The future of memory - a preview of Remember Me

Remember Me's heroine Nilin has skills that are both subtle and not so subtle. Kicking people in the face is the latter.
Remember Me's heroine Nilin has skills that are both subtle and not so subtle. Kicking people in the face is the latter.

In Cologne last August, the day before the start of video game expo Gamescom, Japanese publisher Capcom staged an hour-long press conference to showcase their upcoming games.

For the most part, it was standard Capcom fare: Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Devil May Cry, and Lost Planet. The final game of the conference, however, was something boldly new: a French-made science fiction action-adventure called Remember Me, with a heroine who climbs, fights, and hacks her way across a glittering futuristic Paris. Most interesting of all, she can also hack into people's memories, changing key events and making them believe whatever she wants them too.

At a show dominated by sequels and reboots, such a fascinating and original concept generated a lot of interest, and video game fans have been clamouring for more details ever since.

I was fortunate enough to be granted a brief interview with Jean-Maxime Moris, Creative Director at French Studio DONTNOD, and got to ask a handful of questions about this highly anticipated game. "DONTNOD Entertainment was formed in June 2008 initially with five like-minded individuals," Moris recalled, "brought together with a desire and passion to create innovative and compelling AAA games. Since then the studio has grown to a point where we have had around 100 people working on Remember Me."

Even though this is the studio's debut game, Moris stressed the wealth of experience possessed by its staff. "This is a team with a wealth of experience working on such titles as Alone in the Dark, Heavy Rain, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2, and Grand Theft Auto 3," he explained. "Furthermore, the artistic lead Aleksi Briclot’s previous work includes Magic the Gathering and Marvel Comics."

Remember Me is DONTNOD's own creation, and in their search for a publisher they found a creative partner in Capcom. "They provide us with invaluable feedback on all areas of the game," Moris said. "As you can imagine, with their heritage in the fighting genre, this has been especially useful with the fine tuning of our combat system."

The game was first revealed to the world in 2011 as Adrift, at the time nothing more than a collection of concept images with no gameplay footage. I asked Moris how Adrift became Remember Me, and he smiled. "You have a good memory!" he joked. "Yes, the game was originally called Adrift, and focused on some quite different themes to that which we finally settled on. I think we have all been touched by the social network phenomenon, so we began to think 'what if...?'"

"What if your memories could be digitised and then shared, sold and bought? What if one company not only supplied the technology, but also maintained the servers where all these memories were stored? Who then, would keep watch over the watchers? This is the backdrop to Remember Me."

The narrative and mechanical centre of the game is heroine Nilin, a member of a secret society waging a guerrilla war against a corrupt corporation. She clambers up the sides of sheer skyscrapers, engages guards in brutal, fast-paced brawls, hacks into security systems, and hacks into human minds just as easily. "It is quite difficult to post-rationalize our choice of a female character," Moris said, "but at the risk of sounding clichéd it made sense to have a female lead in a cyberpunk game about memories, identity, and ultimately intimacy."

Moris described how much work went into making Nilin a compelling protagonist. "An immense amount of work went into making sure that she was a balanced mix of attractive looks and resonating character traits," he said. "Character design, dialogue, animation, game rules; everything plays a part in making sure that she comes across as a powerful character."

Arguably the other star of the game is not a person, but a place: the city of Neo-Paris. The choice of setting is refreshing, a welcome change from the usual real-world video game locations, which are predominantly US cities and middle eastern slums.

The choice of city was mostly a practical one, explained Moris. "We all live here, and it is a city we love," he said. "It certainly made things easier when it came to research; we just had to look out of the window! That said, there aren’t many games set in Paris. Hopefully this is another reason why Remember Me will stand out from the crowd."

While the in-game footage we have seen so far has primarily focused on action sequences, Moris estimated that the final game will be "split pretty much equally between action and adventure". "The action element consists of combat, boss fights, and platforming," he explained, "while the adventure side comprises of exploration, puzzles, and memory remixes."

"Memory remixes" refers to Nilin hacking into characters' memories and making subtle changes, tweaking their recollection of events until they believe an entirely fictional sequence of events. Moris explained that there will only be a few of these, making them major setpieces.

"There is a total of four in the game, and we use them at pivotal moments in the game’s narrative, allowing players to play an active role in pushing the story forward. We took a 'quality over quantity' approach with these sequences and focused on two main concepts: the butterfly effect and the moral impact of directly tampering with one’s identity. During each memory remix the player will be able to move the action backwards and forwards, looking for memory glitches, elements which can be altered to change the outcome of the memory. It is a really unique feature and something we really believe players will enjoy."

In addition to these major memory-tampering events, Nilin will also be able to hunt down people with specific memories and quietly take what she needs- the combination to a safe, for example.

Remember Me looks like it will be an eye-catchingly unique title when it goes on sale in May.

- James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

This story The future of memory - a preview of Remember Me first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.