This is not something you often see in games these days.
For the first ten minutes of American Arcadia, I walk and jump my way to the right side of the screen – you know, typically side scrolling platform games. Then, suddenly, I’m another character who sees the world from the first person. Va.
American Arcadia is the next game from Out of the Bluea Madrid-based studio that broke onto the stage in 2020 with the puzzle game Lovecraftian Call of the Sea. After that debut, Out of the Blue remained relatively quiet until they released a 30-second teaser American Arcadia in April. Earlier this month, at the Tribeca Festival, I had a chance to play a preview. (Programming note: Demon crashed after about 20 minutes. This was, at least as far as I understand, the result of a hardware problem. I’ve been told I was pretty close to the end anyway.)
American Arcadiawhich has no release date but is under development for PC and consoles, is not a puzzle platform game. It’s more of a puzzle game and a platform game. Set in a 70s-inspired retro future, it opens and media res, with an office worker named Trevor sitting in an interrogation room and telling how he escaped. During these segments, told via flashback, you navigate through a massive office building.
But a few minutes in, a twist. You learn that Trevor does not work for any indescribable company. He is an unconscious actor in a reality show. (Truman show is an obvious comparison.) His best friend, Gus, has been, shall we say, removed from the cast, under the guise of “winning a vacation.” Trevor, reading between the lines, tries to escape. The perspective then shifts, and you assume the role of Angela, a producer in the program.
There is a lot to take in. Here is a summary of the video:
“We wanted something different, and we came up with this cool idea to escape from a TV show, we thought. [could have] a living character Inside the screen, ”Tatiana Delgado, American Arcadias creative director, told Kotaku. “It made sense to separate them … We wanted to separate them [a] parable.”
Of course, there are plenty of games that grapple with shifting perspectives. Dating back to the days of Zelda II, Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode, and The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, developers have experimented with designing games around such a gimmick. For a bit, it’d be, say, a side-scrolling platformer. Then you’d shift to a top-down view.
This is far less common in modern games. (Yes, some tentpoles like Grand Theft Auto V and various Elder Scrolls entries let you play the game in both first- and third-person viewpoints, but that’s just a feature, not essential to the core gameplay.) Ubisoft did it in 2013 with the pirate history sim Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The bulk of Black Flag is set in the past, an action game viewed in third-person. But that’s punctuated by a handful of exploration segments in a 2010s office building, all of which are played first-person. I’m sure you’ll point out a few games I’m missing in the comments, too.
For one thing, some game engines—the toolkit developers used to make video games—are better. (We saw this with BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, which suffered a tumultuous production in part because EA decreed that it be developed on DICE’s proprietary Frostbite engine. Frostbite was a really good basis for first-person games, less so for sprawling third-person RPGs.) But designing games for two perspectives also requires a flexible mindset and poses a different set of challenges.
“For a first person game, you can just create a room and fill it with things and you can explore,” said Delgado. “In a 2.5D game, you create a lot of things for a room that you can pass in 30 seconds. The biggest challenge is to create a production for a larger level that is going to be played in a shorter time.”
American Arcadia has its cake and eats it too. From what I played, thanks to the shifted perspectives, you’re forced to slow down a bit in densely packed environments. As Trevor, I found myself trying to navigate an unlit room. The game then moved me to Angela. In a TV studio, I had to block out some cameras and break into a colleague’s office, where once I turned on the light, the game shifted me back to Trevor, at which point I could actually see what I was doing and where I needed to go. It’s one room that I got to engage with twice.
It wasn’t exactly the toughest problem to solve, but Delgado said that, while American Arcadia is on the whole a bit less of a head-scratcher than Call of the Sea, puzzles get more complex later in the game. That, of course, is something that can only be judged when the game comes out. (American Arcadia doesn’t have a release date.) But at the very least, it’ll feature something you don’t often see these days.
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