MidBoss developers Cade Peterson and John James on creating ‘Neurodiver’

"It's in the spirit of MidBoss to always lift up voices that may not normally get as much of a chance to get the spotlight"

In the last few years, cyberpunk has enjoyed a major resurgence. Maybe it’s because the real world is careening painfully toward a capitalist hellscape that was once assumed purely fictional, or perhaps game engines are becoming powerful enough to realise the looming corporation towers and neon-soaked city streets we’ve spent the last six decades imagining.

Or hey, maybe it’s none of those things. For whatever reason, the gaming industry has been happy to sate our cravings for all things cyberpunk – and few studios have done so as creatively as MidBoss, the studio behind 2064: Read Only Memories and its follow-up, Neurodiver.

A visual novel about psychic detective ES88, Neurodiver weaves far-reaching philosophical questions through cutesy character portraits and larger-than-life personalities. Ahead of Neurodiver‘s launch later this year, MidBoss CEO Cade Peterson and creative director John “JJ” James sat down with NME to discuss how the game came together.

Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. Credit: MidBoss.
Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. Credit: MidBoss.

The premise of Neurodiver – exploring another person’s memories – is something the cyberpunk genre has tackled often, from CD Projekt Red‘s Cyberpunk 2077 to William Gibson’s seminal novel Neuromancer. However, Neurodiver‘s vibrant cast of characters and cold shoulder to the genre’s usual cynicism proves that it fielded a vast range of influences to get to where it’s at.

“I love Satoshi Kon. One of my favourite movies from him is Paprika – that uses more technology to go into dreams, so it’s more a mix of that,” says James, who also mentions that he’s a fan of “cyberpunk adjacent” anime that involves psychics.

Naming manga like AI City and Cyber Seven as inspirations for Neurodiver, James says he wanted to encapsulate those feelings “along with some non-cyberpunk things like Seijun Suzuki’s Branded To Kill, a very dream-like noire thriller with a lot of butterfly and moth symbolism in it”.

“I kind of wanted to just pick and choose what feelings and ideas I really enjoyed from those and put them into a distilled version with Neurodiver,” he adds.

Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. Credit: MidBoss.
Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. Credit: MidBoss.

Beyond the studio’s outside influences, fans of MidBoss will likely recognise that understandably, Neurodiver draws upon 2064: Read Only Memories more than anything else. James explains that Neurodiver was originally meant to be a “direct sequel” to 2064 before being scrapped to make something more balanced toward new and old fans, and reveals that it was originally brainstormed as something completely different to the game as it exists today.

“At first it was going to be about playing as a hybrid who was weaponised with a neurotoxin, and then after that it kind of evolved into a discussion at one point,” James recalls. Conversation eventually turned toward “psychics tracking down someone who doesn’t have a body but could hide themselves in people’s heads,” an idea that MidBoss decided to explore further.

Though James says there’s no plans for a direct 2064 sequel kicking about, Neurodiver “is still kind of acting as a sequel” in the sense that many of the first game’s characters will appear in Neurodiver. For James and Peterson, Neurodiver represents a chance for MidBoss to flesh out these characters in a way that 2064 never allowed.

“In 2064, those characters were mostly there to just move the plot along and there wasn’t too much character development with them,” says James. “One of the things that I really wanted to do [with Neurodiver] was I wanted to spend more time with these characters, spend more time showing their life and things they do personally – and what better way to do that than jump into their heads and reveal certain aspects of their past?”

As well as a chance to further explore certain characters, Peterson says that Neurodiver allowed MidBoss to take on board feedback it received for 2064‘s writing.

“A lot of feedback from [2064] was that it was too verbose. The writing for this new game has become a lot more snappy, a lot more concise,” he says. “It tells the same kind of rich story but just in a less verbose way. We took that to heart because that was literally one of the most common bits of feedback we got.”

Elsewhere, the pair are both excited for fans to hear the game’s voice acting, and share that recording has been underway for the last two weeks. Though there’s some big names among that cast – fans will recognise the voices of Melissa Hutchinson and Adam Harrington from 2064 – Peterson shares that MidBoss has taken a chance on some fresh talent for Neurodiver.

“We decided to take a little bit of a risk and go for some lesser-known names. I think it’s in the spirit of MidBoss to always lift up voices that may not normally get as much of a chance to get the spotlight.”

Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. Credit: MidBoss.
Read Only Memories: Neurodiver. Credit: MidBoss.

While Peterson may be talking about voices in a very literal sense here, the statement can also apply to MidBoss’ wider approach to creating diverse casts and telling under-represented stories. When asked if it’s a sentiment that’s reflected in Neurodiver, Peterson agrees.

“I do think that is reflected in more of the game. One thing I hope people really love is that two of the main characters that are in this game, they’re both Mexican American and one is first-generation born and the other one is native from Mexico. These are the type of characters that don’t usually get to be protagonists [or] main characters,” says Peterson. He adds that Neurodiver‘s lead writer –  Samantha Ivonne Ortiz, a narrative designer on Neon White and creator of Comunicación, which took home a win at 2021’s Latinx in Gaming: Unidos Online Jam – was able to “breathe life into them in a very authentic way”.

“We even had to do the deep dive of various types of accents to make sure that was going to be accurate. Another one of our teammates [Sergio Kossio] actually lives in Mexico and he also gets to weigh in on various word choices [and] accent styles for the character that’s born in Mexico versus the one that’s a first-generation. I think that’s another new aspect that we haven’t done before, but I hope – and I think – that everybody will really love it, because as we know, there’s not a lot of protagonists in main media that allow the Mexican voice or the first-generation Mexican American voice to be heard, especially as female characters.”

With nearly every topic they touch on, Peterson and James both frequently mention how excited they are for fans to get their hands on Neurodiver, and the excitement’s infectious.

“Between the art, music, and now the voice that’s starting to be recorded? All the pieces are just making me so happy,” Peterson exclaims. “I think that it’s going to make for a very delightful game, and I’m very proud of every little bit of it.”

Read Only Memories: Neurodiver launches later this year for PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, and PS4. We recently got to preview the game – here’s what we thought

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