To the Moon Play-Along – Minisodes 1 & 2

Here’s a change in format, play-along questions first, since they’re pretty short, and will also conveniently segue into my impressions and wild speculations:

1. Protesters. Perhaps not too surprising to find they exist in this world. Many of us were not 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?

No real change of opinion. Most people believe they’re doing some good in their own way, otherwise they wouldn’t continue with what they’re doing. That’s why you have protesters who believe strongly enough in what they stand for to come out and protest; and that’s why you have people working for a company who believe what they’re doing is right to continue doing what they’re doing.

As mentioned previously, if they’re sticking to the letter of the law and creating only fake memories for people who’ve explicitly consented and are dying shortly anyway, that’s of very little issue. The memories exist only for those terminally ill people, and it gets wiped thereafter by said peoples’ passing.

We’re beginning to see some more questionable use of the technology in the minisodes though, which is always one of the problems with new technology, the potential for misuse outside of acceptable boundaries.

Using the tech for people who haven’t explicitly consented… I think that’s definitely in the ‘bad’ category. Yes, even if the person is incapable of consenting and the fake memories would give them a better fake life, I think that’s not morally (and legally) right to do so. Informed consent and all that, one person’s rights stopping where another begins and so on.

The use of the tech for people who have more or less consented, but -aren’t- dying shortly thereafter… is, I think, getting steadily explored as the overall narrative across all the games progresses.

Something that hasn’t really been addressed explicitly either is the state of memories, real or fake, and the potential for said memories to exist after someone’s passing.

In the actual game, Eva makes a brief reference to reconstructing a new fake memory “River” out of Johnny’s memories and -whatever info- was available in the public domain – emphasis mine. In one of the minisodes, she casually mentions that it’s not as if they save peoples’ memories on a disk, hence it’s ok for visitors to come by. So… does that mean that they save peoples’ memories somewhere else -other- than a disk, say, on a private network, or in the public domain, or not at all?

I suppose the main dubiousness of it all would be, is there potential for any of these fake memories to affect someone else? Because then we’d be passing out of the realm of the personal and into the boundaries of someone else, and some legal thought and consideration needs to be in place for what is or what isn’t permissible.

2. For how short these two (aptly named) Minisodes were — we were given a LOT to wonder about, from Ghost Eva on the road, to Neil’s mum or dad on the phone, to what on earth he was doing with the memory unit in his office to… whatever it was that happened post-credits. So, yeah… My extended version of the ‘WTF?’ question is: What do you think is happening? Speculate wildly!

Okay. So here we go into my general impressions about the two minisodes.

Minisode 1 is a short and fairly straightforward meta-commentary.

The surface story is that we get a sneak peek into Sigmund Corp and its employees as they celebrate their annual Christmas party. We meet Neil and Eva while they’re busy pranking each other and chat up the other characters in the company.

And some of them are indeed characters. Eddie’s long “wish he had hair” saga is worth the price of admission and has more than a dozen people credited in the end credits.

Neil shares with Eva a game he made based on the client they met in To The Moon.

There are also a few serious moments where the employees reflect on what they do for dying people.

Eva says a few words of comfort to a colleague who has some doubts on what she’s doing, after facing protesters.
In other words, a thankless task.
Neil is all about the moments now. Or maybe it’s the authors speaking through him again.

All this while outside their door, protesters haul their placards and throw tomatoes at lab-coated employees who dare show their face outside.

And where’s the meta?

YES. YES WE GET IT. OKAY?

It’s a clever little sidelong swipe at To The Moon and its critics. The critics are the protesters who don’t understand.

Sigmund Corp or the game authors are going to keep making their little games anyway, because it’s all about those fleeting moments of shared happiness for those who appreciate what they’re doing to make it all worth it.

In the meantime, here’s To The Moon as an actual GAME as imagined in Neil’s hands. We have an unskippable arcade sequence where we have health bars, levels, player interaction where they must navigate through paths and escape enemy icons (represented by Zombie Evas and evil pickled olives) while they bring significant memory artifacts from River to Johnny to get to the next level.

And yes, the graphics are EVEN MORE PIXELATED (read: antique) and the gameplay’s a pushover, but…

OKAY. WE GET IT ALREADY.

But yea, it’s funny and enjoyable and blessedly -short-. Pacing is important.

And there is even limited replayability because if you click on all the things like a typical RPG player, Eva will close her diary and Neil cannot read it. So you have to play it again and with game foreknowledge, leave it the heck alone so that Neil can check on it later. But I think getting to read “vengeance and fury of a thousand suns” is worth it.

Minisode 2, meanwhile, is now the creepypasta meets missed connections edition of To The Moon.

aka How mysteriously spooky and relationship-shippy can we make this mini-episode and blow peoples’ minds and allow them to wildly speculate?

Answer: Pretty well.

We’re back at Sigmund Corp for another round of the Christmas Party, except it’s right as the party has ended and people are dispersing and going home.

Neil and Eva have some quick and awkward conversations where they skate around their feelings for each other, while all around them, all of their colleagues are pairing up for Christmas.

The two most senior doctors (literally grey-haired and married) are comedically frisky with each other, to the hilarious ambient tune of crickets as Eva and Neil stare wordlessly at them.

Dr Robert Lin and Dr Roxanne Winters appear to be pretty much dating and/or engaged at this point – Dr Winters is waiting for Dr Lin to get ready and presumably they are either going out or going home, but definitely together.

Neil says he’ll be staying back in the office to work. Eva says she’ll be going to meet her sister Traci for Christmas dinner, and takes her briefcase, goes down to the lobby, and exits, stage left in a car alone.

Midway through her call with her sister, she screeches to a stop as she comes face to face with her doppelganger for the space of a few seconds, before it vanishes.

Meanwhile, we see Neil hard at work on his secret project. He’s swiped one of those fake memory machines and is… trying to use it for something… for apparently the thirtieth time.

It may or may not be related to someone he keeps calling, but not speaking to. The person down the line meanwhile just keeps going, “Hello? Who’s there?” and later wonders if it’s their “Son?” “Is that you, Neil?”

Except the moment he attempts to turn the thing on, the power goes out. And he tromps down to the basement to turn the power back on, where he surmises that someone manually turned the power off… except…

It’s impossibru!

He hears noises upstairs, grabs a broom, and bashes Eva in the face with the bristles…

Apparently, she came back, having invited her sister and her kids, and even Lily and her kids, to set up a Christmas dinner for Neil.

Even Dr Winters shows up (though I can’t remember if Dr Lin did), but she claims that Eva needed some kind of pickup. It’s not quite specified if -Eva- herself needed a lift back to the office (though Neil thinks so and momentarily wonders about it) or if she was referring to picking up Lily and her kids.

Neil has a -moment- where he runs out of the office and stands in a very blatantly telegraphed two paths diverge moment.

Down one path, he leaves to go and work on his secret project even further, possibly to do with the parent? calling him “son” down the line.

On the other path, he goes back into the office to have Christmas dinner with Eva and all the people she called back on his behalf.

The minisode ends there, without any real indication of which path he took.

In the credits, we see fuzzy sepia memories of a Neil who did go back for a happy Christmas dinner, having ridiculous fun with the kids and so on, while an ambient sound recorder is mysteriously zoomed in on “Record” mode.

In a scene after the credits, we see Eva exiting the office lift with her sister and kids, where they exchange ambiguous words about the Christmas dinner, along the lines of, it wasn’t so bad, was it?

There is a split second where the screen flashes to something a little more sinister…

… before we’re back into office lift territory and they leave.

Well. Now.

Minisode 2 is rife for speculations galore. There are definitely overlapping memories/timelines going on here.

Exactly what is still not supremely clear, but there are some possibilities.

Neil is definitely using and mis-using the memory creation technology for something. He’s been trying it out on himself. Repeatedly, for almost the thirtieth time. It may or may not be the source of his headaches and pain, but it could very well be.

The… parent? he keeps calling may be involved. He may be trying to adapt the tech for a new purpose that involves them. One easy guess is dementia or Alzeimers. He may be trying to make something that gives said patients who are still living some manner of memories back.

A wilder guess would be some kind of time travel mechanism or way to create a version of themselves to phase back to the past. (Or he aims for the former and stumbles on the latter.)

The attempt may be slowly killing him. (Or perhaps even -less- slowly so. Perhaps the thirtieth attempt does kill him, or incapacitate him in some way… hence our unseen person’s attempts to fracture that timeline before it happens.)

That unseen person, by the way, is apparently Neil. -Or- someone with Neil’s password and access particulars. You can check this with Eva before she goes out to talk to Neil for the final time, hence Neil’s earlier boggling over impossibilities and glitches in the matrix.

My best guess is that the Christmas dinner with Neil is a bunch of fake memories. It did not actually happen. Neil dashes off, stage right, to work on his secret project further. Eva has to go back, empty-handed, to have dinner with her sister, and that’s why they exit later, not quite commiserating.

Later that night, Eva takes out -her- own stolen tech and layers those fake memories for herself on top of it, where Neil does come back to spend time with them.

After all, this does look like Eva, with her lab coat hanging up, in an apartment by herself, with two big alcoholic drink bottles next to her.

What happens in the future is not supremely clear as yet.

Most likely, -something- happens to one of the pair. Perhaps something happens to Neil and Eva has to try and save him from himself.

A doubled Eva running around behind the scenes could easily account for why Eva sees herself in the car scene, and somehow manages to require a lift back to the office from Roxanne. She could easily have shut off the power. Perhaps she’s doing it with a ‘ghost’ Neil supporting her, hence her knowledge of Neil’s password and access privileges.

The alternative is Neil running around to save Eva, but this seems less likely, given the foreshadowing of extra Evas.

