The Museum of Anodyne

Short story by Melos Han-Tani (7/8/2022)

In the near-future, a Professor of indie games visits a immersive museum in Vernon Hills dedicated to the game, "Anodyne". He later receives a letter from a certain "Melos Han-Tani".

The Museum of Anodyne

Professor (1)

The sun, all over, warming the spring day. Head down the trail - past the massive parking lot, where it starts near the small train station that's often behind schedule. Hickory and oak, their new greens filling in, shading us from the sky, trees from my old home.

And groups of Canadian Geese walking around, carefree.

"I've never seen a museum in the woods," says Lio, my teaching assistant at the university, for my course on older, independently-developed games of the early 2000s. While not my main focus of research, it's an indulgence of mine that the university has allowed due to my tenure. It's usually under-enrolled, but every now and then I get particularly passionate students. Their presence (much appreciated) lets me feel as if I'm not just whittling away my time, reliving these old games that have given me great joy, stubbornly trying to reach out to a younger generation.

"Well, Lio, did you know this used to be a golf course? It was one of Vernon Hills's few courses, a 9-HOLER. Played here as a kid, yeah... came back as an adult, they bulldozed it for lack of interest and decided to turn it back into a forest preserve. Well, now the museum's here, but the woods - both the older growth bordering the former golf course and Route 45, and the newer regrowth - are more or less preserved."

"I was reading about that. It was at the developers' - Anodyne's - request, right?"

"That's right. I guess one of the creators - who actually grew up here, too - felt a little guilty about the optics about buying up this land for something that might look like a vanity project to onlookers. Well, the Village didn't really have any plans for the land otherwise, and they figured the museum staff could help maintain the woods, so that was that. I suppose some of the local teens might have felt upset about losing out a potential dating spot, but that's about it, ha ha!"

The Museum of Anodyne - dedicated to that early 2010s videogame - "Anodyne". A game that needs no introduction, at least not for me!

Yes, it's that game. Its ghostly, strange appeal met with a moderate amount of success in 2013, but for some reason in the 2030s it had a massive spike in popularity after the release of an HD Remake, perhaps due to the successive installments the two creators had created, or the pedigree of the remake studio. Now, decades later, having left an impression on a successive generations of players, with multiple remakes - the game has found itself reborn anew in the strange form of a museum in a little suburb, Vernon Hills.

Of course, there's THAT which happened over the past decades.. Regarding THAT, well, no one plays the original game! Sure, remasters and remakes are available, but the true original is impossible to compile or find, due to legal battles, automated Content ID gone wrong, the shutting down of source code repositories, and OS incompatibility. In other words, the remasters - or even remasters of remasters - have taken their final place in the minds of what Anodyne "is". One of the creators, Melos, has even spoken about his "feeling regretful at having chased that house money so much" in the process of managing Anodyne's late and unprecedented success. Are we to blame America's housing market for the loss of the original Anodyne? Perhaps so, but in reality I wonder how many truly mourn its absence...

Still, it could be worse. Somehow, there was enough interest that multiple organizations of university game design departments, game history research groups, etc, collaborated to build this museum. And with a great historical effort, too. The gimmick of this place? Recreating Anodyne "as accurately as possible", to its humble, 2013 Flash game origins. How well did they do? Well. As generations and versions of games come out, the truth of the game often gets muddied. Even if one version of a game exists, multiple players' recollections may differ significantly, remembering only certain moments or places. To a new generation of players, a decade-old game may look like a reanimated corpse, theoretically interactable, yet instinctually repulsive... and so some essence of it is "cut out" before being reborn as some new, shiny mannequin.

But yes - I remember Anodyne! The first one! I remember finding it one day, mentioned on a blog in passing. I bought it immediately, and before I knew it, my weekend had passed, I had explored The Land and saved The Briar.

Past a tall hill and small lake which used to be a notoriously tricky hole in the past golf course, we enter the museum (a partially transparent place: an exterior with a mixture of glass and strange ceramic tilework reminiscent of the game itself, those Van Gogh-esque Fields tiles, those solemn Forest treetops).

