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Nearly Brilliant: A Small Talk At The Back Of Beyond

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.

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Nathan Grayson

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