Hey Hey Blerdy Tribe, I’m back with another Behind the Games post! For those of you just joining the party, Behind the Games is a segment where I interview the folks ‘behind the games’ I review. Giving you guys a chance to get to know the developers that spend so much time carefully crafting the games you enjoy.
Last time, I spoke with members of the Great Gretsuki—the female founded and run studio behind the comedy indie otome game, Love Spell: Written in the Stars. This time around I had the chance to chat with members of Fiction Factory Games, the folks behind Arcade Spirits.
Fiction Factory Games is an indie game studio collaboration between Stefan Gagne and Aenne Schumann—while the duo has worked on a handful of individual projects, their first collaborative work arcade themed visual novel, Arcade Spirits. The game has received a great deal of praise from fans of visual novels and critics alike, prompting the team to announce a follow-up game, Arcade Spirits: The New Challenger! There is definitely a lot to look forward to from the studio in the near future, so I’m super excited to have gotten the opportunity to sit down and chat with the studio’s founders Aenne and Stefan!
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. I want to give my readers a better feel of who you are as a team. Could you tell me a bit about yourselves?
STEFAN: I’m Stefan Gagne, and I’ve been writing novels for about 20 years now. I’ve dabbled in indie game development before — during the MS-DOS era with some really awful shareware games made in high school, but notably as a module author for Neverwinter Nights (Penultima, elegia eternum, HeX coda). Arcade Spirits is my first full-blown professionally published indie game.
I enjoy retro arcade games, trying to avoid eating too many Doritos, and enduring our current calendar year in hopes of seeing the other side. I can often be found in chat when someone streams Arcade Spirits, encouraging them to make all sorts of terrible decisions and cackling madly at the results.
AENNE: I’m Aenne, my pronouns are they/she and I absolutely love crafting stories and making interesting characters. I started out like so many do with writing fanfiction in high school! From there I did writing for an indie gaming news and review website Press2Reset. Doing that, opened up opportunities for actual game writing. I’ve done some contract work before Arcade Spirits, but Arcade Spirits is also my first legit indie game. I’ve also done writing on The World Next Door.
Besides the obvious gaming and writing, I love streaming games on Twitch. I’m a member of the Rainbow Arcade stream team and enjoy building a wonderful community. I also enjoy speaking on panels at cons, cosplaying, cooking, and dancing!
I first met Stefan at PAX East through mutual friends after a ‘Romance in Video Games” panel I was on. We became good friends after that and one day he approached me with the idea for a romance and arcade game. I was so in from that moment on! And well…. you know the rest!
Before I dive into your work with Fiction Factory Games, tell me a bit about when your love of games developed. What were the titles that sparked your love of games?
STEFAN: For games in general I’m an 80s/90s kid who got started on PC, so for me the earliest inspirations were Infocom text adventures and LucasArts point-and-click adventure games. These combined narrative with puzzles and dialogue in ways that really synced well for me. For visual novels, I could never quite find one I truly clicked with outside of Phoenix Wright, because I always wanted more self-expression and roleplaying opportunities — the kind of stuff you’d find in Telltale or BioWare games. But I still loved the concept of visual novels, the idea of telling a story through dialogue and straightforward visuals, just like the 90s classics I loved.
AENNE: I’ve loved games since I can remember. I have this very early memory of me playing a game as a young child, no idea what game it is or was, but I remember shooting blue moons!
My brother and I played a lot of games on our sega channel (let’s go Gunstar Heros) and that sparked my first passion in gaming. As a teenager I discovered Final Fantasy 7, and that’s when my mind was blown that games could tell amazing stories and that you could fall in love with video game characters. Thousand Arms and Bioware games then took that love and made me realize I could date people in games! There are so many games that inspire me, but those ones are the games that have made the most impact in my life.
I had the opportunity to play Arcade Spirits for my Melanin Monday segment and I am in LOVE with the retro gaming aesthetic. What inspired you to come up with the concept for Arcade Spirits?
STEFAN: When Aenne and I decided to start a project, it came together pretty quickly — take what you know, take what you love, and make it into the game. At the time I was really enjoying retro arcade hardware restoration YouTube channels, and Naomi’s character came from that. I’d also loved classic 80s workplace sitcoms like Night Court, Cheers, Wings, Murphy Brown, etc. and thought “workplace romantic sitcom” plus “arcades” made perfect sense.
The rest of the game grew around that idea, as I tried to work as much classic arcade culture and history into the story’s narrative as possible. Kid’s birthday parties, arcade raids and auctions, industry press events, competitions, every little aspect we could think of went in the pot.
AENNE: I had always loved arcades and playing arcade games, but I didn’t realize how ingrained it was in my life until we actually started writing the game. As a kid, when I visited my grandparents in Nevada, I would always hang out in arcades while the adults gambled. In college, I played a ton of DDR. And just a few years ago I joined the Killer Queen Community. I was glad to help bring my experiences in arcade culture to Stefan’s OG concept.
Arcade Spirits is a queer positive romance game that gives players a chance to romance characters of a wide range of sexual orientation and gender identities. How important was it to include such a diverse LGBTQIA experience in Arcade Spirits?
AENNE: I believe every game should have a diverse cast and represent as many different people as possible. As much as I love romance and dating sims, most of them always felt off for some reason. And as a pansexual non-binary person, it was hard to see myself represented in those games. Even romance itself is so varied and different for everyone. We really wanted to make a romance game where everyone felt included in that love (or choose to not have love if they wanted). As both of us are queer devs, it’s so important to support and represent the people in our communities because gosh, we need more positive queer content in video games!
On the topic of romance, unlike other dating sims, Arcade Spirits also allows players to pursue platonic friendships in addition to romantic relationships. Why was it important to include non-romantic relationships in your game?