A few other visitors stroll out from other paths from the woods. We enter, passing a themed cafe, and bookstore containing various Anodyne-related goods, as well as curated selections of games, often indie - a historical curation chosen by Anodyne's creators themselves, accompanied with design overview and interview books, and so on. But I don't want any of this, of course, so Lio and I stroll up to the security guard and show our tickets.

Museum (1)

Ralph the Security Guard: Good morning! The Land is just ahead. If you paid for the special exhibition you can go to The Anodyne Experience for something more immersive.

Ralph: This seemed as good a job for a retiree as any, as I mainly stand around and chat with other workers. The museum caters from the various chains in Vernon Hills so there's a different free lunch every day.

Ralph: Other restaurants are a 5 minute drive away!

Ralph: Well, I like people-watching.

Ralph: I'm surprised how many elementary school classes come out here. When I was a kid you'd never assign a game for a class! Ha ha...

Ralph: Standing guard in front of The Land wing sure is boring!

Ralph: I'm just practicing my "security guard" line. The NPCs rub off on you here...

Ralph: No, I didn't grow up playing Anodyne. Must've been lucrative for the creators getting this museum, ha ha! No, we don't see either of them much.

Professor (2)

change scene to TheAnodyneExperience.BEACH

move p (professor) to p_position_1

move l (lio) to l_position_1

turn p to l

emote p upset

Professor: Oh, what...? This is wrong, [L].

emote l confused

Lio: What do you mean, "wrong"?

wait 2

emote p disappointed

P: Ugh, I knew it.

wait 1

P: There's supposed to be a fisherman sitting here, on this dock!


emote p point_with_hands_intense

wait 1

P: ...And the whirlpool going to the Red Sea isn't red, either.

L: Oh...?

wait a slightly uncomfortable amount of time

L: Does that matter?

emote p internally frustrated

P: No, but... yes.

wait until the crash of the shore seems too loud to bear...

L: Um, did that fisherman say something just now?

emote l scratch_head

move camera to dock vantage point

L: The fisherman that you said used to be here... Did he have some text?

move camera to l and p

wait 1

P: Oh, him? No, the fisherman didn't say anything.

pan camera towards the dock over 5 seconds

P: He added to the experience. You think you're on a lonely beach, but here's someone else, quietly enjoying it just like you. Well, I guess the fisherman being gone and the whirlpool not being red: these two things don't really change the game.

P: It's just that attitude. Taking too many things away generation after generation. I don't like it.

fade to black in 5

fade music out in 5

wait 5



"I'm going to show you something now, Lio!"

"Where are we?" says Lio.

Wave-damp sand underfoot, crisp pixel waves, a perfectly straight breeze from the grassy plains to the east.

I look across the ocean and think about each place this BEACH reminds me of. The weeds, the bushes, the striations of sand colors. I haven't been here for a while.

Lio flaps their hand at their face to gesture cooling down. "It's a little hot. I wonder if there's anywhere to sit in the shade."

"Oh, I'm sure. Perhaps there's a tree or two. Here, if you imagine it to be chilly, you should cool down."

The beach's sand grows darker in 16-pixel intervals. The waves roar in a 4-second pattern.

"Oh, it's the fisherman! The one you said was missing. So he's here," Lio says, showing a childishly curious air. "And there's that whirlpool. It seems like his lure is just circling inside it. Wonder how long he's been fishing."

"Well, you can imagine the kind of game where he'd say something like 'They sure aren't biting today, huh?' or make some quip. Or another where you'd find his lost hat, with a lore entry about his 'immortal curse'. But neither of those are the case here. He says nothing."

"Ah. So maybe it's been 100 years! Sitting forever. Or a tragic retiree, muting his emotions until the player turns off the game. Or maybe he lives in the FIELDS next door and is just hanging out here?"

"Right, it could be anything. That kind of blank slate flexibility. I think his quietness completes the atmosphere."

Lio walks up to the fisherman, still gazing at the horizon, fishing rod in hand, with a straw hat. His short feet don't reach the water. At times the breeze picks up into a small gust, no birds or clouds in the sky.

I look around the salty air, picking up on footsteps creaking on the dock. Then! The softest touch, the quietest splash, barely perceptible...


Lio yells, and I turn to see him looking over the edge into the whirlpool. A swirling mass of green and blues, begins to tinge purple.. pink.. deep, crimson red.

