Feature Article

Remember Me: Building a Terrifying Future in a Familiar Landscape

How Dontnod Entertainment embraced the title of 'that French developer' by turning its home city of Paris into an unsettling sci-fi dystopia.

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Jean-Maxime Moris never intended to make a game about the city he calls home. As creative director of Remember Me, he considered basing his game everywhere from Sydney to San Francisco to Tokyo. Eventually, Moris and his team at Dontnod Entertainment settled on Paris. In the process, Remember Me became one of the true rarities in video games: a story set not in an exotic alien world or a mythic fantasy landscape, but in the creators' own backyard.

Early in the development of Remember Me, landlocked Paris just didn't make sense. Back then, the game's working title was Adrift--a reference to its story based on global warming and the world's rising sea levels. It was to be a game set in a coastal city, with water playing a critical role in how players traversed its flooded landscape.

"The main character would have to navigate with a wakeboard, grappling from one Jet Ski to another," says Moris, with the self-aware chuckle of a man who has just realized how silly this probably sounds in retrospect. "It's a long ways from what we have now, but that was the idea we had in the first weeks and months of conception."

While researching potential settings, Dontnod went so far as to send one of its art directors to Seattle to take reference photos. But as development on Adrift progressed, the criteria for the setting began to change. "The ground was shifting beneath our feet," says Moris. "We were starting to focus on the theme of memories, which quickly became much more interesting to us than global warming."

Early in the development of Remember Me, landlocked Paris just didn't make sense.
With the move from global warming to memories--and a title change to go along with it--Dontnod traded one unsettling future for another. In the second iteration of the game, memories have become a commodity. New technology has allowed people to tap into the human mind and turn thoughts and recollections into commercial goods. Memories are bought and sold, the source of income for massive corporations and addiction for those who can't resist the allure of secondhand nostalgia.

The idea of a coastal setting was no longer paramount, but the need for a standout location remained. As with global warming, it's hard to sell a video game rooted in a high-concept story about the commodification of the human mind. Dontnod needed a city that would grab people's attention. Someplace recognizable. Someplace iconic.

Suddenly, one option began to make a whole lot of sense. It was the same option Dontnod could study from the windows of its own office: Paris.

The City of Lights was certainly grand enough, and being able to make research trips by hopping on the Metro rather than flying halfway across the world was a convenience too large to ignore. But Moris was reluctant. He didn't want to earn a reputation before his studio's first game even shipped.

"Early on, we weren't willing to go with Paris," says Moris. "We didn't want to be labeled as 'that French studio' doing 'that French game' about memories and social networks in Paris." It certainly didn't help that Remember Me's story about the makeup of the human mind treaded dangerously close to the heady and abstract subject matter one might associate--however stereotypically--with traditional French cinema.

But that reluctance eventually wore off. Moris and his team considered their options, and Paris just felt too right. "At some point we said, you know what? It is a good choice," recalls Moris. "Paris has rarely been done in games. It's iconic. It's one of the most visited cities in the world."

With the game's location finally decided, a small strike force got to work accumulating a mountain of reference material. Their job was to look toward the future and extrapolate contemporary trends in everything from architecture to fashion.

"The art and writing teams worked alongside a team of universe creators who were hired to do research," says Moris. "They spent the first six or seven months coming up with this 1,000-page bible of what the world might become 100 or 150 years from now. All the designers and the artists had to do was decide what they wanted to dive deeper into. There was so much data that we could only do two or three percent of it in the game. But that was a great starting point. We knew we were standing on solid ground."

In deciding which year the game would take place, Dontnod looked to George Orwell.

We didn't want to be labeled as 'that French studio' doing 'that French game' in Paris.
The team became fascinated by two parallel futures: the one depicted in the dystopian classic 1984 and a theoretical future dominated by the powerful social networks that have emerged within this past decade. In Orwell's story, people live under the suffocating weight of a bureaucratic regime that keeps tabs on its citizens' every move. In Remember Me's future, society has cut out the middleman entirely. People's compulsion to share every last detail of their lives through technology and social media is a different means to the same end.

"2084 is the next step after 1984," says Moris. "It's about going from a vertical representation of society where you have government at the top, people at the bottom, and in between is this huge monolith of bureaucracy. Now we're uploading everything people could want to know about us of our own will."

That said, Moris is keen to stress that the future Dontnod has imagined is less of a bold proclamation and more of a thought experiment. "We're potentially--and that's a very important word--giving up huge parts of our freedom and private life without stopping to wonder what's at stake," claims Moris. "The game isn't saying burn your smartphone, burn Facebook. That's not what we're saying. But I think it's worth asking questions."

