Author Topic: Just finished TTM, my "review"  (Read 5785 times)

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Batman55

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Just finished TTM, my "review"
« on: October 25, 2012, 03:53:44 AM »
I just finished To the Moon an hour ago, and feel compelled to record my thoughts on the game here.  Typically user reviews will taint my own thoughts so I've steered clear of them.  I was well aware of the positive reception of the game before I got it, though.  This is unusual for me, I'll admit; typically when I bother to register for a forum and write about a game, it's because I feel divisive about it.  In other words, the great things about the game are pressing up against the problematic things in a fierce battle; in these cases, I can't always tell how I feel.  But I'll try.

I'll start by saying the atmosphere, the visuals, music came together brilliantly.  The attention to these aspects was splendid, despite the clunky engine and retro feel.  The game elicits a sense of beauty and nostalgia better than any I can recall.  Indeed, TTM is an unusual game, that's what brought me to it.  But at the same time, the constant flow of sentimentality was at times maddening; I felt this put the game off balance.  The "emotional volume" was too high.  This game played with my emotions to the extent that I was tempted to say "enough" and shut the thing off.  Ya know, It's hard to play a game that vacillates between euphoria and dysphoria at the drop of a hat.

This is fine for a sappy Spielberg film or a romance movie, but it can be off-putting in a game.  There is a fix for this problem: gameplay.  To the Moon barely has any.  The puzzles are quick and easy, then you have the colored balls.  These elements are light and quirky but not deep enough for a game.  I'm not sure what other interactive elements the game needs, but I can say it needs re-calibration and gameplay is the best way to do this.  Mild interaction worked decently well for the first half of the game, but the second half was 80% dialogue; inexcusable, in my opinion, for an indie game that approaches mainstream value.

Now the characters.  I don't know about other folks, but I never really got a "feel" for Johnny's character, what his actual personality was like.  River is a whole other ball game, with aspects to praise and others that just bothered me to no end.  First, it's certainly laudable (and unusual) to have a character with Asperger's in a game.  The writer also took pains to explain that the expression of PDD varies from person to person, another nice touch.  But in other ways, River was an extremely flat character.  Why was Johnny (a normal person) drawn to her?  Not explained.  Her dialogue had less personality than John's; true, Asperger folks can be very reserved.  But still, a major character needs definition.  And including that whole thing about "equine therapy" was odd, IMO.  Typically that therapy is associated with genuine autism; in this game, River has a high-functioning condition.  There's a lot of people who have mild Asperger or have the traits (I have some traits)--so, I'm not sure you had to test those waters.  It's a thorny issue, ya know?

Then you have the plot.  The story unfolded nicely, and in a surreal kind of way--here, the game shines.  But I'm still confused.  I'm not always so good at understanding the plot in these types of stories, the logic can sometimes be inconsistent (for me at least.)  That said, I'm now allowed to ask a question others might consider stupid:  why is it Rosalene had to erase Johnny's memory of River to allow him to go to the moon?  The way I approached the logic/rules, erasing River (up until he got to NASA) would have eliminated his whole wish to go to the moon in the first place.

So, great in some ways, repellant in others.  Touching, but painfully so.  The "painful" aspect wouldn't matter if the game would simply fit in the entertainment category as most do; but this was meant to be serious art.  There's nothing casual about it.

Dr. Zooks McCoy

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2012, 05:03:02 AM »
It was explained why Johnny was attracted to River near the end. He felt like just another normal kid in a sea of people, and River was so different that he felt she had something he didn't.
About the game being a 'game'... skip to 5:39.
!

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2012, 09:06:42 AM »
Well let me start by saying I wholeheartedly respect your opinion and appreciate you shared with us! Now if you allow me I'll reply to a few of your points that I disagree with, and in that I'll be sharing my personal opinion, but feel free to disagree ^_^

OBVIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD

I'll start by saying the atmosphere, the visuals, music came together brilliantly.  The attention to these aspects was splendid, despite the clunky engine and retro feel.  The game elicits a sense of beauty and nostalgia better than any I can recall.  Indeed, TTM is an unusual game, that's what brought me to it.  But at the same time, the constant flow of sentimentality was at times maddening; I felt this put the game off balance.  The "emotional volume" was too high.  This game played with my emotions to the extent that I was tempted to say "enough" and shut the thing off.  Ya know, It's hard to play a game that vacillates between euphoria and dysphoria at the drop of a hat.

