From Bury Me My Love to the BAFTAs: the Florent Maurin story
An interview with Florent Maurin, CEO, The Pixel Hunt, who is up for two BAFTA awards for his game
It might not be burning up the download charts or going viral, but “Bury Me, My Love” has been gathering critical acclaim, not just for its innovative text message-based interface, but for also moving out of gaming’s fantasy comfort zone and tackling real-life issues. The game tells the story of a Syrian who is trying to leave the country and the civil war that is wrecking it, and her conversations on text with her husband (you can read our review here). The game has not only made it to Google’s list of Best Indie Games but at the time of writing, had also been nominated for two prestigious BAFTA awards. We caught up with Florent Maurin, CEO, The Pixel Hunt, and the designer of the game to find out more about the game and where the company is headed next.
How did you get the idea for making Bury Me My Love (BMML)?
Well, this all started with an article in French newspaper Le Monde “The Journey of a Syrian Migrant” as told by her WhatsApp Conversations. It told the story of a young woman named Dana, who left Damascus in 2015 and tried to reach Germany. More specifically, it explained how she had kept in touch with her loved ones, both still in Syria and already in Germany, as she was undertaking her journey. This piece struck me because I immediately felt connected to Dana and her friends and family. They were sending each other jokes and emojis, and asking for soccer results, exactly as I do with my friends. The difference though is that they also were discussing matters of life and death.
That made me think about how I considered migrants. It actually was the very first journalism piece I saw that described them for what they were – actual human beings – and not for what us Europeans were considering them to be – a “problem” to be taken care of. It struck me that, even though I consider myself well informed and rather open, I had been kind of perverted by the usual TV broadcast that present migrants as a faceless mass rather than a sum of individuals, with people who care about them. If I had been able to forget that simple truth, maybe it was useful for me to reassert it in a video game, for other players to remember it too?
In a world where graphics are everything, why did you go with a mainly text format? Didn’t you feel tempted to use graphics and effects?
I might have been, but we did not have the budget! But also, to be honest, I believe in the power of words. I’ve been a journalist for ten years, and I’m an avid reader. I think literature is great to make people see the invisible and feel the unknown. And I think that text messages are a very particular way of expressing oneself – a very true and intimate way. For all those reasons, we weren’t afraid to rely heavily on text to tell the story we wanted to tell. And also, I knew that Pierre Corbinais, the game’s main writer, is very talented, so I knew he’d do a great job!
We really liked the dialogues in the game, and how they brought out the personalities of the characters, Nour and Majd. Who are the characters inspired by?
Nour is directly inspired by Dana, the woman from the Le Monde article. Thanks to Lucie Soullier, the journalist who has written this piece, we have been able to contact Dana and explain our project to her. She instantly loved the idea and agreed to consult with us on the game. She read every word we wrote in order for us to be sure we were as realistic and believable as possible. But also, we discussed a lot with her, and thanks to that, we got a sense of how a young, independent and brave Syrian woman is – because that’s exactly what Dana is. Majd, on the other hand, comes directly from our imagination. He’s rather different from Nour because we thought the contrast would make for an interesting story basis. Also, Nour and Majd are a married couple, and we enjoyed the idea that, In Syria like anywhere in the world, the differences between people can be transcended by love.
The game has been around for a while, has been critically acclaimed and as we write, has been nominated for a BAFTA, and yet it has not really topped the download charts. Why do you think this is the case?
I’m not sure, really, but I’d say that for most people, being unsettled by a video game still isn’t that easy to accept nowadays. Most people play games for fun and escapism – and that’s especially true on mobile. And the news coming from Syria are so hard to cope with lots of people have stopped paying attention altogether – out of protection, because they feel helpless. So I’d venture to think a game with a premise like “Follow a young Syrian woman as she tries to reach Europe and not die in the process” isn’t the most appealing thing there is?
On the subject of the BAFTA, how does it feel to be nominated for the award? We are rooting for you, of course.
