To The Moon: a community play-along, part four

Following last Friday’s post, we’re back with part three of the To The Moon play-along. Everyone is invited to join this community event hosted by Naithin from Time to Loot: simply play the game and then participate in conversations based around several questions after each section.

Whereas the last three weeks have been about To The Moon itself, this time we’re talking about the downloadable content (DLC): Sigmund Minisode 1 and 2. This is a bit of a treat for me because I’ve never gotten around to playing them despite Freebird Games’ project being one of the video games which define me. I now consider myself fully prepared to replay sequel Finding Paradise followed by third instalment Imposter Factory when it’s released later this year – and answer Naithin’s final questions too.

If you haven’t yet played To The Moon and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are major spoilers in the following paragraphs which may mar your enjoyment of the game.

Many of us weren’t entirely comfortable with the concept of what Sigmund Corp does. What did you think about getting a look behind the curtain as it were, and seeing some of the responses of the employees?

As mentioned in my first post for the play-along, I remember being unnerved by the thought of changing someone’s memories when I first played To The Moon back in March 2013. It didn’t feel entirely appropriate to overwrite their recollections with ones which weren’t real regardless of how genuine they believed them to be. Progressing through the story and finally understanding why Johnny Wyles wanted to travel to the moon may have made me asses my initial opinion, but it’s a concept which has always sat slightly uncomfortably.

I can understand why people would pay for their services if Sigmund Corp were a real business; being able to make their customers believe they’d achieved their ultimate goal in life would receive a lot of interest and be worth an awful lot of money. I can also see why employees would want to work for them. Several times throughout the main game, doctors Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts express how they want to make their clients happy and it’s clear their colleagues feel the same when you see them gathered in the minisodes.

Does that make it right though? Earlier this month I said that I’m not sure this question has a definitive answer and I still think that’s the case. On one hand, Sigmund Corp is granting wishes and making their customers’ final moments the happiest they could be; but on the other, how would it make their loved-ones feel to know they’d changed their history together? And is the person we are as a result of our experiences have no meaning if they’re all wiped away? Who knows, maybe we’ll find out in Imposter Factory.

What do you think is happening at the end of Sigmund Minisode 2? Speculate wildly!

About halfway through the minisode, Eva returns to the office and speaks to Traci on her mobile from the company car. Just as she says she’s on her way to her house, the doctor suddenly sees a copy of herself in front of the vehicle and is startled. Meanwhile inside the building, Neil is conducting some sort of strange experiment with one of the headsets used to get inside patients’ memories and causes a power outage. We then see Eva exit the elevator to meet Neil (and his mop) before the group of characters is shown together in the lounge.

My theory is that this isn’t actually happening. It’s a memory and not only that: it’s a changed memory. The second Eva is the one who’s pictured at the end of the DLC wearing a headset in what looks like a living-room. She travelled into this recollection to appear on the road and make original Eva go back inside the office to find Neil. If this hadn’t happened, she would have left her partner to spend Christmas alone while she went on to her sister’s place and wouldn’t have seen that he’d had turned the power off and on in the basement.

This could be significant as it’s a clue for future Eva that Neil was secretly working on something he didn’t want anyone else to know about. Perhaps she discovers the technology he creates later on in the series and it helps her in some way. There’s also the fact that with her partner now attending the gathering in the lounge, he brought the ambient sound maker with him and recorded the sounds there – just what someone would need to remind them of that night, kind of similar to how the roadkill smell worked on Johnny in To The Moon even though he was unconscious.

So who’s memories is it that Eva is digging into? It must be Neil’s. Consider the painkillers he hid in the car in the first episode and the fact that a small portion of his health was gone during the squirrel battle scene. There’s also the calls he tries to make to his parents where he’s unable to speak. I won’t say anything here about what happens in Finding Paradise but there are a lot of clues pointing to something damaging Neil’s health – I do have some ideas about this, but you’ll have to wait for the next play-along!

Thanks so much to Naithin from Time to Loot for hosting this event and to Freebird Games for creating such a great title. To The Moon remains one of my favourite video games and having the opportunity to discuss it in more detail, with people who both love the series already and have just discovered it, has been wonderful. I can’t wait for Imposter Factory to be released the end of this year so we can find out what happens to the doctor duo and finally see what all these cliffhangers mean.

To quote Eva: ‘The ending isn’t any more important than any of the moments leading to it.’

To The Moon: a community play-along, part three

Following last Friday’s post, we’re back with part three of the To The Moon play-along. Everyone is invited to join this community event hosted by Naithin from Time to Loot: simply play the game and then participate in conversations based around several questions after each section.

