How Facebook inspired Remember Me to drop global warming, and why its protagonist had to be a woman
Remember Me is a cyberpunk adventure where heroine Nilin can “remix” an individual's memories by hacking into their neural implants as she attempts to reclaim her memories. The game was originally titled “Adrift,” and was set to examine a wide swatch of current issues, including global warming.
When I asked creative director Jean-Max Moris why he had chosen to narrow down his game's themes to focus on memory, he gave a surprising answer: Facebook.
We can remember it for you wholesale
“Cyberpunk games or really, any type of cyberpunk entertainment is about identifying technical trends today, extrapolate it to the near future, and see what happens. You want to have a social commentary about it or political commentary about it or just fiction centered around it,” Moris said.
Today, we share our histories and the events in our lives via social networks like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Moris said that was fascinating to him, and so the world of Remember Me takes the concept one step further, allowing individuals within its universe to completely digitize and re-live past experiences.
I admitted the idea sounded a little out there. If cyberpunk was about extrapolating current trends into the near future as Moris said, how did he justify such fantastical technology? He told me that it's not quite as crazy as I might think, and the game keeps ties to the real world throughout its design.
“The Sensation Engine, the Sensen, that allows people to digitize their memories through direct sensation recording is an evolution of… we have researched neural helmets or nodes that are already being made today that you can already control, and there are already simple actions you can have with a computer or the world through pure thought,” he told me.
“The whole background of the company that manufactures the Senson brain implant… their experiments, the way it was built, how it ended up being the dominating force on that market, everything is really consistent,” Moris said. “And scary in a way, because it feels like a natural evolution of what's happening today.”
The game even makes an effort to justify unlocking Nilin's combos. Nilin was a combat operative before she had her memory wiped, so when she unlocks new combos, she's supposedly just unlocking procedual memory that was already there.
Procedural memory in real life helps us remember how to perform particular tasks, such as riding a bike. Therefore, it's not hard to justify using it in Remember Me, and it still fits with the larger theme of memory that the game focuses on. “There are many types of memories,” Moris pointed out. “It's a fascinating theme.”
A woman's touch
We had some that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.Nilin, as you may have noticed, is a woman. Female-led games are something of a rarity, and those that are made often lack the funding or marketing push of games featuring male protagonists. I asked Moris why Remember Me's hero was a woman.
“It was not a decision,” he said. “It was something that just felt right from the beginning. It's one of those things that we never looked at from a pure, cold marketing perspective because that would have endangered the consistency of the whole game.”
That doesn't mean Nilin's sex wasn't on other people's minds, though. By the time Remember Me was shown to prospective publishers, it was too late to change Nilin from a woman to a man, and this was enough to cause potential backers to abstain from publishing the game. “We had some that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that,'” Moris told the Report.
Even if Moris had changed Nilin to be male, that solution produced its own drama. “We wanted to be able to tease on Nilin's private life, and that means for instance, at one point, we wanted a scene where she was kissing a guy,” Moris said. “We had people tell us, 'You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward.'”
Moris chuckled. “I'm like, 'If you think like that, there's no way the medium's going to mature,'” he said. “There's a level of immersion that you need to be at, but it's not like your sexual orientation is being questioned by playing a game. I don't know, that's extremely weird to me.”
Besides all the extra hassle a virtual sex change would cause Remember Me, having Nilin be female makes sense from a thematic standpoint as well. “The fact is that we're doing a cyberpunk game, and there are cyberpunk games out there that are about physical augmentation and transhumanism, and those are very male worlds in a way,” Moris said.
“The world we were building was much more about emotion, intimacy, identity, and the way technology would intersect those. It just felt like the other side of the coin, the yin and the yang, and it just made sense to us that it would be a female character.”
Moris said he gets excited when games step out of their comfort zones to try new things, and he's not a big believer in chasing the perfect demographic. His theory is creativity first. “You can identify with people of the other gender in movies, why could you not in games? The fact that our core target is males 15-25 is not an excuse. We need to be able to create, and respect the audience enough to believe that they can be smart enough to identify with that type of character.”
If you want to put Moris' theory to the test, Remember Me will be playable this weekend at PAX East.