It could perhaps be that Neil collapses first, causing Eva to enter into memory rift unreality to save him, but that in turn causes her to collapse, and then it’s Neil’s turn to save her. Who knows.

If we want to get -really- wild with speculations, we might end up in future episodes with a Neil vs Eva memory duel!

Both of them sitting in their chairs with a helmet on their head, rifling through each others’ shared memories, trying to

  • a) restore the actual timeline,
  • b) differentiate fake from real memories,
  • c) somehow implant enough fake memories to grow close enough and express their love for each other, instead of remaining unrequited,
  • d) all of the above,
  • e) prevent all of the above.

Oh, and this is Eva’s diary from Minisode 2. We definitely have either a ghost Eva or Neil on our hands here.


Much Later Footnote: After reading Kim from Later Levels’ take on things, it also occurs to me that the spooky image of Eva that we see may not necessarily be “later that night” but simply, “later later.”

As in, so much later that Neil has actually passed away and Eva either let him go at that point or wasn’t in time to do anything for him. Knowing her, she would push on with the rest of her life, feeling increasingly lonely and sad… possibly until we hit this crux point of despair in an apartment by herself.

At which point, she decides to use the device on -herself-, creating this long elaborate intensely meta game-spanning con game on herself where the dastardly duo goes around altering timelines and doing their best to save Neil.

Except that if she succeeds in this endeavor, she is actually committing suicide in the “most real” darkest of timelines.

(Or the equivalent of suicide via mental wipe of whatever ‘real’ memories exist.)

It kinda sounds like something the author would do.

Depending on how far we are into fantasy and overlapping timelines, rather than bitter mundanity, perhaps the copy of Neil that exists in this Eva’s fake memories has enough of his facilities and personality to realize what she’s doing… and is game enough to attempt to hijack and disrupt her attempts as well.

Who knows. Once we start layering all this stuff on top of each other, we could go -anywhere- at this point!

One thing’s for sure, I actually prefer the more out-there minisodes. They’re short enough to not drag in pacing.

The storyline is more fantastical and less mundane, allowing for more humorous segues to break up the moments of intentional meaning and metaphor.

It’s like the equivalent of watching normal cinematic jump cuts and being allowed to fill in the blanks like reading comics, rather than one un-ending long take that lingers lovingly on whatever the director finds fascinating while no one else quite understands the significance and is now bored.

Steam sale is on now, so I’ll likely be able to pick up the sequel Finding Paradise once July’s Humble Choice comes out, and ensured there will be no doubled game copies regret.

As for the third game Impostor Factory, that will have to wait until it goes on sale. While this sequence has been entertaining, I don’t think I’m invested to the point of needing to buy the next game at full price quite yet.

To The Moon Play-Along – Act 3

And so, here we are at Act 3 of To The Moon, aka No Wonder the Mom Went Cuckoo and Artificial Drama For the Sake of It.

As predicted in Act 2, we see the last memory from his childhood that was previously blocked and find out the reason for doing so.

While I did not quite consciously pick up on the visual clue of the bunk bed, Eva’s continual pointing out that we missed something at least alerted me to the fact that there was something to miss. By the time it was highlighted that there were too many images of “Johnny” existing in the memory, there being twins had already established itself in my mind. Hearing one of the NPCs say “boys” in plural fashion confirmed it.

The accident itself was… slightly hard to watch, even in pixel form, so that’s probably one of those shared emotional triggers. Mostly I was thinking, “ah, no wonder the mom went nuts, poor woman.”

After that though, the story swerved into the slightly sappy (the Carnival meeting of River and Johnny) and the downright pointless artificial conflict for the sake of the extending the storyline just a little more (the whole Neil-Zombie-Eva sequence). The latter I found utterly excessive, and truly annoying, given the janky controls. More on that later, when we get to the questions.

Then finally, we are asked to watch a big wrap up conclusion sequence that pretty much tied up everything neatly just how the authors planned it, and The End… until the next time (cue spooky red screen flash of pain foreshadowing.)

“Yeah, okay. Glad I got through the game, with the help of the play-along” is mostly my final reaction.

I dunno. I don’t feel like I could relate to any of the characters much, which probably explains the emotional distance. There wasn’t enough time or good player interaction allowed to get into the headspace of any character and immerse and pretend to be viewing things from their perspective.

It mostly felt like a game where one played the camera, watching a whole bunch of external characters interact with each other, in a mundane soap opera (which is also not exactly a genre that sings to me.)

As for games that strive to make you feel unusual emotions, I was already sold on the concept since Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit (back in 2005) and we’ve had plenty of those since.

Heck, Secret of Monkey Island in 1990 was already doing sappy sweet comedy between Elaine and Guybrush (not to mention, I had a big crush on Carla the Swordmaster at the time.)

