Uncancellation, Vita, equality and diversity: An interview with MidBoss

We recently published our review of 2064: Read Only Memories. We loved the gameplay, the art, but more importantly, what it stood for. Developers MidBoss have been at the forefront of joining social awareness, equality and gaming for quite some time. We decided to get in touch with MidBoss and ask them about the Vita port, its troubled birth, equality in the gaming industry, and much, much more. Read on.

1 & 2) Let’s get the big one out of the way first: the game got announced for Vita, then it got cancelled, and then it got released. What. Happened? Please tell us the story, because I’m betting it’ll be one hell of a tale.

We have detailed our entire journey with the Vita release in a blog post! You can read it here.

A quote from the article:

TL;DR — Limited memory on PS Vita and a complicated codebase led to initial failure after promising initial tests, but advice from our original programmer and hard work from our team, especially our lead programmer Nikki, got us back on track and into your hands!

3) Well, with the trials and tribulations of the Vita port out of the way, let’s move onto the themes touched upon in the game. Obviously, I think equality is really at the center of it all, and Midboss are known for creating content geared towards embracing equality. “Gaming in Color” the award-winning documentary, certainly helped pave the way for the company in that regard. What were the motivations (personal and otherwise) behind the decision process for 2064’s themes?

We wanted to present a world where queer people are featured as main characters so that players can see people like themselves exist in media. To achieve this, we aimed to create characters whose queerness is a part of them without it being their sole defining factor. They each have their own unique lives, desires, feelings, and fears. Whether it’s truth or justice, they all have something to fight for.

We felt that the future would be an ideal setting to explore such themes, for in a world where race, gender, and sexual orientation no longer cause divides, something else would form grounds for discrimination. In 2064, it is the idea of whether or not someone is human enough. Is installing cybernetic implants and body parts the equivalent of selling away our humanity bit by bit? Can we truly call ourselves human when our genetic code is spliced with something inhuman? What about individuals who are but a human brain in a robotic body?

The setting of 2064, Neo-San Francisco, can be described as “bubblegum cyberpunk”. Aesthetically, it doesn’t follow the dark neon city look, it’s brighter and more inviting. We wanted players both familiar and unfamiliar with San Francisco to feel welcome in its futuristic incarnation. While the outlook of 2064’s universe is overall optimistic, there is plenty of darkness beneath the surface. You can see these concepts explored in the discrimination surrounding hybrids or the harsh reality of Flower Cybernetics’ Brain-Controlled Android project.

Turing, the ROM who is your companion and guide throughout the game, is voiced by Melissa Hutchison. She is FANTASTIC in the role.

4) Have you experienced any backlash in terms of people who are against equality within (or outside of) the gaming community? Whenever the subject of minorities at all is touched upon in other industries (like film and TV), there’s always an almost binary response: people are either totally for it, or totally against it. Was that the case with 2064?

We have received tons of positive responses that praise the game’s themes. Players expressed happiness at seeing characters in the game who are like them and they were especially grateful for the ability to select their pronoun while creating their player character. We have often seen comments wishing that more games followed 2064’s example in terms of character diversity or, for other games with customizable player characters, pronoun choice.

There were also responses which appreciated the themes in 2064, but also pointed out areas that they felt could have been executed better. We have taken these concerns into consideration and have looked to them when discussing how we can potentially do better in the future.

But alongside all this praise and constructive criticism, we have also received backlash. This was something we had expected when making the game, for we knew there would be voices that were against the game’s themes or felt skeptical about them. However, seeing the positive reception from people shows that our media is making a difference, and this gives us the motivation to go on creating and help make the world a better place through our games and events.

5) Since you got to experience all of this first hand, what do you think the current state of the gaming industry is, in terms of equal rights and the representation of minorities? Are we as diverse as we’d like to think?

I think it’s a complex issue, and I also think that ‘being diverse’ isn’t the end goal or something that’s pass/fail. Video games, like most tech sectors, have a lot of diverse people working in it and it’s been that way for a long time.

But you can have diversity without equality. I don’t know if I’d say ‘diversity’ about the fact that most women designers or queer people of color who want to put a bit of themselves or an important message in a game can only do so through small indie games while titles on the store shelf blur together. I don’t know if I rejoice in diversity as major game studios make their typical gruff adventurer with no personality a woman instead of a man for a change.

I think real diversity and equality will shine through the content of the game ONLY when there are diverse people behind the creative choices of those major games and that’s rarely the case. As the Entertainment Software Association (ESRB, E3) charges forward to support these recent horrific tax cuts for the rich, a truly progressive industry that supports anyone who isn’t an established wealthy man feels further out of reach.

6) If I may move away from the themes of the game and back to the technical side of the game for a bit, I’m really interested in knowing what the process was like for voicing the characters, Turing in particular. Considering the scope of the project, there’s quite a lot of voice acting in the game and it really helps tremendously in pulling you in during gameplay. Can you tell us a bit about the creative process behind the acting, and the role you think it plays when interacting with players?

For Turing, we wanted a voice that wasn’t the typical “robot voice” since that can get tiring very quickly. We needed something androgynous, cute, and easy to listen to because Turing is the game’s main character and therefore the player will hear them talk the most. Melissa’s previous roles fit with the concept of Turing’s voice perfectly.

In addition, 2 Mello utilized a pitch delay to make Turing’s voice sound slightly more mechanical without going into the robot voice territory. This technique was also used in a similar fashion for other characters.

We held auditions for several of the characters. Philip has previously detailed Dekker’s audition process in more detail in Super Nerd Pals Episode #104.

The actors mostly used their home studios or borrowed space, but we did all of Turing’s recordings in person, at Studio Jory in Fairfax, CA.

We always wanted to have voice acting for the game and we feel that the actors we picked really help bring the characters to life. In terms of player interaction, it may have taken away some of the “Let’s Play” experience because before the voice acting was implemented we saw players trying to come up with their own versions of character voices. But we are really proud of the voice acting overall and we feel it’s one of the game’s greatest strengths.

7) Finally, now that the game is out, I gotta ask: is there a physical version in the horizon? Va-11 Hall-a is getting a physical release, and that was another game on my “anticipated Vita games that might actually not come out at all” list. Have you been approached by, say, a company whose name rhymes with Limited Run Lanes, about doing a physical release? Or maybe by someone else?

We just did a Limited Run for 2064 on PS4! It was super successful so stay tuned! 🙂

8) I’ve grilled you enough, and the floor is now yours: what would you like to say to people playing the game on Vita, and discovering the story anew? What is next for Midboss?

We have released the definitive version of 2064 on the Vita and several other platforms, any future updates will be only bug fixes. Whether you are picking up the game again for a replay or were waiting for our “final” version, this is the time to play! We hope you enjoy the experience if you’re a new player, or have fun finding all the small changes and details if you are returning to Neo-SF.

There is more coming from us, please stay tuned and look forward to our future announcements!

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