Local Boston indie developer, Kyle Seeley, didn’t always want to make games for a living. In fact, it wasn’t until halfway through college at the RIT that his mind was changed, thanks to a little game called Bioshock (you may have heard of it). Irrational Games’ brilliantly infamous “would you kindly” twist on a tired gaming trope opened up Kyle’s mind to the possibilities of what could actually be accomplished through the medium of games.
While working full time at Zapdot Inc, a Boston-area development studio, Kyle worked nights and weekends on his first solo project, the AOL Instant Messenger based story game, Emily is Away. Last week, I sat down with Kyle to discuss story-telling, embarrassing AIM screen names, and life as an indie game developer.
Why make video games?
I think it’s a really unexplored medium and it’s a really cool place to be. Playing a lot of indie games helped fuel my passion for creativity in this medium. I think a lot of the games we see being made today by AAA studios tend to fit a specific form, and I think games can offer so much more than that and that’s where indie games come in. It’s really exciting to be a part of that.
What is the biggest hurdle to making games professionally?
Right now, I can’t make a living making my own indie games. Once you have to start making things that make money, it changes your design philosophy. “Going indie” is a very scary thing because of the fact that you have to make money off your products; It’s a like a longterm investment. Unless you use Kickstarter or something (which I didn’t), you don’t make money off your games until they are released and actually sell. If you spend a year making a game that flops, you just don’t get paid for a year. I think that’s the biggest deterrent. I still think people should get into game development, it’s just a very unstable market right now. A lot of indie developers need to do contract work and part time indie stuff. Being at a place where I can work full time and make money and part time to make very strange and different things is kind of fun for me.
What is the toughest part of making an entire game on your own?
Being a solo developer is kind of maddening because you never know if any of your ideas are good until you put them into practice. You don’t have anyone to gut-check you and you can’t bounce ideas off anyone. You might have a good idea and think it’s a bad idea, or you might have a totally bad idea and think it’s great! I work my full time job with a bunch of game developers, and I have game developer friends and that’s really helped me because if I have this crazy idea, I can talk it out with a bunch of people. Having a network of people to talk to really helps.
Is Emily is Away inspired by events in your life? Is there a real “Emily?”
There isn’t a “real” Emily, no. It’s more of an amalgamation of past experiences and people in my life. I also drew from a lot of different sources, including movies and stuff, to create Emily.
The game is based on my personal experience, and what that means is that it’s a work of fiction inspired by people in my life. There is no exact 1:1 ratio of events that happen in the game and in my real life, but the whole game is based on the experience of high school and how I felt then while talking on AIM. It’s about that experience of going off to college and having friends from high school that you kind of drift away from. I feel like that’s a very relatable story that people can project their own memories onto. I did that on purpose in order to get the kind of reaction to the story that I really wanted.
What was your AIM screen name?
I had the worst screen name ever–I was very young. I must have been in elementary school when I made it up. It was because when creating your account, the process asks you so many questions like name, date of birth, and so forth. So, I made my profile name SoManyQuestions. NOBODY understood the references because who is going to understand that reference? I thought I was being a really clever kid! That was my AIM screen name for the entirety of my middle school and high school career.
Emily is Away is currently available on itch.io on a “pay-what-you-want” basis. It was recently greenlit on Steam and should be available there for free later this month. Because of the interface and sounds used for the game, to avoid licensing issues with AOL, the Steam version will deviate slightly from the original, but will also include minor fixes here and there. While “nothing is in concrete,” Kyle is considering possibly adding more content and chapters to the game, and maybe even an eventual iOS port. For more information on the game, check out EmilyisAway.com.