Memoranda: Haruki Murakami’s World Recreated as a Classic Adventure Video Game

Haruki Murakami has a special way of inspiring his fans. I write these very words, in fact, from a coffee shop in Seoul not just stocked with his books and the music referenced in them but named after the jazz bar he ran in Tokyo in the 1970s before becoming a writer. But each fan builds their own kind of monument to the author of Norwegian WoodHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and other novels with a sensibility all their own. The Murakami-heads (or perhaps Harukists) at Vancouver-based studio Bit Byterz have chosen to pay elaborate tribute to Murakami by recreating his uncanny world with an adventure game called Memoranda.

You may remember this project from when we featured its Kickstarter drive back in 2015. Bit Byterz ended up raising about $20,000, enabling them to release Memoranda this year. You can buy it on Steam, or first view the launch trailer above and get a sense of what The Verge's Andrew Webster describes as a game "inspired in large part by Murakami’s stories" which "centers on a young woman in a vaguely European town who has lost her memory — she doesn’t even remember her name. (The title, Memoranda, refers to the sticky notes she uses to remind herself of important things.)" While not a direct adaptation of any one work of Murakami's in particular, its locations, its characters, and above all its atmosphere come drawn from the same — to use a highly appropriate metaphor — well.

"I started with one of his short stories, and gradually added characters from other short stories," lead developer Sahand Saedi told Waypoint's John Robertson. "I tried to bring over the surreal atmosphere, as well as the lonely and strange characters from the stories, and hope that the gamer will feel like they are living in one of these stories while playing." Robertson describes Memoranda as "an adventure game in the most traditional sense, in terms of interaction and pacing. While it might be taking an enlightened path to adapting one medium into another, it follows well-trodden game design routes, and sticks to established rules. You click on items or pick them up, observe them or interact with them, saving key examples to your inventory for later use in puzzles that are often abstract in their construction."

And so Memoranda at once pays homage to the distinctive reality — or rather unreality — of Murakami's fiction and to the distinctive gaming experience of point-and-click adventure games, the genre that first took shape on home computers in the 1980s and produced the likes of Maniac Mansion, the King's Quest series (not to mention all of Sierra On-Line's other Quests), the Monkey Island series, and Myst. More recently it has undergone something of a renaissance thanks to crowdfunding services like Kickstarter, ever since respected point-and-click adventure game designer Tim Schafer raised $3.45 million to fund 2015's Broken Age. Bit Byterz may have had only a small fraction of that budget to work with, but they know, as every avid Murakami reader knows, that mere money can't buy uncanniness.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Playing a Video Game Could Cut the Risk of Dementia by 48%, Suggests a New Study

Video games, the world has come to realize, can do good. Twenty or thirty years ago, people had a harder time accepting this, much to the frustration of daily-gaming youngsters such as myself. I remember deciding, for a school science project, to demonstrate that video games improve "hand-eye coordination," the go-to benefit in those days to explain why they weren't all bad. But as our understanding of video games has become more sophisticated, as have video games themselves, it's become clear that we can engineer them to improve much more about ourselves than that.

The New Yorker's Dan Hurley recently wrote about findings from a study called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), which began with three thousand participants back in 1998. "The participants, who had an average age of 73.6 at the beginning of the trial, were randomly divided into four groups. The first group, which served as control, received no brain training at all. The next two were given ten hours of classroom instruction on how to improve memory or reasoning. The last group performed something called speed-of-processing training" by playing a kind of video game for ten hour-long sessions spread over five weeks.

A decade into the study, some of the participants received extra training. 14 percent of the group who received no training met the criteria for dementia, 12.1 percent did in the group who received speed-of-processing training, and only 8.2 percent did in the group who received all possible training. "In all, the researchers calculated, those who completed at least some of these booster sessions were forty-eight-per-cent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia after ten years than their peers in the control group."

Intriguing findings, and ones that have set off a good deal of media coverage. What sort of video game did ACTIVE use to get these results? The Wall Street Journal's Sumathi Reddy reports that "the exercise used in the study was developed by researchers but acquired by Posit Science, of San Francisco, in 2007," who have gone on to market a version of it called Double Decision. In it, the player "must identify an object at the center of their gaze and simultaneously identify an object in the periphery," like cars, signs, and other objects on a variety of landscapes. "As players get correct answers, the presentation time speeds up, distractors are introduced and the targets become more difficult to differentiate."

You can see that game in action, and learn a little more about the study, in the Wall Street Journal video above. Effective brain-training video games remain in their infancy (and a few of the articles about ACTIVE's findings fail to mention Lumos Labs' $2 million payment to the government to settle charges that the company falsely claimed that their games could stave off dementia) but if the ones that work can harness the addictive power of an Angry Birds or a Candy Crush, we must prepare ourselves for a sharp generation of senior citizens indeed.

