Memoranda Interview – Lead Designer Sahand Saedi on Adventure Gaming Inspired by Literature
Coming from its successful backing on Kickstarter, Memoranda lead designer Sahand Saedi shares more on the indie title inspired by author Haruki Murakami.
For several decades, point-and-click games such as The Secret of Monkey Island, the Broken Sword series, Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, and many others provided gamers with intricate adventures, quirky characters, and memorable stories to uncover and piece together their mysteries.
Despite their peak coming in the 80s and 90s, in recent years the genre has had a resurgence thanks to the larger-scaled projects from studios such as Telltale Games and Double Fine Productions, while smaller, independent developers have also worked to push the genre into exciting new directions.
One of those studios is Bit Byterz with their title Memoranda, which aims to evoke many of the classic point-and-click adventures games of those eras through its gameplay, while combining them with a unique, hand-drawn aesthetic. Most of all, the game also incorporates the works of Japanese author Haruki Murakami into its storyline, who is most well-known for evocative, surreal short stories such as “A Wild Sheep Chase” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” and novels such as 1Q84.
We had the chance to speak with lead designer Sahand Saedi for a deeper look at Memoranda, with Saedi able to share more on the decisions that lead to bringing Murakami’s stories to an interactive experience, along with the development process behind the beautifully-drawn adventure game.
Can you tell us a little about the beginnings of Memoranda and its development? What were some of the challenges in starting development on Memoranda as a small team?
Memoranda was our first attempt at making games and before that we were just gamers: this is why we had to learn a lot of things during the development. Our aim at first was to make a very small game and this led us to simplify some features which proved to make our lives harder down the line. Development took some time due to lack of budget and, at times, the team was down to two people.
Did Memoranda’s successful Kickstarter campaign alter the development process/concept drastically, or has it mostly stayed true to the original idea?
We really didn’t expect our Kickstarter campaign to be successful since I had prepared the Kickstarter page long ago but wasn’t brave enough to hit the launch button! We launched the campaign after a few of our friends insisted and it was successful to our surprise. We kept the main game idea but we rewrote the game code from scratch with a new programmer and in this process added the features that we had omitted previously. I now wish we had launched our Kickstarter campaign earlier.
I found it really interesting how Memoranda takes a lot of its inspiration from the short stories of the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Can you tell us about how your team discovered these stories, and how they led to the development of Memoranda?
On the very first day that we had decided to make a game, I was talking to my friend about various ideas when we almost simultaneously asked one another about one of Murakami stories. We thought the atmosphere of the story was perfect for a point-and-click game.
What was the process like for taking the stories of Murakami – which are known for being surrealist and vague in their storytelling – and turning that into a “structured” gameplay experience in Memoranda?
I would write down notes about whatever was interesting in the short stories I read, in order to add them to the game later on. Although, there are many things in the game that have been added by my own imaginations in order to relate the other elements together.
How did the team decide on developing Memoranda as a 2D point-and-click adventure game? Were other genres or gameplay styles considered in bringing the game to life?
We did not think about any other genres, as the initial three of us that decided to make the game were big point-and-click fans and could not imagine any other genre. We were also very much interested in 2D graphics and that was important in our decision making, too.
The title seems to share a lot of qualities with classic point-and-click games like Broken Sword, The Secret of Monkey Island, and more. What ties Memoranda to these types of games, and what will players experience that may be new to the genre?
I will be really glad if we are half as good as the games you mentioned since those are great games that to this day. Our interest in literature and stories led us to make an adventure game inspired by a writer that had influenced us that year and this might be the new experience gamers can expect. I really hope that gamers get inspired to go and read Murakami stories if they haven’t already, [they are] really great. We also tried to be unique [with the game’s] visuals.
What has the process been like for designing the game’s puzzles? Will Memoranda’s surreal qualities tie into the gameplay in any way?
Most of the puzzles came with the characters and events inspired by the books; we needed to come up with new puzzles for inserting new things in the game. When I faced blocks in designing the puzzles, often times I opened a Murakami book and searched for ideas to use as game puzzles. The surreal aspect of the stories is fully reflected in the game’s puzzles and sometimes they are even more surreal.
The animations and art direction of Memoranda I’ve found to be incredibly striking from gameplay trailers and footage so far. What was the process like of discovering the artwork and direction for Memoranda visually? What were some of its influences?
We should really thank our artist, Maliheh Rahrovan, for this part. This was her first project and she did a great job in visualizing the game world: she has been tweaking and adding little things to the game even up until last week. I really don’t know how she came up with these visuals as I only gave her one or two sentences about each character and she would come next week with visuals that were like or even better than what I had in mind. I know that Maliheh has always been a fan of Miyazaki and [the filmmaker] Sylvain Chomet, and some of our scenes might be inspired by those great artists.
What do you hope players will take away from their experience in Memoranda and its world/characters? What do you hope players will discover along the way?
I hope that the game’s feel and atmosphere inspires those gamers that are not very much interested in literature to become curious and read some of the original Murakami stories. One of my friends, who had read Murakami a while back and wasn’t much interested, told me lately that after playing the game he has gone back and started reading the books again and this time he felt something new: probably the same thing we felt when we decided to make a game inspired by those stories on the first day.
Memoranda will release for PC, Mac, and Linux on January 25th, 2017 – for more info and to check out gameplay footage of the title ahead of release, you can click here to head over to the Kickstarter page for Memoranda.