Read Only Memories is a cyberpunk story adventure game conceived by Matt Conn, the founder of GaymerX, an LGBTQ oriented geek culture and gaming convention. Conn and his partners decided to enter the world of video game development in 2013 and founded their own company, Midboss, to create queer inclusive games. Read Only Memories was released on PC in late 2015 following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Unlike other games in the graphic adventure genre, players are allowed to specify which pronouns (i.e. he, she, they, etc.) the game refers to them as. Shortly after, Midboss began work on an updated version with new scenarios and voice acting intended for PC, PlayStation 4, and Vita. This new version, 2064: Read Only Memories, was released as a free update for existing PC owners and became available for the first time on the PlayStation 4 in January.
CFG Games had an opportunity to chat with Matt and Midboss director JJ about the new additions and the challenges they faced bringing 2064 to the PlayStation consoles.
To the uninitiated, how would you describe Read Only Memories?
Cyberpunk adventure point and click starring your buddy investigator robot, Turing.
2064: Read Only Memories is a cyberpunk adventure involving a journalist, the player, teaming up with the world’s first sapient robot, Turing, to investigate the disappearance of their creator. The game is a mix between traditional Point-and-Click (Gabriel Knight, Monkey’s Island), and Visual Novel. Visually it resembles Japanese graphic adventure games from the 80’s and 90’s, like Snatcher, Portopia, or Famicom Detective Club.
What was the primary inspiration for creating Read Only Memories? You’ve mentioned that Snatcher was a key influence, but were there any other motivations for creating the game?
We wanted to create a game that features a wide variety of characters and themes, while paying homage to adventure games of years past. Growing up, whether it be Snatcher or Phoenix Wright or Gabriel Knight, they allowed for some really intriguing depth of storytelling.
“Adventure games are easy, technically to program, too.” was something I thought originally. That was wrong.
Following the idea of Snatcher, we decided to roll with something in the cyberpunk genre, especially because, at the time, there weren’t too many things cyberpunk related in the media, which quickly changed during development. The theme of cyberpunk also allowed us to play around with what the future might be like in the next 50 years, and also give us the chance to create a universe that could carry the same ideals and thoughts we had with our convention, GaymerX.
Was it challenging making a game with a gender inclusive protagonist without sacrificing personality?
No, in fact… we find that characters with wide swathes of intersectionality actually makes writing for them easier. I think once you break out of the mold of a lot of traditional storytelling cliches, I find you can really explore some unique ideas and concepts.
The protagonist is largely a skeleton, with some information about their life and past sprinkled throughout the game, it’s up to the player to fill in the inbetweens while Turing acts as the secondary voice for them, chipping in additional and sometimes lengthy information on the things the player interacts with. This made things much easier for us, writing-wise, since we can’t really predict what the player would want to say, but we can at least try by giving them options.
Aside from Turing, the game’s loveable robot sidekick, are there any other ROM characters you’re most proud of creating?
Matt: Definitely Alphie!
JJ: Ramona, and the punks Chad and Oliver. That almost sounds like a band.
Why did you decide to add voice acting to the game? The voice cast is as diverse as they come, from veterans like Dave Fennoy to newcomers like Dylan Ryckert and even well known gaming personalities and developers like Jim Sterling and Zoe Quinn. Was it a challenge bringing all these varying levels of experiences and backgrounds together?
Matt: Well..Snatcher did it with Sega CD, and I felt that it was apt. I also had access to voice actors from my work with GaymerX and I thought it made sense and we could do a really bang-up job on a smaller budget than AAA games.
JJ: It was definitely challenging finding the right voices for the right characters. Turing’s voice especially had to be carefully picked due to the fact that they’re with the protagonist the entire time, and are also talking the most out of everyone. With this in mind, we had to avoid things that could get grating after awhile, like a typical “Robot Voice.” A lot of potential voices went straight for robot speak, which can get bothersome even after just a few minutes. Turing’s voice had to be cute, androgynous, and easy to listen to for long periods of time. We believe that Melissa Hutchison did an amazing job with that.
Do you plan on telling more stories in the ROM universe or would prefer to create new stories?
Yes, but probably a new story world next. Probably won’t look at the next game in the series for a while unless the market demand is like ridiculously high.
ROM was originally released in 2015 on the PC. What changes have been made to the PlayStation 4 version?
2064 brings a fully voiced cast, as well as newly adjusted writing, puzzles, animations, art and two new areas for the player to explore.
What were some of the challenges you faced bringing ROM to the PlayStation consoles?
We self-published on the PlayStation. It was not as simple as just getting it on PC. We didn’t build the game for the PlayStation initially. So our save system and other systems weren’t made for that. I feel they could have been stronger, but we just didn’t build the best “base” at the origin of development. We added so many features that were outside of the original scope that it became a little unwieldy, code-wise.
Certification is also tough. With PC, as long as it runs in some kind of way, you’re usually good to go. Consoles are much more restrictive, and deal with limited hardware that expects everything in the software to run like clockwork. Memory can only have so much going to it, the CPU can only do so much, anything throwing up debug messages need to be taken out. Even if your game is as solid as a steel wall, there’s likely something that was missed that cert will pick up.
What’s the status of the Vita version? Will it be a cross buy and cross save title upon release?
Vita version is definitely still in the works.
During 2064’s development process, we noticed some issues with performance on the Vita. While we fixed most of these issues, other issues required more than just small optimizations to our game engine.The current plan is to rebuild the engine from the ground up, which would not only help the Vita version, but also help us with future ports and future games.
When it comes out, it’ll be a cross buy game, so if you already have the PS4 version, you’ll be able to download the game on your Vita, too.
What do you think of the progress made in the gaming industry in terms of representation? Are there any specific games that stand out to you and what aspects do you think could be improved upon?
It’s getting better, but as we have seen with recent events, we’re just getting started and I think we need to continue to fight to make sure our collective voices are heard. I really think that games like Watch Dogs 2 that feature POC protags or, really any kind of larger AAA game that features an intersectional cast is a good start for the industry as a whole. It takes a lot of the pressure on indie devs to carry the “weight” of the movement.
What are some of your favorite games?
Super Mario RPG. Earthbound. Virtue’s Last Reward. Danganronpa. Ace Attorney series. Overwatch and Hitman, currently.
Who are some of your favorite LBGTQ characters in popular fiction?
There were like zero growing up, so few. I like what they’re doing right now with Empire, Steven Universe, Yuri on Ice…but really, there’s not much! That’s why we need to keep creating, and I hope the best in queer content in popular media is yet to come!