I can understand this as a personal thing, I guess. I actually liked being in an emotional rollercoaster the whole ride.

Quote
This is fine for a sappy Spielberg film or a romance movie, but it can be off-putting in a game.  There is a fix for this problem: gameplay.  To the Moon barely has any.  The puzzles are quick and easy, then you have the colored balls.  These elements are light and quirky but not deep enough for a game.  I'm not sure what other interactive elements the game needs, but I can say it needs re-calibration and gameplay is the best way to do this.  Mild interaction worked decently well for the first half of the game, but the second half was 80% dialogue; inexcusable, in my opinion, for an indie game that approaches mainstream value.

Well, I think you might be looking at it from the wrong perspective. You mention dialogue heavy is inexcusable for an indie game that approaches mainstream value. What I see in this sentence is prejudice. You already formed a rough concept of what an indie game should aim for, and that's (in my opinion) totally against what the whole indie movement is about. The indie devs (well, some of them) look to convey their art in their own way, not attached by common rules in game design. This has been a trend that led to successful developers. Now, there's the catch 22 that when something works, people try to imitate it. So now the whole "innovative gameplay" is not innovative anymore because everyone and their mother is trying the same thing: "thinking outside of the box". By that I mean games based on a very specific and unique mechanic, and built upon it. I'm not saying its bad, I'm saying they're losing the innovative trait because even if your mechanic is original, your approach at game design is not. Its just "build a game on top of an unique mechanic".
These games tend to be gameplay-heavy, if not plain gameplay with no story. And that's just fine. But I don't think Kan EVER envisioned To The Moon to be on that rank, and it shouldn't. This game is obviously a story to be told, a story you experience, and from that he used an approach that is actually on par with that of indie-game mentality: Finding the core of your game and chipping away anything that detracts from it. In this case making the gameplay heavier would've only ruined the experience as it would ruin the pace, and it would feel like "padding" the game to rack a few more gameplay hours, since the story is what it is. He condensed the story in a coherent package, not distracting you with too many unnecessary things.


Quote
Now the characters.  I don't know about other folks, but I never really got a "feel" for Johnny's character, what his actual personality was like. 

Well, one of the things about the game is that it tried to portrait people as people. That is, flawed people like we all are. Johnny was a loving husband, but ultimately a shallow person. He was also personality-troubled by having "inherited" some his brothers' traits. So he's in a battle between Johnny, Joey and trauma.
Sure its not your typical ultra-deep, main lead. But was it needed for him to be? Sometimes I actually feel the opposite. Too many games make us play (or see a story from the perspective of) these perfect, altruistic and deep person, it actually feels cheap. I like characters with flaws. That's why I liked Tidus from FFX, but that's a bit off-topic :P

Quote
Then you have the plot.  The story unfolded nicely, and in a surreal kind of way--here, the game shines.  But I'm still confused.  I'm not always so good at understanding the plot in these types of stories, the logic can sometimes be inconsistent (for me at least.)  That said, I'm now allowed to ask a question others might consider stupid:  why is it Rosalene had to erase Johnny's memory of River to allow him to go to the moon?  The way I approached the logic/rules, erasing River (up until he got to NASA) would have eliminated his whole wish to go to the moon in the first place.

Yeah you definitely got confused there :P They never erased River, they simply moved her from his teen memories so he wouldn't meet her again in high-school. His desire to go to the moon stems from their actual first meeting, at the carnival. That memory remained untouched (although, still blocked).
In his real life, he didn't want to go to the moon because he already had River, and she's the reason he wants to go there (and the reason why he wants to go there when he doesn't have River anymore). His desire wasn't to go to the moon WITH River, he wanted to go to the moon FOR River. If she was there for him he wouldn't want to go. By making an scenario where he didn't have her, his desire kicked in way earlier, and that drove him to fulfill that wish.
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Dr. Zooks McCoy

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2012, 10:12:56 AM »
That memory remained untouched (although, still blocked).

