Before everyone was using Snapchat or Twitter to communicate, instant messaging was the king. There were several different types of clients, but AOL Instant Messenger (or AIM) was the go-to during the late 90s and early 00s. While the popularity of such services has largely diminished, these messengers do have a special place in the hearts of many.
One such person is video game developer Kyle Seeley, and he has now used his fond memories for instant messengers in his latest game, Emily is Away. To find out more about this unique visual novel, which uses a familiar interface to tell a story, we talked to Kyle about invoking nostalgia, the title’s unique pricing option and embarrassing screen names.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
We Got This Covered: As someone who spent hours on AOL Instant Messenger as a kid, the aesthetic of Emily is Away invoked a lot of nostalgia for me. Did you often use instant messengers?
Kyle Seeley: I certainly used to! Emily is Away was born out of my own nostalgia and desire to romanticize that era of computing. I used instant messengers a lot during Middle School and High School – Some of my most formative memories and conversations took place over AIM.
WGTC: How did you come up with the idea to set a game inside a chat client? It seems like such a natural idea once you think about it.
KS: The idea came from wanting to romanticize technology from my childhood. We’ve always been obsessed with throwbacks to certain eras, with 80’s throwbacks being really huge right now, but we’ve only just began to explore late 90s/early 00s. The underlying game and mechanics just fell into place once I made the instant messenger shell.
WGTC: We’ve seen a lot of dialogue driven games recently, with high profile ones being made by Telltale, but this is the first one I’ve seen that has focused on instant messaging. How difficult was it to design around the limitations of a simple web chat client?
KS: The chat client certainly presented some unique challenges! The hardest challenge being hidden information. Because it’s a one-on-one conversation, either you know something or the other character knows something. If both of you don’t know something, well, you’ll just never talk about it.
It also presented some really interesting possibilities for new narrative mechanics. Often times when typing a message over instant messengers I find myself rereading it, rewording it and deleting parts I don’t like. This mechanic exists in the game and lets you kind of see into the rawer thoughts of the main character.
WGTC: There used to be chatbots on AIM, such as Smarterchild, that would respond to certain phrases. Is this more about choosing preset phrases, or is there a bit of a text adventure element to it?
KS: In Emily is Away you choose preset phrases to navigate through the story. The typing mechanic is there to promote engagement and immersion.