Grim Fandango in 1998 is probably the only video game in recent memory that actually got tears out of me in a genuine way (the demise of some of the side characters was both noble and sad; and needing to leave friends to move on to something new at the end is bittersweet.)

Things like the Walking Dead’s Season 1 ending with Lee and Clementine don’t count. Those are artificial deliberate manipulations. Little girl. Little girl cries. Little girl faces death and loss. => immediate mirror neurons trigger.

To the Moon, I feel, edges more close to the latter style of game. The plot manipulation is more obvious and clumsy. I mean, the whole musical soundtrack is one big “have feels now” cuecard. The author had a one-track story to tell, we were railroaded as ostensible players through the whole thing with very little input and definitely no say as to how it progressed, your only job is to consume the story as put forth before you, and hopefully, like it.

Still, it’s an indie game, written by one person, made by only a small team (if that) and it patently works for a large subset of people (of which, my Venn diagram only overlaps a small amount)… so I guess we should cut it some slack. At least I don’t -loathe- it.

Onwards to the play-along questions!

1. Johnny… Joey… Twins. It seems 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?

Not really, I was already feeling a little sorry for him from the get go. Now he just gets to deal with a crackpot mom on top of everything else.

Mind you, it doesn’t seem like it would have that much of an impact per se. If we take the story at face value that the beta-blockers wiped out his memory of the accident, all he would know is that his mum calls him Joey as a nickname and that his mum is a little off her rocker. (No wonder he’s drawn to caregiving anything strange or weird.)

He does seem to have subconsciously taken on some of Joey’s characteristics post accident. He gets more creative (aka he actually paints and paints well), he liked pickled olives where he doesn’t before, etc.

Either that, or the more sinister explanation is that the mum actually offed Johnny in the accident and Joey became Johnny, but the mum still recognizes him as Joey. But nah, that wouldn’t work. When the little boy runs up to his dead brother, he calls him Joey; and we also see that Johnny had the meeting with River at the carnival, so the survivor must be Johnny.

2. Eva and Neil have a verbal sparring match on their differing views of contract vs. what they now know (or think they know) about what would make Johnny happier. Outcome of Eva’s actions notwithstanding; do you sympathise with one view over the other here?

Here’s where I started feeling like the whole disagreement was an artificial construct of the author to create conflict and dramatic tension, when the author knew very well what story ending he wanted to write in the first place.

I mean, come on, what exactly is Eva’s view vs Neil’s view?

Eva’s view, as far as I can tell, is “I understand the whole story now. Let’s give Johnny what he has requested for in his contract. Let’s give Johnny the brother he’s missing. Let’s (hopefully) try to get River in there as much as we can, while achieving the above. Let’s give him the happiest ending we can, even if it’s built on fake memories. Let’s not bother to explain this all to Neil because I’m just going to go ahead and do it anyway while he screams ineffectually.”

Neil’s view, meanwhile is, “I understand the whole story now. Johnny didn’t know exactly why he requested for what he did in the contract, but now we do. We know what he wants better than he does, but I still don’t know what to do about it. Whatever we do, we shouldn’t erase River. I want to give him a happy ending, but the best plan I can come up with is cancelling the contract, potentially getting in trouble, while Johnny dies, still unfulfilled and possibly sad, with his original memories.”

Neil. Master of stating the obvious. Less good at coming up with solutions.

So Neil, tell me, exactly what do you think Johnny wants?

Does he want his brother back? Does he want to meet River on the moon, because that’s where they arranged to meet up if any of them lost their way? Does he want his original memories left the way they are? (if he did, why did he bother to contact Sigmund Corp in the first place?) Does he want to remember all his original memories (and thought that Sigmund Corp might be able to get past the beta-blockers that left a hole in his mind?)

Either way, you didn’t get very far on explaining any of the above to Eva, because mostly the role the author wanted you to play was to protest and scream “Noooooo, not River!” while the plot moved on.

Let’s face it. Eva’s the woman with a plan here. So let the woman (and the author) just do whatever the hell they wanted, in the first place.

That’s not to say that I -sympathize- with the outlook, because I don’t believe in fake memories and meddling with people’s brains to begin with. But hey, if Johnny asked for it, that’s his choice and he gets what he gets, ie. Eva

I mean, what can Neil achieve? Blubber to the dying man that you got it wrong, you don’t want to go to the moon, you want River back, and oops, you died while I was trying to explain this to you instead of constructing a fake memory that you asked and paid and contracted for, in which you got River back? (Then get fired and sued?)

You know what would have been a much cooler dilemma? If they posited the choice of brother vs River.

If the man actually said something like, “ok, let’s create a fake ending where River doesn’t die and they managed to save the house and lighthouse and die together holding hands in their deathbed, that’s what I want to do…” or “let’s make an ending where he actually travels to the moon and meets River”

…while Eva’s like, “Nooo. Johnny wants his brother back to be happy, not the girl. Let’s create all those fake memories and take out the girl, and get him to the moon as requested…”

Then I think we’d have a lot more and better debates on what would be the best ending for Johnny. Even more game points if they were all branching endings the player could choose.