The third set of discussion points have been published so it’s time to see what we all thought of Act 3. I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve completed To The Moon on multiple occasions and it’s one of the video games which define me, so does that familiarity mean its ending has lost some of its impact? You’ll have to read on to find out and I’ll cover some of my thoughts on the story’s conclusion in the answers below. One thing is guaranteed though: there’s going to be plenty of emotion along with a few spoilers.

If you haven’t yet played To The Moon and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are major spoilers in the following paragraphs which will mar your enjoyment of the game.

Question 11: it seems that after the accident, Johnny lost his identity to his mother and became a replacement-Joey. Does it change how you feel about Johnny as compared to your Act 1 impressions?

As mentioned in my first post, it’s certainly true that Johnny can come across as cold or superficial thanks to some of his decisions in the first act of the game. Back then he revealed to friend Nick that part of his reason for being interested in River was because he wanted to be different and ‘something more’. I said that he should be cut some slack because he was a teenager at the time; most of us went through similar feelings during that awkward period of our lives, and many bad teenage choices can be forgiven.

But I’m not sure my understanding of Johnny’s desire to be unique has been as clear as it is now, and I think this is the result of reading the thoughts of others taking part in the play-along. The protagonist wanted to break out of the mould his mother had created for him in her grief – although he couldn’t properly explain this wish, due to the memory-fading effects of the beta blockers given to him after his twin-brother’s accident. He had no recollection of the event and yet it went on to shape his personality and relationship with River at a deep level. It’s just so sad.

Question 12: Eva and Neil have a verbal sparring match on their differing views about the contract versus what would make Johnny happier. Do you sympathise with one view over the other here?

To The Moon, video game, boy, Johnny, River, girl, night, sky, starsTalk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. The choice given to the doctors at this point wasn’t an easy one to make. Do they stick to the contract they’ve been assigned and remove a loved one from their unconscious patient’s memories, knowing that this isn’t really what he’d want? Or do they screw the paperwork and do what they needed to do to make him happy, and face the possibility of court hearings because they went against their legal obligations? It’s no wonder the duo got into an argument during this section.

I’ve always tended to side with Eva because she comes across as being more understanding than Neil, but he scored some major points here. He’d always scoffed at any mention of emotion or affection up until this point but now he was displaying something deeper. When he realised what his partner was about to do, he said: ‘#@%& the contract! I didn’t take this job to make him miserable.’ I couldn’t help but side with him despite being aware of the consequences, and it’s clear there are a few things Neil is trying to hide (not least the painkillers from Act 2).

Question 13: throughout that same exchange, Eva asks Neil to trust her. He clearly didn’t. Did you?

To The Moon, video game, school, Eva, Neil, doctors, trustI definitely didn’t trust her during this section when I first played To The Moon. Eva comes across as being an extremely logical analyser and any new player could be forgiven for thinking she was going to simply erase River. The pressure of the situation and Johnny’s impending moment of death make it difficult to truly understand what she’s revealing when she says: ‘I’m only risking losing River because I believe in her.’ I’m not sure the doctor’s friendship or even working relationship would have survived if she hadn’t managed to pull off the result.

Question 14: Eva says: ‘He can always find another River, but he’ll only ever have one brother.’ Do you agree? What about this in the context of overwritten memories as opposed to life as it was?

To The Moon, video game, NASA, Eva, Neil, River, JohnnyThis is possibly the question I’ve found the hardest to answer during the play-along event. Maybe that’s because I’m a romantic at heart and believe there’s a soul mate somewhere out there for everybody. The whole reason why Johnny wanted to go to the moon was because of River, regardless of him being unable to remember their first meeting; so having to risk her to make that wish happen seems not only counterintuitive but slightly wrong. As Neil said to Eva: ‘If that means removing River, then what’s the point?!’

Joey may have been saved in the new reality created by the doctors and the protagonist might have then been able to spend a lifetime with his twin-brother, but his recollection of all those real experiences with his wife would have been entirely forgotten if she’d been erased. I can only admire Eva for having so much faith in River and Johnny and believing there was a chance for them to still end up together after she was moved. To quote Neil once more: ‘It could’ve gone very badly, y’know.’

Question 15: any final thoughts?

There’s a good reason why my other-half and stepson say that To The Moon is ‘the crying game’. I honestly believed I wouldn’t cry this time because I’ve played it so much and could prepare myself for the emotions; hell, I even thought I’d be capable of streaming it. But now I’m glad the stream didn’t work out and I had to finish the playthrough by myself because, as soon as it to the part with the song Everything’s Alright, I sobbed my heart out. And then just as I’d composed myself, I did it again at the end when Johnny held hands with River in the rocket.

I just can’t help myself. This game inspires strong emotions and I love the way so many small plot elements – things which don’t seem important initially and are just there to add colour to the world – actually play a far bigger part in Johnny and River’s story. Having a wish to go to a place inspired by someone you love dearly, only to face having to lose that person in order to make that wish come true; it has to be one of the saddest stories. And yet To The Moon ends up being one of the most bittersweet.