I thought since the reason Johnny forgot about it to begin with was because of Joey and the beta blockers, and since Eva saved Joey, wouldn't he have remembered River from the start? That's the only thing that bugs me in the entire script.

Ferdk

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2012, 12:08:25 PM »
That memory remained untouched (although, still blocked).

I thought since the reason Johnny forgot about it to begin with was because of Joey and the beta blockers, and since Eva saved Joey, wouldn't he have remembered River from the start? That's the only thing that bugs me in the entire script.

A lot of people have an issue with this. The way I see it is like this:

The Beta-Blockers blocked (durr) a physical place in the brain where the memories are stored, right? Okay then with the machine they removed the "memory" of him taking those (because in the new memories he doesn't) but his brain is still physically blocked. So while his memories play like he never took them, he still can't access that blocked space, which includes his meeting with River. That's the way it makes the most sense to me. After all, the machine doesn't change reality (the fact that he took the blockers) but only the memories, so his brain wouldn't be "fixed".
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Dr. Zooks McCoy

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #5 on: October 25, 2012, 12:37:51 PM »
A lot of people have an issue with this. The way I see it is like this:

The Beta-Blockers blocked (durr) a physical place in the brain where the memories are stored, right? Okay then with the machine they removed the "memory" of him taking those (because in the new memories he doesn't) but his brain is still physically blocked. So while his memories play like he never took them, he still can't access that blocked space, which includes his meeting with River. That's the way it makes the most sense to me. After all, the machine doesn't change reality (the fact that he took the blockers) but only the memories, so his brain wouldn't be "fixed".

That makes a lot of sense, but they were able to access the memories after jogging Johnny's memory with the roadkill smell, which means they relinked them. If they hadn't, they wouldn't have been able to access them at all, because the machine is a simulation of reality. But maybe the Sigmund machine had codes for this, Neil said something about that in the phone call.

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2012, 12:43:30 PM »
The memories were always there, stored. Johnny couldn't remember them, the machine can "access" the blocked memories but they never said that meant that would unlock them to Johnny. They could see them and replace them, but they were still "hidden" from Johnny, cuz he's not using the machine, he's just using his brain to remember.
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Dr. Zooks McCoy

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2012, 01:09:47 PM »
Of course they were always there, the memories were only "fuzzily unlinked". :seraismile:
The connection between the machine and his brain is pretty intrusive, since they do rewrite his long-term memories. If the machine was able to access the unlinked memory with no help from Johnny's brain, they would've had no issue getting to his childhood memories, but they needed a Johnny to help them make that connection, which means there had to be some real brain activity linking the memories, at least in part.
It depends on all that the machine can do and what parts of the brain it needs to access/alter to create new memories, because if it had to use that part of Johnny's mind to access the memory in the first place, it would've needed to keep the connection while rewriting, otherwise the memory would become unlinked again (unless Johnny remembered it on his own) and changing anything from that time (saving Joey) wouldn't have been written. If they just needed to look at it to figure out how to move River, that would make sense, but Eva saved Joey, which means the connection must've been maintained somehow, which means Johnny should theoretically be able to remember. UNLESS those codes Neil needed for the machine were to force a temporary connection, which deteriorated after his memories were written.
I approve of your theory, Ferd! :)

It's like, a technical question that only Kan knows the answer to. And if he reads this, he'll probably be sitting back and chuckling to himself. While sipping coffee. :deepstuff:

