Pixel Cafe Took Inspiration From Soviet Union’s Collapse In Eastern Europe

"We drew a lot of inspiration from what happened in Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union collapsed, focusing on places like Poland - our home country."

Story Highlights

  • Pixel Cafe — Baltoro Games’ Biggest Project Yet — will be released on November 30, 2023.
  • The game makes use of underutilized tropes to deliver a highly impactful story.
  • We interviewed the Narrative and Game Designer at Baltoro Games to gain insights about Pixel Cafe.

Baltoro Games is working on Pixel Cafe, its biggest title yet, and it delivers a story that will feel familiar to most Eastern Europeans, especially those knowledgeable about the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The game focuses on the coming-of-age story of Pixel, a young town girl trying to navigate a big city. One of the major aspects of Pixel Cafe is how realistic or relatable Pixel’s situations and conversations feel to the player.

If you played the demo, you would understand just how impactful the story can be for some gamers. Not only that, but the game also has enough gameplay on the cooking side to keep the players engaged and sometimes challenged on higher difficulties. To understand the intricacies of Pixel Cafe, eXputer recently sat down with Katarzyna Okońska, the Narrative Designer, and Wojciech Nikorowicz, the Game Designer at Baltoro Games, over an email interview.

Read ahead for the full interview containing their invaluable insights.

Pixel Cafe
Pixel Cafe – via Baltoro Games.

<strong>Pixel Cafe seems to carry a strong narrative, with the main character, Pixel, trying to find herself and going through various situations. Is the story aspect a big part of the game, or will players find themselves mostly working in the cafes?</strong>
Wojciech: It is a big aspect. Players will spend more time on the cooking portion of the gameplay, but a lot of work and love went into making the characters Pixel meets and the situations she finds herself in feel believable. One thing we really enjoyed when looking at streams of people trying out the demo is how they reacted to the story – a few of them even said that the conversation Pixel had with her mother hit way too close to home. It’s really validating to see that the narrative resonates with people since it’s a very personal story.

Katarzyna: The players systematically unlock cutscenes depicting current events in Pixel’s life. They’ll get to see how she got her job, what she does after hours and how she’s treated by her bosses. Other cutscenes depict her past, emphasizing Pixel’s relationship with her Grandma, a person who’s very important in her life. Although the story could be seen as optional by some players who just want to focus on the time-management part of Pixel Cafe, it adds to the atmosphere and gives important context to Pixel’s culinary journey. It also shows how small acts of kindness, for example, cooking for someone, can influence people’s lives in the long run – be they strangers or those most important to us.

<strong>The 'town-girl navigating in a big city' troupe has been explored various times in different media. What's something new that Pixel Cafe brings to the troupe we are all familiar with?</strong>
Wojciech: Pixel, unlike many characters in the trope, doesn’t start off as a pure, naive girl. She can often be mouthy, unapologetic, and distrustful. Players will explore her past and present to find what led to her acting the way she does. An important aspect of the story is Pixel’s relationship with her Grandparents, especially her Grandma. We feel like relations between grandchildren and grandparents are underutilized in culture, and when they appear, they are often left mostly unexplored. We focused on generational differences in trying to showcase how people who lived through the Soviet regime acted after it ended. It’s a story deeply connected to Eastern Europe. As a Polish developer, we wanted to show that part of our local reality, those stories our grandparents told us.

Katarzyna: In this relationship between Pixel and her Grandparents, it was important to show that despite those generational differences in both expressing emotions and approaching life, they still care deeply about each other and that there is love and warmth there. Pixel was heavily influenced by her Grandma, that’s why in the game, she often mentions ‘Grandma’s Coffee’ – a forgotten recipe for a beverage they often drank together. Making this coffee for Pixel was also Grandma’s way of showing her affection and love for her granddaughter without words.

<strong>What were some of the inspirations behind the character of Pixel? Do you think her story and character are something players will find comfort in?</strong>
Katarzyna: In creating Pixel’s story, I was heavily inspired by Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. I wanted to make a bitter-sweet coming-of-age story about a young girl and the impact of her family on her personality. Greta Gerwig was able to create Christine’s character with a great deal of respect and tenderness towards her. Gerwig wanted to show how we’re influenced by the small things happening in our relationships and how our upbringing influences who we become as adults.

I wanted to portray Pixel similarly, showing how both her funny and difficult memories had an impact on her everyday life. In telling the story of her work adventures, I was inspired by the character of Adaś Miauczyński from the film Nothing Funny (Nic Śmiesznego) by Marek Koterski. It’s a comedy-drama movie full of everyday misfortunes and both funny and frustrating work misadventures. Pixel, like Adaś, is trying to find her way in life with a sense of humor, but she’s sincerely overwhelmed by the professional problems she encounters at every turn (which are sometimes funny, sometimes unpleasant).