Note: The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch David Lynch’s Playstation 2 Commercial, Then Go Behind the Scenes and Watch Him Make It

Having lost track of video gaming somewhere around the turn of the millennium, I admit that I have no idea which generation of Playstation you or a friend or family member may have joyfully unwrapped this Christmas morning. I only know that it probably didn't come advertised with a commercial by David Lynch, so why not take a moment out of your Christmas day to revisit the Playstation — the Playstation 2, to be precise — that did? At the top of the post, we have Lynch's characteristically surreal spot "Welcome to the Third Place," featuring flames, a mysterious glowing woman, ominous footsteps, skewed perspectives, organic oddities, a talking duck (whose voice actor I challenge you to identify) — everything, in other words, that a Lynchian hopes for.

What goes on in this Third Place? Why, the sort of vivid, inexplicable sensory experiences not accessible in everyday life — unless, as the advertising logic goes, you choose to pass through the portal of the Playstation. But the man behind Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet has “been living in The Third Place for quite a few years," says Playstation European marketing director David Patton in the making-of-video just below, shot by Luke Forsythe, who also worked on the commercial. "If there was one person that was gonna to understand what we needed to communicate, it was gonna be David Lynch.

"I was 24 and it was easy to think having worked for so many impressive directors, that I wasn't bullish or hard enough to be a director," remembers Forsythe. "I was living with my parents watching films endlessly having to try and convince my mum that I was actually working. The next minute I'm in LA filming this. Meeting David Lynch, seeing how he worked so playfully and politely made me realise there are lots of ways to direct and be a director. It couldn't have been better. 15 years later I'm still directing and still full of memories of this lovely man and the time spent seeing him make."

"The resulting one-minute B&W trailer, shown in theaters in over a hundred countries except the U.S., ended up being classic David Lynch alright," says fan site Welcome to Twin Peaks. "Except maybe for the 24 major visual effects in just 60 seconds." Known as quite possibly the art-housiest household-name filmmaker alive, Lynch has shown more enthusiasm for making commercials than have many of his peers: "The money's good," he once said, "and the added bonus is that I get to use and learn about the latest technology." And though he hasn't made a movie in almost a decade, he hasn't announced his retirement either. Maybe the U.S. campaign for the next Playstation — and wow, now that I look it up, it'll be the Playstation 5 already — needs his services. Fifteen years have passed since "Welcome to the Third Place"; I'd say America's ready.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

New Video Game Inspired by 20 Haruki Murakami Stories Is Coming Your Way: Help Kickstart It

Back in grade school, I got into the genre of computer games known as "graphic adventures," narrative experiences — and often quite elaborate ones — through which the player guides the protagonist with points and clicks: games like Maniac MansionSpace QuestMean StreetsZak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders. In college I got into the writing of Haruki Murakami, the international superstar of Japanese literature specializing in the kind of stories that, in his words, have undergone "a kind of magical baptism to link the world on this side with the world on the other side." More recently, I've cultivated an interest in projects crowdfunded on platforms like Kickstarter. At long last, someone has come up with a creation that unites all three: Memoranda, a Murakami-inspired graphic adventure now raising its budget on Kickstarter.

memoranda 2

"Three years ago I sat down with a friend to brainstorm for making a game," writes one of Memoranda's developers. Murakami's work "had inspired us profoundly and we thought that the vague, surrealistic reality of his fictional world would have a great potential for being turned into something visual and could lead to the creation of odd characters, an essential element in game design." This led to a "script inspired by more than 20 stories by Murakami" involving a little town (which has "European-like architecture but that doesn't mean it belongs to somewhere in Europe") "where there are both laptops and bamboo water clocks," a cast of characters from "a WWII surviving soldier to an elephant taking shelter in a man's house hoping to become human," and a protagonist "who little by little realizes she is forgetting her own name."

Kickstarter has proven a viable financing medium for a new wave of graphic adventure games, some of them by the creators of the old wave: Tim Schafer, known for Maniac Mansion's beloved sequel Day of the Tentacle, raised $3.3 million for what would become Broken Age, and Space Quest masterminds Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe more recently reunited to raise over $500,000 for SpaceVentureMemoranda, by comparison, requires no more than a shoestring, and, with ten days to go in its funding drive, it has already raised more than the $13,695 requested by Bit Byterz, its Vancouver-based Iranian developers (how's that for a demonstration of Murakami's global appeal?). But you can still contribute at its Kickstarter page, and as a reward could get a copy of the game, its soundtrack, a digital art book, or even — enthusiasts of Murakami tropes, take note — the inclusion of your own cat in the story. No game company ever offered me that in grade school.

