American Arcadia is about escaping from a futuristic ’70s reality TV show but through the lens of twoperspectives: that of the person making the getaway, and that of the show insider helping in their escape.
Game Developer spoke with Tatiana Delgado Yunquera, creative director at Out of the Blue Games, to talk about the research and memories that went into creating the game’s retro-futuristic world, what appealed to them about having two characters working towards a similar goal despite using completely different play styles, and the lessons they brought over from their last game, Call of the Sea.
American Arcadia mixes 2D stealth platforming with 3D exploration, hacking, and puzzles, all set in a ’70s sci-fi backdrop. What inspired the creation of this title and mixture?
We were just brainstorming ideas for a game after Call of the Sea. We only knew we wanted to do something completely different, and we came up with a few things that we wanted to make a game about. Two concepts were really strong: the “escaping from a dystopia” theme, which is a kind of story that we all love in Out of the Blue Games, and the ’70s setting and aesthetic, which we believe is not that exploited in games and we really find appealing. So, we can say that in the end,American Arcadia was born after combining both concepts.
We also thought it could be interesting to play with someone escaping but also with someone helping him from the outside, to have two perspectives of the same story with completely different gameplay.
What drew you to the futuristic ’70s visual style? What work and research went into creating the visuals of the world and its characters?
Whenever we create a world, we put a lot of effort into research and references. In this case, the truth is that many of the team members were born and raised during the ’70s, so there was no need to go that far when looking for inspiration and visual references. Most of us already carry them within our memories. On one side is the ’70s television we watched as kids. Those shows, series, and contests are present in some way or another in American Arcadia.
We also had other visual references in our own homes and the clothes worn by our parents, friends, relatives, and ourselves: the design of the furniture, the color of the walls, the wide-collared shirts, the bell-bottom pants. And you can’t forget the hairstyles, the mustaches, the sideburns! All of this is relatively familiar to us.
But, as in Call of the Sea, we wanted to move into a world that was evocative for us. That’s why we like to give them a twist. In this case, we have chosen to push it to the limit, so the characters, the environments, and even the furniture represent this kitsch and super amped-up version of the ’70s.
That ’70s glow
What do you feel goes into capturing the visual style of an era? How do you make a player instantly recognize the style of an era when you are technically making big changes to it? How do you create a ’70s feel when taking it forward in time?
Since Arcadia is a TV show, after all, we decided to go for everything that was more iconic and that people could relate to. Hairstyles and fashion were our starting point. Then, we did research on architecture, colors, and deco. Vehicles and advertising. Everything that would set the player’s mind in the ’70s. But being a fictional city set allowed us to mix the ’70s inspiration with the retrofuturistic aspects of the genre. We have drones or droids, a kind of internet called ADAnet: things that didn’t exist back in the ’70s but with a ’70s look.
What thoughts went into the design of the two different “worlds” inside American Arcadia?
We wanted the world inside Arcadia and the real world to be completely different and recognizable by the players. Arcadia is a beautiful utopian city, so everything is designed to be clean, colorful, cheerful. On the other hand, we have the real world and the backstage of the show: the corridors that American Arcadia workers use to move through the city without being seen. These are darker, dirtier, chaotic, grim. This contrast is what gives the environments the personality to communicate the difference between the lifestyles. We have this saying that in the real world, the only color that exists comes from the TV screens that display the show.
The game also makes use of a documentary-like presentation. What appealed to you about presenting the story this way? How did you shape the narrative and its delivery around the interviews and conversations of a documentary?
As game designers, we want to find inspiration in other media so we can bring new, fresh perspectives into our games.
This is a game about different perspectives and angles of a story. So, we thought having the characters react to the events like in a documentary would add a new layer to the storytelling and make this experience more cinematic. We can see a character contradicting the statement of a different character or even footage for shows that will allow us to delve deep into some aspects of American Arcadia or the world outside.
The player’s experience plays out in different ways, but the characters are still connected. What thoughts went into connecting the two different play styles andmaking the two characters work towards one goal in two different ways?
Two different gameplay styles help us to situate each character within their circumstances. Trevor is inside a TV show, and that’s why we thought it would be interesting to play in a sidescrolling view. Angela, on the other hand, is in the world outside—the real world—and her gameplay is in first person.
Not only that, but Trevor’s escape brings a more physical kind of gameplay despite Trevor not being exactly the kind of action hero you would imagine. Angela works for American Arcadia and has access to the show’s systems, so she can help Trevor by unblocking his path or getting rid of his pursuers as he escapes the city.
We play with each of the characters being on one side and helping each other out, even though there are some moments when they are not connected.
What challenges came from designing a game that has many different play styles in it? What was the appeal of doing this, knowing it would add extra challenges to development?
Since we have different perspectives (side scroller and first person), we are making two games in one. It’s a design challenge as well as a technical challenge. And on top of that, we have implemented a CCTV system from scratch. Furthermore, we had to design a pace for the gameplay that fits the story and simultaneously makes all these three systems work together. We love challenges and had a lot of fun designing this game.
The main objective of this game is to surprise the player. There is something different happening at every level, being the story, gameplay, and visuals. We put a lot of effort into creating a thrilling cinematic experience that won’t leave the player indifferent.
We wanted to provide a completely different gameplay experience than Call of the Sea, where we set up a large level where the player can spend hours exploring and solving puzzles at their own pace. American Arcadia is an escape game with a more frantic pace, so the puzzles don’t have to feel too much like obstacles.
What do you feel a player gets from exploring a story from so many different angles and through different characters and different perspectives?
Sometimes, clues for a puzzle. Some others, backstory for the game, maybe knowing what happened in a specific timeframe. This constant switching between facts and fiction allows us to constantly play with this kind of Russian doll structure of footage inside a TV, inside another TV, and on your computer monitor. Points of view are really important in American Arcadia.
What lessons from the design of Call of the Sea affected the design of American Arcadia? How did your past work affect this new piece?
It is very important to create a connection between the player and the main characters, to get them involved in their story and make them want to know more about what happens to them.
Call of the Sea was a single character, and most of what we had were monologues. For American Arcadia, we wanted to have conversations between characters, which enriches the story a lot. The experience we’ve gathered designing Call of the Sea has allowed us to develop much faster in American Arcadia, thereforedeveloping a bigger game.