Some Distant Memory, by Galvanic Games and Way Down Deep, is an interactive story about a professor who is desperately searching for the Sunken City of Houston. She is accompanied by ARORA, an AI who can rebuilt memories from notes, letters and photographs. Throughout the game you are also in touch with your companion Commander Ti, from a nearby colony. Earth has been subsumed by the Bloom, an ecological disaster accompanied by terrible earthquakes.
The Baron House
You begin by exploring the ancient, ruined Baron house, former home to Emmy, Ernest, Ada, and Rikin. It is monitored by the incompetent Infinihome ‘smart’ software, and kept clean by the adorable CatVac. As you explore the house, looking for a way out, you can obtain clues about the way the family lived their lives, and how the disaster that befell humanity came about. The family dynamic is complex and desperately sad. It’s difficult to review without too many spoilers, but I’ll try to focus on the aesthetic and the themes it explores.
The house is a hand drawn masterpiece, with a slight Southern Gothic feel. Grandma Ada is an artist; Emmy is a poet. Their work is scattered throughout the house, providing context and depth to the story, which focuses on love, grief, loss and ecological disaster. Underpinning the story is a sense that we have lost the world, and may not have much time left.
The reason for the professor’s exploration is to find The Sunken City, and obtain both technology and history for the remnants of humankind. The Bloom is an ecological disaster; a toxic algal bloom affecting the whole planet. It’s a disaster with roots in reality; there are small scale lethal blooms now, which renders water untouchable, let alone undrinkable. Both turtles and trees are historical marvels; the stoic and controlled professor is awed at the sight of even a dead and broken tree.
Memory and Love
“The future ends without the past.”
Ghosts have been used as an analogy for memory in the past; especially in the classic example of being ‘haunted’ by the past. The ‘reconstructions’ ARORA creates are very much like classic ghosts, albeit in orange rather than ectoplasmic blue. There is even a typical ghost in the machine, in the form of a complicating factor that keeps corrupting the reconstructions and turning them red. Yet the stories are suffused with love.
The love is complicated, sometimes fearful, often repressed; the protagonist and professor could give Stevens, the butler from Remains of the Day (a classic portrait of restrained emotion) some tips. All I can say is, play / read. You won’t regret it. Although you may cry.
“Love, thick and dark as Alaga syrup, eased up into that cracked window. I could smell it—taste it—sweet, musty, with an edge of wintergreen in its base—everywhere in that house.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye