Interview: John James, Lead Artist and Designer of MidBoss Games

Recently, I posted about a Kickstarter campaign for Read-Only Memories, a new cyberpunk adventure game recently successfully funded on Kickstarter. In the game, players will become a young journalist trying to make it in Neo-San Francisco. One day, a package arrives in the mail from a close friend, who has since had to leave the country. This package contains a beta version of the latest ROM, which is a device that has replaced personal communication devices. The game is set in a futuristic dystopia not unlike that found in Snatcher, to which the game pays homage. The creators say that the game will focus on current social issues, with a particular focus on queer characters. I wanted more information about the game, so I shot the Kickstarter account a quick message asking if I could interview someone, and got a friendly response from John James, their Lead Artist and Designer.

John James works primarily as the lead artist and animator for the Read-Only Memories. He says that most of the writing he’s done for the game has been mostly for character creation and world building: for example, what Parallax or Flower Cybernetics are and what they do and what other technology is in the world, like LIPS OS and Hybrids.

DHGF: What got you interested in ROM?
JJ: I like a lot of sci-fi/cyberpunk stuff– specifically 80’s cyberpunk/sci-fi anime like Bubblegum Crisis, Space Adventure Cobra, and Robot Carnival. The thought of working on making characters and art for a cyberpunk adventure game–specifically a queer-focused one–was really exciting to me!

DHGF: Can you give potential players an idea of what to expect from ROM in terms of plot and aesthetics?
JJ: Aesthetics will be somewhat similar to games like Snatcher for the MSX, or Jesus: Kyoufu no Bio Monster for the Famicom. The plot will have the player looking into the disappearance of their friend, an AI engineer and robotics specialist, and the mysteries behind Parallax, the prime developer and distributer of ROMs.

DHGF: We’ve seen that the game has some Snatcher influence, between the name of Neo San Francisco and Gillian Seed stopping by the Kickstarter page to leave everyone a message. How much of the game’s artistic concept was inspired by Snatcher?
JJ: So the low res visuals are kind of a mix between not only Snatcher, but other games like Famicom Tantei Club, Jesus: Kyoufu no Bio Monster, and other games that popped up on the Famicom/Master System/MSX/PC-88. The overall look of the world and technology will sort of have an 80’s vision of the future look– so a lot of clunky tech while still having things like the internet, smart phones and ROMs.

DHGF: Did you draw from other games at all for homages? Could we see some nods to Rise of the Dragon, Shadowrun or Phantasy Star II, for example?
JJ: Definitely! I really like putting in Easter eggs or subtle nods to my favorite games–whether it be through names, locations, or little visual clues. I’m a big Master System/Mega Drive era Sega nerd, so I might slip in some references here and there.

DHGF: Despite its homages, the game is clearly its own thing, as some of the concept art has shown with artwork for Pat the bear, for example. Any other hints about what we can expect that will be unique to ROM?
JJ: I believe the most unique thing will be the focus on how LGBT and Queer characters exist in the game. There are also Hybrids, people who go through gene therapy to gain genetic enhancements like improved sight, hearing, or agility, with the side effect of gaining some animal-like mutations such as, elongated ears, or different kinds of pupils. We’ve already introduced two of them– Jess and Crow.

DHGF: The game clearly has a specific art style to it; was the art style decided by the technology, or was it more of a conscious aesthetic choice?
JJ: It was more of a conscious aesthetic choice, since it’s also suppose to visually be a throwback to old 80’s/90’s adventure games.

DHGF: Though the team does not want the focus on the characters to be on their gender identity or sexuality, how do you see the inclusion of these identities affecting the game?
JJ: We want these characters to be represented in a way that doesn’t fall into the typical tropes most LGBT and Queer characters fall into in main stream games and media. It won’t necessarily have a major impact on the gameplay, however, since there’s not going to be any sort of relationship building/hooking up options in the game.

DHGF: In interviews, the team has said that the game is very dialogue-heavy. What are the challenges that come with that?
JJ: Since there will be multiple people working on the writing for the game, one of the major challenges will be making sure everything stays consistent with character personalities and plot progression.

DHGF: What’s the writing process like for the game in general? Do you start with the theme first and characterize from that, or characterize first and make the characters work with the theme?
JJ: We started with characterizing first and fitting them into the theme and world.

DHGF: Finally, what is the biggest or most important thing you want players to take away from the game?
JJ: I hope that those that are skeptical about LGBT and Queer characters being in the game will discover that it’s not something negative, and that these characters are just normal people like everyone else.


Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing the updates on the Kickstarter page for this game and for its eventual release. The game looks like it has some great potential, especially if it is able to balance the nostalgia of old adventure games with its more current focus on social issues.



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