Welcome to Arcade Spirits, a visual novel set in the year 20XX where the video game crash of the early 1980’s never happened. Back in the very real year of 2019, I was able to talk with three members of the Fiction Factory team; Narrative Designer and co-founder, Aenne Schumann, Lead Character Artist, Molly Nemecek , and the voice behind your personal computer assistant Iris, Stephanie Bruneau, at PAX South. We delved into the origins of their first visual novel, returning to the industry, and the importance of inclusion that is at the heart of Arcade Spirits. CM: Where did you come up with the idea for Arcade Spirits? AS: Well Arcade Spirits is a love letter to arcade culture. Both me and my partner Stefan [Gagne]…we grew up in the arcades and we wanted to write a game that was significant of that. To be symbolic of that. We have all the arcade communities, we’ve got a dancing game, we’ve got the competitive games, we’ve got the people that fix up the arcade cabinets, we’ve got the score chaser. So we just wanted like I said it’s our love letter to arcade games. MN: Well I got to design all of the characters that went into it. So they would give me descriptions of these characters and this world and the kind of vibe and style they were trying to go with. From that, I was able to create this brand new fusion style that went in this almost 80’s/90’s feel but also a modern era-like lots of 90’s colors like neon and it was a lot of fun putting arcade elements and stuff from my past and my inspirations into it. So yea, there was a lot of neon going on in this game. SB: There was a lot of neon in this game. My character was very pink…it was very cathartic. CM: Well I am surprised you didn’t name your character neon then. AS: Well a lot of the names are puns off of different arcade aspects. Iris is a pun off Siri, as your personal assistant, so that’s where Iris comes from. CM: Is everyone’s name in the game a pun? AS: Not everybody. A couple of them…Naomi is after the Naomi System [from SEGA] that I don’t know because it was before my gaming time. So I don’t know a lot about that system. SB: It definitely was a Stefan insert. AS: Yup, yes it was. You’ll have to ask TwoFlower [Stefan] about that one. He went full deep arcade lore on this one. CM: So when you watch arcade documentaries like Chasing Ghosts, they weren’t very inclusive at the time for a lot of people. How do you kind of keep from bringing that into your game? AS: So Arcade Spirits takes place in an alternative timeline. So basically from that, we can have whatever world we want where it is super inclusive and everybody goes to the arcade. So with that it’s not that thing that’s going to be controlled by one group of people. Everybody goes there, all different kinds of people. We do talk about that aspect of gamer culture as well. One of the character’s’ story lines touches on that. I want to avoid spoilers but we do talk about that especially when it comes to esports. As someone who used to be in esports as well, I did a lot of competitive Smash Bros., I was able to bring what I experienced at tournaments to that character. CM: Are personal experiences what inspired a lot of the writing and what did you do to prepare for writing this game? AS: I basically looked back at my life and said, “I’ve played a lot of arcade games, and this is what I’ve done.” I did a lot of tournament stuff so when writing QueenBee who is our professional esports player, I wrote a lot about what happened to me and what goes on and how competitive I am. A lot of that went into writing her. She’s a cosplayer, and I also cosplay, so I was able to bring elements of myself into that character. For Teo, he’s our dancer, I was super into DDR back int the day so I was able to bring parts of that community to Teo. When we were writing the story, I have a lot of personal stories that I put in there as well and I know Stefan did the same thing. The big thing with writing, in general, is there is always aspects of your personality and who you are that you put into your writing. It just makes it more genuine. CM: And how did Stephanie and Molly become involved with this project? What made you [Aenne] decide to involve them in this game? MN: Well for me there was an open call for an artist for a visual novel that had this kind of 90’s feel. When I heard the kind of aesthetic for the game I was instantly on board and did my portfolio, and they chose me out of a lot of really talented artists for sure. It’s a dream come true because it’s the kind of style they wanted for the game was what I was already making anyway. And I already knew Aenne from conventions so she was already familiar with my work. Aenne was super into my Dragon Age fan art and artwork, and she knew me from that whole thing. From there we were able to create a really cool looking game together. SB: And that’s what happened for me, Aenne and I ended up having a common thread of going to the same high school but at different times. And then I met Aenne through the gaming convention scene and originally was moral support and gone to some of the events. And when voice acting got green-lit it was something I had some experience with but had kind of tabled for a bit. They invited me to audition, and for me, it was one of those things where, “Is this something that could come true? Could I really do this? And I felt really comfortable working with [Aenne] and loved how they had written Iris’ personality. And then *whoops* I got cast. AS: IT WAS NOT A WHOOPS!! SB: There is so much incredible voice talent in this game. And there were so many people who submitted reels that it was really an honor to be selected. And I’m really excited about it. I was living in LA where there is a huge market for voice acting and if you are really just applying, and redoing your reel, and putting yourself out there. It was something I always loved doing on the side, but knew I didn’t have enough time to dedicate to it to put in the work to be recognized. Because life happens and I knew I couldn’t give 100% at the time. So I tabled it. And when Arcade Spirits came around I knew it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. I knew I loved it and had to do it. Arcade Spirits was I game I knew I wanted to see exist for a really long time and here I was in a position where a friend was creating it and had assembled a team of wildly talented creators. And I knew I had to do this and put my name in the hat and see where it goes. AS: And I might have been like you have to do this too. MN: Aenne will make you feel like a rockstar, like you have to do this. And next thing you know your on this neon odyssey. CM: That is a great name for a band. AS: TM, TM… TM, TM, TM. MN: For me, I’ve always wanted to do artwork for video games. I actually went to school back in 2002 for video games and art animation. And