A letter about Coffee Talk, a game and an unconscious effort to learn

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It was a Friday evening. I was talking to a friend … no, consulting would be the proper word here. I made a mistake, and as usual, it was a mistake that’s caused by the words I chose. It was a problem of communication. Old news.

It took some times, but after things calmed down a bit, we continued to talk. It feels more like talking to a psychologist than chatting to a friend (which makes me feel endlessly indebted to this person).

“It’s stupid you know,” I told my friend, “a person with such horrible skills in making deeper connections with other person, is making a game about helping other people only with words and drinks.”

“I think the game is really telling us about who you are, you need help,” said my friend, “besides, you’re not the barista? That’s the players.

“You are the customers, the people that visited the coffee shop because they need help,” she continued.

“Heh, I wish I am the barista.”

“You can be one when you can handle yourself first, can’t save other people if you can’t even save yourself.”

“I guess you’re right, and how come I never realized this after working on the game for two years.”

The Game

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Some of you might be wondering, what game did I work on. I talked so much about it online, so I will try to explain it as briefly as possible.

Coffee Talk is a game by Toge Productions. It’s a barista and heart-to-heart talking simulator about listening to modern fantasy people’s problems, and serve them a warm drink or two to help them.

It’s a game I pitched during one of our many game jams, and somehow it got the approval to be made into a full game by the studio.

An idea that was born out of drinking a cup of warm green tea latte alone in my room during a cold rainy night, suddenly become a game with six people working on it.

The Characters, the customers that seek help in the warm of a coffee shop

One of the most crucial part of Coffee Talk is the characters. The game is basically a visual novel, and the characters for a game in this genre wield a great responsibility in making the game resonates to people or not.

So I started making up the characters in the form of words, and our lead artist made those ideas of fictional people become more tangible. A dozen of fictional people that were just thoughts and words, suddenly become something you can see. Become an entity with expressions of their own.

The first and second step of making these characters are done. What next? How can I make these fictional pixel people become something other people can empathize to?

At first, it was an unconscious act. I started writing three characters for the first scene: Freya, Baileys, and Lua. Then I asked several friends to give the game a try. After that, I kept on hearing the same reactions:

  • “Freya is you, right?”
  • “Wait, ain’t the event based on your experience?”
  • “Are you trying to be the barista? Because you sounded more like the customers than the barista.”

These three comments were mentioned a couple of times. Some of them are something I planned all along, but some others? I didn’t even realize until people talked to me about it.

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Without even realizing, I started putting myself in the game. Something that might feel a bit narcissistic, and yet also something I felt so honest about.

Thankfully, human is a very complex creatures. Calling ourselves a three dimensional characters would be an understatement. But fictional characters, most of the time they would only be considered as bad if they are one dimensional. Adding a few dimensions to these characters would be enough, and I have enough “dimensions” to share. Thus, it becomes clearer to me how I should proceed with writing all of these characters.

Of course, if all of the characters were based on myself, they would sound too monotonous. Everyone will feel like the same person. That’s why I ended up asking the help of the other Toge Productions team members.

After writing the events and how the stories roll out in the game, I chose some of my colleagues at Toge to take the role of the characters of the game.

For example, one of the character in the game is someone who always look happy outside, but on the inside she hides a lot of sadness and problems. I chose one of our programmer who fits those characteristics the closest among other my colleagues, and we reenact a scene in the game at the office.

The role play sessions were recorded, and from there I rewrite the dialogues based on how the role players talked during the scenes reenactment. Hopefully, when you play the game, you can feel like you’re talking to different people instead of a dozen versions of the same person that keeps on visiting your fictional coffee shop.

The problems and the solutions

Now, let’s return to the part where I feel bad about being bad at making personal interaction with other human beings.

Without even realizing, I’ve been writing something that are too personals. Problems about writer’s block, dealing with romantic partner, anger management, burnout, anxiety, parent and child relationship, even about something as weird as using dating app.

You know what sucks even more? Depending on how you play, the characters may or may not be successful with handling their problems. But the point is, I wrote about how they should face their problems, even though I haven’t even manage to solve my own problems.

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Me, a person with so many things to fix within, is writing solutions to problems that other people, including myself, face in their daily life!

Is the game simply a dream I’ve been wanting to make and finally able to? Or is it an effort from within me, to help myself to figure out about my life?

In the end, even after finishing the game, there are still a lot of things I need to fix personally. But little by little, Coffee Talk helped me in that process. And for that, I’m forever thankful for everyone who let me made this dream into reality, and also for everyone who believed in it since the beginning of the development, the first time we announced it, to this point where the game is very close to be out for everyone to play.

Coffee Talk helped me to learn to be a better person, a slow process that’s still happening even my work with the game is done. And I hope it can affect you too, one way or another.

Special thanks to Toge Productions:

  • Kris Antoni: For giving me the chance to work on this game
  • Hendry Roesly: For listening and for drawing the amazing cutscenes
  • Dio Mahesa: For putting up with my boyhood mentality and made the characters become realer than how I thought they would be
  • Fredrik Lauwrensius: For the sleepless nights of coding and making this story become how it is now
  • Andrew Jeremy: For the chill tunes and patience of facing me
  • Jovan Anggara: For doing what you’re doing despite me not knowing and understanding you enough
  • Sarah Johana: For listening, talking, and somehow the first person to ever draw any of the characters I wrote (during the game jam)
  • Frederick Tirta, Lasheli Dwitri, Jonathan Manuel Gunawan, Mada Mahatma, Irene Setiadarma, Panji Alam, and Alvin William for all the helps, feedbacks, and being part of the amazing Toge crew
  • Tofu, Oggy, Baileys, Lua, TJ, Boris, Vanya, Cici, and Koko for being cats that don’t turn into human beings
  • For myself: Because face it, you won’t finish the game if you don’t try to grow up. It’s still a long way to go, but thank you, me

Written by

A boy trying to find himself and the others through words.

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