A farewell to Coffee Talk creator Mohammad Fahmi

It’s been a bad few years for the world — and it seems that a significantly higher than average number of wonderful people have been taken from us far too soon. The latest loss to the games industry is Mohammad Fahmi, best known as the writer of Coffee Talk, What Comes After and the upcoming Afterlove EP, who has passed away aged just 32.

The news was announced yesterday by Fahmi’s sister via his Twitter account. At the time of writing, his cause of death does not appear to be known, but according to his former colleagues at developer Toge Productions, he had been suffering from asthma for some time. Ultimately the reason he’s gone doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things; what does matter is that the world has lost a wonderful creator — albeit one who managed to make a significant impact in his time with us.

Mohammad Fahmi's Coffee Talk

Fahmi is probably best known for writing Toge Productions’ wonderful Coffee Talk, a visual novel about life in a coffee shop situated in a Shadowrun-esque take on Seattle, where humans and fantasy creatures allike hang out, drink coffee and tell their stories. The remarkable thing is that when Coffee Talk was first pitched, Fahmi wasn’t actually a developer at Toge Productions; he was their marketing and PR manager.

Toge Productions, who have been in the business since 2009, runs an annual internal game jam, during which any staff member is free to work on any project that they please, regardless of their usual role in the company. In the December 2017 jam, Fahmi began pondering whether or not it was possible for a video game to recreate the calming experience of sipping a hot drink while taking a break from the pressures and stress of everyday life — and he began exploring how this might be accomplished.

It was a timely subject to explore; 2017 was the year that the ever-present “lo-fi beats to study and relax to” had become particularly popular on YouTube, and the game was designed with that overall vibe in mind. Indeed, the game’s eventual soundtrack makes a great audible accompaniment to both studying and relaxing. And, indeed, working on a website, as I can personally attest while typing this.

Mohammad Fahmi's Coffee Talk

Fahmi was aware that the idea of a game about running a coffee shop would draw inevitable comparisons to Sukeban Games’ excellent VA-11 HALL-A from the previous year, however, and so rather than trying to hide this, he specifically made an effort to chat with the guys from Sukeban at the Japanese indie gaming festival BitSummit.

“During a party on a river bank in Kyoto, we talked about how Sukeban achieved what they have from VA-11 HALL-A,” Fahmi wrote in a devlog post on Steam in 2018. “One thing they told me to keep in mind was not to add features just because you can, or because you don’t think the gameplay is deep enough to be called a ‘game’. I had never mentioned our anxiety about the lack of gameplay in Coffee Talk, and yet here they were, telling me that the first thing I needed to make sure of was something we’d been thinking a lot about for the past few months.”

Fahmi was committed to providing a great experience to players while simultaneously remaining true to his own creative vision — and the result was an absolutely beautiful game, beloved by everyone who spent time with it. Indeed, although Fahmi moved on from Toge Productions to start his own development studio after Coffee Talk, the original game remains popular to this day — and the upcoming sequel is keenly anticipated.

Mohammad Fahmi's Coffee Talk

Besides making a great game, Fahmi played another important role in the games industry as a whole: he helped to put south-east Asia and Indonesia in particular on the map for a lot of people, particularly here in the west. This isn’t to say that there were no excellent games from south-east Asia prior to Coffee Talk, but rather Coffee Talk proved to be something of a watershed moment in terms of worldwide awareness.

Fahmi’s work on Coffee Talk made it clear that games from south-east Asia had a distinct feel and identity compared to titles from other Asian regions — but a feel and identity which had worldwide appeal and relatability. It helped, of course, that Coffee Talk featured an almost universally relatable setting and premise rather than being explicitly “Indonesian” — but since its release, we’ve seen a lot of south-east Asian developers embracing their local identity and traditions more wholeheartedly with titles like the upcoming A Space for the Unbound.

Tributes have been pouring in for Fahmi and his work since the announcement of his passing yesterday. IGN’s south-east Asian site has been collecting many of them together and reaching out to the people who knew him the best and worked with him to hear their thoughts. It’s clear that he was a widely beloved, inspirational creator who touched the lives of people from all over the world — and his departure at the age of just 32 is a tragic loss to the world.

Rest in peace, Fahmi; your loss will be mourned, but the indelible mark you left on today’s games industry will never be forgotten — and your amazing work will continue to, quite rightly, be celebrated.

If you’d like to play Fahmi’s games for yourself, Coffee Talk is available for PC via Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation platforms and Xboxes. What Comes After is available for PC via Steam and Nintendo Switch.

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Pete Davison
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