Watch out for the Mark Zuckerbots on level eight
I recently got the chance to attend Anaheim Wondercon 2013, swinging by the Capcom booth in hopes of scoring some cool Monster Hunter swag. I must admit however, it was a bit disappointing to see how heavily the company continues to rely on remakes and ports, with most of its gaming kiosks occupied by titles like Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Resident Evil Revelations, and its latest yawn-inducing arcade collection.
That's what makes Remember Me so strange: sequel-happy Capcom not only taking a risk on a new IP, but also putting faith in the Paris-based Dontnod Entertainment. In 2010, Capcom's president Haruhiro Tsujimoto claimed the publisher would stop developing new IPs externally, after the high-profile flops of Dark Void and Bionic Commando. It definitely makes one wonder what inspired this supposedly-conservative company to bet its money on a yet-unproven development team.
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I sat down with Remember Me's creative director Jean-Max Moris (Dontnod), art director Aleksi Briclot (Dontnod), and senior producer Mat Hart (Capcom) to try and find the answer to that question, and to see whether this cyberpunk adventure will make Capcom's change of heart worth it.
From left to right: Mat Hart, Aleksi Briclot, Jean-Max Moris
Destructoid: Now obviously any new IP is always a bit of risk. I was down in the (Capcom) booth and I saw a giant line for Ducktales, but for Remember Me the people seem to be saying: "What is this? What am I looking at?" What do you want to say to those people?
Mat: We want to say very much that we've got a great game that you should play (laughs). It's an incredibly powerful story about a young woman called Nilin, who is an elite memory-hunter, searching for reasons why her own memory was wiped and taken away from her.
Destructoid: What can you tell me about the universe of Remember Me?
Jean-Maxime: Remember Me takes place in Neo-Paris, 2084, where everyone is carrying a brain implant called 'Sensen,' which is short for 'Sensation Engine,' that allows them to record and digitize in real time everything that they see, that they hear, that they experience, and they turn that into little memories that they can exchange with people, buy from strangers, sell to strangers.
It's really just the future of today's social networks; it's a brave new world of knowledge and emotion sharing. But, on the flip side of that wonderful coin, there is the looming threat of huge mega-corporation called Memoryes, that builds the hardware and oversees all the memory transfers. If there's any resemblance to any company in today's world, that's obviously just a coincidence.
Destructoid: Is this like an evil Facebook?
Jean-Maxime: Anyway ... there are people that think someone should be there to watch over the watchmen, a group of people called the Errorists. Nilin, the main character of the game, is basically the most gifted of them all. She's an elite memory hunter and, unlike the others, she has the power to dive into your mind, penetrate one of your memories, and 'remix' it. The game is her story, the story of getting her memory back.
Destructoid: She has the ability to alter people's memories? Now how does the player do that?
Mat: The player is going to effectively have the 'hand of god.' They're able to literally scrub backwards and forwards through the memory that she is manipulating. What's she's looking for is tiny little glitches, little weaknesses in the memory that she is able to manipulate. Manipulating the tiniest, most innocuous thing can actually have quite the large butterfly effect when you extrapolate it out. At key points in the narrative, you're gonna have to remix someone's memories to take the story further, or get some crucial information, or save yourself. These are the key turning points in the storyline.
Destructoid: Now, obviously the setting of the game is very unique; you have this kind of futuristic Paris. What was the inspiration for that?
Aleksi: There's a lot of different influences, but one of the main challenges was to always keep a connection with today's world. It's sci-fi, but we're not dealing with space opera, spaceships, stuff like that. It's all about intimacy. Jean-Max was talking about technology and dichotomy between technology and humanity, memory, a mix between all of those. For the world, we have to create something strong with a sense of history, something you can believe in, and then we are adding layers -- big buildings, robots, a lot of crazy enemies, and stuff like that. But we always keep in mind that we have to build a believable future.
Destructoid: This game really wants you to think this is a possible future, assuming everything goes wrong.
Aleksi: Don't forget that we are not scientists. We try to create a believable future, but we're not doing a thesis. It's fun, it's entertainment, it's a game...
Jean-Maxime: An immense amount of research went into designing the game world, and the game makes sense from a technology point of view. We researched memory, types of different memories, types of brain control that can be done on machines today, social networks and the kind of potential threats or features they have embedded in them. But when it came to the gameplay, it was about making something that was immediately enjoyable. There's combat, there's platforming, there's stuff that they know. And then, we introduce the crazy stuff.
Destructoid: Now Remember Me, is a very interesting title. The 'Me' in the title, does that refer to the main character? Is that her saying "Remember Me"?
Jean-Maxime: Or is that you? There was a lot of back and forth between Dontnod and Capcom on the title, but Capcom came with Remember Me. I really like it. I know it's a Robert Pattinson movie as well...
Matt: Do you love the movie?
Jean-Maxime: I haven't seen the movie. It doesn't mean we can't use the same two words of the English language to build a new work of art. There's this layer of the character needing to remember who she is, because she's lost her memory; there's this layer of her saying "remember me," like "you're gonna remember me once I'm done with you." Then there's the narrative of social networks, and an era in the future where that's been taken to the very next level. What can we do to remember who we are once our identities have been shared with the rest of the world?