I think players will be able to find comfort in her story as she continues moving on despite all odds. Pixel tries to find her place in life, she tries to achieve what her Grandparents always wanted her to have – happiness and peace of mind. At first, it might look like an unreachable dream, but even when it all seems hopeless and bleak, it’s important to remember that there are, or were, people in your life who care that you’re not alone.

Pixel Cafe
Pixel Cafe – via Baltoro Games.

<strong>How many developers have worked on this project? And can you tell us what the overall budget for this game was?</strong>
Wojciech: The game was developed by 10 people in total. Some left the company midway through development to pursue other opportunities; some joined it. At its peak, 7 people actively worked on Pixel Cafe. And that’s not counting our internal QA team, management, translators, and the extremely talented Arkadiusz Reikowski, who worked on the music. So, if we count everyone, that’s around 30 people who influenced the game in some way.

Developing it was a journey into new territory for us, especially with its extensive narrative elements. This process involved a significant amount of experimentation and learning through trial and error. As a result, we view the budget not just in terms of financial expenditure but as an investment in both future projects and our team’s growth. Therefore, we’ve chosen to keep the specific financial details private, focusing instead on the invaluable experience and knowledge we’ve gained.

<strong>Does Pixel Cafe offer a complete story, or can fans expect more content in the future that expands the story further?</strong>
Wojciech: The story of Pixel Cafe is complete. We had very clear goals for both the beginning and ending of the game. We all have ideas of how Pixel’s story could continue or how the world could be expanded and explored further. But as of now, there aren’t any concrete plans to work on any story expansions or sequels. But who knows what the future will bring?

<strong>How many hours of content can gamers expect from Pixel Cafe?</strong>
Wojciech: Pixel Cafe offers around 10-12 hours of content. Some players may find themselves spending a bit more time than that if they decide to challenge the optional Nightmare levels. They offer a new level of difficulty that isn’t found anywhere else in the game, so we’re actually really curious to see how long it will take people to fully master them.

<strong>Baltoro Games has focused on different genres, with the upcoming Knights & Guns being completely different from the studios’ other titles as well. Will this pattern continue with future titles, or has the studio decided to settle on one genre soon enough?</strong>
Wojciech: I don’t think we’ll settle on one genre soon. We like to try out different things and explore what works. One week, we might work on a chill and story-focused game like Pixel Cafe and the next, we’ll start developing a twin-stick shooter about a punk rock opossum fighting against mutated plants (that’s a real game we’re releasing on Switch by the way).

I think what allows us to be so flexible is the fact that we don’t work under a publisher; Baltoro Games is more or less self-sufficient. We explore genres and mechanics by working on smaller projects, and then, when we find something that clicks, we expand the idea and develop it into a bigger game. Pixel Cafe is definitely the biggest title we have worked on so far though. It taught us many things about scope and management. But it wouldn’t be here were it not for those smaller games that came before it.

<strong>Is there anything else you would like to share with the audience? Something we haven't touched upon yet.</strong>
Wojciech: One important part of our game is its setting, which really influences the whole story. We drew a lot of inspiration from what happened in Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union collapsed, focusing on places like Poland – our home country. That time was really interesting – you had a huge boom in private businesses, but it also came with some sketchy work practices.

As we created this world and story, we found a lot of overlap between back then and now. For example, some employees are still treated as expendable and exploitable. Although now, it’s often not at the hands of individuals, but corporations. We’re also incredibly grateful to everyone who tried out the demo or has shown interest in the game. Thank you all. We can’t wait to see what you think of the full experience.

YouTube video

While depicting a story inspired by real historical events, Baltoro Games found many similarities between those and the current times. The studio aims to deliver those elements in the personalities of many revealed characters that Pixel interacts with throughout the game and the challenges she faces in some situations. The true extent of her journey will be explored once the game releases on November 30, 2023, and rest assured, it will be complete.

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Mudassir is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the stories behind our favorite virtual worlds. Armed with a trusty notepad and a keen curiosity, he dives headfirst into the gaming industry's most exciting personalities. His knack for insightful questions and his ability to connect with developers and gamers alike makes his interviews a must-read. While on the lookout for the next person to interview, Mudassir keeps himself busy by writing news surrounding the gaming universe. Experience: 4+ Years || Senior Journalist || Education: Bachelor's in Psychology.

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