‘What do you think stars are made of?’

A few months ago I purchased a game on steam along with the soundtrack for around £6. I had found it on a list of ’20 games you won’t have heard of this year’ It had a quirky trailer which can be viewed here: To The Moon – Trailer  and it looked like a throwback to classic RPG’s (that’s role-playing games for you non gamers) in the same vein as chrono trigger, star ocean, final fantasy with a bit of a Zelda look to it set in super stylised 16bit ‘SNES graphics’.

I didn’t expect much from the game other than the promise of an enjoyable game with a nice story and pretty soundtrack. Boy did i get so much more than that. My life sort of took over and I never got an evening free to sit down and actually try the game. But tonight I did, it only took me a handful of hours to complete but it was totally worth it, one of the most engrossing games I have ever played. Not in the same way you World of Warcraft keeps you grinding well past it being fun, or COD keeps your finger firmly on the trigger long after firing it has dulled your senses through clever skinner box theory and play/reward conditioning. No ‘To The Moon’ had me hooked because of its deeply engaging yet simple narrative.

At its heart To the moon feels a bit like ‘Time travellers wife’ or Notebook, a love story that comes with all the highs and lows one would expect. The catch in this particular one? It plays like Nolan’s exquisite movie ‘Memento’. You play as two ‘scientists’ Eva and Neil, who want to grant Johnny, a dying man, his last wish. To go to the moon. Using a system that reminds me of ‘eternal sunshine of the spotless mind’ you recreate a facsimile of new memories using Johnny’s old memories to create a past that allowed him to achieve the dreams he never did

(Don’t worry I’m not spoilering anything that isn’t explained in the opening scene).

I think what makes this one step above a lot of the ‘romantic love stories’ you see in movie or book format is the fact you are so much more immersed when it is a video game. I felt deeply engaged with the characters and the story arc, I felt like I was living Johnny’s life and I felt like I was connected to all the characters within the story, I felt his pain and his joy, I laughed at the dual personalities of the ‘odd couple’ scientists who you share seeing Johnnys life through their eyes. It’s a wonderfully engrossing experience. That I just simply couldn’t put down.

I have no shame in admitting that by the 3rd act I was in tears. Like any good story it comes with humour, revelations, plot twists, shock reveals, drama, sadness, and finally pulls it all together for the epilogue. It’s a truly heartwarming tale by the guys over at ‘Freebird games’. It has solid writing, a great story, strong consistent characters with simple yet intuitive mechanics and excellent puzzles to break up the story along with a soundtrack to rival the best scores in video game history. It’s a perfect blend of storytelling and gameplay with purpose. I highly recommend you give it a go! Even if you don’t particularly like video games I’m of the opinion you don’t need to be to play, enjoy and appreciate this. It’s not so much a game but a beautifully immersive EXPERIENCE.

If nothing else give this song a wee listen, it’s all the more heartbreaking/elevating once you’ve played the game!

To The Moon does something few video games have ever managed to do, and that is make people cry. I consider myself a particularly soppy/hopeless romantic git *que violins* but The death of a certain Final Fantasy 7 character when i was aged 9 was the only time I shed a tear at the loss of character and felt such deep pangs. It was a breakthrough in video games, something the industry that is so often associated with nothing but misogyny and violence had achieved. Best yet, people the world over sat in their homes and played this wonderful game and experienced it differently, even the people who played the exact same game felt and reacted differently (yes SOME COLD HEARTED BASTARDS DON’T CARE AERITH DIED!). BUT dear readers, this is a wonderful thing… because everyone claims video games can’t be art, because the games limit the experience and individuality of someones experience, because the game takes the user on a path that can never truly be open as the mechanics and limit of the game stop it. On this I concede games can’t be limitless but the experience of the individual playing it can be infinite and unique to that individual just like art.

Many people who shared that same moment of joy, fear, anger or even felt nothing at the death of Aerith will experience something totally different when playing To The Moon, and that is exactly what we want, for video games to truly move forward as a medium gaming has to be able to create those experiences, I’m not calling for every game to be like that, but we as game players can;t  be afraid to have those experiences and for designers to feel comfortable to explore those types of games, for it not to be so out there and unique, nor so obscure or indie. I get terrified that games have lost something for all their advancement and shiny graphics I haven’t found a game that quite hooked me like the RPG’s of old, my passion for gaming hasn’t changed so why haven’t the games evoked  that for me ? but then I find a hidden gem like this, and I fall in love all over again (and my faith is restored). To the moon took a simple premise and made it relatable, the reason video games in my opinion can be art, because they can imitate life, they can look at life through a different lens, they can create parodies and facsimiles or even duplicates and refract our lives to the way the designers see fit, whether that is to tell a story or create a moment of pure beauty, but no matter how hard a designer wants to convey a message it can always be interpreted by the individual who experiences it, just the same as an artist and their paint brush can only paint the canvas, what the individual takes away from that is truly unique to that person that comes from all their past decisions and experiences that culminates in what they take away from it. For that same reason video games can be so much more powerful for better or worse, good or bad an immersive version of that same experience, that require input and time and investment, can have an amazing pay off, and tonight, that’s exactly what I had.

I’m partly ranting now, but this blog post wasn’t actually something I was planning to write, but I just loved this little gem of a game so much I had to talk about it post SOMETHING about it. I highly recommend it to ANYONE if nothing else check out the trailer and give the song another we listen.

P.s Happy New Year! What a beautiful way to start 2013!

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~ by conorstrife on January 2, 2013.

2 Responses to “‘What do you think stars are made of?’”

  1. …Websites you should visit…

    […]Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?[…]…

    • Just over a year and a half, I still don’t know how to half the things this website clims you can do, but i just try to keep it simple. thanks though 🙂

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