“An immersive experience that doesn’t quite succeed as an actual video game.”
Everyone has, at least once in their life, had to sit and stare at the clock as they wait for someone to arrive. This is usually always a very tense time as we sit and think to ourselves, “Where are they? Are they even going to show up? Did they forget about me?” Imagine a game based entirely around that kind of experience.
In Dinner Date, players assume the role of the subconsciousness of a man named Julian Luxemburg who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his date, a younger twenty year old Japanese girl who apparently likes dancing. The entire “game” is basically just about listening to Julian talk to himself, as he slowly doubts more and more that his date will even show up. I use the term “game” very loosely with Dinner Date because, even though the player is able to control a few things Julian does, Dinner Date is mostly just a narrated story of sorts and the player is along for the ride.
When the game opens, the player will find Julian sitting in his kitchen as he waits for his date. A few keyboard prompts pop up on the screen, indicating that pressing different keys will make Julian perform different actions as he waits. You can make him stare at the clock, rest his arms behind his head, dip his bread in sauce, and peer into the lonely candle sitting in the middle of the table. This is about all you can do aside from listening to Julian’s ramblings slowly descend into pitiful self-loathing. At various points in Julian’s narrative, he’ll want to have a drink of wine, followed by another a few moments later, and then a cigarette shortly after. These actions seem to progress the story, as Julian’s narrative pauses a bit until the player performs these actions.
As Julian’s ramblings become more and more depressing to listen to, making him perform the various actions that we’re allowed to do becomes very boring and dull. It is at this point that Dinner Date becomes fairly immersive. When I started playing, I didn’t really care what was happening but as Julian waited longer and longer for his date and became noticeably more uneasy, so did I. Julian wanted the girl to arrive so that he could enjoy his date, and I wanted the girl to arrive so that the horrible monotony would be eased. Both Julian and I really wanted this girl to arrive, and I found that we both became more and more irritated over time. It was interesting to listen to Julian’s loathing after several minutes, as it was clear that the character was written to have some pretty significant self-confidence issues. Initially Julian comes across as a nice guy, but by the end of the game he felt like a sorry loser who I kind of pitied. He was just pathetic, and I felt bad for him.
Eventually Julian left the table to smoke a cigarette and watch out his window for his date. The game gives the player a bit of control here, and we’re allowed to freely peer out the window whenever we choose. I found myself doing this because I wanted Julian’s date to just hurry up and arrive. Towards the end, and without warning, the apartment building’s buzzer sounds very loudly. Julian gets excited and proclaims that she is finally here and rushes to the door. I found myself getting excited as well, because I was finally going to meet the mystery girl. The screen faded to black for a moment and then revealed that it was Julian’s neighbour who obviously needed someone to buzz them inside. Julian expressed annoyance at this, and so did I.
After a few more minutes, Julian decides to go outside and look for his date, and that is where the game abruptly ends. I was left with mixed feelings when Dinner Date ended. I wasn’t sure if I should have felt disappointed or impressed. As a game, Dinner Date is pretty poor. The player doesn’t really do very much and the game can be beaten pretty much by pressing the keyboard three times. However, as a sort of artistic virtual novel, Dinner Date does a pretty decent job of establishing some form of identity. What Dinner Date did best was pull the player in and make them detest waiting for the mysterious date just as much as Julian. What bothered Julian also bothered me as I watched the ingame clock. So, Dinner Date fails incredibly as a game, but as a sirt if narrative experience it succeeds pretty well.
The graphics aren’t too fantastic by any means. I understand that this is an indie game, but the graphics are horribly dated and easily look like late last generation graphics. Normally I wouldn’t nit pick over graphics too much, but considering the fact that this game advertised itself as an immersive experience in which you become Julian’s subconsciousness, and that the game is set entirely in one room, I really feel that they should have put more work into Julian’s kitchen so that the game would have had more immersion.
There aren’t really many sounds in Dinner Date, but everything works pretty well here. We hear Julian sip soup, a doorbell chimes, and a lighter ignites a cigarette. All of the sound effects are authentic and are certainly recordings of their real life counterparts. While sound isn’t very important in this game, it’s worth noting that the immersion takes a good hike up if you play with headphones on. When I did this, it almost sounded like Julian sipping his soup was me instead, as the sound of him doing so was going straight into my head. I would definitely suggest playing with headphones for this effect.
Dinner Date clocks in at about twenty five or thirty minutes and, as a whole, is an interesting experience. As I said previously, Dinner Date fails miserably as an actual game, but as a sort of interactive narrative film, it does a good job of pulling the player in and making them relate to Julian. I would not recommend Dinner Date to anyone who commands gameplay from their purchases, but if you are the type of person who takes an artistic approach to gaming, then this might be worth a glance.