2064: Read Only Memories might have my favourite opening of any game ever. I’m thinking specifically about the bit you can play in a demo on Steam. You’re a writer, sat in your tiny apartment, procrastinating about writing a review of some fancy new headphones. You manage to power through the review and go to sleep after flicking eyes across the local news, and then you wake up in the middle of the night when a polite robot breaks in and tidies up.
2064 is the work of MidBoss, a studio based in Berkeley, California, and which specialises in games with a LGBTQIA+ focus and a strong sense of diversity and inclusivity. The game is an adventure affair set in a future poised on the brink of three singularities, and in the opening ten minutes there’s a brilliant joke about being a writer and an excellent discussion of Asimov’s laws of robotics. I’ve spent the morning playing the demo for Read Only Memories: Neurodiver, the studio’s follow-up. It’s every bit as good as 2064. It might be love.
The Neurodiver in question is a genetically-engineered lifeform that allows Espers to move through other people’s memories. In the demo, which is short but filled with details and conversations and possibilities, it allows you to travel back in time to a client’s missing memories of a long-ago bar transaction that may or may not have gone awry.
It’s a perfect demo – an ideal way of introducing the characters and the game’s main ideas. The characters are delightful and complex, as was the case with 2064, and you have leeway to shape the lead at least through the dialogue options you choose. As for the main mechanical ideas, they involve unravelling a mystery by working through corrupted memories.
I’ll give you just one example because I don’t want to spoil the demo much itself. You have to go to the bar to order drinks for you and your friends. But the barman is a giant flickering baby. This is a memory glitch, the giant baby masking something else. To work out what happened to the real memory you need to combine items from your inventory with the corrupted memory, and once this is done, the barman is revealed.
There is so much potential here, not just in terms of combining different objects, but in terms of the masking memories themselves. And that’s really what these games are interested in, I would argue: people and memories, and through that a person’s relationships with the people and cultures surrounding them. In Neurodiver that includes the Espers, people who can read minds, and who may have emerged through mutation or genetic engineering. It also includes hybrids, who seem to be the subject of a degree of quiet hostility.
What I loved most about 2064 and that opening wasn’t the surprise of the house-breaker who tidied up, or even the rogue thrill of seeing my own working life parodied in a game. It was the flicking through the news aspect. These games go all-in on creating a sense of their world. I love that, and I cannot wait to play more.