JJ Signal and the MidBoss team pull back the curtain on Read Only Memories: Neurodiver

Get some great insight on the writing, puzzles, voice direction, and more!


One of my favorite games and biggest surprises this year so far has been the short and sweet visual novel Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. If you haven’t heard of it, you should scoot over and read my review, then check the game out! It’s a brisk, but well-told story set in a compelling cyberpunk world that stands out thanks to some incredibly charming characters and vocal performances.

We were recently offered a chance to interview the team at MidBoss. Not being well-versed in Read Only Memories as a whole I was nervous, but the opportunity to feed some curiosity always wins in the end. We heard from Neurodiver Director JJ Signal, with some additional responses from other members of the team. Signal offered a ton of insight on Neurodiver’s development, and generally answered my questions with substance and transparency.

It’s good stuff folks, check it out!

ES88 about to dive into memories, in Neurodiver
Source: MidBoss

Lucas White, Shacknews: First, since Neurodiver has been out for a hot minute by now, how has the response been? How is the team feeling now that it’s out?

JJ Signal, Director and Lead Artist: The response is a little mixed here and there but mostly positive, thankfully! There are some responses, understandably, that are disappointed in the shorter length and difference in tone compared to the original game, 2064: Read Only Memories. Most find Neurodiver to be very charming, though. A world with some fun writing, visuals, and music to hang out in. People seem to like the newer characters in the game, too, with a specific interest in the relationship between the leads, ES88 and GATE.

At the end of the day, our goal was to make a short and breezy adventure that happened to revisit some old friends from the previous game as well as meet up with some new ones. It was a chance to see how they were doing while also doing something a little fresh with the story. I’m really proud of what we made. It’s a very personal game to me, both with its story and as a project, and I still play it occasionally in my off time.

What did the road from the first ROM to deciding on and conceptualizing a sequel look like? Were there a lot of potential Neurodivers before this one was the chosen path, or did things fall into place faster than expected?

Signal: There were a few. Originally there was a story involving a major event with a plant hybrid that scrambles everyone’s memories with a neurotoxin and it’s up to you to piece the complete story together by diving into each person’s head. That also included the previous cast. It eventually shifted to more of a story about imposter syndrome where the memories are mostly focused on a point in people’s memories where they’re hung up on a specific time where they felt their abilities weren’t up to snuff.

Either way, the one constant was that it still involved a psychic girl main character, a weird creature that attaches to her, and a BCA partner with some sapphic yearning. ES88’s design changed a little bit, while GATE’s design didn’t really change much at all since she was a combination of two people who I was listening to a lot at the time in early planning: Annie Lennox and Grace Jones.

Investigative gameplay in Neurodiver
Source: MidBoss

It’s hard to explain, but the voice performances in Neurodiver give me a very “anime dub” vibe - does that map on at all intent-wise? Either way, did anything interesting come up when working out the overall tone of the voice work?

Signal: Yeah! That was definitely brought up a few times when we were reviewing auditions. Especially with Sparrow (Ashley Woods). I loved her voice coupled with her design. Our voice director and I agreed that it had a very cool and unique 90s dub feel to it. Outside of that, everything kinda fell neatly into place for everyone else. Amber Lee Connors was immediately and 100% exactly GATE, and Daisy Guevara was immediately and 100% exactly ES88. Daisy fit the role so well. Everyone knocked it out of the park. We couldn’t be happier with the cast!

Speaking of anime, there are some works that feel like obvious inspirations (Bubblegum Crisis comes to mind). What are some other sources of inspiration for folks who worked on Neurodiver? And this is a very individual thing, but can anyone speak to how they draw from inspirations in their work while cultivating their own voice and style?

