Falling in love is weird.
When you start seeing someone, it’s hard to know how much of yourself to show them, and how quickly. Will they be turned off by your extensive manga collection or anime posters? Are they judging your tiny, messy apartment? Do you need to hide that body pillow before your date decides you’re a total creep?
That may sound ridiculous, but it was real for game designer Nina Freeman. The Fullbright employee, Code Liberation co-founder, and Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient had plenty of these real-life silly dating moments with her current partner Jake, so she did what came naturally to her: made a game about it.
“My background is heavily in personal and narrative games [such as Cibele and How do you Do It?], so I tend to look for game ideas like this during daily life,” Freeman told Variety. Inspired by a series of dates on the Oregon coast, Freeman and Jake set about making “We Met in May.” Rather than a single story, it’s a series of vignettes that require only basic interaction — the click of a mouse — to play.
A budding relationship could be a source of drama, but the vignettes we played were light-hearted and sweet, if a bit weird, in the way every relationship has its own weirdness. In one, the couple embark on a beach date; in another, the woman tries to pinch the man’s nipples to distract him while he’s cooking. “I have worked on a number of… darker personal games in the past,” Freeman said, citing “Cibele” as one of them. “So, I was happy to find myself in a healthy relationship with Jake, where we were having a lot of fun — I wanted to draw on those happy feelings.”
While Nina worked on “We Met in May’s” initial design and pitch, Jake, an artist, handled much of the visuals. “Jake is usually super busy doing all of the art and animation, so I end up taking on a lot of code and design tasks so that he can actually get all the visuals done. Our game is very art-heavy,” Freeman explained. As for audio, “We have a lovely musician working with us now, named Ryan Yoshikami … who’s done amazing music for some of our game jams and has done cool film and animation work as well.”
“We Met in May” is a personal story, at times feeling almost too personal. The vignettes we played were all perfectly PG, but it felt almost like voyeurism to know so much about a couple’s private moments. Freeman says that sharing personal experiences with a larger audience is something that “comes with practice,” but “We Met in May’s” upbeat nature made it easier.
“I’ve worked on a lot of really serious, difficult personal games about heartbreak and even abuse, so this type of personal story feels really easy to share in comparison to those,” she said. “The most important thing to us is that our feelings and experiences come across. We wanted to make something positive and funny that someone can play and just… enjoy.”
The full game will include four vignettes, three of which we played during our half-hour meeting. They’re short and simple, but Freeman says that’s by design. “Sometimes it’s nice to make something that’s fun and can make people laugh… If it makes anyone happy, we’ve accomplished what we set out to do!” Additional vignettes are planned for after its September Steam launch, which Nina says they’ll release in episodic fashion. It may not have the drama and turmoil of some relationship stories, or the length and complexity of bigger games, but if a sweet, simple, and sometimes humorous story was the point, “We Met in May” hits its target.