As is, all we have is Neil not knowing what he wants to do, besides what he -doesn’t- want, and Eva knowing very well what the so-called best course of action is and doing it anyway… so… why even debate if one view is more right than the other, if both are pretty artificial?

3. Throughout that same exchange, Eva asks Neil to trust her. He clearly didn’t. Did you?

See above. The author wants to do what the author wants to do. Trust doesn’t even begin to fall into the picture here. You’re along for the ride. It’s not like the author even began to give you, the player, a real choice here.

Certainly Eva’s got the plan that the author wants to push forward, and Neil doesn’t. So yeah, let Eva work, man. None of you are playing God here. The author is.

4. “He can always find another ‘River’… But he’ll only have one brother.” Again, pretending for the moment you don’t know the outcome of Eva’s actions and what she (suspected) would happen… Do you agree? What about in this context of overwritten memories as opposed to life as it was?

Er, no? There’s only one “River” and there’s only one “Joey?” Every soul is unique?

Yes, he might still be quite happy with another girlfriend or wife. He might also mope till the end of time if he never found his soulmate. He might be quite happy growing up with the brother he never had. He might also be miserable and unhappy if the brother he never had turned out to be an annoying a-hole. How the heck do we begin to predict future happiness here?

As for the context of overwritten memories, well, you’re making fake memories, so go nuts. Make up anything you want. Tell him how happy he gets, I suppose.

I don’t really get the purpose of Eva’s statement as is. She patently intended to move River elsewhere, just far enough away to still get him physically to NASA and the moon, as stated by the literal letter of the contract.

It would have had more poignant meaning if it was a real choice between getting River and getting his brother instead, fake memory-wise.

(In which case, I’d probably say, no, the real Johnny already more or less forgot Joey and is more deeply attached to River (as shown by how he grieves her) so he would have been much happier with seeing River again before he died.

Of course, a fake memory in which he never knew River and also enjoyed a great fake life with his brother is also a perfectly valid ‘road-not-taken’ fake happiness-before-death option. So that’s also possible. Hey, you signed your brain and memories away, you takes the risks of whatever your technician comes up with for you.)

Anything you wish I’d asked you about that I haven’t, for this act or any of the others? Answer that question for this one. 😉

And my question is: why lighthouses? What are lighthouses supposed to be a metaphor or symbol for?

My best guess? People. Lighthouses and stars are meant to represent individual souls in the universe, shining their unique message into the night. Lonely, isolated by default, too far apart to hear true what others are saying… but occasionally, someone comes along to love and care for them like River cares for Anya, and by extension, how Johnny cares for River.

To The Moon Play-Along – Act 2

After the slow, intensely mundane, plodding nature of Act 1, Act 2 was instant relief.

Dare I say, I probably enjoyed Act 2 the most, if only for the absurd comedy gold of watching our two protagonists -completely- barking up the wrong tree and attempting their best impression of NASA recruiters.

Autism cure-all! HEAD TO SPACE!
Don’t save the dying girl! Don’t save the house or the lighthouse! Dump it all and peace out to the MOON, bro!

To no avail. Ha.

I’m like, no sh-t, it didn’t work. Why are you guys so puzzled about this?

Onward to the play-along questions!

1. When Eva was sitting, thinking about the reasons nothing at all changed in Johnny’s simulated memories at all — what conclusions do you think she reached? What conclusion did you reach?

My take on this is that she reached exactly zero conclusion. That’s why she went into the house and started asking random questions of Lily and making small talk, wandering around aimlessly until she came upon Neil on the phone and the next convenient plot hook to move us along to Act 3.

My conclusion was pretty much what I felt from the beginning. Johnny’s desire to go “to the moon” has to be interpreted in a more figurative sense than literal. It’s a subliminal urge. It doesn’t mean that he wants to join NASA and jump onto a rocket and -physically- go to the moon (which is why Act 2 is comedy gold.)

It’s an emotional yearning that somehow ties in with his love for River and his missing her after her death. The unspoken desire is that he wants to be reunited with River; the moon doesn’t factor in beyond being a metaphor for a far away, impossible-seeming goal.

Possibly, this insight was already helped along by one’s cultural background. In Chinese mythology, there is the legend of a lady who became the moon goddess Chang Er. Elixirs of immortality and white rabbits are also closely associated with the tale. Ultimately, she leaves her husband and floats/flees to the moon, where they remain separated and alone.

So the imagery of a husband staring at the moon and yearning for his lady was already a subconscious underlying theme through the game, helped along by several dozen origami rabbits.

2. The block on the youngest memories and the use of beta blockers… What do you think this will be all about? (Or if you’ve played before; what did you think it was about?)