"I killed him?" Lio says, pausing and staring into the swirling red seafoam. "I think I understand now..."

Professor (3)

Ups and downs of the museum's accuracy aside, I was surprised when I was moved by the portrayal of the membrane-covered mine shaft in the blue, cavernous dungeon's "Immersive Experience". Now, three people could stand on it and break it open: a huge difference from the original game!

I felt guilty about my rush of excitement, which I tried to negate by thinking about the affordances that the game's original use of the membrane gave.

There were other pleasant surprises throughout the museum, but part of me struggled to reckon with the fact this was what most players understood Anodyne to be. I was prepared to suck it up and move on, but then, the HOTEL's roof. The cityscape was wrong. Even the music felt tampered... of all the places in the game, this was my favorite.

I pardoned myself from Lio (who was quite taken in with the monologuing man, wistfully staring over the skyline). I needed to know why this had happened.

No amount of logic could stop my body's autonomous movements. Walking swiftly, through a museum hallway, a bathroom, some other galleries. Past people waiting for lines, and then into the administration office. I asked - somewhat rudely, in hindsight - to speak with a curator, anybody! - who could tell me what was going on here.

Owing to my professor status (I assumed), and the consulting I did for the museum, they agreed to my request. I composed myself as much as I could, shamefully, in the reflective chrome of the secretary's desk clock, waiting for someone to come talk with me.

Soon enough a digital restorationist, Carly, appeared in the doorway. She ran the restoration team and worked with the curators and other departments in order to plan the museum out and recreate the various scenarios from Anodyne.


"I quite liked the Cliff area."

"Thank you. Well, Professor, concerning the Beach area you had an issue with... We had heard about that Fisherman being there, in older versions of Anodyne, before it was removed in trying to reduce the "M for mature" rating. But no one on the team was able to get their hands on a copy of it. Even the creators could only describe it. What it came down to was logistics: for parts of the game we had to rely on remasters in order to make some conclusions... there'd be too much guesswork on the fisherman's behavior, motion..."

I had seen, but refused to play, any of the remasters. As a result I couldn't faithfully argue that what the curator was doing was ridiculous. What did I know about younger players and their desires? Instead, I was faced with my emotions that, starting as anger, quickly grew more confused as I came to understand that Carly, the restorationist, barely 30, felt her decisions were reasonable. She was one of the many good-natured people trying to piece together the scraps of whatever happened during the licensing of the Anodyne IP back in the 2030s. I was an old gamer who may as well have just been imagining and bewitched by ghosts, nostalgic and comforting ones. I decided that she did know best, and thanked her for her time. I secretly hoped word of my visit wouldn't travel through the museum staff, but if there's anything all humans like, myself included, it's gossip...

Professor (4)

My mood soured, I was surprised when Lio suggested that maybe we try talking to other museum-goers and ask them about what they thought. Maybe they hoped to put my looping thought cycles into context. I could stand to be more optimistic.


Man in the Orange Cube King Costume

What? I can't hear you. What? Oh. Yeah, it's sweaty in this costume. No, I don't have to actually say the long speeches. Although I have it memorized on account to being printed right on that wall behind me. You'd be surprised about the kinds of games people invent when they have to stand in place!

Some find it funny that a cube would ramble on so long, others talk to their friends how they were surprised the first time they met me (my character, that is.)

Is this museum accurate? I'm not sure. I only played a little of the game. I heard all of the text was accurate - able to be recovered in full. Probably fine, right?

Four-year old

I really liked to walk around the big wide open field place. I've never seen a museum for a game before. I thought Miao the Cat was cute and the music was cool. I liked to make Miao walk around and... follow me. Miao the Cat is so cool. The music reminded me of when my sister is practicing the piano at home, I like when she plays songs from games. I want to come again, but I might ask my parents if they can buy me the game for my smartphone. Today is my birthday actually. I'm 4. I really like playing games and this one seems really cool.

20-something Woman Near The Mitra House Recreation

Yeah, this museum is pretty wild. There's so many different kinds of exhibits. I didn't know games were this diverse, and did you know it was made by two people originally? Wow. I'd love to make something like that, haha, although I'm just taking pictures for my personal account. Actually can you take one of me here? Yeah. Thanks!

