to be as light as you can. You don’t want to be too drab. It’s like, oh, hey, we have a really fun, cute, colorful look, but this is a very self-reflective game. There’s a bit of that sugar and salt together.”