This is not the Paris you've seen in postcards. It's both familiar and foreign. As you make your way through the game, you experience a patchwork landscape of cafe-lined boulevards and ramshackle slums. A boulangerie in the Saint-Michel district sells baguettes and pain au chocolat as surveillance drones buzz eerily overhead. Before you ever get to see the Eiffel Tower you must first survive a trek though Deep Paris, the wretched underbelly of the city filled with people so eager to get their fix of memories they've become completely disconnected from reality.

It's all part of Dontnod's effort to use Paris as a lure, drawing you in before revealing a very different city from the one you expect to see. "We wanted to give the player an entry point grounded in reality," says co-art director Michel Koch. "It's important--if you want to create a believable sci-fi world and not a fantasy world--to have realistic elements so that the player can feel like he knows this world, that he can live in this world."

"When you have those grounded elements, you can build the over-the-top buildings, the flying drones in the streets, the robots sweeping the floor. It creates a great contrast between this reality and our projection of the near future."

Nowhere is that contrast more apparent than in the city skyline. Iconic landmarks and classic Parisian architecture are dwarfed by sleek skyscrapers outfitted in glass and neon signage. Being able to create that juxtaposition was another reason Dontnod found itself drawn to Paris as a setting for the game.

It's important to have realistic elements so that the player can feel like he knows this world.
"Paris has a very low skyline," says Moris. "You have the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre hill, Montparnasse Tower--and that's about it. Everything else is flat. We have very stringent regulations on how tall buildings can be. And that's perfect, because in the same way we were extrapolating social networks into the future, the city itself had to be an extrapolation of today. The fact that the foundation was so low really allowed us to build these high, bigger-than-life structures."

This is the world that Remember Me's main character, a former memory hunter named Nilin, finds herself in. Nilin has the power to hack into people's minds and steal their thoughts. But at the game's outset, Nilin finds herself with no memories of her own: her mind has been completely wiped. She has to explore this unfamiliar world in order to fill in the gaps.

In that regard, Nilin's journey is a lot like the player's. The vision of Paris that Dontnod has created may look familiar on the surface, but tread deeper into it, and a foreign and unsettling world emerges. You almost want to tweet about it.

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Discussion

141 comments
MightyWings
MightyWings

It maybe just me but in the gameplay, that shiny holographic gizmo on the back of everybody's neck really bugs me i think would effect the way I look at these characters. The designers should have used some other memory transfer devices like a socket in the neck similar to matrix.

FutonSentinal62
FutonSentinal62

I watched some gameplay on youtube after reading the article. It had a flashy sequence where Nillin was being pursued by an aircraft. The pilot sounded super douchey and said some cheesy lines. Nillin isn't immune to the cheesiness, had my eyes rolling. It was pretty typical of the genre. The combat looks about the same as you would see from other similar games. Neo-Paris looks awesome though, and memory remixing is interesting. I hope there are more elaborate and challenging mind remixing missions though. Also, I'm a little disappointed that Nillin didn't have a hot French accent, but no game is perfect. 

After seeing some gameplay and reading this article. I will definitely be anticipating the review for this game. I'm not completely sold on it just yet, but I'm really interested and hope this game will be good. 

Simplythebest12
Simplythebest12

From the screenshots it looks pretty good. I hope they made some serious changes from the beta version

chuckles471
chuckles471

The combat videos have really put me off this, concept looks good though.  Maybe a rental or give 6 months when it is less £15.

cesarpo
cesarpo

I want this game to be good.. great art style,  mediocre gameplay.. let's hope I'm wrong!

slimskelter
slimskelter

The "Waterworld" idea seems more interesting, minus the wakeboard sh!t.

coldfusion25
coldfusion25

The environments look awesome. I have a feeling there isn't much more good to say about the game however.

ROEG-GAMER
ROEG-GAMER

This game is a Tomb Raider in a futuristic Paris lol !! Linear gamelay with one Character you have to play with, why can't I be a male character ? nowadays  games give you the option to play either male or female. I do hope the open world environment will give you options to upgrade the character with cool gear and accessories you can acquire, hopefully you can get to explore Paris. I will watch the review when the game comes out. 

Wensea10
Wensea10

The gameplay is seeming very typical but then the atmosphere is really bringing some interesting features.

maaly81
maaly81

that girl look like Halle Barry....

Fabreejy
Fabreejy

Pros and Cons time!
Cons: Bad gameplay, bad story, bad mechanics, movement not fluid at all, bad engine (etc.)
Pros: Descent Graphics

Conclusion: Company using good enough graphics and a hot female protagonist as the main character in their shitty game in an attempt to attract gamers.
To Do: Ignore any further news about game or developer and obviously don't buy it.

shubin9
shubin9

Futuristic wannabe Assassin's Creed with lame gameplay, story, graphics and characters.