it was like high school all over again and it was like everything that you had heard about the video game industry that it was very non inclusive. And I tried my best and I busted my butt as much as I could for an 18 year old at the time, but it was not a good place to be at the time. And I said “if this is how it’s going to be, I don’t want to have any part of it.” So I actually had stopped doing a lot of artwork for a long period of time. And then eventually I picked it back up again and was doing a lot of freelance work like conventions, illustrations, comics that kind of thing. And I was wanted to do art for video games because it’s such a big part of my life. They are one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve been playing them since I was very very young. And I knew I would love to do a visual novel because it’s in my skill set of drawing characters, all sorts of emotional expressions, and posses, and I got to design there outfits which is totally my jam. And when I saw this game come up, I thought I would just toss my name in the pot and see what happened. I’ll see if they like my style enough to be the face of their game essentially. And when they chose me I though ‘Oh my God, I hope I’m up to snuff for what they expect of me. For this visual novel that their sinking all their time, and energy, and love into.’ AS: It has been amazing. The perfect marriage of art and words. The fact that is a very inclusive game in terms of sexuality, inclusiveness of POC’s, and everything. That is exactly the kind of games I want to be making. The kind of games where it makes people think. It was the kind of game that I could get back into the video game industry for. SB: And you realize that there is a void and then you talk to other people and they echo what you have been feeling. And you realize that there is a space that has been completely ignored and this is an opportunity to fill it. And not for the sake of it. [Aenne] had a passion, and you recognized that this story wasn’t being told, and that there was a gap that you really wanted to fill. It is crazy how many people I have spoken with at conventions that agree and have repeated this sentiment. AS: See. everyone had these uplifting stories and I started by just writing a lot of fanfiction. But jokes aside, I’m lucky enough to have a friend and business partner, TwoFlower, who also wanted to create this game. We share a passion for making inclusive, fun, and passionate games. There are definitely times, we’re human, right? So there were times where you’re like ‘Ugh, I feel shitty, this is not going to work out.’ And I would talk to TwoFlower and he would say ‘You’re fine, we got this,’ and vice versa. So we would help boost each other up in terms of when we were having a stressful day about production. You just always need one person to tell you ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’ When you find those people in your life, hold onto them so hard. Because they make everything better. They can be critical, but can really boost you up when you need. And especially finds someone who can tell you to take a day for yourself if you really need it. Because you can work every single day, every single hour, and you will burn out. So, it’s important to take a day and binge some HGTV and have a bottle of wine, because that guilt of not working can eat you alive. And you just need someone there to tell you it’s okay to take a break if you really need it. Because that’s part of the creative process and it’s really important to the success of your game. MN: When I went to school for video game animation that was not the kind of atmosphere. The people who went there always said it doesn’t matter if your tired, it doesn’t matter if you work 90-hour works. I would die. I don’t know how people do that. That’s why I love the indie industry, because I don’t think I would be able to have this same kind of mentality working on a AAA title. SB: People can get conditions. That’s something you’re taught in school and taught that’s how it’s supposed to be. You know it feels bad, but nobody tells you it is bad. So it is important to have a team that supports your off days and your flaws as much as your work and your successes. CM: Going back to how you wanted this game to be inclusive and supportive. Have you received any negative feedback from fans or accusation that you are “just trying to push a political narrative” like other companies have been? AS: Yes, yes we have. I feel like being in competitive gaming has given me a very hard shell. So when I see stuff like that now, it kind of just makes me laugh. Because that’s how I cope now. But in our game, you can choose your own pronouns. We’ve had a lot of people that have scoffed at that idea wondering why that is even included in the game. MN: There are people who have called us SJW garbage. But that’s not who I/we are aiming this game toward, it’s not our target audience. AS: And it makes me laugh, because, yea, you’re not the kind of person I want playing my game. There are plenty of games you can find that speaks to you and there are plenty of people saying we are pushing the SJW political agenda. But I like to treat everyone with respect and I want everyone to feel included, and that’s the kind of feeling I want in my game. SB: I still can’t wrap my head around the outrage directed at inclusion. People who are already included in the majority think that by including everyone it somehow excludes them from the table, and that just blows my mind. MB: We’re just trying to make a game that everyone can enjoy whether they are bi, pan, ace, straight, gay, whatever you identify as. We’re not trying to exclude you. AS: We worked very hard on Arcade Spirits so that you can create the experience you want it to be. If you want to pursue heterosexual flirtation, or have no romance at all, that’s what you can do in this game. We wanted to create as many paths as possible, as many options as we could, to make the most inclusive environment as possible. We did get a lot of push back on that. But we just wanted to make a happy game. Too much in today’s society we deal with heartache and sad stories, even at gaming conventions. But we wanted to make a game where you could feel good and have a place and have this community within the game. We wanted the player to feel like they are supported 100%, that’s the feeling we wanted to bring to this game. So yea there’s no shooting, there’s no killing hordes of zombies. And I like those kind of games too. But that’s not the kind of experience that we aimed to create and have created here. Arcade Spirits is currently in development with a February 12th, 2019 release date. For more stories on Fiction Factory Games, PAX South, and all the latest gaming news; check out Gaming Access Weekly on our website and social media platforms.