... Just one more. Have you been in the house yet? No? It's cool. Some of the windows have these 3D effects that... well, you should go see it. There are some cute trinkets on the desks inside, too. Oh, the museum made it up? Interesting. Well, creative collaboration and all. Stories getting retold differently, recollections changing over time. I grew up making a lot of VR fanfiction of popular Disney-Marvel movies in Disney Studio, and to some extent, the original story was barely ever the point.

3D Sculptor

Oh, yep, I made those items in the house, haha! I specialize in prop-making for movies or theatre sets, but a fan of my work was working on the committee here and contacted me about the opportunity. It turns out the original Anodyne rarely released any merch, so I feel lucky at being given the chance to bring some of it 'to life'. I made a few enemies, recreated "Wares" the bike. The strangest thing I was asked to make was a handgun. Did Mitra keep a handgun in the game? What a strange game. Feels dark. Dark undertones. Yep, I like those. I tried to bring out that darkness in the objects. And yes, the broom, too! You can buy one of those in the gift shop. It works as a real broom too, haha! Making brooms isn't easy, I found out. Lost art. Too many vacuums.

Junior Curator

I did play the game before interviewing here, yep! The first question I get is usually 'how can you think about just one game all the time?' And my answer is always that well, we don't. I did help out with some of the exhibits - like the stuff relating to the swap tool and postgame, which were particularly tricky. Except for some routine maintenance on the more electronics-heavy parts of the museum, most of our time isn't spent actually thinking about Anodyne. Our plan is to start quarterly special exhibitions, not necessarily related to Anodyne itself. We have exhibitions planned for the history of games that Anodyne went on to influence, more general ideas like games with strange screen resolutions, and so on. Anodyne was sort of the way for this museum to get funded, but a lot of curators here have their feet in education reform and arts education... trying to keep the history of the more 'artistic' games alive - unearthing what little managed to flourish during the 'corporate plague' of the 2010s and 2020s.

Anyways... it's fairly flexible and the program is set up to have visiting curators, or allow us to travel to other museums or research institutions. Not bad for a first job, right?


I had been a fan of Analgesic Productions's work, and as you might expect I was thrilled to hear about the opening of a museum! I donated right away. Nothing like seeing one of my favorite games come to life in this strange way. Better than seeing another Starbucks or fancy glass workspace, right? The location is beautiful, too, next to these Midwestern woods. It's a great day today, you should take some time to walk outside afterwards.


I'm really into retro games. It was cool to see Anodyne's original graphics. It feels really raw, dark, original... it makes me think about all the times I was wrong. All the mistakes I made.

Actually I'd like to work in games when I graduate college. Or at least make them for a hobby? I don't know. I'm not too concerned about the career thing, I just like making places to walk around in, you know? Sometimes I feel so trapped here.

Professor (5)

Lio and I walked out of the closing museum to a beautiful evening, and walked through the woods back to the parking lot, gift shop purchases in hand. Other museumgoers we had chatted with throughout the day would cross our path, waving hello, goodbye.

While it was true parts of the museums differed from my memory and my experience growing up with the game, the museum, as a whole, felt respectful enough of the wide varieties of experiences that players of the original and various remasters had. Like writing an essay on the game Anodyne, it would be impossible to address the game's whole history in one paper. So - maybe I was being too unreasonable, looking for my definition of perfection...

Maybe, like mosquitoes, these ever-present remasters were just part of the media ecology we lived in. My gut still felt bad about it, but I shrugged the thought off, driving off for a bite to eat at IHOP, Panda Express...


I was surprised when a week later, I received an e-mail from a name I found familiar - it was Melos, one of the two creators of Anodyne.

Hi, Professor! I hope this doesn't seem too weird, e-mailing you directly... but after I heard from the curatorial staff what had happened, I couldn't stop fixating on any sort of misconceptions or whatever, so... I decided to write this e-mail. I also heard that you were from Vernon Hills, of all places, too, and even though I don't live there anymore, I felt the need to set the record straight, so to speak.

Anyways, at the beginning of the museum organization process I was hesitant because I knew there were already a few generations of fans, each with their own view of what Anodyne *was*. At one point we considered multiple wings, each dealing with one version of Anodyne. But that bordered on ridiculous - a museum for the most available, recent version of Anodyne would feel masturbatory, like some kind of cheap trick to drive needless sales, the way defunct series like *Pokemon* would pump out plushies during its identity-less death throes in the 2020s.