Sam Ortiz, Lead Writer: When writing ES88, I took a lot of inspiration from my friends who loved anime, especially magical girl anime. Their excitement and love for the characters in those shows led me to watch some myself, and I learned a lot about the moral lessons taught in those shows and the formulas they followed. That helped shape how ES88 saw her journey. I also took inspiration from my own life. As a Latina growing up in Texas, though different from California, I felt a connection to ES88 but knew my experience was limited and wanted to expand my horizons. Speaking with friends in Latinx in Gaming and listening to their stories, I was able to understand what it was like growing up in California and learn the cultural differences. I learn a lot from the people around me and they help me grow as a writer! I was very honored to help bring this story to life using my experiences and the experiences of those around me.

Sina Grace, Writer, Original Story: I spent countless hours playing Emily Haines & the Soft Skeletons’ album Choir of the Mind while working on Neurodiver. There is a song on the album, Minefield of Memory, that perfectly captures the essence of what the game was for me: a layered puzzle, a determined voice making its way out of a hole, the push and pull of stability… all through Emily Haines’ inviting-but-enigmatic vocals. The whole album got me in the zone of getting into ES88’s mind while she dove into others’.

Shanon Ingles, Writer, Initial Story Planning: Chronenberg.

With our lead narrative designer, Jolie Menzel, we kinda already shared a lot of the same interests in anime, movies, and other media when she joined. Cyber City Oedo 808 played an important role in figuring out the Pilot Memory plot, and in the early part of the pandemic we were watching a lot of shows over streaming. One of those was Kimagure Orange Road, which we all really enjoyed. The name of the bar you meet Jess in, Cheek Time, is just from a line mentioned in episode three in the disco club Kyosuke visits.

As for myself, it was a combination of a lot of things. ES88 and GATE’s designs were spawned from music, mostly. Specifically The Eurythmics’ Beethoven (I Love to Listen to), Shame, and Sonia’s Listen To Your Heart. The game as a whole is, pretty blatantly, inspired by Japanese ADV games on consoles like Famicom Tantei Club and Bubblegum Crash. While it wasn’t a direct influence since I started playing them in the later part of development, the Galaxy Fraulein Yuna games, several things from the Compile Disc Station series of software, and the 100 yen disk collections served as sort of encouragement to keep pushing forward with what we were doing.

One thing I noticed (and appreciated) about Neurodiver is how unapologetic it feels about being a visual novel. I’ve been around long enough to remember the uphill battle this genre had, and how many detrimental, gameplay for gameplay’s sake gimmicks VN- style games had to incorporate to duck criticism. Are there any concerns with doing a VN these days, or is it pretty comfortable?

Signal: I really don’t care much about trends or fearing too much about not having enough gameplay in an ADV game. We do have a puzzle element to Neurodiver, but in some ways it’s about as important as the turn-based fighting in something like Galaxy Fraulein Yuna. It’s there, you can do it, but it’s not a major focus. It’s mostly just a thing to break up the dialogue for a bit. If you want to make a VN, make a VN. There are plenty out there that have cool stories and zero gimmicks.

And if you want to make a Japanese ADV-like game, remember that stuff like Snatcher, outside of its Justifier segments, weren’t really doing much outside of, “exhaust all options and move to the next cool looking scene.” Jordan doesn’t really count since you only really have to use it once or twice to progress the story. That was also a game that was fully linear, and also had one ending, but everyone praises it here because it just so happened to come out in English. It’s a great game! But I think people’s views on it doing something more than it did are a little inflated.

Source: Konami

Long story short: You want to make a visual novel that’s really straight forward? Go for it! Make the game you wanna make and share it with the world! F*** the industry’s and people’s ideas of what needs to be in a game to make it a game! Make something cool! Just, perhaps, don’t stake your livelihood on it.

On that note, what led to the memory repair moments being the, relatively speaking, capital-G Gameplay segments? Were they more or less complex at some points? What was kind of the thinking behind making those stand out/the main “hands on” moments?

