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Arcade Paradise and the mission to find the most boring job in the world

"It needed to be shit."

A row of arcade machines bathed in a Miami-style pink and neon blue light. I should like to live there.
Image credit: Nosebleed / Wired

Have you played Arcade Paradise yet? It's a game about running a laundrette while building the arcade of your dreams in the back room - an arcade which eventually takes over. We loved it - it was one of our games of 2022. And if you haven't played it: good news - we're giving away Arcade Paradise game keys to supporters right now. If you have played it, well, there's new DLC to tempt you back in, but also: can you imagine the game without the laundrette? Because it very nearly didn't have one.

In fact, the original idea was to set the whole thing in a video shop, the kind you might have visited in the 90s, which, if you remember, looked like libraries of VHS boxes showing covers of films you'd probably never heard of before. A physical Netflix, if you like - and you don't know how much it pains me to say that. "You'd be working in a Blockbuster or something like that," says Andreas Firnigl, designer of the game and founder and CEO of Nosebleed, the company behind Arcade Paradise.

This idea, though, had a few problems. "A," Firnigl tells me, "to be authentic, we would have needed hundreds of video cassette covers with cool custom art and all that sort of stuff in it, because it needs to feel like here's Jaws but it's not Jaws; here's Critters but it's not Critters, and all those pastiches." Arcade Paradise is a game of pastiches - a game where the many arcade cabinets you collect are all loving riffs, let's say, on real-life machines, and part of the fun is guessing what the original inspirations were.

Ian tries out the first couple of hours of Arcade Paradise. I can't imagine a more perfect game for him.Watch on YouTube

"But also," Firnigl adds, "the second problem was, in the 90s, or when I was a kid and you were a kid, working in a video shop was actually quite an aspirational job, and we wanted to be the opposite of that." To be blunt: "It needed to be a shit job."

The job needed to make you feel like Firnigl felt when he was working the many shit jobs he says he worked in his life - pot wash in kitchens, for instance. It needed to feel numbingly dull enough that your mind wanted to escape elsewhere, which in his case meant dreaming up games.

The team tried a pizzeria as a setting instead, then, and "doing an almost Overcooked pizzeria type thing", he says. The problem this time, though, was running a restaurant took too much concentrated effort, too much work. "Kitchen jobs are super stressful - or can be super stressful," Firnigl says. Again: one half of Arcade Paradise needed to numb you with boredom, not keep you engaged, so Nosebleed needed something else.

The 'something else' came from an unusual place - one frankly as mundane as the setting itself: while browsing Unreal Engine asset packs. Nosebleed only had one full-time artist so an asset pack was always the plan. And suddenly, there it was, the King Wash Laundromat, and the moment Firnigl saw it, he knew he'd hit upon something. "I saw the King Wash asset pack and I was like, 'That - that could work.'" he says. It was dead end, tick, it was dull, tick, it was quiet - no offence anyone who works in a laundrette by the way. It ticked all the boxes.

But picking a popular asset pack can have some unusual and unintended consequences. How do you know, for instance, where those assets might also appear? They might even appear somewhere quite risqué, as was the case here. "It appears in this weird sort of homoerotic hentai porn thing," Firnigl tells me, with a laugh - he doesn't elaborate any further.

The assets also appeared in a hardcore first-person shooter he can't remember the name of, but which reminds him of Rainbow Six Siege, and in a couple of other places. And he knows all of this because people - players - alerted the team to it, as if they'd caught the thieves in action. "People are like, 'They've stolen your stuff!'" he says. "I'm like, 'No, no, no, it's an asset pack - it's totally fine!'"

There's a nice, multi-part documentary about the making of Arcade Paradise that you'll see Andreas Firnigl in. He doesn't swear as much there.Watch on YouTube

Arcade Paradise has been the success Nosebleed has long been looking for. The company’s been around for years. Before Arcade Paradise was Vostok Inc. - a 'cookie clicker meets twin-stick shooter', which we also really liked. And before that was the Hungry Horde, a PlayStation Vita game about being zombies and infecting the living. But it's Arcade Paradise that's made a name for Nosebleed. "I mean, it's not fucking PowerWash Simulator successful," Firnigl says, laughing and marvelling at the success of that game, "but it's certainly put us on the map."

It means some financial stability for what sounds like the first time, and while the studio is still doing some work for hire - one person here, another person there - it's not having to pitch as aggressively for it, because with success comes recognition, and now companies are coming to Nosebleed with work. I get the sense that a burden of pressure has been lifted.

As for what's next, well, there's still the "CarPG" that Arcade Paradise unexpectedly grew out of. The game itself is inspired by Outrun 2 and Ridge Racer Type 4 and Dark Cloud, and is packed with the kind of arcadey mini-game pursuits you find in Nosebleed games. And it was your being able to play mini-games on a computer in the game's garage, which seeded Arcade Paradise.

The story goes that the studio liked the mini-game so built it out onto an arcade machine and made a specific space for it to go. And then the studio built two more because you can't just have one machine, can you? Then, Firnigl showed Vostok Inc. publisher Wired, and managing director Leo Zullo turned around and said, "Why don't you just do this but, like, all the games?"

"I was like, 'Well will you sign it?'" Firnigl says. "And he's like, 'Yeah sure.'" Firnigl laughs at the memory. "It was like, 'Okay!'" After years of getting nowhere with the CarPG, it was, as Firnigl says, "the easiest pitch".

I love the retro vibes they got in the launch trailer. Although, is it retro if it's actually back in fashion now? I'm surprised there aren't any hipster arcades popping up. Hang on, hold my Sunny D...!Watch on YouTube

The studio has loads of other game ideas for the future, too - one of the benefits of having created and pitched so many in the past. One of the other bigger ideas the studio was shopping around even before the CarPG was a shooter that looked like an old-school Disney Mickey Mouse animation, which no one seemed excited about at the time. Fast forward to now, though, and there's a Polish studio getting a lot of attention with a game that looks "almost identical". Firnigl isn't suggesting there's any copying or anything like that, but he's frustrated by the sense of missed opportunity all the same. "I'm like, 'Oh come on!'" he says.

So there are a few things simmering away at Nosebleed. "We're working on, obviously, the next thing at the moment, and we will have some news on that at some point," he says, almost bursting with eagerness to say more. "You know me - I just want to tell you!" He adds. "No, I'm not," he tells himself. "I'm gonna be good."

For now, then, that's where Nosebleed is at: still enjoying the wave generated by Arcade Paradise - a game it's added a conveyor belt of DLC to, by the way, most recently a Vostok Inc. pinball machine Firnigl is particularly proud of - while also pondering what's to come. For now, though, there are still a few more award nomination dinners to go to - there's a bit more surf to enjoy.

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