Earlier in my career, especially my first decade of work, I had wondered generally about the issue with remasters and would often get worked up about them. In particular, Link's Awakening came to mind: the slightly romantic story of the game's creation, that ragtag team of Game Boy developers (albeit with a massive support apparatus) - it all felt somewhat magical, and a far cry from the more sanded-down, smooth-feeling 2019 version.

I'd always wonder what the POINT of the remake was: was there a Nintendo designer who felt particularly invested in getting people to retread their work, however distorted? I always found it telling how these remakes would rarely go on to influence much beyond their art styles, which would quickly be torn up and repurposed by some new, young energy looking to make a buck... do you remember those games, a few years later, that looked just like 2019 Link's Awakening, but fell short on almost every other account? It seems to be a constant refrain that game designers are unable to see past the surface of things - stuck in a constant loop of copy-pasted visual qualities.

If anything, the remakes (of Anodyne) gave me a growing sense of dread that our medium was becoming nothing more than those bang snap firecrackers. Thrown to the ground to amuse the audiovisual senses for a while, but incapable of doing any actual damage or change. Modular components, nutritional units of entertainment, harmless, impressionless and forgettable, another way to dull any of our aspirational desires, instead, a boat, propelling head-first into the void, but at least we can craft a few things and harvest resources while we were at it, ha ha.

So what would I do when I was mid-career, in a slump, and I'm approached by a sizable studio about a remake of Anodyne 1? The shadow of my future self, some huckster fallen from grace, overwriting his first, beloved game so he could buy a house to store his endless shelves of books in... Yes, that little shadow knocked on my window, peering in, the same way it did every time I would work through the pre-production phase of a game, trying to push me towards money, yelling, "Do it! Do it! Do it!"

Well, the successful indie studio who approached me - they had gone on to a high level of financial success after releasing a series of farming roguelikes (or something) - while I never enjoyed their work, neither did I manage to get on the bad side of their director through one of my various ill-advised rants or essays. Deep down, I felt the idea was ridiculous, but I guess I was in such a state that I hoped that seeing any kind of new life breathed into one of Marina and I's creations would act as some motivation, a spark for some kind of further action, a push requiring no effort of my own. When you set the agenda for every day, you also get tired of making decisions...

Anyways, from time to time we had thrown around what an "Anodyne HD Remake" would look like. Of course, decades later, everyone knows how Anodyne's legacy played out. I don't believe it either. Most people would say we made the 'right' decision - that compromising on one's values regarding a remake doesn't matter in the large stream of events that comprises our world. But I still have second thoughts: when you work indie for so long, you know that to an extent, your output and public persona is either confirming or denying other creators' - players' - conceptions of artistic or moral integrity. Through the parasocial structures of the internet, it can be quite deflating to see a favorite artist's career move veer towards the schlocky... sigh. Do you remember when Miyamoto had to do a PR video for the opening of Super Nintendo World in Osaka? There was something about his face when talking about the Mushroom Burger that, to me, read like "I'm in pain." Maybe I'm projecting. Ask me again when we open "Super Anodyne World", ha ha.

Maybe we did always have money and 'success' on our hands, only a single step of artistic compromise away? Or perhaps the gaming audiences' tastes were still firmly in the camp of ridiculous production value, but they were starting to desire something deeper as well, something which the industry had to look back in order to get. I didn't expect it would be *my* game, though.

I was ready for some sort of reckoning from fans, and I had agreed to it mainly because the minimum guarantee for the IP transfer was too good to turn down, many times what our career had made to that point. Here we were, the integrity-laden duo, taking a windfall from the genre I had condemned all these years!

Would a fan get mad at my decision to do this to a 'sacred' game like Anodyne, something dear to them? Now you can see why I'm writing you like this, in a way, your response and existence are exactly that kind of imaginary fan I had once feared, and forgotten about - only to come back almost as a ghost.

