Indie 'To the Moon' explores memory and regret

Indie developer Kan Gao of Freebird Games is working on a very cool-looking JRPG-style adventure called To the Moon, and has released a debut trailer that does a great job capturing the emotional resonance his high-concept story is trying to achieve. To the Moon tells the story of Johnny--a man in the twilight of his life--and the two scientists who embark on a journey to alter Johnny's memories in an effort to help him realize an unfulfilled wish before he passes on.

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I recently reached out to Gao who was more than happy to answer some questions about his studio and To the Moon's development and inspiration. He revealed that the genesis of the game was borne from personal events that made him introspective about the issues of mortality and regret.

A couple of years ago, my grandfather had a crisis with his heart conditions. Fortunately, he was later recovered and had a pacemaker installed. But it made me think about mortality and how eventually, everyone will pass. I'm in my early 20s, a point in life where a lot of life-altering decisions will be made... and I couldn't help but think, that when the day comes and I look back at my life, if I will regret any of the choices I've made and wish I had done something different.

Gao also explained how this experience is reflected structurally in the game itself. "To put it pretentiously, the game is a bit of a play-in-a-play, such that the player watches the doctors as they watch Johnny's life unfold," he said. "And as such, it is a bit of a tragicomedy; the former being Johnny's life story, and the latter being handled by the doctors (who aren't always particularly sensitive to what goes on)."

High-concept storylines are all well-and-good, but I asked him how the narrative and themes would be reflected in real gameplay terms. Taking on the roles of the doctors, Gao told me, "the player... traverses through Johnny’s memories via items that interlink two planes, called 'mementos.'"

Gao clarified:

Each memento is blocked by a fuzzy barrier, and the player needs to acquire memory links from each memory to shatter the barrier of the local memento in order to move on. The means to acquire the memory links in each memory vary accordingly. There are also various mini-games and mini puzzles scattered around, wherever as the scenes dictate.

Individual mileage may vary--as with all things subjective--but the trailer for To the Moon is one of those rare pieces of video game media that provokes a bittersweet emotional response in me. The game's intriguing and slightly melancholic premise aside, I'm sure the beautiful original song composed by Gao with vocals by Laura Shigihara (of Plants vs. Zombies' "Zombies on Your Lawn" fame) has something to do with the feelings the trailer invokes.

To the Moon is planned for an October release on PC. Freebird Games says it is looking at Steam as a possible distribution platform.

You can check out the full interview with developer Kan Gao of Freebird Games on Shacknews sister-site Indie Games Channel.

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