How Until Then Showcases The Beauty Of Filipino Culture

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The Philippines-based Polychroma Games is set to release the narrative adventure game Until Then later this year. It follows a young teenager named Mark in the Philippines as he goes through the trials and tribulations of high-school life, such as hitting deadlines and making presentations. However, people from his life start disappearing and his memories become unreliable, meaning it’s up to him to check up with his friends to untangle the mystery surrounding his memories. Until Then explores the lives of Filipino students through its gorgeous pixel-art style and how themes like communication and friendship are so integral to Filipino culture.

Slice-of-life, coming-of-age stories that depict daily school lives are incredibly popular in Asian media, especially in video games. The most prominent example is the Persona series, which is set in Japan. Until Then follows similar footsteps with Mark. “It’s the same with the Philippines as well,” Polychroma Games senior environmental artist Pia Demanawa tells GameSpot. “This is the part that we romanticize the most, because we feel furthest away from adult responsibilities here, and we can just mess around with our friends.”

Director Mickole Klein Nulud adds that academics and achievements play a big part in many of Asia’s youth, saying, “We spend a lot of our time in youth here and, as a result, end up making it a stage for interesting things to happen in stories, both good and bad.”

Until Then also features many nuances of Filipino culture within its themes. Demanawa says that communication is the most important theme in Until Then. In Filipino culture, there’s a word, “torpe,” which describes a person who doesn’t show their feelings towards someone they like. Throughout the game, Mark shows some interest in a few girls, and things sometimes don’t go his way.

What exemplifies the concept of torpe more than unrequited teenage love? “Because the characters don’t open up with each other, they end up misunderstanding and assuming a lot of things about each other,” Demanawa explains. “That threatens and breaks apart the relationships that they have, and in the end, they can only really strengthen their bonds as friends.”

Until Then is presented in a 2.5D pixel-art style, similar to other Southeast Asian-developed games such as Chinatown Detective Agency and A Space for the Unbound. He says that he enjoyed the pixel-art style and thought that having an eye-catching visual style was important for the game. Nulud also specifically cites the cinematic platformer The Last Night as an inspiration.

Nulud says that one of the biggest challenges in developing the game was the sheer number of sprites that needed to be managed. There are tens of thousands of PNG files from all character animations combined just to make the faces of the 2D characters’ faces expressive.

“In scenes, we manually change each characters’ facial expressions almost line by line in addition to perfecting the timing of delivery and pauses,” he says. “I find it a little funny because, as the director, I am literally directing how these characters act as if they were real people.”

Demanawa adds that the character sprites started with the same number of pixels as their backgrounds. However, the pixel density of the sprites was later increased in order to emphasize the characters’ mannerisms. They explain, “This would allow us to have more real estate with poses and expressions, which is necessary to really let the characters’ unique identities shine through.”

The game also has many inspirations and references from real-life places in the Philippines. In the beginning of the game, Mark rides the train station to school, which is modeled after the real-life Katipunan station and LRT-2, a transit line in Metro Manila. The Quezon Memorial Circle also shows up in-game briefly, and Mark’s school–the fictional Liamson Integrated School–is based off of Nulud’s real-life alma mater, Rizal National Science High School.

Until Then

Nulud says, “If it’s not any particular place, we take general inspiration from the houses you’d find in the streets, Filipino architecture, and so on.”

Until Then’s development started during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dmanawa says that the team couldn’t physically visit places for inspiration, so they had to rely on things like Google Earth and their own memories in order to recreate them. While the locations in Until Then aren’t pulled straight from real life, they’re the result of amalgamations that the team brainstormed together.

There were also inspirations from anime and movies as well, and Nulud’s taste in film and anime changed throughout the game’s four-year development cycle. At the beginning, Until Then’s story aspirations were inspired by Naoshi Arakawa’s Your Lie in April and Makoto Shinkai’s work. However, as development continued, more artful and slower films such as ones by Ryusuke Hamaguchi took a stronger hold on his influences.

“Now I know we can’t just do a 180 and change the story’s fundamentals in response to new inspiration,” he explains. “We have to strike a certain balance, and indeed, there are times where this side of our influences shows and those are my favorite moments in the game.”

Nulud also notes that human relationships and communication are some of his favorite ideas to tackle, saying, “As for how they’re reflected in the game, it’s best that players find out for themselves in this beautiful, cathartic journey we crafted.”

Until Then will launch for PS5 and PC later this year–it had been due out on May 23, only to be delayed by a few weeks, with no new date set yet. A demo is available on Steam.