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The timely retrofuturism of point-and-click adventure Read Only Memories

Developer Matt Conn discusses how Read Only Memories makes a classic game genre feel thoroughly up-to-date.

Read Only Memories is both futuristic and old school. It's a classic adventure game that relies on some familiar tropes of the cyberpunk genre. But as you explore the streets of the diverse city of Neo-San Francisco with the world's first sapient robot, Turing, you quickly discover that the game has an utterly unique sensibility.

Answering our questions on the critically acclaimed game is Matt Conn, executive producer on the game at studio Midboss:

How would you actually describe Read Only Memories?

Read Only Memories is a cyberpunk adventure game that really forces the player into what we believe is a believable, living, breathing world. As you explore Neo-SF, the mysteries of the world and this near future reveal themselves to the player. It's a ride that's filled with laughs, tears, and intrigue as you go deeper and deeper into the world of Neo-SF and guiding your new robot friend Turing to their destiny.

Do you feel people get what ROM is all about?

I enjoy ROM being a bit vague, as I think that allows it to be much more subversive - I think I'd rather that we have a product that anyone can enjoy and go into without perceptions of it being a political or gay game, and hopefully they're able to walk away with something they can talk to their friends about, or maybe they'll dive a little deeper into the story and lore. I feel like one of the biggest fears that's out there is that LGBTQ games or themes would "ruin" a game, and we wanted to show a really in depth, old school type game with these themes to show , hopefully, how fun and natural they can be when they're interwoven into the fabric of the story.

ROMint2.gif

Why did you choose to make your political comments in such a subtle way? I for one deeply appreciated the way you chose to speak about such important issues and present them in a wisely simple way.

I strongly believe if we went heavy handed, it would have been rejected across the board by gamers. We weren't trying to make a game just for LBGTQ folks - they know the struggle, and I think presenting it overtly would just be insulting to them and unappealing to most other gamers. I think creating a game where queer gamers can see themselves in the characters, in a variety of power dynamics, while other gamers can sorta see the struggles of a new class of outsiders and outliers, and hopefully can better relate to some of the modern day queer struggles.

"A lot of arguments, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of careful balancing went into each segment. "

Could you provide us with a rough idea of how you went on to create ROM? A very brief making-of if you will?

It was extremely, extremely collaborative, a ton of attention to detail and a lot of winging it. The game kept on evolving as it was being made, adding new systems, scrapping and restarting areas. We sorta just built with no timeline, no specific goal except telling the story we wanted to tell until we could literally no longer work on it without releasing it or we would starve to death. I think creating one of the very first large scale queer games, the pressure was on us to make sure we didn't mess this up, and we just really wanted to make sure we got everything right. I think the fact that despite such an old school play style, the fact that gamers are resonating with it is a good indication that people are digging the vibe we worked so hard together as a group to put out.

A lot of arguments, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of careful balancing went into each segment. Are we telling the story we want to tell here? Story and continuity wise, does this all make sense? If the player does the BARE MINIMUM in the scene, what do we want them to have to walk away with for the scene to make sense. Where can we give the player choice without breaking the plot we're trying to tell? And most of all - is this a fun and engaging experience?

ROMint3.png

"We sorta just built with no timeline, no specific goal except telling the story we wanted to tell, until we could literally no longer work on it without releasing it or we would starve to death."

How on earth did you manage to create such an incredibly lovable robot?

Haha, I think a lot of that was just a lot of our team just pouring our heart into the little bot - we knew the success of the game hinged on Turing being likeable, but part of what makes someone likeable isn't just being nice and cute, they have to be charming. We think the mix of Turing's naive outlook on the world, mixed with their love of painting and art, mixed with..some of the more human elements of their personality, allows Turing to be the cute, yet flawed little buddy that so many players have loved. I can see the metrics of what endings were triggered by players doing (spoilers), and of the thousands of endings triggered in the first two weeks, it was only a very, very small sliver of players who got endings triggered by (spoilers) on their first run. Pretty cool to see how people ended up playing the game - some of the paths we thought would never get selected get selected quite often, while other secrets are still hidden away...

Was Snatcher one of your main sources of inspiration? An important influence on the structure of ROM?

Snatcher was my JAM as a kid. As an angsty teenager, I made a sequel to Snatcher in Flash. I wanted a sequel to Snatcher so badly. It was SO far ahead of its time, its a game that you could pop in today and still be wowed by the graphics, the music, the suspense...it was just so good. It seemed so far ahead of its time because it worked off its strengths, which were its art, music and story, and at the start of ROM, we didn't really have a programming team. We had a story, and an artist and a musician, but we were really starting from scratch and our lead programmer didn't even come on the project really until the end of the Kickstarter. And so as we planned out making this game and Kickstarter, I think my love of Snatcher, mixed with wanting to focus on what we could do well, mixed with a medium like the old school point and click that has SO much dialogue and options, that we could allow characters to be subtle in their queerness or..other mannerisms, allowed them to not feel like one dimensional "statements", but living, real people. A lot of our gameplay style is pretty directly inspired by Snatcher - we actually pulled away from a lot of modern techniques to try to really keep to this structure. I know for some people it may not be their cup of tea, but I really love the style of point and click of Snatcher, Policenauts, Rise of the Dragon, stuff like that and I wanted it to stay in that same world.

What does the future hold?

We're going to be adding more stuff over the next few months, both in terms of in game improvements and polish, as well as DLC as we lead up to our console and mobile release.

If people enjoy 2064, we think they're really going to enjoy 2065. I think a LOT of our time went into building out this engine, the voice, and the team. There were a lot of ideas and characters and stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor. Especially since we knew that the eyes of the world were on the game at launch, we may have played things a bit safe with some characters and plot devices at times - we wanted to tell the story right, but we also wanted to make sure we were holding true to the values of our company and the Kickstarter. But...it may be time to take the gloves off :)

 

 

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