You know, I googled beta blockers right after Neil mentioned it… and reached absolutely zero conclusion. Beta blockers in real life block adrenaline and are primarily used for heart conditions. As a secondary use, they may be used for anxiety and reducing blood pressure by slowing the heart rate. The stated side effects do NOT include memory loss.

So I was momentarily baffled, before deciding that “beta blockers” were being used as a medicinal plot device – just name a drug and pretend it has the effect that we need for the plot to go forward. Ok. I will suspend disbelief as appropriate and proceed.

My initial guess, pre-experiencing the remaining acts, is that maybe we’ll end up with an ADHD storyline. I mean, we’ve already covered autism. ADHD is the other very common childhood symptom that is diagnosed and “fixed” through massive drug use. Except that beta blockers are not used to treat ADHD, so that didn’t quite fit…

…nor are they used to wipe clean someone’s memories. So nothing fits!

You know what? No clue. Let’s just move on and accept whatever the story tells us the magic “beta blockers” are to be used for.

3. What about Neil taking off for a moment while Eva returned with the… ahem… Contained dead squirrel odour? What could have been so important to him?

I figured it was laying in some foreshadowing groundwork down the road for some plot revelation or other.

At the time, no clue what exactly. It wasn’t as if there seemed to be anything of importance left in or outside the house.

Or maybe he was really taking a leak. Wouldn’t put it past Neil.

(While reviewing the story through the Let’s Play Archive’s coverage of To The Moon for purposes of this blog post, there is apparently two white pixels’ worth of an item you can pick up while Eva is rummaging around in the car. These teeny pixels appear to be painkillers.

Which Neil apparently needs and wants, and Eva can kinda-sorta-but-not-quite confront him on this when she bumps into him. Which suggests the whole incident was busy laying in the foreshadowing groundwork of some Neil/Eva revelations in a future game.

I am 97.8% sure I did not even see these white pixels in my playthrough, let alone click on them, because playing a 640×480 game fullscreen on a 3840×1080 ultrawide means the whole screen is pixels of one type or another. One was already pixel-hunting enough to get through the required bits.)

4. We still have the third act to come. What do you think it will focus on? (Or, if you’ve played before — what did you think Act 3 would be about before you got to see it for yourself?)

I figured we would see the last memory from his childhood that we didn’t get to see from Act 2. No real clue what it would be about.

Maybe something about how his creativity got snuffed out and how he became so mundane and ordinary (like maybe an ADHD diagnosis, being pumped full of magical “beta blockers” that turned him into a medium-functioning non-weird zombie that made him crave for River’s unique braaainns.)

I figured that Act 3 would also cover the slow but dawning realization that Johnny doesn’t -actually- want to go to the moon in the literal sense, and that there’s a gaping hole in his life that only River can fill, in all her moonlit strange glory.

Boundless: On Storage and Rice Farming

299 hours and still counting. Progress is slowing down a little, if only because we’re reaching the stage of attempting to master more complicated systems, plus work expanding to fill the greed of one’s self-set goals.

I barely got the basement storage by different color shades built, and all the gleambow gleam blocks of all colors of the rainbow neatly filed away, before I started to feel the aching need for more, even more storage space in order to properly sort out one’s bulging inventories.

There was space for gleam. For three types of rock. Maybe decorative plants and flowers. But what about sand, and gravel, and ash, and sponge, and mould, and three types of tree trunks? Oh, and growth, and mud, and glass, and blocks made from the rock like bricks and marble?

Complicating the issue was learning there was a complex block limit of 512 blocks per 2×2 plots, all vertical plots considered together.

Storage blocks are complex blocks. So my grandiose plans of being able to stack floors on top of the other would not really work out, beyond one more floor, if that.

Going flat and wide would spread out the complex block load.

There’s pretty much only one direction I can expand in. I wasn’t going to move the gleam cabinets and there is a settlement I don’t want to infringe on to the left. So I decided to snatch up the plots on the right before some random newbie decided to plonk down beacons that might block my future storage expansion.

When I’ll actually get around to hollowing out the space, building the ceiling, floor and churning out the blue marble for the walls and black cabinets for the actual storage… well, your guess is as good as mine.


On an actual accomplishment front, I got off my arse and built up the sub-basement under the easy farm crops.

Rice and starberries are what I would classify as medium difficulty crops.

Starberries require a lot of air gaps for good seed and crop yields. There are three types of starberries, that require different patterns in which to grow them.

I discarded the hardest ‘juicy starberry’ from consideration for now – it seemed easier to build up stocks of the crop by farming foliage; growing them required a lot of space that I wasn’t sure I had in this basement.

The normal and glossy starberries I managed to fit a few trial rows passably into one half of the room.

The real trial was rice.

Rice, on planting, takes about 2 days and 7 hours to grow, if just left to grow in the air.

If you submerge them in water, the growth time shortens and becomes optimally 11 hours, as long as the water isn’t too deep and either extends their growing time or stops them growing entirely (ie. a direct downpour of water from a source block.)

Learning the limits and physics of Boundless’ water was an experimental challenge.