Sanicgottafeelfast

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2012, 07:16:32 PM »
Only on these forums could a subjective review provoke deep thought into the inner machinations of Kan's mind....Kan I know you're watching you ceiling cat you :P :3
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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2012, 07:25:20 PM »
Of course they were always there, the memories were only "fuzzily unlinked". :seraismile:
The connection between the machine and his brain is pretty intrusive, since they do rewrite his long-term memories. If the machine was able to access the unlinked memory with no help from Johnny's brain, they would've had no issue getting to his childhood memories, but they needed a Johnny to help them make that connection, which means there had to be some real brain activity linking the memories, at least in part.
It depends on all that the machine can do and what parts of the brain it needs to access/alter to create new memories, because if it had to use that part of Johnny's mind to access the memory in the first place, it would've needed to keep the connection while rewriting, otherwise the memory would become unlinked again (unless Johnny remembered it on his own) and changing anything from that time (saving Joey) wouldn't have been written. If they just needed to look at it to figure out how to move River, that would make sense, but Eva saved Joey, which means the connection must've been maintained somehow, which means Johnny should theoretically be able to remember. UNLESS those codes Neil needed for the machine were to force a temporary connection, which deteriorated after his memories were written.
I approve of your theory, Ferd! :)

It's like, a technical question that only Kan knows the answer to. And if he reads this, he'll probably be sitting back and chuckling to himself. While sipping coffee. :deepstuff:

Ok I gave this some thought because its a very valid point! :D They DO need Johnny to do some brain activity with the roadkill and everything.
Another thing I thought of is the following: If the smell "unlocked" the memories, then they could traverse them as normal memories, right? ok. BUT! No, they can't, that's why the machine needs some extra configuration. So what I get from this is the following:
-The machine has a special configuration to deal with "hidden" memories, but they need some brain reaction to "locate" them. So the roadkill triggers Johnny's emotional response to those memories (which presumably were always there, he can't really remember but there's always a scar left, right?).

I still postulate he didn't remember even after the procedure, but they DID need help from him in order to reach those memories. Everyone feel free to disagree though.
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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2012, 08:28:38 PM »
Ok I gave this some thought because its a very valid point! :D They DO need Johnny to do some brain activity with the roadkill and everything.
Another thing I thought of is the following: If the smell "unlocked" the memories, then they could traverse them as normal memories, right? ok. BUT! No, they can't, that's why the machine needs some extra configuration. So what I get from this is the following:
-The machine has a special configuration to deal with "hidden" memories, but they need some brain reaction to "locate" them. So the roadkill triggers Johnny's emotional response to those memories (which presumably were always there, he can't really remember but there's always a scar left, right?).

I still postulate he didn't remember even after the procedure, but they DID need help from him in order to reach those memories. Everyone feel free to disagree though.


I just realized something we all missed. He had to get to the moon, right? Maybe they did link his memories again, and Eva gave him Joey back, but kept him from consciously remembering River on purpose, so he would want to go to the moon. How did we not think of this?

« Last Edit: October 25, 2012, 08:32:56 PM by JessBazookaMcCoy »

Aurzel

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2012, 08:33:48 PM »
I believe the answer is somewhere in the middle. The act of 'unlocking' the memories meant that Johnny was now aware of these memories. However, the combination of trauma leading to a 'want' to not remember, beta blockers dissociating his emotional attachment to those memories (even though the 'block' no longer exists) and just the simple fact that he's an old man and those memories were of his early childhood - all lead to the fact that the memories would be available to Johnny with more work but as it stands now, they're at the back of his subconscious and entirely unreachable.

To continue the theory that only a temporary link was established: remember how fast the brain and this machine work. Johnny need only have a fleeting moment of clarity upon smelling the roadkill and that would be enough for the machine to access and download those memories since all the ground work had already been done up to his childhood years. Then if his memories remained blocked after the smell no longer triggered his memory then it doesn't matter since the docs said a number of times that everything they're doing is on the machine and will then be uploaded into Johnny's brain upon completion. The question then becomes: does the machine replace the old memories with the new ones, or does it make the new memories the only ones accessible in one way or another. If we assume that the memories are still blocked then in the former's case he still wouldn't remember. In the latter's case he would remain this 'new' childhood.