But... it's very easy to overestimate how much a fan actually feels invested in your work. If anything, the extreme worry of the reaction to a remaster feels more likely to be a projection of how I view *my* game as sacred *to me*. So I suppose, once nothing bad happened - in fact , we got mostly new players, and few even knew there was an original - I got lax, hence the further remasters. Past the point of no return there was no point justifying it, here I was, playing to a trend. You can intellectualize the selling out of your values for money in all sorts of ways, but the truth is that what's done is done! Don't stress over it, move on. I sound like a resigned person. Although I'm not so sure making multiple remakes was a good idea, I don't know... even if fans did want it, there is a point in which I felt the fanbase was trying to actualize *their* desires through the medium of "ME". The way some games can control the rhythms of players' lives - doing dailies, playing DLC updates - it feels as if player complaints to adjust how those rhythms are controlled - are an attempt at pleading with God...

But with the almost unimaginable offer of a museum, I felt I had to at least do my best to preserve this 'sanctity' of the game, or of what little was left. By this point, you know the story: we couldn't reasonably restore the original, and on top of that, would most people who knew Anodyne even be interested in the original?

We're talking generations of players who had grown up on the *remaster* or the *remaster's remaster*. (Good) game designers already know you can't satisfy anyone: in almost every case, any given system of one of Analgesic's games would be met with a baffling range of responses, player perceptions so wide that one couldn't help but see something beautiful in how much humanity differed in its response to some little puzzle system or game mechanic. In a way, that still feels like a good barometer for a game's success, in my eyes.

In a way, a game designer's career is over the moment they become a kind of reliable *sustenance* for a player base, isn't it? Games, reduced to mere potato chips. You may as well wave the white flag to MiHoYo at that point. By this I don't mean a game shouldn't act as some kind of spiritual fuel for anyone, and certainly our players would play our games *because* they would be 'sustained' via an unpredictable experience.

But I mean to distinguish between when one's work is mainly being consumed, farm-to-table style, to satisfy a very general craving that could be substituted easily. It really was all about the extent to which you want to be approachable by a general audience, the extent to which you want to make work concerning your human interests, the extent to which you want to address certain collective desires...

Overall, the museum is spiritually disappointing to myself. The outcome of a selfish curiosity to see how far our little game could bloom, like having children to see the extent their faces resemble yours. At the same time, it is what it is, and I don't see Anodyne as a particularly bad example of the remaster-ism movement: a phenomenon so completely beyond the power of myself.

Still, I think back to a time in 2013 when I was first getting started, at a muggy, warm nightclub party in San Francisco. I watched two (now famous) game designer friends get turned down at the door for being underage, and I still chose to go in.

A party, DJ'd by a then-famous dubstep musician, sponsored by the (at the time) sole creator of a particularly famous game about mining and crafting. As I stood there, awkwardly biding my time, trying to talk to the Banjo-Kazooie composer, I watched THAT creator stand there, surrounded by other notable names, booth babes, etc, and although they seemed quite merry, something about this designer felt particularly small. As if he was shrinking out of sight in that neon-stained room, the spectacle and networking excitement deep in the others' eyes, drowning him out, exponents of potential reducing him to a name and a game.

Melos Han-Tani (207X)


This was a pretty tiring story to work on. I started it right before Sephonie released and then worked on it slowly over the next few months. I've had various story and game ideas that would address Anodyne 1 in various meta ways, and there being a museum about Anodyne was one of them. But what was the angle I should go with? Who's visiting the museum? Eventually I decided on a family of three, from three generations. Too complicated. Made it a grandpa and a kid. Was tired of that dynamic, so tried out a professor and a TA, which I stuck with. Still, a story of a mildly jaded professor just whining about a museum seemed no good, so I came up with the idea of 'talking' to the other museum characters. It was still lacking a bit of depth, and Marina and myself were weirdly absent from a story that's so focused on "Anodyne", which is what led me to trying out the letter format from "me". I think that letter forming the 2nd half to the story helps pull things together. I was also reading through Oe's 'Somersault' at the time, which is mostly kind of people rambling about new religions (in a good way), and something about that felt resonant with the story's letter.

I sometimes feel like "games with a budget" nowadays tend to feel spiritually bankrupt, but with the veneer of trying to hide that... It's that contradiction that bothers me a lot... and how they thematically tend to occupy this state of permanent adolescence.

Anyways, I think my next short story will feature an alternate me killed in a Japan-led nuclear strike on Vernon Hills. Look forward to it!