A Memoir Blue is shaping up to be maybe the most “Annapurna Interactive”-feeling game that Annapurna Interactive has ever published. It is a text-less interactive poem from Cloisters Interactive about a star swimmer, Miriam, who is reflecting on a poignant day trip from her past that she spent with her mother. Far from just another walking simulator, it is a dream-like journey drenched in symbolism, entrancing visuals, and magic realism. It is also an intensely personal work, as it is directly inspired by an important day in the life of creative director Shelley Chen. Suffice to say, A Memoir Blue was a unique experience to behold in a hands-off preview.
The true story
Mother and daughter have two very different recollections of their special day trip in A Memoir Blue, and the game is about how Miriam comes to grips with learning the full story of that day. Indeed, till now, Miriam had only thought of it as a fun and adventurous day. But for her mother, that day was an attempt for the two of them to escape a bad situation.
This premise is lifted directly from Shelley Chen’s life. She had wanted to make a game about the fun day trip she had gone on as a girl, so she called her mom for more details. That was when Chen learned from her mom that it was not a day trip at all. Rather, as Chen explained: “We were running away from my dad.” She was so surprised to realize that she had never noticed her mom’s pain back then that it actually intensified her desire to encapsulate this story in A Memoir Blue.
During the preview discussion, Chen conveyed so many intimate details of her life with a soft voice and casual tone that utterly belied how incredibly gutsy what she’s doing is. Most people wouldn’t be comfortable with broadcasting their most personal and formative experiences to the whole world, yet Chen did not betray an ounce of apprehension about the project. This is the story that she and Cloisters Interactive want to tell, and they are putting everything they have into it.
Diving into a dreamy interactive poem
A Memoir Blue aims to blend 2D and 3D art in a unique way as Miriam descends into the depths of her memory, which is symbolized by water — and by the looks of what I saw in preview, the art is succeeding so far. That’s crucially important because A Memoir Blue is, to reiterate, a text-less narrative adventure. The visuals and audio tell the story, and it’s up to meticulously inserted environmental details to teach players who Miriam is and what she feels. For instance, her personal items in her gym bag tell us a bit about her.
However, almost every individual moment of A Memoir Blue is its own intensely artistic experience, full of striking visual metaphors: A radio leaks water as it starts to present images from Miriam’s memory. You physically tear down ads on a train to dig past the superficial image of Miriam’s family to reveal the truth underneath. One scene transition sees water drops dripping down like tears onto a newspaper, and where the drops land, a hand-drawn 2D image is uncovered of young Miriam sleeping on her mother’s lap.
It helped me understand why the game is being described as an “interactive poem,” as you don’t so much play the game as you do contribute to the game. Clicking images and dragging and dropping objects was the extent of “gameplay” I saw in the A Memoir Blue preview, but there was palpable artistry in it all. At the beginning of the story, you drag the sun down as a means of fast-forwarding time. Likewise, pulling down some ice cubes in a glass of water causes fish to appear in the glass, which is the moment that introduces magic realism to the game. So essentially, your actions are putting the finishing touches on an existing piece of art.
Shelley Chen was inspired as both an artist and just as a person by two short animated films, 2008 Japanese short La Maison en Petits Cubes (“The House of Small Cubes”) and 2000 Dutch short Father and Daughter, which are both heartbreaking stories about family. She hopes A Memoir Blue can elicit experiences similar to the ones found in those shorts for players.
However, A Memoir Blue has been in development in one form or another for a while now. The project began life as Chen’s thesis project in college, and she has been a game developer for five-to-six years now. She was deeply inspired to create her own games by Kentucky Route Zero and Journey, which in turn inform A Memoir Blue now. What Remains of Edith Finch is also a game that influences this one visually.
Music will naturally play an important part in the game as well, and the soundtrack comes from Joel Corelitz. Music has significance to Chen, as her mom was an opera singer but had to give it up when her own mom passed away. Chen and her mom connected through music, and speaking of the significance of music in A Memoir Blue, Chen said, “Having a song to transmit emotion is like a very classic Disney way to do it.”
Prepare to sink into A Memoir Blue
I honestly seldom play games that eschew actual gameplay for deliberate artistic experiences — not necessarily because I’m a rube, but because it’s so easy for these games to become pretentious or agonizingly trite. But I detect neither from A Memoir Blue in preview. This seems like an achingly sincere and fresh experience, crafted by people with big hearts as opposed to big heads. It has earned our attention.
A Memoir Blue is currently without a price or release date, but it will launch soon enough on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox (and Xbox Game Pass at launch), PC, and iOS.