I don't know if I made any sense with this post as it's rather late and I'm rather tired and I get the distinct impression that I've rambled, so take it with a pinch of salt lol

Batman55

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2012, 01:26:25 AM »
Well, I think you might be looking at it from the wrong perspective. You mention dialogue heavy is inexcusable for an indie game that approaches mainstream value. What I see in this sentence is prejudice. You already formed a rough concept of what an indie game should aim for, and that's (in my opinion) totally against what the whole indie movement is about. The indie devs (well, some of them) look to convey their art in their own way, not attached by common rules in game design. This has been a trend that led to successful developers. Now, there's the catch 22 that when something works, people try to imitate it. So now the whole "innovative gameplay" is not innovative anymore because everyone and their mother is trying the same thing: "thinking outside of the box". By that I mean games based on a very specific and unique mechanic, and built upon it. I'm not saying its bad, I'm saying they're losing the innovative trait because even if your mechanic is original, your approach at game design is not. Its just "build a game on top of an unique mechanic".
These games tend to be gameplay-heavy, if not plain gameplay with no story. And that's just fine. But I don't think Kan EVER envisioned To The Moon to be on that rank, and it shouldn't. This game is obviously a story to be told, a story you experience, and from that he used an approach that is actually on par with that of indie-game mentality: Finding the core of your game and chipping away anything that detracts from it. In this case making the gameplay heavier would've only ruined the experience as it would ruin the pace, and it would feel like "padding" the game to rack a few more gameplay hours, since the story is what it is. He condensed the story in a coherent package, not distracting you with too many unnecessary things.

You make a point I agree with:  indie games should not be required to subscribe to some preconceived idea of what a game has to be.  The video McCoy provided seems to explain that the creator's intention was that the players don't give it a neat label--an "interactive experience" is the term, then, and certainly there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact given the way my original review was worded, I feel a bit hypocritical, given how I strongly believe in the merits of artistic expression vs. commercial appeal.

So perhaps I could try and clarify things a little.  It may help to explain that my review was written very much with the idea of offering constructive criticism for the author, as I'm aware Freebird is working on future projects.  For example, a while ago I was on the Frogwares forum and posted a review on Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, suggesting things as greater diversity in the music score, an actual physics engine, more natural character movements.. the CEO of the studio replied, as he often does, that he appreciated the critique.  The next game came around and it had all these things, in addition to getting good reviews.  Not to blow my own horn and say I'm an important critic, but I think sometimes player criticism can positively influence future games.

So let me reiterate that I don't believe this developer *needs* to reshape future games in favor of more mainstream appeal.  Freebird should try and ring true to their own vision.  So what I said in the original post, and what I suggest here, should be seen as the selfish ideas of one player.  Some of those ideas may be rooted in the mainstream canon, but that doesn't "disqualify" me, ya know?  Thus my main concern is that TTM was too imbalanced in favor of exposition, story, dialogue.. essentially non-interactive elements.  The emotional volume, for me at least, overwhelms the player.  I'm also aware that this is done intentionally and it concentrate's the author's idea without having to conform to general expectations.

But TTM does indeed have interactive elements--and I imagine most players would expect some slight diversity in how you can interact with the game world.  A major part of immersion is indeed interaction.  But TTM goes the other way.  It eventually becomes a letdown to see early gameplay dissipate into almost watching a movie by the end.  That just made me less interested in the "game," overall.  There's no denying the story and the atmosphere of TTM are second to none, but I still think it was off-kilter a bit, perhaps troubled by being unsure of what it wants to be.

I would therefore like a TTM follow-up to figure out a better way to immerse the player.  If you increase the interaction, perhaps it could be done in a meaningful way, true to the plot.  I'm aware this might be difficult, but I still think it's possible to have gameplay without it feeling unnecessary or "tacked-on."

And that's just my two cents, after all.

sushia11

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #13 on: October 26, 2012, 04:26:40 AM »


As for the dialogue, I thought it was amazing. River's quotes were some of the deepest I've ever heard, so it makes sense they're placed at such strategic points throughout. At the time you see the first quote: "I've never told anyone... But I've always thought they were lighthouses," you haven't even been told who is saying it, nor given any background on it. Later, it is explained. This kind of storytelling is something Kan should be commended on.