Have you played To The Moon and if so, what did you think of it? The game may be over but the play-along continues, as we’ll now be playing Sigmund Minisode 1 and 2 and there’ll be another post in the series coming next Friday. There’s still time to take part if you haven’t already signed up: all the details you need are in this article on Time to Loot.

To The Moon: a community play-along, part two

Following last Friday’s post, we’re back with part three of the To The Moon play-along. Everyone is invited to join this community event hosted by Naithin from Time to Loot: simply play the game and then participate in conversations based around several questions after each section.

Naithin has now shared the second set of discussion points so it’s time to see what we all thought of Act 2. As mentioned previously, I’ve completed To The Moon on multiple occasions and it’s one of the video games which define me, so it’s proving interesting to see how those factors are affecting my responses. It’s certainly making some of the questions harder to answer without giving too much away and spoiling the title for those participating who haven’t played it yet! I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum though as we dive into part two of this community play-along.

If you haven’t yet played To The Moon and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are minor spoilers in the following paragraphs which may mar your enjoyment of the game.

Question 7: when Eva was sitting, thinking about all the reasons nothing at all changed in Johnny’s simulated memories, what conclusions do you think she reached?

I like Dr Eva Rosalene’s character because there are certain aspects of her personality I can relate to. When I’m baffled by a problem at work and feel as though I’m not getting any closer to a solution, the best thing I can do is something completely different; my brain seems to continue working on the matter without me even realising it and an idea will eventually pop into my head unexpectedly. I think this is the reason why Eva went to the lighthouse that evening and sat there until the sun rose the following morning. She wanted to remove herself from the situation to get a bit of clarity.

As for the conclusions she reached, these are more difficult to speculate on. I remember thinking during my first playthrough that the successful transference of Johnny’s wish to go to the moon must have changed something else during his timeline and led to an unexpected outcome – and that this experience, whatever it was, was contained in a memory we hadn’t witnessed yet. Eva clearly thinks this has something to do with River because she ‘played an important role through it all’ and ‘would be the top suspect’.

Question 8: the block on the youngest memories and the use of beta blockers: what do you think this will all be about?

To The Moon, video game, Eva Neil, doctors, kitchen, memoriesI already know what’s going on here thanks to having already played To The Moon several times, but I had absolutely no idea during my first playthrough. The only thing I was certain about was that it was going to be something huge. In his conversation with Eva, Dr Neil Watts notes that beta blockers can have an affect on memories and wonders whether these side-effects weren’t entirely unintended; so whatever had happened for Johnny to be administered with such a large dose of the medication must have been terrible.

I won’t go into much detail because I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone who hasn’t completed it yet. But what I will say is that I expect most new players to feel this has something to do with River, even though his earliest memories took place before the he met her at school. Although little clues are given during the game up to this point, I didn’t pick up on them at all during my original playthrough and so the big reveal caught me completely off-guard. I’m looking forward to seeing what others think of this.

Question 9: what about Neil taking off for a moment while Eva returned with the dead squirrel? What could have been so important to him?

To The Moon, video game, Eva, Neil, doctors, forest, painkillers, cement tallWhen Eva goes to the car to collect the valved container to hold the squirrel, she accidently uncovers a bottle of painkillers and this is what Neil was heading outside for. It’s understandable for her to worry because this is some strong medication; but her partner’s explanation about walking into a cement wall seems plausible enough because, well, it’s Neil. There’s more to it though and this is hinted at right at the end of To The Moon, and additional details disclosed in the sequel Finding Paradise make it even more intriguing. Will we find out more in Imposter Factory later this year?

Question 10: what do you think Act 3 will focus on?

To The Moon, video game, sea, sky, sunrise, morning, lighthouse, bench, cliff, Eva, woman, doctorGoing into the third act during my first playthrough, the biggest question on my mind was what had happened to cause Johnny to be administered with a huge dose of beta blockers as a child. I figured that once we got to that part and the doctors had managed to successfully transfer Johnny’s desire for a trip to the moon, that would be the end of it. What I didn’t expect was for the game to break my heart as much as it did and cause me to cry bittersweet tears; I’m genuinely starting to well up now just thinking about it. We’ll save that for next time…

Are you working through To The Moon and if so, what do you think of it so far? I’ll be continuing my own and the next post in the series is planned for next Friday. There’s still time to take part if you haven’t already signed up: all the details you need are in this article on Time to Loot.

To The Moon: a community play-along, part one

As mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, To The Moon by Freebird Games is a video game which defines me. It was one of the first indie releases I ever played and it changed my gaming future, starting a preference for more creative and narrative-based titles.

