When Kan Gao's grandfather was hospitalized with a heart condition and Gao began to think about the inevitability of death, he took those themes and translated them into a game: To The Moon, a PC adventure masquerading as a 16-bit RPG.
"I wondered that when my time came, whether I'd regret what came to be and wish to be able to get a second chance to fulfill what I wanted," Gao told Ars about his reaction to his grandfather's medical condition. "And hey, I probably will, if not just for the reason that the grass is greener on the other side."
That desire for a second chance is what spawned the Total Recall-meets-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind story of To The Moon. In the game world, doctors can implant artificial memories into the brains of patients, but the results are so devastating that the patient can no longer function properly once the procedure is completed. This procedure is reserved for the terminally ill, serving as a sort of last wish.
It's not all deadly serious, though.
"Despite the melodramatic nature of the theme, To the Moon is actually a tragicomedy," explained Gao. "While it certainly is a serious story in the core, the journey doesn’t always take itself too seriously, as it is seen through the perspectives of the doctors who aren’t always particularly sensitive. To put it pretentiously, it’s a bit of a play-in-a-play, and the difficulty comes from balancing the two sides."