Aleksi: Something funny about the name. The catch-line of the game is 'remix memories, change your world,' the beginning letters of Remember Me. You can remix the letters, make the connection between 'Remix Memory' and 'Remember Me'.
Destructoid: We haven't been seeing a lot of female protagonists in these kinds of AAA titles. What drew you to a female lead? Was that a natural progression, was that a choice you consciously made?
Jean-Maxime: I think that cyberpunk is often about identifying technological trends today and extrapolating them into the future... though other cyberpunk works focus on computing power or physical augmentation, and how that can affect you as a human being. We went for something that is sort of a yin/yang of both, though is more connected to social networks and themes of human intimacy, and identity. It was just natural that we went for a female character. I'm not saying male characters can't have emotion and intimacy, and I'm not saying female characters can't kick ass. This just made sense for the story we're telling.
Destructoid: She's also ethnic.
Jean-Maxime: She's mixed race. She's half Caucasian, half...
Jean-Maxime: (laughs) Not Egyptian. You got the background of the story wrong! She's basically half-white half-black. I don't know...
Destructoid: The technical term?
Jean-Maxime: The technical term you use in the US that would be politically correct... but she's mixed race, yeah.
Destructoid: It’s definitely kind of a very unique character compared to many other gaming protagonists. What went into designing Nilin?
Jean-Maxime: It's really been a collective work. Lots of back and forth with the narrative team, Aleksi's team -- the art team -- the game designers. She basically had to be a combination of attractive looks, sure, but also resonating character traits. We came up with two defining traits in the beginning, which were 'rebel,' and a minor term, which was 'vulnerable.'
Actually, the emotional palette which we went or was inspired by Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica), and although they're very different in many ways, the range of emotions we wanted for her was like that. We defined those traits and worked hard at to them permeate through every line of dialogue, through every animation, through every situation she was put in, every reaction from NPCs. That's an immense body of work, trying hard to make her a significant action-adventure character.
Aleksi: There was a lot of iteration. She has to fit the setting, look like she can fight really well, she has to fit in the universe, to look specific, to have a specific visual signature, as well as to look like some kind of usual Neo-Paris citizen in 2084. A lot of different points in the recipe.
Destructoid: How did this relationship between Capcom and Dontnod come together?
Mat: Capcom first became aware of Remember Me at GamesCom 2011. We moved very quickly to secure a relationship with those guys, to sign the deal. We were thrilled with what we saw, and the potential of the game.
Destructoid: Now, Capcom has before gone out to capture new studios, but it seemed like you guys had shied away from that for a little while. Is Capcom looking to build a new selection of IPs outside of the traditional brands at this point?
Mat: (laughs) What?
Destructoid: I know you guys had Bionic Commando, you had Dark Void, and these didn't perform very well. It seemed like Capcom was focusing on their core brands for a while. We saw a lot of Street Fighter, we saw a lot of Resident Evil. It's interesting to see a new IP that Capcom is taking charge on. Do you see more new IPs in Capcom's future?
Matt: (long pause)
Destructoid: You haven't thought too hard about it, I guess?
(A Capcom rep interjected here to mention that Matt likely wasn't in a position to comment on that question).
Mat: There's just nothing I could say that wouldn't sound like complete publisher [expletive].
Destructoid: Well, are there any plans for Nilin to make her way into any other part of the Capcom universe?
Jean-Maxime: I'd love to see it happen, and I've made the joke already about 23 times to Ono-san, who is our producer at Capcom Japan. So who knows?
Destructoid: You’d like to see her in Marvel vs. Capcom then?
Jean-Maxime: Not Marvel vs. Capcom... Street Fighter V.
Destructoid: Street Fighter V?
Jean-Maxime: Yeah, I'd love to see her in Street Fighter V. (Note – After the interview, I was assured that Street Fighter V is not actually in production)
Destructoid: So you guys are big Capcom fans, going back. Is it really exciting for you guys to be working with Capcom?
Jean-Maxime: It is! The whole design of the game was done by Dontnod, and Capcom were very respectful of that, but at the same time it's great to be able to benefit from their experience, and also fine-tune the game toward the end of production, and also be part of the Capcom family as thirty-year-old video game fans is... it's just amazing.
Destructoid: Are there any games that you would cite as influences? I'm definitely getting an Uncharted vibe from some of the platforming elements.
Jean-Maxime: Well, the reference game is a dangerous one for game developers, because then it comes around and beats you over the head. (laughs) Games like Uncharted, Batman, these are amazing games to us, and it's an honor to be compared to them.
Destructoid: Alright, I’ve just walked into the game store, I look on the shelf and there's Remember Me. Why am I gonna buy this game? What makes this the title I gotta have?
Jean-Maxime: Because it's new, and you're tired of playing the same sequels every year. This is a brand-new action-adventure IP that will give you what you already know in terms of accessible combat and storytelling methods, but it's gonna escalate that through new levels of innovation with the memory remix that you've seen, with the Combo Lab that'll allow you to customize all your combos, and that's gonna tell you a very unique story: the story of Nilin, this new female character. You don't see enough of these female characters in your games. Those are all good reasons to buy Remember Me.
Destructoid: Alright, I think we've hit a lot of different points. I wish you guys good luck with this one.
Jean-Maxime & Co: Thank you!
(Transcribed by Jeffrey Haenftling)