It’s been a while, Windows XP and Early Youtube. Have you been well?
The indie megabooth at PAX East is set up like a beautiful microcosm of different breeds of beautiful mania and pure passion. Of those, one whose booth caught my attention completely and without hesitation was the unique and vibrant early-2000s nostalgia of Emily is Away Too. The game is the latest brainchild of indie developer Kyle Seeley, previously known for Sad Hill Cemetery and the original Emily is Away. I had never played the first one when I sat down at Emily is Away Too‘s nostalgia-filled booth (complete with a cool lava lamp which I quite nearly knocked over). That admittance made, let me explain why this new second installment became one of my biggest takeaways from PAX East.
Emily is Away Too is a sort of visual novel adventure game devoted to recapturing the energy and atmosphere of the internet circa 2003, before Facebook or Twitter or Reddit ever came into being. It was a wild time, where Tay Zonday singing about Chocolate Rain was the height of comedy, and Newgrounds was the hottest place to go for choice video game memes. Right from the get-go, I was able to select an avatar from a bunch of low-res pixel versions of classic images from these primordial days of the modern internet. Leekspin? We got it. He-Man doing the “What’s going on?” face? Got that too. It’s a whole new whole old world.
All of this takes place within a beautifully-recreated mock-AOL chatroom, where I first began a conversation with “emerz35.” Through dialogue and conversation options I was able to choose a whole bunch of things about my character, from what kind of summer she was having to whether she drank. The first big moment of hilarity came when the character I was chatting with sent me a clickable link to a very slightly-altered Youtube page with a real video embedded into it. Click the link, up comes your browser, and you’re there. Emily is Away Too is using its seat as a game on the computer to its fullest, in one of my personal favorite ways. It even generates fake Facebook pages for its characters, which is like a WaybackMachine file moseying its way into the game.
It’s also worth noting that every message I sent to either conversation, as I began to balance the social stress of talking to two high school students at once (oh, the drama!), not only had multiple options, but required me to type on a physical keyboard in order to send. It didn’t matter what I typed, or even if I just hit the same key over and over. I had to type until I had completely generated the message corresponding to the option I had chosen for the conversation. It seemed like a fun input idea for a while, although it began to irritate me by the end. I can easily see myself mashing the same couple of keys over and over to get through things more quickly.
Even from just the time I got to spend with it, though, Emily is Away Too did a lot to stick in my mind, especially for what is essentially an enhanced visual novel game. I had the option to lie or tell half-truths to one character based on what I had told the other. I could even decide that I had lied to both, and I very much hope that the full game will roll with my decision in some way or another. I talked to one friend about bands and underage drinking, chatted with the other about their weird boyfriend, and gleaned a couple things from both which I would guess could be used as vital information later on.
If you, too, wish to relive what the internet was like when Snow Patrol was a “cool band” and George W. Bush was the President of the United States, fear not. Emily is Away Too and its recent-yet-forgotten nostalgia base come out soon enough, hitting PC this May.