I thought River was written splendidly. To someone who isn't very thoughtful, her words could be close to gibberish and chalked up to her condition (Actually, when did it say it was Asperger's?). You have to see through her words to figure out what she is trying to say, and the kind of person she is.

If you want an example of an intriguing character in TTM, I suggest a look at Dr. Neil Watts. He cracks jokes at every turn, and doesn't seem to take anything seriously. But when Eva supposedly deletes River, he is angry. Why would he take this so hard? Eva herself asks him this.

We are wading into the realm of theory here. But I trust you confronted him on the painkillers? Now, all that "We're in Neils mind! Aaaaaah!" thing aside, I believe he is dying. The reason why he cared so much about John? He knows one day, it might be him hooked up to that machine.

"I didn't take this job to make him miserable Eva. I'm doing this to make old geezers die happy."
-Dr. Neil Watts

I am however going to mention the endgame. In other words, " Did River succeed in making John remember? Are his fake memories relevant outside his mind?"

I've heard things with people saying that it was all a sad and bad ending because everything was just a construct of John's mind. But that's just it.

"It all comes from Johnny."

The way the memory generation works is by using the desires placed beforehand by the client. So in other words, John wanted to be with River. Sounds like I'm stating the obvious, but is it a mistake John held hands with River just before the ending? I he truly didn't realize the significance of the moon, why did things happen the way they did?

I'm not saying that John remembered everything. I'm not even going to say that John remembered River was trying so hard to tell him this specific detail. All I'm suggesting, is that he found out what he most wanted; to be with River. The whole NASA thing was just a stage in which the wires in his brain could connect.

You could even say that it reached "beyond" death. As the moon the place the would meet, they are essentially "on the moon" when they're buried next to each other. The moon shown just before John flatlines could be seen not only as his reuniting with River, but also his impending death.

I know this wasn't the most well-written post. I'm woefully aware how redundant it feels. But I can't spend all day writing it. Heck, I might add on to my thoughts later.

Whatever you make of this, I want you to know I respect your opinion too.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2013, 11:56:31 PM by sushia11 »

sushia11

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Re: Just finished TTM, my "review"
« Reply #14 on: October 26, 2012, 04:37:27 AM »
I believe the answer is somewhere in the middle. The act of 'unlocking' the memories meant that Johnny was now aware of these memories. However, the combination of trauma leading to a 'want' to not remember, beta blockers dissociating his emotional attachment to those memories (even though the 'block' no longer exists) and just the simple fact that he's an old man and those memories were of his early childhood - all lead to the fact that the memories would be available to Johnny with more work but as it stands now, they're at the back of his subconscious and entirely unreachable.

To continue the theory that only a temporary link was established: remember how fast the brain and this machine work. Johnny need only have a fleeting moment of clarity upon smelling the roadkill and that would be enough for the machine to access and download those memories since all the ground work had already been done up to his childhood years. Then if his memories remained blocked after the smell no longer triggered his memory then it doesn't matter since the docs said a number of times that everything they're doing is on the machine and will then be uploaded into Johnny's brain upon completion. The question then becomes: does the machine replace the old memories with the new ones, or does it make the new memories the only ones accessible in one way or another. If we assume that the memories are still blocked then in the former's case he still wouldn't remember. In the latter's case he would remain this 'new' childhood.

I don't know if I made any sense with this post as it's rather late and I'm rather tired and I get the distinct impression that I've rambled, so take it with a pinch of salt lol

Sorry for the double post, but I had to put some thoughts of mine out.

By what we know of the machine, it works partially by bestowing a sort of "drive," as it is explained. The person will become determined (in their dreams) to fulfill their wish. But because John couldn't remember River, it didn't work. Even more, John never had a wish to go to the moon until AFTER River died; did you notice? Reason being he was metaphorically already "on the moon". He was with River all this time. Then when she died, John was no longer with her, hence his irresistible urge.