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The holidays are often a time where we get together and try to eat good food and engage in conversation simultaneously. It’s a difficult skill to master. You might find yourself more interested in the food than conversation, but social mores dictate that you need to be an attentive listener (or at least to seem like one). If you found your attempts at being a conversationalist lacking during your most recent holiday meal, Hot Pot Panic might just be what you need.
The conceit of the game is fairly simple: you’ve been invited to an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant by a friend. These sorts of restaurants give you a large bowl of broth over a burner or some sort of heating device, and then provide you with various vegetables, thinly sliced meats, and tofu for you to cook yourself in the broth. In the game, you need to maintain a conversation with the friend while trying to eat your fill of food before you run out of conversations. At the same time, you need to make sure that the food you’ve put into the broth doesn’t overcook.
The core of the game is about managing your time between these three different things, but what you’ll mainly be doing is looking down toward the hot pot. You need to do this in order to put ingredients into it, see if the food is ready to be eaten (each thing you add has a different ideal cooking time), and to eat from it. You use the W and S keys to look up and down between the friend and the hot pot, and the mouse to select things to put in or take out of the hot pot.
However, if you’re only focused on the hot pot you won’t catch what your friend is talking about. In order to understand what’s happening in the conversation you have to be looking at the friend across from you. What they say shows up in speech bubbles, and when they finish talking they ask you to respond and you are given three possible responses. Only one correctly corresponds to what she was saying.
If you end up looking at the food too much you might miss what exactly the friend was saying and mess up on which is the right response. But if you spend too much time engaged with the conversation you might overcook the food or not eat enough of it. The result is a very careful balancing act, as you try to work out when you should be paying attention to her and when you should be paying attention to food.
If you’re able to eat enough food before you run out of conversation topics, or before you annoy your friend too much by not paying attention to them, they’ll invite you out for another meal. You do this for three meals, each one getting progressively harder as the conversations become more dense. The speech bubbles fill with more and more text in order to make it difficult to quickly parse what’s being said.
Now, unless you’re hanging out with someone who is really into talking about themselves, Hot Pot Panic maybe isn’t the most accurate simulation of a real conversation. But it manages to take the fairly universal social situation of trying to talk and eat at the same time, and turn it into a clever and fun game. It might not make you a better at balancing the two, but it could be a great game to bring home for the holidays and play with family. Who knows, that might even lead to some new conversations and stories.
Hot Pot Panic was created by Keane Ng. You can get it on Itch.io for pay what you want (Windows, and Mac OS.) It takes about half an hour to finish.