Tag Archives: Neil Watts

To the Moon’s Holiday Special Minisode can’t answer whether altering memories is immoral

to the moon holiday special thoughts gd

I waited far too long to actually play To the Moon, which sat in my digital collection for far too long, and so, after beating it and reading up on Kan Gao and his future plans for the series, I discovered that a minisode–that’s a mini episode for those not in the know–was released, for free, back in January 2014. It’s called the To the Moon Holiday Special Minisode, and I’m going to liken it to post-game DLC or a deleted scene from a really solid, well-paced movie. I did not wait far too long to play it.

Lasting around under an hour, this post-game snippet is set at the offices of Sigmund Corp, the organization for which Dr. Neil Watts and Dr. Eva Rosalene work. As you’ll remember from To the Moon, their work involves providing new memories for the dying, so they can see their dreams and desires fulfilled before passing on. It’s the end of the year, and the company is throwing a holiday party, stocked up on alcoholic drinks and cake, as every good party should be. However, there are protesters outside, tossing tomatoes and pumping signs in the air, which is a bit of a downer for everyone, now not sure if their work is immoral and wrong.

To the Moon Holiday Special Minisode does not try to answer that question. They are a business, they provide a service, and some approve more than others. You could easily put memory-tweaking next to hot-button topics like abortion and the death penalty, which is touchy territory, but it’s handled quietly and innocently here. Eva has her doubts and isn’t afraid to speak her mind about them. Personally, I’m okay with messing with a dying soul’s memories, to give them that one burst of triumph before everything goes black–I’d like that myself. There’s some great relationship development here between Eva and Neil, and you get to meet several other employees, who I hope show up in future installments.

Gameplay is mostly the same as To the Moon, but even lesser so. You can walk around the tiny sections of Sigmund Corp’s headquarters as either Neil or Eva, interact with a few things, and speak to people at the Christmas party. You are no longer collecting shards of memory to power a memento and such–in fact, there’s no menus or even save options. You’ll spend a large portion of this minisode playing a retro PC game that Neil made, inspired by Johnny Wyles and his lighthouse. It is a simple maze adventure, starring the disembodied heads of familiar characters. The player controls Neil’s head and needs to collect mementos to open up parts of the maze, all while avoiding zombie versions of Eva that take off one heart with each hit. It’s the most “gamey” To the Moon gets, but not difficult…more of a cute diversion. The maze itself looks like zoomed in puzzles from Pushmo, each inspired by the previous game’s settings.

I’m thinking I need to play A Bird Story sooner than later, as I’m loving these story-driven tales of melancholy from Freebird Games. All I know about it is that it’s a prelude to Finding Paradise, which will be To the Moon‘s true sequel.

Fulfilling Johnny’s last wish to go to the moon in To the Moon

to the moon gd final thoughts impressions

If thought Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition was a surprising palette cleanser to the lackluster The Incredibles, then I have to imagine this is an even stranger, grander change of direction. Yup, I followed up shooting pig cops in their bacon strip faces and quipping once amusing pop culture quotes with a heavy expedition through an ill man’s mind. In fact, I had wanted to play this last January, as that seemed to be a month where I was experiencing a bunch of those much-discussed indie titles, like Gone Home and Journey. Alas, that never happened, but here we are a year later, ready to give this four-hour tale of a man’s dying wish its due.

Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts work for Sigmund Corp. and have unique jobs: by entering patients’ heads and altering memories, they can give people whatever they want, with implemented memories affecting or creating new ones, all on a path to the desired result. Please note, this only happens through the memories, as you are not actually changing what happened in someone’s life. Think of it as…wish fulfillment. As far as I can tell, this service is mostly used for patients on their deathbeds.

In To the Moon, Rosalene and Watts must fulfill the lifelong dream of the dying Johnny Wyles, which is the game’s namesake: he wants to go there, though he’s not sure why. The doctors then insert themselves into an interactive compilation of his memories–think of the shared dreaming idea from Inception–and traverse backwards through his life via mementos to plant the seed of being an astronaut where best. Naturally, there are a few hiccups, along with Johnny’s quickly deteriorating health.

To the Moon is built on the RPG Maker XP engine, a program used to create 16-bit role-playing games in the classic sprite-based style of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. That said, To the Moon is not an RPG. There is no inventory system or party system or way to gain experience, though the really quick joke early on about a turn-based battle against a squirrel was amusing. The game’s focus is more on puzzle solving; you do this by finding key memento objects which will allow you to go deeper into Johnny’s memories, and then collecting five pips of energy to break into it. Once you do, there’s a relatively simple yet satisfying tile-flipping puzzle. Later on, there’s a one-off section where you can shoot projectiles and have to avoid traps, but it doesn’t last long and is more cumbersome than anything. It broke a bit of the atmosphere, to say the least.

To the Moon‘s soundtrack, featuring a theme song by Laura Shigihara and the remainder of the piano-driven tunes by Kan Gao, has been praised by many critics. And rightly so. It’s soft when it needs to be, as well as deeply brooding and uplifting. When it swells, I couldn’t help but feel myself inhaling and holding my breath. The soundtrack is its own beast and a special part of the game, dictating the way scenes play out, since you can’t get a ton of facial reactions and such. When I first booted up To the Moon, I sat at its title screen for a few minutes, playing with the moonlight, but really mostly listening. It makes a fantastic first impression and never lets up.

I found To the Moon to be fantastic, and I’m annoyed I dragged my feet on it for so long. I wish I had been able to play it all in one session–it’s around four hours long–but I started it late in the evening and had to return to it the next night. The writing is smart, heartfelt, and funny all at once, save for a Doctor Who joke I didn’t grok, and everything gels together–the music, the graphics, the puzzles, the pacing. Yup, even that horse-riding section. Since I love all things memory-based, such as Remember Me and Inception, I did find the explanations for how the memory implementation works here a little contrived, but I went along anyway; it’s more about the characters than the science.

You really don’t come across that many games willing to tackle the themes of old age, illness, love, regret, sacrifice, and playing god, all while doing it in reverse, which is why To the Moon is exceptional. It’s a story worth seeing unfold.