IGF Factor 2012: To The Moon

And so my semi-exhaustive attempt to chat to the makers of (almost) all the PC/Mac-based games which are nominated for Independent Games Festival awards this year continues. This time, it’s one of the boy Walker’s favourite games of last year, the backwards-storytelling, thoughtful sci-fi, and heartstring-pulling that is To The Moon. This point’n’click adventure is up for the Excellence in Audio prize. Here, Freebird Games’ Kan Gao discusses the autobiographical factors that informed the game, a few hints on The The Moon episode 2, groupies, chopsticks and the most important question of all.

RPS: Firstly, a brief introduction for those who may not know you. Who are you? What’s your background? Why get into games? Why get into indie games?

Hiya folks, my name’s Kan. I’m just some guy who was born some years ago. I hold my chopsticks the wrong way, and sometimes I pretentiously stare out the window with a troubled gaze for a prolonged period of time in hope that someone sees it and thinks, “Wow, that guy must be deep”.

I got into making games for the groupies, and I got into making indie games for the groupies with cool accessories.

RPS: Tell us about your game. What were its origins? What are you trying to do with it? What are you most pleased about it? What would you change if you could?

When it first started, it was really just a personal attempt to turn some misfortunes at the time into something nice, so they wouldn’t have happened in vain. One of those things was my grandfather falling ill, who has fortunately recovered since then. I probably shouldn’t speak of the other major one out loud, but it might be somewhat guessable to those who knows To the Moon’s story.

I was extremely glad (and relieved!) to find that there existed many fellow gamers out here who shared my vision and was fine with To the Moon’s strange classification – a valley between a pure game and a pure movie that was hopefully not so uncanny.

But from a personal perspective, what I’m most pleased about it was that I proved to myself that when life gives you lemons, you can shove ‘em up yours and run faster.

As for things to change . . . there were definitely a lot of gameplay related things that could’ve been done better to mesh with the story more. I think I copped out at the end to make it more of a standard game because I was afraid of its reception otherwise, when some of those things hastily added actually interfered with what it was meant to do to begin with.

RPS: What are your feelings on the IGF this year? Pleased to be nominated? Impressed by the other finalists? Anything you worry has been overlooked?

It’s a giant party this year, isn’t it? There are so many fascinating entries . . . with emphasis on not only “fascinating” but also “so many”. I’m really curious as to what the structure of the event will be like in the future if such exponential growths keep up. But either way, it’s just so great to see the amount of livelihood and passion in the indie games community through an event like this.

And “pleased”? I’m ecstatic! It’s just such an immense honour to be among so many talented people and their projects that I look up to, and it’s still hard to wrap my head around how fortunate I am to be here.

I haven’t even thought about things being overlooked or whatnot, though I suppose if anything, it would’ve been nice to have a category that’s flexibly relevant to the storytelling aspect, which was more or less the sole purpose of this particular project. But really, I’m happy enough as it is!

RPS: Which game would you like to see take the Grand Prize this year?

I might have to go wishy-washy on this one. The games up there are all so different and fantastic in their own ways – I love the ethereal atmosphere of Dear Esther, the dynamic experience of Spelunky, the out-of-the-boxiness of JS Joust, the tactical excellence of Frozen Synapse and, c’mon, with the drama aside, Fez’s pretty great. Sucks to be the judges; I’m going home.

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene of late? What would you like to see from it in the near-future?

It’s been on the rise for sure, just like Dr. Horrible’s evilness. It’s really exciting to be a part of it at a time like this too; there’re just so many fascinating projects out there opening up so much potential!

If anything, I wish there’d be a more accessible and systematic ways for other hopeful indie devs to get funding and press coverage to get the word out there – but I think we are actually moving well in that direction thanks to wide-sighted sites like RPS.

RPS: And how does the future look for you, both in terms of this game and other projects?

It’s definitely off to a more than fortunate start! I’m working on getting some more convenient distribution channels for To the Moon at the moment, before patching it up with some fixes from players’ feedbacks, and starting to work on the next episode.

As for the future, I’ve already got the core theme and structure of episode 2 of the series (not yet officially named) ready. Its story and focus is also based on something personal, and I think there’s something genuine and relatable to everyone there . . . I’ll be trying my hardest to execute it to the effectiveness it deserves (before the heartfelt moments are utterly annihilated by the two doctors’ pointless banters, of course).

RPS: If you could talk to the monsters in Doom, what would you ask them?

Am I just a piece of meat to you?

RPS: Thanks for your time.

To The Moon is out now. The full list of IGF 2012 finalists is here, and keep an eye on RPS for more interviews over the coming days and weeks.


  1. cqdemal says:

    Whether this is a game or not is kind of up in the air. I do consider it a game, and to put simply it’s far and away the best game of 2011 for me. Aside from the rather awkward ‘action’ elements shoved in towards the end, nothing else I played last year (or even many years) can even come close.

    • Reives says:

      Hey cq, this is Kan; thanks for the kind words!

      By the way, I’m hoping to update the lackluster action sequence a bit so at least it wouldn’t be as impeding. At the moment, I’m thinking either slowing down the movement speed of the, uh, big Z’s, or increasing the time they get frozen for after hit.

      Do you think those’d help (or any other suggestions)? This goes out to anyone reading too, of courses. Thanks for the feedback!

    • cqdemal says:

      Reducing their speed would sort of work, but I would prefer a complete removal of them if you could expand on the exploration experience of this sequence.