Signal: There was some loose complexity being discussed in the beginning. Originally in early, early development we wanted the Neurodiver itself to have a digital pet mini-game, so every morning and evening when you’d come home, you would have to talk to the Neurodiver and maybe give it some nourishment (wet cat food) to make it happy. Depending on its mood the next day would determine how many clues you could get in a memory, or alternatively how easy it would be to solve a fragment. Also depending on whether you fed the Neurodiver cat food or not, ES88 would comment on either hating the taste of cat food after a dive, or hating that she craved it after a dive due to the psychic bond. This was ultimately dropped due to time constraints.

We stuck to mostly the basics with it in the end, and I was fine with it taking more of a back seat gameplay-wise over the rest of the game.

By the end of Neurodiver I was quite shocked it was over, and was left really wanting more. My gut reaction was kind of negative but I realized over time it was more of a good thing. What’s it like deciding how long to make a story like this, and what kind of challenges come up when you’re trying to build an interesting world and tell a very character-focused story at the same time?

Signal: The decision for the length of the game was both a response to feedback on the pacing, verbosity, and overall length of the original game, 2064: Read Only Memories, and simply not being capable of matching that scope again. There were so many variables, so much text to pour through, so many things to tinker with on the mini games, and we’re such a small team now that it wasn’t really possible to get up to that scope again realistically. Additionally, we needed voice over and localization in six languages out of the door, and cost-wise it would be far too much to do something, again, at the same scale of 2064.

So, it’s tough! Especially when people had high expectations from our previous game, which I didn’t think was even a thing! There were some, but still major, constraints to deal with, so we approached this almost like a Saturday morning cartoon or short OVA series. Each chapter is its own episode containing a short story following a new character who can literally read memories. The psychic aspect wasn’t anything new, at least internally. I was flirting with the idea of DLC for 2064 that featured psychic phenomena, and short stories featuring the main cast, which this also kinda fulfilled.

The titular Neurodiver creature from Neurodiver
Source: MidBoss

I know some responses to this game were wondering why it wasn’t DLC, but you have to remember that 2064’s development started at the end of 2013, when Unity didn’t even have a real solid way of handling 2D games. The previous game’s framework is so old now, with so many plugins that just do not exist anymore, that I’m sure if we were to work on it in a newer version of Unity everything would collapse in on itself.

It had to start fresh and from scratch, it had to be simple, and it had to meet requirements that previously weren’t a thing with the first game. I think the biggest challenge is hoping people come into this with more of an open mind, and not expecting more of the same from the previous game.

Here’s the obligatory pandemic question. Neurodiver was announced in 2019, in the Before Times. How’d the pandemic impact development and how were the various challenges overcome?

Signal: We were already working from home by the time the pandemic hit us, and the rest of the team was also working remotely anyway. That’s not to say that everything that happened from 2020 to now didn’t hit us hard mentally and emotionally. Before the vaccinations came around, no one was really leaving the house.

There weren’t a lot of options to have a change of scenery, and even when things opened up again, it was still pretty limited. All of 2020-2022 felt like a strange purgatory. Even more so in the SF bay area around August/September when fires made the whole bay look like Mars in 2020. You couldn’t open the windows without filling the house with some nasty smoke filled air for about a month.

So the biggest challenge for a while was just keeping motivation and momentum up. There were definitely times where it felt like attempting to fight through a tar pit.

Puzzle gameplay from Neurodiver
Source: MidBoss

What kind of things are we thinking about now? Is there a desire for more ES88, or any other hopes and dreams for ROM as a series?

Signal: I’d love to revisit ES88 and GATE again, or something with Crow and the Old Birds, or another character entirely. I will say that I’m not really interested in another cyberpunk or sci-fi story about artificial intelligence and what it means to be human with a robot, however. I love Turing, and would also love to revisit Turing, but maybe under a different set of circumstances. Maybe another short comic series? If we could get a short animated series that’d be a dream.

But for now, we need a break!

Read Only Memories: Neurodiver is available now for PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

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