Remembering is a game about leaving your family behind for independence, then finding out that maybe that’s not what you really wanted.
Play the game
You can play the game here!
Some things that helped shape this game:
- lotus eaters
- animals being forced to leave the group when they come of age (ex. lions)
- my own experience losing touch with my Chinese culture
- With those we love alive
- That one floating island in Life of Pi
Setting and characters
I love nature-y settings, so I immediately thought about forests and ocean. I also recalled melancholy stories about selkies and mermaids, and the original Little Mermaid fairy tail – something about leaving the ocean when it’s your home just feels extra sad. Pulling from these thoughts, I configured the forest vs. ocean setting. I was also inspired by the carnivorous island in Life of Pi, which has trees and vines but also large open areas that lead into the ocean.
I decided not to give the main character a name, since they have become this kind of cog in the machine of the new forest society they have joined. ̶I̶ ̶a̶l̶s̶o̶ ̶s̶u̶c̶k̶ ̶a̶t̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶e̶s̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶r̶a̶c̶t̶e̶r̶s̶.̶ If I had more time, I would spend some time allowing the player to customize the main character a little bit, so they’re less nebulous and vague than they are now.
I wanted to get all the events written out before starting to write the actual sentences that the player would read – to do this, I started with a really ugly google doc where I just dumped everything I was thinking.
Through this process, I settled on the following themes:
- the desire for independence at the cost of losing familial relationships
- assimilation to society, leading to loss of tradition
- pressure to perform highly in your career even if it does not bring you joy
- being surrounded by people but still feeling alone due to lack of real connection
Essentially, it is a reflection on what many young adults (like me and my peers!) go through as they separate from their nuclear families and set out to make their own lives in bustling cities, away from their hometowns and their childhood memories.
After playing this game, I would like the player to remember their own family, think fondly of them, and appreciate them if possible.
Some themes that I originally wanted to include but didn’t quite get to include:
- the struggle to find your place once you have decided to reconnect with your roots
- evolution of tradition to encompass both old and new
After establishing themes, inciting incident, climax, etc. I started to write out some passages that I might want to include. I ended up feeling kind of stuck and unsatisfied before I had a complete ending written up, so I moved to Twine a bit early to just try it out and start working on a first version.
The final Twine map for all the passages and choices
Endings and choices
The main choices that actually change what the character experiences include:
Though it seems insignificant at the time, whether you decide to chew or make sparks affects how you escape and affect your community in the end.
Chewing allows you to break through the walls without destroying the forest as well. Chewing leads to endings where you do find your mom, but decide whether to bask in the moment or return to encourage the other neighbors to remember as well.
Meanwhile, sparks will cause fire and burn you, the forest, and your neighbors. Sparks will lead to endings where you do not find your mom, and you need to choose between leaving to find her, or staying to help the burnt confused neighbors who have followed you back into the ocean.
Whether or not to participate in the Indulgence (or moss rave as I also call it)
No matter what you choose, you end up realizing that you are lonely, but if you choose to participate in eating moss it takes you longer to get to that realization. You’re also hella drugged up on moss so it’s less of a sharp sadness.
Abstaining from participating in the “Indulgence” leads to a stronger description of loneliness.
Ending: whether to pursue your own desires first or help your broken community
This choice comes at the very end, so it doesn’t really affect events, but will determine on what note the player finishes the game. With either the chewing or sparks “talent,” you will have to make a decision between seeking the immediate familial warmth that you lost, or taking the time to help others who have forgotten their families.
No endings are “bad” endings, and I tried to write them out in a way that would make the player feel satisfied with whatever choice they took. The larger goal is to get them to think about their role, and potential obligation to help the larger good of society.
Playtesting and iterations
The first version had all the endings, but didn’t have the Indulgence day.
David playtested this version of the game at game night!
What went well:
- He liked that the seemingly inconsequential choice of chewing/sparks at the beginning comes back and is used at the climax
- He liked the interactive links that didn’t just take you to another passage
What needed improvement
- He was confused about what the forest was like, since not much was explicitly described
- The relationship between you and the other neighbors was unclear and he wanted to know more about it
We talked through some potential ways to show your relationship with the neighbors, and David helped me come up with the idea of this huge party that you and your neighbors use to distract yourself, but it doesn’t really lead to any real connection – emphasizing how alone you can be, even when surrounded by others like yourself.
I also decided to add more description/exposition of the forest in the beginning, to help the player orient themselves and understand what kind of place they are in.
I added the Indulgence / party day in this version, which also added another significant choice – the game doesn’t have many of these, so I felt that it needed more.
I also added a lot more description of the forest; the walls, seemingly endless size, and how water can come to the surface.
I also played around with background color – a simple greenish gradient for when you are awake, and a transition to full black background when you are falling asleep and dreaming, or underwater. I added music, too.
This is the final version for now! In the future I’d like to add:
- Variable music and more different background colors for different scenes
- Sound effects
- Character customization
- More explanation of how you arrived at the forest
- More memories that really emphasize how warm and special your family was
I really, really struggled with this game. Part of it is definitely just that I have issues committing to any ideas since I think they’re all bad LOL – I got halfway through this game, and then hated it, so I tried writing another one. Then I just had two half-finished stories that I hated, so I decided to go with this one for the sake of time!
I still kind of hate it, to be honest. Because of this, I really hesitated to show it to anyone, and really only playtested it once 🙁
I wish I had just shown it to everyone to really tear it apart and improve it in the beginning! If it sucks it can only get better. I’ve always struggled to share my work and ask for feedback, so it’s something that I’ll have to keep working on. I guess a part of me believes that this game can never be good, but that’s a sad way to think and I’m hoping to change that mindset.
In terms of the story itself, I really wish it had more heft to it – maybe more spectacular failures, or more poignant memories, or character traits that conflict or meld with the goals, or stronger goals, maybe? It all feels a little lukewarm and disjointed, so I feel like if I did this again I would start with a stronger vision for the themes, and set more concrete motivations for my character. Also, I would actually flesh out the main character more. They’re vary vague and hand-wavy right now, but it could be good to throw some meat on that skeleton, or allow the player to do that a little through some customization choices.
In terms of the medium, I learned a lot about how to use Twine, and how cool and at the same time limited it can be! I spent a long time trying to figure out how to add music that changes based on the story section, but I realized in the end that it would be much easier to do this if I had used SugarCube instead of Harlowe. Darn. I think it’s a cool tool, and you can make some cool creative interactions, but I don’t think I want to use it again any time soon since I got really frustrated with its limitations – like I couldn’t figure out how to use a logical intersection, so I had to just nest if statements in a really tedious way. Gross.
Ultimately this process has just reinforced something that I already knew – writing stories is frikkin hard. I knew this in middle school when I was writing bad poetry and short stories, and being older and slightly wiser doesn’t help all that much. I guess just writing more is the solution. Just keep doing it until it feels slightly less bad? That’s what I’m taking away from this.