By Marty Mulrooney
AMO recently reviewed indie adventure game Gemini Rue, proclaiming it to be “one of the best adventure games of 2011; visually, aurally and thematically stunning. A phenomenal achievement.” Following on from this review, the game’s creator Joshua Nuernberger was kind enough to join us for a follow-up interview where we discussed the game and its multiple layers in-depth. Warning: This interview contains spoilers.
Hi Joshua, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO! How do you feel now that Gemini Rue has been released?
Free! And relieved. It’s been a long journey. But not the longest journey. That was a different game.
The overall reception has been fantastic: how much attention do you pay to reviews and the critics?
I try to check most of the reviews and buzz. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, which is more than I could have hoped for.
When was the basic premise for the game originally conceived? Do you remember the original moment of inspiration?
In 2007, I had several story ideas bouncing around in my head that I didn’t know what to do with. I knew at one point I wanted to work with a dual storyline, but it never felt quite right. Nearing 2008, since I was done with La Croix Pan, it felt like the right time to start a new project. And so I combined all the story ideas I liked in my head, put them into a design doc, and started work on Gemini Rue.
Many reviewers (myself included) have made comparisons between the game and the film Blade Runner. Are you a fan of Blade Runner? Do you feel that the parallels being drawn are justified?
I am a fan of Blade Runner, yes. Both stories deal with identity and memory in a cyberpunk world, so those claims of comparison are not completely unjustified.
You have previously mentioned that Gemini Rue is influenced heavily by classic noir and anime. Can you offer any examples?
For anime, Cowboy Bebop, and perhaps a bit of Trigun. As far as Noir, any of the classics, such as The Third Man, Casablanca, etc.
What themes would you say the game touches upon? Is there a central theme?
I think identity is the central theme – who are you, what does it mean to be who you are, do you have a choice in what you become, etc.? These are the main questions the game proposes.
Between the beginning of the project and the final release, where there any major changes made to the storyline that you would be willing to share?
There were several small changes, most particularly in the pacing of the exposition. Early versions of the game revealed Azriel’s intentions on Barracus in the very first dialog between him and Kane, but then that seemed to cause a bit of information overload with too many names and goals to keep track of. Similar issues arose with Delta-Six, so information was scaled back over time to prevent exposition overload.
Azriel and Delta-Six are of course the same person. What techniques did you use to hide this plot twist? Also, what clues – if any – did you purposely insert to foreshadow this revelation?
I believe a key feature of any good twist is to block out that twist from the player’s head, by not even leaving it open as a potential story development in the first place. In Star Wars, Obi-Wan blatantly tells Luke, “Your father died.” This blocks the idea for the audience that Darth Vader could ever be Luke’s father, because this is just not possible. Obi-Wan didn’t tell Luke that his father went missing, was lost in the war, or anything that could set up the availability for the twist to occur. So when you set up these early assumptions that mask the twist for the audience, it makes it that much more powerful when it finally unveils itself. I tried to do that in a similar way in Gemini Rue with the natural assumption of a linear chronology by swapping the story-lines in real time, which is ultimately thwarted once the stories converge.
The dark, rain-swept streets of Barracus jar sharply with the mysterious, sterile prison environment. How intentional was this contrast and how else do the locations reflect the characters and themes of the narrative?
Both of the locations in the game are very oppressive to their inhabitants; the Boryokudan tries to control their citizens, and the Director controls the patients of Center 7. Azriel’s world may seem outwardly more free, but in reality it is probably just as restrictive as Center 7. So both worlds in the game, despite being aesthetically different, promote the idea of oppression towards the player.
‘The Director’ is shown as a largely ambiguous character: to what degree was this intentional?
His ambiguity is meant to channel the same ambiguity brought about by the story’s central theme of identity. You can never be sure of who you really are, and so the director’s intentions are also unclear.
Do you think that ‘The Director’ thinks of himself as an antagonist in the traditional sense? Or does he truly think he is doing the right thing?
He doesn’t believe he’s doing the “right” thing, but he probably doesn’t think he’s doing the “wrong” thing either. His character evolves a bit from the point where Delta-Six escapes to when Azriel confronts him, so by the end he’s at a point where it doesn’t really matter to him anymore.
Azriel still rescues Sayuri at the end despite not remembering who he is… is this a hint that the memory wipes aren’t as effective as they first appear?
It could be, or Azriel just knows that Sayuri is his only true friend as she’s the one who got him out when he first woke up again.
You decided not to have any of the memory-wiped characters regaining their original identities at the end of the game. Do you feel that not knowing this information adds greater impact to the underlying message of the game?
Whoever Azriel/Delta-Six originally was, do you see them as a fundamentally good person? Do you know who they originally were, or is this something best left in the dark for both the player and the creator?
I don’t know if it matters – if it was revealed, I’m not sure it would have a positive or negative impact on the story.
Were there any major sequences or locations that didn’t make the final cut?
The “Esper” photo puzzle was initially ridiculously contrived with multiple stations, data logs, camera trackings, etc., before it was cut down to the single photo it is now. The Maintenance sections of Center 7 also used to be slightly larger in the design, where players would have had to go down into the reactor to actually start the timer to implode the station. However, those were cut as by the time I got to that part of the production side of the game, I was mostly burnt out.
Wadjet Eye Games published Gemini Rue and founder Dave Gilbert handled the casting of the voice actors. How close did the actors get to your original conceptions of the characters?
Some of them got very close, others less so, but overall I’m very happy with the job they did. Brian Silliman as Azriel and Delta-Six went above and beyond my expectations, as did Shelly Smith as Sayuri. Joe Rodriguez also did a great job as the director, which I think was a challenging character to portray.
In retrospect, is there anything about the game you would change if you had the opportunity to do so?
Maybe making Azriel’s first scene a little less restrictive, and a little more imaginative in how the player learns the fundamental basics of the game. Right now it’s basically a lot of “I can’t do thats” until the player chooses the correct thing, which is like “Kick the terminal” or “Get the ID card.” I think replacing that with a more naturally linear sequence would have been more fun for players to learn the game.
Do you plan to revisit this world at any point in the future?
I think Azriel and Delta-Six’s story are kind of done at this point. So that would most likely be no, in all positivity.
What’s next for you?
Going back to school, hitting the books, and hopefully making some more games before I graduate.
Thank you for your time!
I have also interviewed Joshua Nuernberger and Dave Gilbert on HardyDev.com here.