Thanks!!! This is amazing! I still can’t believe we got TWO nominations! I don’t know if we’ll win, because the competition is so high and the other games so good, but even being nominated already is a tremendous achievement! I’m very glad for the team, and also because of our game’s topic. Somehow, a bunch of seasoned pros decided it was not only possible but also interesting, to tackle such a delicate topic in the form of a game – and as someone who wants to see the game as a medium go past their present boundaries, which fills me with joy and hope for what’s next!
What improvements or changes can we expect in the game in the coming days (via updates). There are 19 known endings. Do you plan to add to them?
Not yet. The next modifications on our roadmap are:
– a desktop version (in the making)
– a graphics update of the game’s interface (in the making)
– a translation in Arabic (if we find the money)
The game is already huge (>110k words) so adding more to the script is unlikely… Maybe we’ll make some kind of sequel?
Let’s move on to The Pixel Hunt. Tell us a bit about yourself – when did you get it underway, how many people work with you, how many offices do you have and so on.
I founded The Pixel Hunt in 2013, and since then, I’m on my own in the company. But for Bury me, my Love, I hired my first employee, Paul – he was the coder on the project. The rest of the team were freelancers, as I think every project is unique and requires a different team to be as good as possible.
The Pixel Hunt’s main office is based in Paris, France. We share a space with other very cool companies – none is in the games business, though. But I’m only there two days a week. The rest of the week, I live with my family in a very small countryside village in southern Burgundy.
Bury me, my Love is a co-production between The Pixel Hunt, Figs and Arte. Figs is an interface design studio, they are a team of five people, and they are based in Paris. Check out their website: they make rad things! And Arte is a European TV channel that has been investing in games coproductions in the past three years. They’re great, provided us with constant awesome feedback, and without them,, thus there’s no doubt BMML would not be the game it is today.
What other games are you working on? Are you planning to stick to games that have a social/political inclination or are there plans for more mainstream/ lighter games?
My next game is still in its very early phase, but it will once again be reality-inspired. But it won’t be social or political in the sense BMML is. I’m aiming for something more mundane. It’ll be about the questions a lot of us ask ourselves: what is life about? What are our greatest accomplishments and our biggest regrets? After all, I am French . Thus I kind of have to make an existentialist game! So, still not mainstream, but more philosophical than inspired by the news this time. And also, it’ll be a desktop game, nor a mobile game like BMML.
Simple question: what in your opinion, is a great game? And which is your favorite game?
My favorite game of all time is Grim Fandango. To this day, I still remember me playing it. I have flashes where I see myself in front of my old computer, in my room, trying to solve the puzzles… even though I hate puzzles! But the setting, the atmosphere was so unique! For me, that’s what a great game is: a game you’ll randomly remember ten years from now. So obviously, it varies a lot from one person to the next!
There are a lot of people in India who want to get into mobile gaming. What’s your advice to them? And incidentally, how did YOU yourself get into it?
I got into mobile gaming by accident: because the story I wanted to tell commanded me to tell it through a mobile app. So I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of good advice, except maybe: if you want to make a premium mobile game, be sure to have a strong added value, something truly unique that will make you stand out because the mobile premium market is awfully unforgiving.
What do you do when you are not developing games?
I like to play with my 2 daughters – 5 and 1 years old, play video games (I don’t have as much time as I’d like to do that), go for hikes in the countryside, share moments and drinks with friend, and of course spend time with the love of my life. We enjoy going on vacation abroad together, that has proven more difficult now that we’ve got children but we managed to visit Cinque Terre in Italia this summer, and it was great!
What can we expect from you in the coming days? Any plans to visit India?
We should soon have this desktop version of BMML out, so maybe expect that! I’d love so much to come to India; I really hope I’ll have the opportunity to one day. I’ve been told the country is so big and diverse that visiting the north, south, east or west feels like visiting different places… I’ll have to come for some time to be sure I see it all!
Any message for our readers?
I’d like to thank your readers for their interest in our game. The world is full of stories worth telling, and I hope you’ll learn interesting things about Syrian refugees while playing BMML.
(Nimish Dubey contributed to this interview)