You can watch a trailer for Memoranda above.

via Flavorwire

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

William S. Burroughs Reads Edgar Allan Poe Tales in the Vintage 1995 Video Game, “The Dark Eye”

William S. Burroughs, like Christopher Walken, has one of those voices that casts anything he reads in a new light. No matter who the author, if Burroughs reads it, the text sounds like one more missive from the Interzone. In 1995, Burroughs took on the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, reading "The Masque of the Red Death" and the poem Annabel Lee for a little known PC game called The Dark Eye.

Ignored during its release, the game has since gained cult status, and playthroughs can be found on YouTube (see below). Similar in style to Myst, players point and clicked their way through three narratives based on Poe stories, with little interaction. In the end it was more about mood and design, and the creep of Burroughs’ drawl. (He also voiced the old man character in the game.)

Accompanying Burroughs’ reading was a slideshow that popped up in the middle of the game, with art directed (and possibly drawn) by Bruce Heavin, best known these days as the co-founder of Thomas Dolby composed the gloomy soundtrack. The Dark Eye was the second game from Inscape, which debuted with the equally ambitious Bad Day on the Midway, a game featuring weird music giants The Residents. Two years after The Dark Eye, the sort of CD-ROM games the company made fell behind due to advances in technology, and the fall of the house of Inscape came inevitably in 1997.

The Internet continues to excavate what’s left of these boundary pushing games, and for those who want an audio version of "Masque", an mp3 can be enjoyed here.

via WFMU blog

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Douglas Adams in 1984

We've told you about a fair few vintage video games that you can play free online. Here's another one to add to your collection.

Back in 1985, Douglas Adams teamed up with Infocom's Steve Meretzky to create an interactive fiction video game based on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Designed before graphic-intensive video games really hit their stride, the original Hitchhiker's Guide game (watch an unboxing above) was played with text commands on the Apple II, Macintosh, Commodore 64, CP/M, DOS, Amiga, Atari 8-bit and Atari ST platforms. And it found instant success. The adventure game sold 400,000 copies, making it one of the best-selling games of its time, and it was named the "Game Of The Year" by various magazines.

In 2004, the BBC released on its website a 20th anniversary version of the game, and then an enhanced 30th anniversary version last year. Before you start playing, you will need to register for an account with the BBC, and then you would be wise to read the instructions, which begin with these words:

The game remains essentially unchanged and the original writing by Douglas Adams remains untouched. It is still played by entering commands and pressing return. Then read the text, follow your judgement and you will probably be killed an inordinate number of times.

Note: The game will kill you frequently. If in doubt, before you make a move please save your game by typing "Save" then enter. You can then restore your game by typing "Restore" then enter. This should make it slightly less annoying getting killed as you can go back to where you were before it happened. You'll need to be signed in for this to work. You can sign in or register by clicking the BBCiD icon next to the BBC logo in the top navigation bar.

You can find some important game hints here, or watch a walk-through on YouTube here.


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Hayao Miyazaki’s Masterpieces Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke Imagined as 8-Bit Video Games

As an unapologetic member of the "Millennial" generation, allow me to tell you how to win over a great many of us at a stroke: just appeal to our long-instilled affinity for Japanese animation and classic video games. Raised, like many of my peers born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, on a steady diet of those art forms — not that everyone knew to acknowledge them as art forms back then — I respond instinctively to either of them, and as for their intersection, well, how could I resist?

I certainly can't resist the sterling example of anime-meets-retrogaming in action just above: an 8-Bit Cinema double-feature, offering David and Henry Dutton's pixelated renditions of hugely respected Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's films Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. In just under eight minutes, the video tells both stories — the former of a young girl transported into not just the spirit realm but into employment at one of its bathhouses; the latter of the unending struggle between humans and forest gods in 15th-century Japan — as traditional side-scrolling, platform-jumping video games.

Clearly labors of love by true classic gamers, these transformations get not just the graphics (which actually look better than real games of the era, in keeping with Miyazaki's artistry) but the sound, music, and even gameplay conventions just right. I'd love to play real versions of these games, especially since, apart from an unloved adaptation of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki's movies haven't plunged into the video-game realm.

And if you respond better to the aesthetic of classic gaming than to that of Japanese animation, do have a look at 8-Bit Cinema's other work, much of which you can sample in their show reel with clips from their versions of pictures like The ShiningKill Bill, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I remember many childhood conversations about how video games would eventually look just like our favorite movies, animated or otherwise; little did we know that, one day, our favorite movies would also look just like video games.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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