Nearly Brilliant: A Small Talk At The Back Of Beyond

By Nathan Grayson on March 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am.

As opposed to 'Making Small Talk At The Back Of Beyond,' wherein you survive the end of the world only to realize you have *nothing in common* with your AI partner. It's super awkward.

Oh how I want more games with highly versatile freeform text elements. I don’t just want to be able to talk to the monsters. I long to ponder gut-wrenching philosophical quandaries with the everything. As is, though, the herd’s pretty thin outside of, you know, text adventures. Which makes sense, but there’s still a huge gap that not even surprisingly interesting James Bond advergames can fill. The short version? Façade, for all its potential for immense silliness, was super neat. The shorter version? Again! Again! So I’m pleased as punch when experiments like A Small Talk At The Back Of Beyond pop up – even when they could still use a fair deal of work.

A Small Talk is the product of sentient Interesting Thing Factory/occasional human Scriptwelder, whom you might recognize as the main brain behind the likes of 400 Years and pixelated fear machine Deep Sleep. It begins with your character awaking in a barely lit, unsettlingly claustrophobic room, the concerned chirps of a sentient AI immediately ringing in your ears. Apparently, nuclear war has all but wiped out Earth, and you’re one of only a few survivors, kept alive by a government-created shelter. I say “apparently,” however, because perhaps All Is Not As It Seems.

From the get-go, you’re able to do precisely two things: 1) Look around your cramped prison of necessity and 2) say whatever you want to the AI. So basically, the goal is to hunt for clues while fielding a series of increasingly inane suggestions from your computerized savior/captor. But why? To what end? I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say things really heat up once you reach the brief adventure’s conclusion. It’s a surprisingly emotional thing, and – while I saw the twist coming – I was quite pleasantly surprised by the reasoning behind it.

Unfortunately, A Small Talk still has a looooooooong way to go in the natural language department. On the upside, it’s still in beta, so you can suggest words and phrases that need adding. I desperately hope Scriptwelder plans to give this the long-term love it deserves, too, because I encountered far too many instances of potentially interesting pseudo-conversation halted by “I don’t understand” or “Can you try rephrasing that?” There’s big potential in this one’s atmosphere and dual-mechanic setup, so a thoroughly fine-tuned version would please me in ways most biologically natural and ooze-producing. Here’s hoping.

, , .

22 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. frightlever says:

    Will try this later.

    For some reason the combination of graphics and a text input reminded me more of Wizardry (the game) and those earlier RPGs that let you type when talking to an NPC instead of offering you a laundry list of options.

  2. JimboDeany says:

    Starship Titanic did a fairly good job of this about 15 years ago so I’m expecting to see big things here.

  3. RakeShark says:

    “Hello there, I need you to reset and calibrate my ‘Don’t Murder Humans” program. Please step over to that door. Thank you, now please push the button that says open. Great, wonderful, now because my ‘Don’t Murder Humans’ program currently needs restarting, you are going to need to step inside that room, it identifies what a Human is, so I don’t murder it. You’re doing well. Okay, it wasn’t going to be that easy, just stepping into a room won’t reset everything, because I can still kinda see you around the door frame. You’re going to have to close the door, it should be the crank with the word ‘Cycle’ written above it. That means it cycles my program that ensures I don’t murder humans. What? Calibrate? Cycle? They’re almost the same words, don’t worry. Now before the door closes, you need to go to the other side of that room and hit the big red button, that should reset everything, so everything will be dandy and we can solve puzzles and mysteries together. Okay, the door is closing, you’ve done marvelously! I couldn’t ask for a better companion to be stuck with! I hope to not be murdering you soon! Remember, red button! Or this is all for naught! See you soon!”

    *fwooosh* You have been sucked out an airlock into the void of space. Your second to last thought, the one before “Why is my mouth boiling?”, is you think you hear digital chortling.

    “He he he.”

  4. zain3000 says:

    Gave it a shot. Interesting to say the least. However, an AI worth its salt should have an answer ready for “what can change the nature of a man?”

    Just my opinion…

    • The Random One says:

      Standard response is, “I don’t know, that Tides of Numenera game hasn’t even been kickstarted yet!”

      (Alternatively, “Tell me more about the nature of men.”)

  5. Stevostin says:

    I tried ALL I COULD to take the pod. It would simply not let me do this. Also, I didn’t discover everything but really the word recognition is so weak it’s hardly playable.

    • Premium User Badge

      DrScuttles says:

      “I want to leave.” worked for me. But yeah, while an interesting idea and nice little scenario, about half of my inputs weren’t understood.

      • frightlever says:

        Half? HALF???? I’m barely getting one hit in twenty.

        EDIT – my screen at work is pretty dark. Turning the brightness up and suddenly everything falls into place. Sigh.

      • trinka00 says:

        this game is totally retarded. why is fun for people? typing in random combinations of words and phrases, zork was never like this,
        jesus christ, it’s almost 30 years later and this is the shit that people are making?
        you’re kidding me dude, why is this even posted as news?

      • trinka00 says:

        this is very worst kind of text game, there’s no sense of structure to tell if what you are saying is not understood by the program, or not usable in game. maybe that’s the point of the stupid thing, so this crappy journalist thinks it’s clever, but it’s really just annoying.
        i think i’m just not getting it, cuz the only answer is that it’s purposefully annoying just to gotcha! later.
        are you seriously this desperate for a news item to mark this up here? have u played any text games recently? cuz if you’re so starved for good text games, it really amazes me that this is the best you can dredge up. this website covers plenty of text games that actually have a point, maybe u should read the other contributors work.

    • Mr Monotone says:

      I actually found it mostly OK, with exception of the pod taking about 20 attempts to work out. Made me wonder if the AI was being deliberately obstinate.

  6. Jekhar says:

    What an infuriating experience. Judging by this game it’s no wonder why parsers have gone extinct. I really hope other contemporary text games are better in that regard.

    • Dervish says:

      Most contemporary text games are better because the parsers have been refined to work with a particular style of input. The player has to be trained in the syntax, but the parser is fairly sophisticated and forgiving given that assumption.

      It’s when people give the impression that you can just type in conversational English or that you can “try anything” that it all falls apart. A good parser != natural language parser.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    So does this game largely avoid finding and combining items, or is it almost entirely object-oriented?

    • frightlever says:

      The picture is complete non-interactive. You talk to the computer about things you see in the picture. You can complete the game in about six typed sentences with a few more that seem to trigger responses which aren’t necessary.

      It’s actually okay for a game made under such tight time constraints but I really resent how much typing I did because the darkness of my screen made me miss one important clue.

      And come on, it looks like a laundry room.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        Sorry for deceiving you; it was an obtuse joke about a not-very-widely-used programming language.

    • Josh W says:

      It’s mostly just about sending and receiving messages.

  8. nuclearjudas says:

    I loved it. Besides the AI not recognising some sentences, it was great. I got pretty emotional towards the end. The stellar soundtrack helped as well.

  9. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    It’s nice.. when you get a response. But it’s not entirely sure why certain phrases work and others do not.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    Was mildly disappointed that it didn’t recognise the LOST numbers.

  11. x3m157 says:

    Facade? MELONFACE!

  12. SavageTech says:

    This was a cool concept, but the execution ruined it for me. I spent most of my time trying to get the damn thing to understand me; when I finally got it to work it only took a handful of accepted commands to finish the game. It’s a shame, because the atmosphere and story were quite enjoyable.