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How the developers of Afterlove EP continued the game after its creator's death

"We all agreed that our hearts could not let Mohammed Fahmi's vision go to waste"

The difficulties of game development means it's not uncommon for the original creator to depart from the project before it's finished, for one reason or another. It's not often as tragic as is the case of Afterlove EP.

The music-centric narrative game was first announced in December 2021 on Nintendo's Indie World showcase. Just a few months later, the game's creative director Mohammed Fahmi passed away.

His sudden passing felt like a huge loss, especially as his breakout game Coffee Talk had made him a beacon for Indonesia's growing indie scene, while Pikselnesia, the studio he assembled for Afterlove EP, was also a remote team with people from across the country. It could have then been all too easy for it to all collapse afterwards but if anything, it was a catalyst for the surviving members to finish what Fahmi had started.

"We stopped work to grieve for three months and then we all agreed that our hearts could not let his vision go to waste and we had to finish the game, no matter what," says game director and programmer Dany.

After going under relative radio silence, Afterlove EP recently re-emerged at this year's LudoNarraCon with a free Steam demo, and a release window for Q3 2024. It would have nonetheless felt very raw given that the game's premise is also about grief and trying to move on after a loved one's untimely passing.

"In everything we've done [on Afterlove EP], we hold Fahmi close to our hearts and think about what he would say if he was here"

Dany, Pikselnesia

The cause of Fahmi's death had never been publicly confirmed, although Coffee Talk publisher Toge Productions had said he had been suffering from asthma. When Afterlove EP starts and players get a glimpse of protagonist's Rama relationship with Cinta, who also has signs of respiratory problems, followed by urgent messages on his phone that he receives too late, it's hard not to draw eerie parallels with what the team would have personally experienced.

"With Fahmi's passing, we were all experiencing the feeling that Rama feels and we understand what he is going through very intimately," says Dany. "It's hard to point to any specific elements where it has changed but in everything we've done, we hold Fahmi close to our hearts and think about what he would say if he was here."

But even with Fahmi's passing early in Afterlove EP's development, it wasn't as if the team was at a complete loss.

"One thing I like from working with Fahmi is that he doesn't leave anything in a grey area – either it's black or white," game producer Ivor Dwitomo explains. "He knew what he wanted for sure. The story outline was well documented before he passed away and the big direction decisions for Afterlove EP from start to end were very clear."

There was still a big task for that narrative to be broken down into scenes and dialogue, with writing totally over 100,000 words. "There are always changes as you go from planning to actually writing, and seeing it in the game then rewriting and so on, so we could not keep everything set in stone," Dwitomo adds.

One of the songs in Afterlove EP is dedicated to Fahmi

Fortunately, Fahmi was not Afterlove EP's only writer at the time, having also worked closely with Sasha Ariana, who was also a writer on his previous game What Comes After as well as A Space for the Unbound. She naturally stepped in to be the game's narrative lead.

"She is the keeper of the vision for the story and has helped guide the new writers to ensure we maintain Fahmi's vision for the story," Dwitomo says. "Whilst being open to feedback and making changes to some of the details to help the game achieve that vision and be as good as possible."

Another team member that really aided in pooling the team's knowledge from working with Fahmi was lead programmer Giri Prahasta Iruma. "He's like a human database," says Dany. "If we have questions about direction on something he can always find links to old chats with Fahmi discussing it, and Fahmi's answers even then were so clear – the why, the direction, the target experience. So it's been both Fahmi's outlines and vision and Giri's knowledge to help us never get off track."

Pikselnesia's personal experiences won't mean there is an authored version of how Rama processes his grief. This is still a choice-based narrative game where there will be different outcomes on how he will move on or not, whether he can find new love, or keep his band together. Those choices in what you can do are also under the constraint of a Persona-inspired calendar structure as the story takes place over a 30-day period.

"We don't know what will happen in the future but I have the feeling the team will meet again to make something"

Ivor Dwitomo, Pikselnesia

More importantly, Afterlove EP's not about wallowing in grief. There's even a light touch to it given that Rama's basically hearing and talking to the cheery voice of his deceased girlfriend inside his head, leading to some awkward but humorous moments with his friends.

"Sadness and grief will not dominate in the story – all emotional aspects will be there," says Dwitomo. "This is more about Rama's future than his past. The game starts one year after Cinta's passing and Rama is just starting to come out of his shell and become open to the world again. He wants to move forward but he's nervous and scared and not sure how to – does he want to try to make music seriously? What sort of relationships and friendships does he want to have? Can he love again? How can he honour Cinta's memory and do these things at the same time?"

One of Fahmi's key goals was for Afterlove EP to also help put Indonesia's capital of Jakarta, the setting of the game, on the map. That's still very much the case where players will primarily be exploring areas in the city's W Bloc, based on Jakarta's real life M Bloc as both a thriving space for shopping and nightlife.

Also giving an authentic flavour of the local culture, the game also includes songs from Jakarta-based band L'alphalpha, who are also a key plot point in the story. We're told that four of the tracks contributed had also been recorded after Fahmi's passing, with one song dedicated to him specifically.

"That song is called Mimpi, and the lyrics are very much dedicated to Fahmi. The lyrics hit us very hard," Dany adds.

But if finishing Afterlove EP is fulfilling Fahmi's last wish, then what comes after? While Pikselnesia was his studio and legacy, it's most likely that the team will disband once the game is complete.

"Before Fahmi passed away, I had a discussion with him about the next project for Pikselnesia," Dwitomo explains, though those ideas were never shared. Hopefully its members will be able to move on once the game is released and in turn have new stories to tell.

"We don't know what will happen in the future but I have the feeling the team will meet again to make something."

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Alan Wen avatar
Alan Wen: Alan is a freelance writer and critic with an unabashed love of Japanese games and RPGs, despite having less time for them. He will also find any excuse to get all blue skies about Sega.
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