      Basically: less of… them, and more of those creepy, screwed up rooms. If it’s not too much work of course. I’d rather hear about progress of the next episode than updates to this one, which is near perfect as it is.

  2. Rikard Peterson says:

    Good interview, but… nominated for excellence in audio, and not a single audio-related question?

    • cqdemal says:

      To the Moon has been nominated because of its brilliant original soundtrack, not because of fancy sound-based gameplay or special sound design or anything.

      Also, as great as the music is, the story is the element that makes everything tick here.

  3. D3xter says:

    The hell did you delete my comment for?

    • Alec Meer says:

      Because it immediately made the entire thread into an argument about Steam (so the replies were wiped too). Standard, unwavering and unashamedly draconian RPS rule: if you want to say something that is only tangentially relevant to the content of an article, wait a little while before you post it, because if it’s the first comment below a piece it will define the entire thread and preclude discussion of the game in question.

    • D3xter says:

      All right, fair point, for the future it might just seem more”rude” to some people doing that without any context or explanation than it actually is :P

      For the record I basically said that I’m interested in the game but will wait for some of those “distribution channels” he mentioned being tapped:
      “It’s definitely off to a more than fortunate start! I’m working on getting some more convenient distribution channels for To the Moon at the moment”
      or more specifically Steam out of mentioned convenience reasons and not wanting to share personal data and payment details with every Indie/game site there is.

  4. Tams80 says:

    I really should buy this game. I’ll do it some day…

    Holding chopsticks wrong is only fun if people notice.

  5. mrwout says:

    I’m really interested in this game. But the fact that the story seems to make grown men cry really scares me, because I’m a person who already cries (manly tears) when watching episodes of ‘One Tree Hill’ and the likes…

    • jrodman says:

      I cried, but it was a cry that was OK. This wasn’t a brutal tear jerker. I wouldn’t be afraid.

    • Skabooga says:

      It did indeed make me cry, but parts of it also made me laugh. It takes you through the full spectrum of emotions, much more nuanced than blunt-force-trauma sadness.

  6. pilouuuu says:

    To The Moon was one of the high points of 2011 for me. It goes a long way to show how powerful videogames storytelling can be. And also how and why videogames are art. It’s really cool that Kan himself realises how the gameplay elements damaged the flow of the game. It would be so great if all developers listened to and accepted criticism like him. I await great things from episode 2 just for that. It’s incredible that I felt much more engaged playing To The Moon for a few hours than playing Skyrim. It is really… magic!

    • cqdemal says:

      The four-ish hours I spent with To the Moon were much more lively, warm and emotional than everything in all of my 169 hours (and counting) in Skyrim combined.

    • Resonance says:


      Well yeah…one is an emotionally manipulative, linear, story-driven game. The other a massive open-world game focusing on player choice within combat.

      Did you really expect Skyrim to be emotional?

    • cqdemal says:


      No, I didn’t expect it to be, and that was not the purpose of my comparison. My original comment was pretty poorly worded. What I meant was that To the Moon made all the other games I was playing at the time feel… dead.

  7. Creaturemagic says:

    I love how Down-to-earth and normal Indie developers are.
    They are all very talented and some manage to make better games then whole companies do, but there is something about the way Indie Devs talk and act that just says “Hey, I’m just a person like you” that I never feel from big companies. And thats great because I hate it when I read an interview of a big name company and they come off sounding like jerks who think they are the best.

  8. TheWhippetLord says:

    Since the dev managed to give a spoiler-free interview I guess I should limit myself to saying that TTM contained the most true-to-life portayal of [thingy] I’ve seen in gaming. Unusual little game.

    • JackShandy says:

      Agreed. Finally, a game that portrays compulsive origamists in a way I can relate to.

    • Lewis Denby says:

      More crucially, it trusted me enough to let me guess what [thingy] was. The game never explicitly tells you, because it understands that players are capable of drawing links and forming conclusions. The story is exceptionally well told.

    • Skabooga says:

      Honestly, I didn’t realize what [thingy] was being specifically portrayed until I read some of the comments on RPS. But even so, just seeing it as a broad example of [thingys] instead of a specific [thingy] was still as effective in contributing to the theme and story, which is a testament to To the Moon’s quality .

  9. Mattrex says:

    While the game’s creators should be commended for going out of their way to do something meaningful, and perhaps more importantly something more thematically diversified from guns, aliens, or retro indie platformers, I feel that the execution of the game fell flat. I went into it pretty revved up after reading about it on RTS, but eventually got something of a bad taste in my mouth.

    The core problem I ran into was that the dialogue was wooden and off-tempo, and the characterization suffered as a result. The two protagonists did not read as though they were quarrelsome old coworkers, they read as though they were people who were pretending to be quarrelsome old coworkers and hamming it up ever so slightly in the process. It read as inauthentic–it tried too hard. Ultimately, though it’s a subtle distinction, the writer(s) wrote dialogue that tried to be “X” but only ended up as “sounds like X”.

    I don’t want to be too harsh, because good dialogue is hard, maybe one of the hardest elements of fiction, and there are vanishingly few examples of video game dialogue which actually flow as naturally as real speech would. (Examples of what I feel are good dialogue can be found in Planescape: Torment and Anachronox.) So this is constructive criticism. My advice is to try less hard to write the “perfect line” or a witty quip or whatever, and instead pay close attention to the rhythms and prosidy of real speech, and learn to feel the flow. Translate that flow to the characters. Write like you’re that person, and you’re just speaking instead of performing for an invisible audience.