To The Moon: Charming Roleplay Toward a Lonely Star

Steam is a pretty wonderful platform for finding new games, and that goes double for the site’s Summer and Winter Sales. This year’s Summer Sale gave me a few lovely new titles, including an RPG adventure game from 2011 called To The Moon.

Two scientists from the Sigmund Agency of Life Generation—Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene—arrive at the mansion of a dying old man, Johnny. They specialize in creating new memories for the dying, to help them achieve their missed dreams literally on their deathbed. Johnny wanted to go to the moon, so they delve into his mind with their advanced tech. However, they find that Johnny’s past trauma has more layers than anyone expected, from exploring Johnny’s marriage to his deceased wife River, their courtship, and whatever dark secret lay in their shared childhood.

Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games
Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games

Kan Gao, the game’s developer, writer, and music composer, did a fantastic job on every level. Not only did he makes the point-and-click gameplay easy to master, but he also wrote some very likable characters.

To give you an idea of what our protagonists are like, our two scientists are one point are discussing the TARDIS from Doctor Who and the logistics of trying to get a piano past its small doors. They make their arguments but then decide that they’d both love to watch such an episode of that ever happening. Neil and Eva’s pop culture-fueled banter is a nice break from the more tearful or dramatic moments they dig up when uncovering more of Johnny and River’s past. It’s never said outright, but River seems to have a disability like Asperger’s Syndrome. Johnny’s reactions to her condition only add more pathos to it, but it does raise a few issues that he himself struggles with in his youth, as we see in Neil and Eva’s journey.

This game is charming in every sense of the word. Its atmosphere is lighthearted with appropriate dips into more somber territory when dealing with Johnny’s past. What helps most is the amazing soundtrack composed by Kan Gao and Laura Shigihara. Combined with visual cues and appropriate camera shifts, the game knows how to mine every bit of emotional weight and bounce in its story, from one of the scientists having to deal with two irrepressible kids to the long journey toward achieving Johnny’s childhood dream.

I also have to commend To The Moon for its DLC content. At the time of this writing, there are 2 minisodes available to play through Steam. They take place after the events of the entire game, looking at Neil and Eva’s life and work at the Sigmund Agency. Specifically, the episodes are based on an office holiday party, wherein we see Neil’s unusual interests played out against Eva’s attempts to balance work with life outside the office. There’s even a fun minigame in the first DLC episode that plays like something out of Nintendo’s golden age.

Be warned that, if you get into To The Moon, you’ll come away with more than a bit of heartbreak by the end. That said, it’s a wonderful game that’s inventive, engaging, and incredibly sweet.

Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games
Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games

To The Moon is available for purchase and download through retailers like Steam, GOG.comand the Humble StoreLearn more about the game on the Freebird Games website.

Bibliography: To The Moon. Developed by Freebird Games. Published by Freebird Games. Written by Kan Gao. Designed by Kan Gao. RPG Maker (engine). Microsoft Windows; OS X; Linux. Original release date: November 1, 2011.

“The Wedding Album” by David Marusek: A “Rewired” Review

Copyright © 2007 by Tachyon Publications.

My reviews of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology continue with “The Wedding Album,” a Theodore Sturgeon Award-winning novella by David Marusek that was originally published in 1999.

A British couple named Anne and Benjamin live in a world where casting “sims” (i.e., virtual simulations of oneself and one’s memories at a specific moment in time) is commonplace.  However, the sims of Anne and Benjamin on their wedding day prove resilient to being reset and locked away, especially as the real-life Anne and Benjamin go through a troubled marriage.  Ultimately, the sims try to reconcile their locked memories and personalities with the real world and the multitude of clones based off the same two people, which itself ties into a global campaign for the liberation of all virtual beings and their right to live in the virtual world of Simopolis.  The sim of Anne on her wedding day tries to hold on to her happiness and her sense of reality in the face of an ever-accelerating future.

Suffice to say that this is a truly bizarre story, but because this is a transhuman story that delves into virtuality and digital memories, things going weird was bound to happen.  But whereas William Gibson’s “Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City” is strange because it has no plot or characters, David Marusek’s story has more than enough characters and plots that it stops being a short story and counts as a novella.  The real focus isn’t on the real-life Anne and Benjamin, but on their virtual copies living the same moment over and over again inside a digital memory chip.  They’re sentient, but still constrained and increasingly antiquated in the rapidly-accelerating present day.

Beyond the bizarre mechanics of the plot, the thematic content is strong.  “The Wedding Album” is an exploration of identity and memory and how strongly the two are tied.  It briefly becomes an extrapolation about the emergence of artificial minds based on human minds and the rights they’re owed as sentient beings, though the change in narrative toward this point happens so quickly that the reader easily shares Wedding!Anne’s confusion and frustration.  The ending is also ambiguous, with the possibility of it being happy or horrifying up for debate.

All things considered, this story does its job well in challenging the reader.  It allows you to empathize with a humble memory construct who only wants to hold onto the happy moment for which she was created, which sounds harder than it actually is.  Like Gibson’s “Thirteen Views,” Marusek’s “Wedding Album” is a literary ordeal, but a welcome one for any dedicated sci-fi reader.

Bibliography: Marusek, David.  “The Wedding Album.”  Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology.  Ed. James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel.  San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2007.