According to Matthew Codd the creative enterprise that best captures the pain of schoolyard love is a free phone game from the Philippines. Matthew explores the angst and talks to the game’s teenage developer.
A few weeks ago, while falling down a rabbit hole of “similar apps” links on Google Play, I stumbled upon a game called Seen. Taken in by the slick messenger app presentation and the promise of an interactive story about a high school romance, I hit the download button and then fired up the game.
Next thing I knew, it was 4am and I was in fetal position under the covers, trying to process the medley of emotions welling up inside me. Joy, anger, love, sadness, excitement, even self-loathing – all from a simple little game about flirting with your classroom crush by way of a chat app. Somehow, Seen manages to bottle the feeling of those after-school chats with surprising authenticity.
I’d respond to a fairly straightforward question with what I thought was an adorably silly answer, and my heart would stop when I saw the little hopping dots telling me that the other person was typing. When they replied in a similarly cute fashion, I felt giddy; when they didn’t, the butterflies in my stomach turned into rocks. Everything was heavily scripted, of course – Seen’s story is a linear, prescribed one where your choices have a minimal impact on the outcome – but it was written in such a way that it felt real to me.
The nuance in the writing makes it all the more impressive that Seen developer Polychroma Games consist of just one person: 15-year-old Mickole Klein Nulud. Inspired by a game called Emily is Away (which is available for free on Steam), Mickole set out to create something similar. “I was amazed by the fact that it is so simple yet immersive, and a few days after, I began working on a project game called ‘The Seen Message’,” he told me – in a messenger interview, naturally.
As universal as it is, Seen’s story is also a very personal one. “I went through heartbreak before I had played [Emily is Away] and because of that, I decided that the story will be completely about my recent heartbreak. In short, a product of bitterness,” Mickole said. “However, the coding phase went first which gave me time to actually think about the story. 3 months later, I dumped the original story idea after having moved on, coding phase has ended and the writing phase has begun.”
The final result is very different from what he had initially envisioned, but that process of infatuation, heartbreak, anger, and acceptance still shows through strongly in Seen’s narrative beats. Playful flirting turns into into obsessive unrequited love, which turns into bitterness at being “friendzoned” – it gets bleak. I found it particularly affecting because it dredged up my own memories of being that same entitled young man who thinks a woman wanting to be “just” friends is some sort of insult.
If making a game with this much impact by himself isn’t enough of an achievement, Mickole also manages the marketing and business side of Seen, and has somehow found a way to balance that with the demands of his life as a student.
“I gotta admit, I’m not very good at time management. Usually, I only code during weekends. But sometimes when an urgent update is necessary, I code as soon as I get home from school then I do my homework at school an hour before the first class,” he explained. “Coding isn’t my only responsibility, I also respond to important messages, manage my expenses, and more. Despite the struggle, I managed to get good grades and I don’t even know how I did that.”
On top of that, he’s living and working in the Philippines, a country that doesn’t have a huge game development scene. “There are Filipino devs but I think most of them work for another company outside the country. Why? Working outside is the best option here since we’re in a third-world country, plus there aren’t big names in game development here that offer high income. I do hope that game development, especially indie, will get big here someday.”
Could Polychroma be the developer that puts the country on the indie map? The responses to Seen have been very positive. For now, Mickole’s focused on adding new features and porting the game to iOS and PC, but there’s already a sequel in planning due to popular demand.
“After the sequel, I guess the development for new installments of Seen will come to an end, well, except for app updates. I wanna make an entirely different and new project in order to try something new which will, in turn, help me discover new concepts along this exciting game dev journey. The only thing that will keep Seen alive is the amazing community of players and story writers who I call not fans but family, heartfelt gratitude to all of these awesome people!”
With Mickole at its helm, the future certainly looks bright for Polychroma, and I know I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they do next.
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