Gen007
Gen007

I really this game to be amazing because the concept and theme  is pretty cool and refreshing. What ive seen in gameplay so far is basically your standard beat em up affair though. I wont speak on the game without plkaying it but they I really hoped they pulled out all of teh stops. The story and atmosphere need to be amazing if the game play isn't.

TacticaI
TacticaI

I'm in the same boat as the people who really want this game to be good, but are afraid to get their hopes up, because a lot of shitty games were released and continue to be released this gen. Okay, mediocre, but still we're expected to spend top dollar for a few hours of entertainment and then asked to buy DLC. 

JamDev
JamDev

Following the Bioshock Infinite model of high concept story/setting, low concept gameplay by the looks of it. 

Sun-Tzu-GE
Sun-Tzu-GE

This game looks refreshing.I'm definitely interested in checking it out. 

cboye18
cboye18

From the looks of the demo it has gameplay elements taken from different game, so it's doesn't seem very creative. The combat looks repetitive and boring too... 

XCyberForceX
XCyberForceX

Looks very interesting.  I'm very tempted to buy.  Let's hope it does well to make those "very intelligent people" (sarcasm), who stated games with female lead characters don't do well, swallow their words.  Yeah that's right, I have a very good memory for remembering how many idiots currently exist.  LOL.

erix43
erix43

Um. This looks and sounds very promising. We need good "new" games like this. This is the trend we need to focus on and award developers for it, not just these moron shareholders waiting for the "next best COD." We have to start paying developers to think this way and not rush them to make sub par products. Morons with no game knowledge are running our design firms and putting out garbage! Unfortunately, it's up to investors to fund our Devs and they just limit their creativity and fire them on the spot, when they are finished with them. That's what's ruining our industry! FIGHT BACK!!! 

TheKokopelli
TheKokopelli

@FutonSentinal62 Everything I have seen, the lines are cheesy.  I still have hopes for it, but I'm not expecting top notch voice acting.


gzg9jg
gzg9jg

@FutonSentinal62 I'm also wait and see, the potential is there, I just hope they're able to capture it. And according to the article they have material left over for a few more sequels if takes off.

leviathanwing
leviathanwing

@shubin9 not really if anything watch dogs is more like what youre describing.  who is making that again...?

ck10304
ck10304

@JamDev The hell does low concept gameplay mean? Infinite was a Bioshock game, that's it, so you must be saying that the Bioshock series is low concept gameplay. Which must mean you're saying that the fps genre is inherently low concept. Which means you should stick to whatever genre makes you happy. I'm just curious what "high concept gameplay" looks like?

Lykanthropie
Lykanthropie

@cboye18  

 just as other games - most of them simply take gameplay elements from other games and all that is left are levels, story and cutscnenes - play castlevania lords of shadow - its not a complety bad game at all - but the the story is bad, the cutsscenes are very boring and most levels are boring - also the game nearly copied everything from god of war - not just a little - its exactly the same - with the same elements just not as good as gow.

Most of the ps3/xbox games plays a lot like the others - while the games only offers 5 - 8 hours campaigns.

Look at Nintendo Games - Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong -all games that will keep you entertained for 20 or 30 hours, maybe even more - with always improved gameplay mechanics and a lot of new ideas.

 I dont really care about the new xbox/ps comin this year - maybe some good games are comin for ps4 as it looks now. but maybe we have to wait years till the new consoles could offer enough games.

Nintendo already announced a new 3d mario comin in october - pikmin3 in august - maybe a new retro game - or a new mario kart.

I played Killzone 2 and 3 on the ps3 - both games were really nice - and the 3rd got a lot of improvements.

But it was also very very very short. 

Playin a new Mario on the wiiu - thats a complete week of fun - price (then) maybe 350$ - 

Playin killzone 4 on the ps4 - 1day good fun (but not as good as mario) - price (maybe) up to 600 or 700&.

Maybe a new Metroid Prime comes out - that would be 10x times better then a killzone, resistance, uncharted, halo, gears or whatever exclusive game on ps or xbox.

Ps and Xbox games are more like playable movies - most games are not really games any more. Look at action sequences during the gameplay - what you got to do is mostly running straight forward and pressing the jump button - sometimes even with a qiucktime element - as you may not know when to jump.

And who knwos how the new consoles by sony and ms may tun out - the first xbox360 was big, much to loud and dont forget the ring of death that killed a lot of consoles. (i dont know anyone with a old xbox360 that is still workin) - that wasnet the problem with a new ps3 at its launch - its still one of the best ps3 modells - but all models worked better - its nearly impossible to understand how MS were able to sell so much bad consoles, that are so loud - sony also have the much better exclusive games - free online gameplay - and dont say xbox live is better - playin online was even free over 10 years ago - and i am sure Most money is made by xbox gold nd dlcs, arcade games.