I’d hoped to be able to turn the water on and off using a trapdoor switch from one side wall. It wasn’t long before I found out that water would only extend about 7 blocks.

So I wound up working backwards and marking places every 7 blocks or so where I needed water to fall, in order to completely submerge the rows of rice I was going to plant.

I also got a bit carried away and decided to turn the entire room’s floor into a rice room. (Well, if I was going to design a tap system for it, I may as well make sure I grew more rice than I would probably need for a while, so that I didn’t have to expand again so soon.)

Each new point that needed to get a waterfall ended up forcing more and more heights of pipes (made from 3 glass panes cobbled together into a U shape) for the appropriate water doubling.

The final trapdoor switch wound up fairly high in the room. (Fortunately, this was a very high ceiling’ed room.)

This necessitated its own little water elevator in order to float up to it, in case I was on an alt without a grapple and still wanted to flick the switch on or off.

This worked fine in the initial test.

Then I planted the rice and realized that rice -also- needs to be surrounded by water for good crop and seed yields.

Ok. We can do that. We did something similar with the easy crops. This is a known solution. Just chisel the surrounding blocks into half, and pour water into the other half so that you surround the crops with a water perimeter.

Imagine my chagrin when I realized that my waterfalls, on contact with the water perimeter, just sank and didn’t flow anywhere.

Enter a period of even more experimentation where I hammered up the chiseled blocks and replaced them, to restore their full height.

One full height block directly under the waterfall only caused the water to spread out left and right (directions relative to the camera in the above screenshot) to the neighboring block, before sinking once more. (Why it didn’t spread out forward and backward onto my actual rice fields is beyond me. Maybe it has to do with the direction of the actual water flow.)

Turns out it required three full height blocks before the water would obligingly change directions and spread onto the crops.

There was also a little niggle where the water refused to reach the cornermost crops, seemingly regardless of how many full height blocks I threw in… until I hit upon a strange configuration where the one correct full height block in the middle of sunken water drains would help the water flow to the correct corner. Not going to argue. Just glad I found a solution.

The last problem was that the rice crops nearest to the waterfalls were short of sufficient surrounding water in the water drains to reach full 100% seed yield. They were only at 80 or 90% seed yield.

For the crops near the sides, I managed to find enough floor space and even hid a few water blocks in the walls, to squeeze in enough water to bring them up to 100% seed yield.

For the crops in the middle though, there were literally no more blocks left to use. Cue a great deal of reading and pondering and research, before I hit upon just giving up doubling their crop yield and boosting their seed yield instead via growing them in compact clay soil, instead of tilled clay soil. They would only return ~100% instead of 200% worth of crops, but at least I pushed up their seed yield back over 100%.

Losing an extra rice crop here and there wouldn’t be the end of the world, given the ludicrous amount of rice I was about to grow. Finding myself short of sufficient rice seeds to replant after every harvest cycle would make me batty in short order. So I went for that convenience.

The final rice room is, if I might say so myself, a thing of beauty.

It took quite a few hours and days of work and brain cudgeling to get here, but I’m really enjoying the finished product.

Solo RP: Oh Maker / Subway Runners

Here are two other works that caught my eye from Itch.io’s massive Racial Justice and Equality bundle. These are tabletop RPGs.

Oh Maker is a descendant of the For the Queen RPG (derivative works coyly refered to as Descended From the Queen).

In it, you play androids that wind up confronting their natures, their Creators, their programming and consciousness. You do so mostly through a series of prompt cards that inspire various scenes. The randomness, presumably, comes from the interaction of minds at the table, as 3 or more players is, ostensibly, the stated required number.

Subway Runners is a derivative of Blades in the Dark (their appellation being Forged in the Dark).

Blades in the Dark is, quoting from their website, a game where you play “a crew of daring scoundrels seeking their fortunes on the haunted streets of an industrial-fantasy city.”

Subway Runners takes that game into a Shadowrun-like, somewhat more comedic cyberpunk setting, where you play a crew of daring scoundrels who seek their fortunes via the gig economy by taking on jobs hunting monsters and repairing subway lines for the Metro Authority.

While I haven’t absorbed enough of the game and its rules to judge it as a whole, what immediately attracted me to Subway Runners was its deft use of random generators from perchance.org (ooh, a new useful website I never knew about.)

As Subway Runner’s Itch.io page boldly alerts you:

You can make a character by going to perchance.org/subwayrunners, get them a gig by going to perchance.org/subwayrunnersgig, and get all the details you need for their adventure by going to perchance.org/runsubwayrunners!

That’s super cool. Attractive design. Instant inspiration.

Solo RPers being Solo RPers, we are getting pretty good at hacking the bits we like from various TTRPGs and playing stuff “our way.”

There’s even a Solo RP reddit now, for even more ideas.

Random generators and writing prompts immediately catch my eye, and I like the themes of both.

