Reflective task 5 - Review of Independent Media
Write a review (500 words) of a piece of independent media. The media that you choose to review must be from an independent producer (rather than a major studio). Your tutor will help you identify appropriate independent content and sources. Ideally your choice will be from someone who is a few steps further on in your industry.
Make sure you include a hyperlink to the piece of media you have reviewed.
Freebird Games is an indie game development studio founded by Kan (Reives) Gao as a personal outlet, to tell stories through the form of interactive narratives and music. Kan Gao heads a very small team of 3 people, including himself yet has managed to create some absolutely brilliant video games; one such in particular that is very close to my heart, titled: “To the Moon.”
“To the Moon is a psychological, sci-fi, adventure RPG, about two doctor traversing through the memories of a dying man to fulfill his last wish.”
To the Moon is an experience that will leave you breathless and emotionally broken. I remember my first time with it – six or so hours from start to finish in one sitting, I couldn’t take my attention away. It’s very much a story driven title with a nod to the classic point-and-click adventure games of the late 80’s – 90’s. However, unlike the historical-educational premise of 'Carmen Sandiego', or the swashbuckling, adventuring humor of 'Monkey Island', TtM dealt with the idea of “Inception” before 'Inception' was a glint in Christopher Nolan’s eye. It would be the first commercial production by Gao’s indie game development team, Freebird Games, and was designed using the RPG Maker XP engine – a piece of software used to create 16-bit, 2D role-playing-games in the style of classics such as ‘Dragon Quest’ and ‘Final Fantasy’.
TtM was released initially on Gao’s personal website and later via Steam on November 1, 2011. It’s a story that follows two doctors, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, through an alternate reality, in which they have access to technology which allows them to weave artificial memories into patients’ minds whilst in a dream-like state, so that upon waking the patient would retain the memories of things that didn’t actually happen. The risk this procedure carries is the permanent imprint of false memories, which can conflict with the authentic memories of the patient, rendering them incapable of functioning properly. Thus, the operation is only administered to people nearing the end of their lives as a gift of sorts, to remove any regrets they may have had during their life. The patient in question is our protagonist, Johnny, an elderly man on his death bed who wishes to fulfill his life-long dream of travelling to the Moon.
However, unlike the aforementioned titles, which dealt with worlds in the midst of conflict, presenting the player with intricate, combat-focused battle systems, TtM is a puzzle solving game which tasks the player with interpreting the story fragments they’re given by Johnny, in order to manipulate his memories and bring his wish to fruition.
Gao is a man with many hats, one of his more prominent roles being music composer, and might I just say that the OST to this game is phenomenal. Gao manages to illicit a range of emotions throughout the game with hauntingly beautiful melodies that stick for days after the story has come to a conclusion. There must also be a special nod to Laura Shigihara who provides the vocals to the only non-instrumental track, “Everything’s Alright”, along with the rest of the OST, is available from the BandCamp website, which I’m listening to as of writing this.
TtM has received a cavalcade of positive reviews which praised it for narrative, music and experience. The game holds an average rating of 81/100 on Metacritic – one of the benchmark sources for aggregate video game ratings and in its release year of 2011, TtM went on to collect awards for ‘Best Story’, ‘Top 20 Games’, ‘Best Indie RPG’, Indie Game Festival (IGF) ‘Finalist for Excellence in Audio’ and ‘Best Single Player Indie.’
500 words isn’t nearly enough to credit this sublimely written, heart-wrenching tale of childhood romance, family tragedy and a climactic reveal that would leave M. Night Shyamalan with his mouth agape. Do yourself a favour and go download this game. Play it in one sitting, or over the course of a few days at an hour a night; it’s bite-sized but packs more heart than some of the 100+ hour epics I’ve experienced. If nothing else, you’ll be left with a hole in your heart which you can try to fill with pizza or last night’s Chinese take-out.