This explains why I signed up straight away when Naithin from Time to Loot announced a play-along event. The idea is simple: everyone in the community is invited to play a certain section of the game each week during the coming month and then share their thoughts on a set of questions in a blog post. With Act 1 now complete and the associated set of discussion points announced, here’s the first in a series of articles all about one of my favourite video games.

If you haven’t yet played To The Moon and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are minor spoilers in the following paragraphs which may mar your enjoyment of the game.

Question 1: how do you now feel about the very concept of granting someone’s dying wish by overwriting their memories with new ones?

I remember being slightly unnerved by the thought of changing someone’s memories when I first played To The Moon back in March 2013. It just didn’t feel appropriate to overwrite their recollections with ones which weren’t real, regardless of how genuine they believed them to be. It’s said that we’re the total sum of our experiences so does that mean the person we are as a result of them has no meaning if they’re all wiped away? And that our experiences leading up to that moment are worthless?

But progressing through the story and finally understanding why protagonist Johnny Wyles wanted to travel to the moon made me assess my initial opinion. If you were given the opportunity to believe you’d achieved your ultimate goal, arrived in the place you wanted to be or lived your life happily with your soul mate, wouldn’t you take it? Sequel Finding Paradise takes the debate a step further by asking how this wish would make your loved ones feel. Ultimately, I’m not sure this question has a definitive answer.

Question 2: what did you think of River’s choice to put her treatment behind that of Anya?

To The Moon, video game, dancing, sky, lighthouse, starsI completely understand putting someone you care about deeply ahead of yourself; becoming a stepmother and seeing my stepson grow up has taught me an awful lot. But I’ll admit that I struggle to relate to River doing the same for Anya even after playing To The Moon several times now. For me personally, I don’t attach a huge amount of sentiment to items and tend to think very pragmatically, so the decision to decline medical treatment in favour of a lighthouse seems like a strange one.

Saying that though, I already know how this story concludes and feel there is some wisdom in River’s choice. Ultimately, it was one she made for someone she loved dearly – but I’m not going to say anything more right now so as not to spoil the play-along for those experiencing the game for the first time. I’d be curious to hear how new players answer this question after completing Act 1, and then seeing whether their responses change once River’s reasons are revealed later in the narrative.

Question 3: in response to Neil commenting that it was like watching a train-wreck unfold, Eva says, “The ending isn’t any more important than the moments leading up to it.” Do you agree?

To The Moon, video game, wedding, Johnny, RiverFunnily enough, this line from the game was noted by the blogger friends who joined me in Twitch chat when I streamed the game at the end of May. I think it’s one of the most important in To The Moon and I love the way it sums up Eva’s entire approach to her job. Whereas Neil comes across as being more reckless and less emotional, his partner places high priority on handling a patients’ memories with care and only adjusting them where absolutely necessary to grant their wish.

I also like the way this seems directly at odds with the idea of overwriting someone’s memories, as mentioned in my answer to the first question above. It’s a conversation point which is hard to discuss completely without spoiling the experience for new players though. For me personally, I think the moments leading up to the end are just as important as the end itself and perhaps even more so sometimes; every experience in our lives shapes us in a unique way, and we wouldn’t be who we are without them.

Question 4: what did you make of Johnny’s decision not to read the book offered by Dr Lee?

To The Moon, video game, doctor's office, Lee, Johnny, River, book

I understand Johnny’s decision and I think it’s one to be respected. He loved River and didn’t need a book to explain her to him, or want the words contained within its pages to change how he viewed her. Some players may tie this back to his earlier desire to be ‘different’ but I don’t think his reason was as shallow as that; I believe he genuinely adored his wife and his final wish was all because of her. Do I think their relationship may have been easier for Johnny if he had read Dr Lee’s book though? Perhaps.

Question 5: how do feel about Johnny as a person now, particularly after his revelation of why he (at least initially) was interested in River?

To The Moon, video game, school, cafeteria, Johnny, NickIt’s true that Johnny can come across as cold or superficial as the result of some of his decisions during Act 1 of To The Moon, but I think it’s important to note that this revelation comes from the point in his life when he was a teenager. It’s an awkward experience for any of us and who didn’t want to feel different or ‘something more’ than everyone else back then? Many bad teenage choices can be forgiven and ultimately, the protagonist did end up loving his wife for who she was, not just because she was ‘unique’.

Question 6: River’s obsession with origami rabbits kicked off after Johnny told her about his initial motivations. Neil thought it might have been her holding onto a grudge. What do you think?

I’m going to politely decline to answer this question, because I know why River made all those paper bunnies!

Are you working through To The Moon and if so, what do you think of it so far? I’ll be continuing my own playthrough live on Twitch each Saturday and the next post in the series is planned for next Friday. There’s still time to take part if you haven’t already signed up: all the details you need are in this article on Time to Loot.