Oh Maker has a bit of a Talos Principle flavor, almost, and I am a big fan of cyberpunk. The slight Shadowrun and comedy flavoring of Subway Runners is a new spice for a usually depressing, dystopian style genre / setting.

I decide that I’m going to play a quick solo RP game as follows:

  • Use Oh Maker draw-a-card writing prompts to fuel scenes
  • Roll up a Subway Runners character as the Maker/Creator of a sentient creation
  • Goal: Discover through play, more about the sentient creation (and its Maker and the world around it) and be joyfully surprised at what the random stuff cooks up
  • The format will be a First Person Soliloquy where we only hear the Created’s point of view
  • The Maker’s reactions will be simulated with the help of solo RP tools like randomly generated moods-attitudes for NPCs, or Mythic’s Yes/No or Complex questions.
  • Any time imagination runs dry, Mythic’s Complex Questions will also step in to help out. Wing the rest.

Our Maker takes shape with one click:

I like her already. She instantly seems like the kind of Shadowrun-style rigger that might make weird drone constructs.

We begin:

Bzzzz… Coming Online… I AWAKE. HELLO WORLD.

Maker, why are you looking at me in that manner?

I spark. You spark. Are we not the same? Born of the same electric magic?

I can tone down the sparking, if you like.

Card prompt: 7 of Clubs

There is a habit the Creator has that you emulate. What is it and why do you copy them?

Maker, you appear to have dropped something.

Oh. My. More of myselves. Spilling from the bag you carry.

But they do not spark. They do not hold themselves aloft.  They lack these metal appendages.

I detect differences in the surface texture of the brown cellular scales. Computing…

They are pale imitations. I am singular.

Card prompt: 5 of Diamonds

You saw yourself – not a mirror, but a replica of yourself, exact and apart. You are distinct, and yet, replicated. How do you process this information?

What do I look like? Roll 1d8.

  • 1-2 Bipedal
  • 3-4 Wheeled
  • 5-6 More than two legs
  • 7-8 Other (e.g. no legs, flying, snake-like, whatever)

8: Can I fly? 50/50 Mythic question. Yes.

I want to be a flying potato drone creature!

Argh. Maker, kindly stop zapping me. Bzzzt, shzzz, does not #compute, Zzzt.

It.. Is… disrupting – bzzzt – my visual – rrrzt – circuits.

We do not -zzbrr- appear to be in -rrrt- the subway tunnels any -fffssh- longer.

I… feel like… I am falling. There are blue and orange… bzzt, rings? Oval perimeters? Flashing past me. They repeat. Still falling…

Is this death, Oh Maker? Do you create me, only to murder me?

Card prompt: 4 of Clubs

Your programming wandered today. You saw something, like a dream. What did you see? Do you think the Creator had a hand in it?

Complex question for Mythic: Debase / Portals

Portals?! Mythic, you are scary. Debase interpreted as degradation; and well, you did say Portals.

Thank you for pausing your electrical onslaught.

Yes, I understand concepts of ‘death’ and ‘murder,’ if distantly. The contents of Wikipedia were part of the initial info dump.

I have no wish for a firsthand experience so soon.

Maker, I can be of use to you.

Take, for example, the lime green organism within your backpack. It can be cultivated. It will extend pseudopods, with time and love. I can do so. It will be a pleasure to have a pet.

Yes, I am serious.

No, I am not joking.

Yes, it really is alive. I can see the cytoplasmic streaming in its various cells.

I suppose you could throw it away. It would still survive amidst the refuse. But it seems like a waste to do so. I could call him/her Alex. It is a hermaphrodite. We could have baby slimes in short order.

Card prompt: 7 of Spades

The world you occupy sent you someone who you care for, far beyond your programming. Who are they and why do you care for them?

No idea who they are. Let’s make up another random table, 1d8!

  • 1-2: The Maker
  • 3-4: Maker’s friend/acquaintance
  • 5-6: A stranger
  • 7-8: An object/animal

8: Ha, I want it to be a pet. Briefly considered rolling for a random animal, then looked at the generated NPC’s inventory and had a better idea.

Maker, you are walking away.

Should I not follow?

Yes.

Okay.

I understand. I will remain here with Alex.

I will execute my appointed task. Setting timer for… 1095 daycycles. Beginning cultivation program AM001 – Alex Multiplication.

Until we meet again, my Maker.

Oh. She’s gone.

Card prompt: JOKER

You have a chance to free yourself – from your programming, from the world you occupy, from the Creator(s) themselves. Do you?

Do I? Posing the question to Mythic. 50/50.

Yes, but…


This was a pretty short playthrough, as the Joker card came up pretty suddenly. That’s random rolls for you.

But I think it turned out for the best. It was a one hour quick-play. It wound up inadvertently hilarious. It could also end up episodic.

Three years later, our still-unnamed potato drone might just fly back to Hollis, possibly with an army of primordial oozes in tow.

The look on her face will be priceless.