How Afterlove EP survived after its creative director’s devastating death

How Afterlove EP survived after its creative director’s devastating death

Indonesian indie game studio Pikselnesia was in the middle of development on its rhythm-based visual novel Afterlove EP when it received the devastating news: Mohammad Fahmi, the studio’s founder and creative director, had died. “When it happened, I remember our character artist, Soyatu, called me around 2 AM in the morning and said, ‘Is Fahmi joking about death again? This time it’s not funny, please tell me that this is not true!’” Afterlove EP game producer Ivor Dwitomo told Polygon.

Afterlove EP was put on hold indefinitely while the team grieved the loss of their coworker and friend. “No work happened on Afterlove EP during that time, but then we came together, talked about the game’s development, and we all agreed to continue Afterlove EP no matter what,” Dwitomo said. The game is about love and death, set in Jakarta, he said — and Fahmi had outlined a clear vision for the game. The rest of the team wanted to deliver that vision.

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Fahmi, the acclaimed creator of Toge Productions’ Coffee Talk, passed away in March 2022. Coffee Talk, released in 2020, is a visual novel and coffee shop simulator centered around a barista working in a fantasy version of Seattle. It’s a game that perfectly evokes the atmosphere of a coffee shop on a rainy day — with some light fantasy elements thrown in. Afterlove EP has a different but still distinct sense of place; it’s set in Jakarta, Indonesia, where Fahmi grew up. The story pulls these three genres together (visual novel, dating sim, and rhythm game), focusing on Rama, a young musician whose girlfriend has just died.

“With Afterlove EP, Fahmi really wanted to show a slice of life of what it is like to be young and living in the places that he himself grew up and lived in,” Dwitomo said. Game director and programmer Dany added: “And we hope that they will enjoy getting to know our home through the locations and vibe of the characters you meet, whilst if you’re from or know Jakarta, you might find yourself nostalgic for some of the spots we chose to recreate in the game.”

Fahmi was very deliberate with his vision for Afterlove EP, and had extensively outlined the game and its characters with lead narrative director Galuh Elsa, who also goes by Sasha. The story and its characters were all in place, Dwitomo said, and the team at Pikselnesia was just beginning to put things in place.

“Our big objective as a team after Fahmi passed away has always been to keep the outline aligned with his vision whilst creating all of the content in the game — especially when writing the dialogue and script,” Dwitomo said. “We brought in extra help with the writing and narrative design because there was a lot of actual writing to do. But because Sasha worked so closely on the story outline, characters, and the overall vision with Fahmi, she has been able to be the keeper of all of it and guide the writers to help them stay true to that.”

A cellphone on screen in Afterlove EP, with a player in the background looking at said phone Image: Pikselnesia/Fellow Traveller

Editing and adjusting the game introduced another layer of difficulty. “Fahmi chose to become part of Afterlove EP for a reason and I don’t want to betray that,” Dwitomo said.

“The biggest challenge has been staying true to his vision whilst still being prepared to make changes because, of course, Fahmi would also have made changes and had new ideas as we went on with development,” Dany said. “So we have had to think about what he would do and whether things are in line with his central vision.”

Pikselnesia is still working on Afterlove EP, but the studio just published a demo as part of publisher Fellow Traveller’s LudoNarraCon. And the game’s expected to be released this year on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.

“This game is our homage to Fahmi,” Dany said. “Having a game that he designed, envisioned, and worked so hard on and [releasing it] to the world is our best way to do that.”