I am a bit off topic, but the ps/xbox are the reasons why games are all the same, just like remeber me will turn out - as most multiplatform titles its whether lame and boring (like bioshock) or so bad that you wouldnet play it at all. But worst thing is multiplatform titles, are more fun to play with a controller then mouse and keys - games are more simpel to be playable with a controller - nearly everything is just more and more simple - to fit more for casual gamers - even someone that dont play much games, dont even have console or pc to play games, is able to beat those games. Most importan thing about games is that they all look really good and thats what turns them into movies - like the heavy rain - short, boring and with nearly nothing what could be a solid gameplay - puzzles and quick time events without an ending - just another game that took gameplay elements from other games and simplified them with movie scenes quick time events and such bad thing a good game should better not have. The quicktime events in heavy rain were much better then in other games- but thats something no game needs - i think over 98% of deaths in videosgames are casued by quick time events and that should be enough to say the games are to easy, to much the same and got way to much quzick time events.

I am waiting for the great nintendo games - whoever is going t buy new console for multititles is somehow a fool. I want to see more ips form sony and ms, more exclsive stuff - as those games mostly runs better and look better. While multiplaform games doesnt seem to be as good as exclusive games - cause the audience of buysers is much bigger. When you play Tomb Raider for example - its a good game, with even good gameplay mechanics, most from other games, but in really good way - but who had the idea to make all the levels totally boring and all the same, with even boring colours. However remeber me looks good, but i would be surprires not so see another lame multiplatform titel, same with watch dogs (what a bad name for a game).


AzulSoul
AzulSoul

@cboye18 yeah (boring repetitive combat), and i hate it because i was really interested in that memory stuff and the concept.

Abanaa
Abanaa

@XCyberForceX  I bet the female lead in this game will stay in the same clothes till the end of the game. That's why many games with potential fail. They ignore the little details that make's a good game great.

petez34
petez34

@leviathanwing @ROEG-GAMER he wrote 'linear gameplay' as in the story is linear and the environment is open world. I like how you piece comments together to suit your snarky attitude.

leviathanwing
leviathanwing

@ck10304 yes, lets stand back and let him enlighten us... we wait while holding our collective breath.

tajirinere
tajirinere

@Lykanthropie @cboye18 a couple of points i'd like to counter. i owned a ps3 that burned a chip, replaced it, it overheated, fixed that, lens got bad. i'm just saying PS3s had problems and like with 360s, 2010 upwards is where u find stable systems.

there is more but i lack the patience to push myslef (watch dogs is an awesome name) 

tajirinere
tajirinere

@Lykanthropie @cboye18 u just had to mention Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. that game is freakin awesome, yes his combat cross has the mechanic as the god of war's weapons but sweet lord, Lords of shadow had way more combat depth. if anything, that game had way for combos. 

boy you better recognize!

cboye18
cboye18

@Lykanthropie @cboye18 That's why I'm also waiting for the different exclusives for the ps4 to see if their next gen is really worth it. Frankly, I didn't enjoy the current gen as I did with last gen (ps2, gamecube), so let's hope they get it right this time. If not and if Nintendo finally release some of their greater games, I'm going with the Wii U instead

Bayonetta2013
Bayonetta2013

@Abanaa You do realize she starts out in a completely different outfit when her memory was wiped out? Then she changes into a different set so she doesn't look like a prisoner.

petez34
petez34

@leviathanwing @ck10304 what I think he means is BI's plot had more time and effort put into it than the actual gameplay. it's average. btw levi keep holding your breath for all our sake's. 

Sun-Tzu-GE
Sun-Tzu-GE

@leviathanwing@Sun-Tzu-GE@CptJohnnyRicoPlease learn some grammar before you talk to me.

"Your" is the second person possessive adjective, used to describe something as belonging to you.

"You're" is the contraction of "you are"

So let me correct you  "...you'RE both defensive and offensive in the same thought process... my how your mind must run circles around your head."

You're welcome !


leviathanwing
leviathanwing

@Sun-Tzu-GE @CptJohnnyRico your irony is hilarious and so is how your both defensive and offensive in the same thought process... my how your mind must run circles around your head.

Remember Me More Info

First Release on Jun 03, 2013
  • PC
  • PlayStation 3
  • Xbox 360
Remember Me is a third person sci-fi action adventure set in Neo-Paris, 2084 where players take on the role of Nilin, a former elite memory hunter with the ability to break into people's minds and steal or even alter their memories. After having her own memory wiped clean by the authorities, players must help Nilan set out on a mission to recover her identity while being hunted by the very people that created this surveillance society.