STEFAN: I’m the “A” part of LGBTQIA (with a healthy slice of “Q”) so it was important to me that we NOT be a traditional “dating sim” where the entire point of the experience is just to wrestle a romance to the ground. The romance is spice in our dish, absolutely, but it’s entirely optional — if you just want to foster friendships, you can do that in our game without missing out on anything in the narrative. First and foremost this is a tale of arcades and the wonderful people you meet within those arcades.
Arcade Spirits is a game that features a diverse casts of characters—with characters in all shades and hues, sexual orientation, and gender identity. How important is representation in the game? What are some things that you do to ensure that your characters aren’t inherently tropey or stereotypical?
STEFAN: Life is diverse, so our game is diverse. 20XX is supposed to be an idealized timeline in which arcades flourished and video games thrived, so I felt it was important we show just how big this world was and how much it reflected everyone involved. If it’s going to be a torchbearer for “this is what an inclusive arcade scene could look like” it’s gotta walk, talk, and act the part. We worked with sensitivity readers to avoid common pitfalls, made writing tweaks where something wasn’t clicking the way it was intended, and generally did our best to provide something for everyone.
Notably, the PC version has a number of enhancements for visually impaired players. We worked with a VI community in order to develop and test these features, providing accessibility options above what our game engine already provided. As a disabled gamer myself I wanted to keep the experience open to as many players as possible.
AENNE: We also hire a diverse team to work on our games as well. But it’s not just about that either. We are constantly actively learning and educating ourselves too. It’s something that we never stop trying to always do better too.
The first time I felt fully represented in a game was Horizon Zero Dawn. I felt so in tune with Aloy. It was this magical feeling and I felt so happy. I want other people to be able to experience that feeling as well! Everyone deserves that joy.
With so many unique characters it’s hard to pick a favorite from the cast of Arcade Spirits. Which character was the “easiest” to write for and which character was the most difficult?
STEFAN: For me, the easiest to write is probably Naomi. Shy nerd who loves a fading hobby? Gee, I wonder how I can relate to that. She’s a bit more aggro than I am, leaping to the defense of a thing she lives in the face of criticism, but that fire in her is just as much fun to write as the love in her heart. Hardest… I’d say Teo, but that’s because Aenne wrote his words. I never really got a read on the guy myself, but that’s okay! Nobody could write Teo like Aenne could.
AENNE: QueenBee was probably the easiest to write for me. She’s sassy and I love being sassy! It was a lot o fun to give no hecks about anything and pretend to be just as bad ass as she is!
On the opposite end, Ashley was the hardest to write, but only because her story is so representative of my own journey and discovery of being non-binary. There’s something so difficult about writing your raw emotions into your character. It’s deeply personal and I wanted to make sure I did it right.
In most romance games the protagonist is the least dynamic member of the cast. But, in Arcade Spirits the player character is fully customizable—from their appearance to their personality to their pronouns. What were some qualities that you most wanted to be represented in the player character of this game?
STEFAN: “Be the change you want to see in the world” applies here. I found plenty of visual novels with highly defined protagonists and zero self-expression, and plenty which had blandly designed generic protagonists but little roleplaying. I wanted to take western RPG standards and apply them to a visual novel, providing a custom character with a core gameplay loop involving defining who they are and how they solve problems. We had some limitations in terms of the range of available player art due to design choices, which we’ve solved for the follow-up game (spoilers ahead for your next question) but the goal was always to let you be whoever you wanted to be, with few limits.
AENNE: (I think Stefan summed this up perfectly!)
Your team recently announced a standalone sequel follow up to Arcade Spirits, called Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers. Is there anything you can share with us about this projects? How will it be different from Arcade Spirits?
STEFAN: Tons and tons! We’ve got a full website for it which answers plenty of questions ( http://www.arcadespirits.com/newchallengers ) but I think the most exciting thing to share is our expanded character creator. Players asked for more customization, so we’ve designed the whole game around it. Now your player character has a wide variety of appearance options including body types, and the character appears on-screen throughout the game, just as expressive with body language as any other character. We’re looking forward to seeing what people design!
AENNE: Like Arcade Spirits, we focused again on creating a diverse cast, and I’m happy to share that this time around of the datable characters is non-binary. We’re also implementing for you to have a rival (will you be fated enemies or lovers or both!?). You’ll be able to design your rival with the character creator as well.
Since both games happen in the same universe, we also wanted your choices to reflect in AS:TNC. You’ll be able to import your save files from the first game into the newest game. I won’t tell you how it will affect it though, that’s a secret!
STEFAN: Just a quick follow-up — we don’t have a release date yet. It releases in “20XX,” which is sneaky dev speak for “We’d really like to get it out next year but given *gestures vaguely at current state of world* we don’t want to make promises we can’t absolutely keep.” More to come on that!
Bonus Question: What is/was your favorite arcade game and why?
STEFAN: RoadBlasters. It’s a simple mix of Pole Position’s “racing” and a shoot-em-up, but it has a special place in my heart because it’s one game I’d always play with my dad. I have a form of dwarfism, and my disability meant I couldn’t reach the pedals in any racing game. But when I was a kid, he’d let me sit in his lap while he slammed on the accelerator pedal and I did the steering. Any time we went up to an arcade while on vacation, I’d look for RoadBlasters, and play a few rounds with him.
AENNE: Nooooooo, the hardest question! The first one that pops into my mind is Sunset Riders. I have a lot of fond memories of playing this with my brother and never ever beating it. It was the one that I would always come back to. Also the phrase “Bury me with my money” is just the best.
I want to give a huge THANK YOU to the Fiction Factory Games team for taking the time to do this Q&A with me!
Below are some links to the Fiction Factory Games social media pages and game related sites. I highly recommend subscribing to their pages for the most up to date news on their current and future projects.