Emily Is Away Too Developer Talks The Trials & Joys Of Recreating 2000’s-Era Internet

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Emily is Away Too builds upon the original game of chatting away with a girl online, adding onto the experience of getting to know someone through online chat programs. Adding in websites, Facebook profiles, YouTube links, and more, it gives the player a better feeling of what it was like talking to someone through early 2000’s internet, capturing more of that spirit of conversation from that era.

Siliconera spoke with its developer, Kyle Seeley, to learn about the work and details that went into creating this simulation of that kind of relationship, and what it was about early internet and the sites many shared that helped create those close bonds.

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What new things did you want to make players experience with this sequel? How did you want to build upon your original concept?

    

Kyle Seeley, developer of Emily is Away Too – The great thing about doing a sequel is you can refine gameplay and incorporate feedback from the first game. People who played the original were really helpful in building out the sequel. The two pieces of feedback I heard most often were 1) I want to talk to these other characters on my buddy list. and 2) I want there to actually be multiple endings. To shoehorn this feedback into the first game would have been a mistake, so instead I used it as a jumping off point for the sequel. Really, the whole narrative of Emily Too was designed to highlight these two new features.

I also wanted to incorporate some new storytelling mechanics that I could play around with. Having two characters added the potential for some interesting story moments, but I really wanted to expand on the actual gameplay. I decided to ground the game in it’s source material and try to encompass more of 2000’s digital culture. The first step was making the game feel like an actual chat application – that’s why it doesn’t go fullscreen and just sits on your desktop. This decision opened the door the door to chat logs, YouTube music and even Facebook poke wars.

What drew you to add more old internet sites for players to interact with? What did that add to the game, for you?

    
At its core, the Emily series is about how we socialized online in the 2000’s. Instant Messengers were a key part of that, but they definitely weren’t all of it. If you were chatting with someone online, you’d often send links to YouTube or YTMND to express yourself. Maybe you’d send them your Facebook profile or ask them to accept your friend request. These sites were crucial to how we interacted online. I knew if I was transitioning the game to be a mock application, I’d have to include them.

The sites add a degree of authenticity to the experience. They also allow the characters in the game to express a more complete picture of themselves. You can learn a lot about these characters by listening to their YouTube playlists or browsing through their Facebook profiles. On top of that, all these sites are interconnected. Players are encouraged to take a few minutes and just get lost surfing the web.

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What challenges did you face in creating these fake versions of old sites? What fun times did you have in making them?

    

Generally, the hardest part is finding accurate source images. For example, I probably spent a few hours trying to find that paper flying from folder to folder animation for the mock installer. And I can’t even tell you how many Windows XP buttons and loading bars I have bookmarked. But thankfully for the old websites, this wasn’t an issue because the Wayback Machine has them all archived. That made the hardest part simply creating them – they’re a lot of hand placed pixels.

The most fun part was definitely looking back at old YouTube videos. Most of the comments you see in-game are actual comments those videos had in 2006. YouTube doesn’t allow you to sort comments from oldest to newest, so finding the comments on the Wayback Machine is kind of the only way to view them. It’s just interesting to see how much comment etiquette has changed. You see a lot less capitalizations and way more hacker-typer/camelcase. It’s all basically text-styles we associate with 8 year olds now, but that was basically everyone in 2006.


What do you feel these interfaces and sites mean for people who used them and are seeing them again? For those who have no experience with them?

    

For people who are seeing them again, I hope they’ll feel a few pangs of nostalgia. Maybe they’ll even remember some obscure or obtuse features that they loved. I’m ashamed to admit I had completely forgotten about Facebook poke wars until I started recreating that interface. Personally, when I was making them, a lot of memories came flooding back. Stuff like uploading my own YouTube videos or personal exchanges I’d had on someone’s Facebook wall. I’m hoping there’s a good deal of that for players who used to use these sites.

For new players, I think the sites will be an interesting look into the early days of social media. I remember when I had just finished the mock YTMND site, I was really excited and wanted to show some people. I sent it to my brother, who’s six years younger than me like, "Hey check out what I just made!" And he was just like, "What the fuck is this? Are these supposed to be funny?" To him, some audio that plays over a tiled gif background is like, baby’s first web dev. But back in 2006, YTMND was the height of memes.

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What feelings do online chats capture that other means of communication don’t?


With any means of communication, there are certain quirks or features that define how those interactions feel. For me, instant messengers will always feel more personal than other means of communication. Someone being ‘online’ meant they were physically at their computer and looking to talk to people. Instant messaging software only has that one function, unlike Facebook for example, so if you were running it then you were obviously looking to chat. Also, this was before smart phones were everywhere, so if someone was online that meant they were sitting at their computer with nothing better to do.

These two aspects, plus IMs being primarily one on one, meant these conversations could reach personal depths unreachable through other mediums. Communication is undoubtedly easier now, with everyone connected all the time. But in ironing out the obtuseness of instant messaging, I think we’ve lost something along the way.

What do you feel having this online chat format changed about narrative for those that played it? Do you feel they would have received or felt the story differently than if you had told it in another format?

    

Told in a different format, I’m not sure the narrative would have worked. What I do think is interesting is how the nostalgic interface helps frame the story. Asking someone to act like a teenager or feel teenage emotions is very hard to do. In most cases, we’re all very removed from our teenage selves, having learned a lot growing up through that period. Even when we’re in college, I think it’s very hard to relate to ourselves when we were in High School. But when you frame that teenage narrative in a nostalgic interface, players are instantly transported back in time.

Players remember when they were young and using instant messengers; they remember their teenage crushes and friendships. And in that way, it really helps prepare players for this story about teenage relationships. Even more so, it gives players the ability to relate the main character’s situation to their own past. Emily stops being Emily and starts being that one crush we had senior year. This kind of personal reflection can be really powerful and cathartic. I’m not saying all players will feel this relationship with the main character, but if a couple do, that’s good enough for me!


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Author
Image of Alistair Wong
Alistair Wong
Very avid gamer with writing tendencies. Fan of Rockman and Pokémon and lots more!