Have you noticed how often you hear the phrase “battle pass” these days? Maybe you spent hours grinding last week to unlock a cool skin, or perhaps you simply purchased it because you don’t have the time to play games anymore. Jessica Harvey and her studio Arbitrary Metric, known for creating Paratopic, are challenging these trends with their upcoming project Roman Sands RE:Build. This unique experience combines satire and a surreal journey, featuring popular streamer STPeach as one of the voice actors.
But more importantly, Harvey wants players to feel enriched by this cathartic, five-hour long rollercoaster ride. She aims to create a game that goes beyond superficial entertainment.
How Roman Sands RE:Build Got STPeach
STPeach appears as a character in the second act of Roman Sands RE:Build, where the game takes a turn into survival horror. While exploring an abandoned research facility, the life support systems of all the characters start failing, and her character faces the same situation. The only connection between the player and STPeach’s character is a radio.
“The character she’s playing is very anxiety-ridden,” Harvey explained. “But we wanted to add a natural extraversion and sense of fun to her character to give her a depth that challenges expectations.
During the development of the second act, the team spent time researching potential voice actors. Their publisher, Serenity Forge, known for games like Doki Doki Literature Club, connected with STPeach and provided guidance for her voice acting role.
“We really lucked out with STPeach joining the project. We’re incredibly fortunate,” Harvey expressed. “It was amazing to see her announce it in her Twitch chat and witness the excitement it generated.”
Doing Gacha Without the Gacha
What initially drew me to Roman Sands RE:Build was its resemblance to Paradise Killer. The distinct vaporwave aesthetic and art direction caught my attention, but as I explored further, I realized the game’s intentions.
“Roman Sands RE:Build is fundamentally satirical, leaning towards an anti-capitalist perspective,” Harvey stated. “However, we aim to go beyond merely portraying those sentiments. It’s easy to create satire and brush it aside, ignoring its message.”
“Our goal is to create something that not only portrays but immerses players in these ideas,” she continued. “We want to highlight the negative aspects tied to capitalist-driven game design, such as gacha mechanics and artificial compulsions. Roman Sands RE:Build pushes these elements to the extreme, leaving a lasting impact.”
“I spent seven years running shifts at a grocery store, and I have poured every inch of bile from those years into this game.” –Jessica Harvey, Arbitrary Metric
When we observe the popularity of games like Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail, we can see the relevance of Harvey’s critique. These games often entice players with gacha mechanics, encouraging them to spend money to obtain new characters.
Let’s not forget the infamous loot box controversy surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II, which led to a massive backlash. Such practices are employed by many live-service games, creating a sense of scarcity and compelling players to complete battle passes for exclusive rewards. If players are unable to complete the pass in time, they have the option to spend more money, turning time into a valuable currency.
Roman Sands RE:Build takes aim at all these artificial compulsions prevalent in live-service games. “From a creative standpoint, I find this toxicity alarming. It doesn’t provide spiritual enrichment; rather, it aims to create a psychological dependence,” Harvey emphasized. “The game heavily satirizes these practices, incorporating a token gacha game into the experience, alongside its unique UI angle.”
It’s worth noting that Roman Sands RE:Build doesn’t feature a real gacha system. Once you purchase the game, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any further monetary transactions related to it. Harvey playfully considered implementing a genuine gacha system for fun but ultimately decided against it.
“Everyone on the team advised against it. I personally thought it would be hilarious,” she chuckled. “However, I couldn’t bear the thought of someone spending thousands of dollars on our game. It would be too much.”
Compelled to Complete
In my brief experience playing Roman Sands RE:Build, it starts as an adventure game. Suddenly, you find yourself working at a luxurious hotel that exists outside the boundaries of time and space.
Eventually, the sun will consume the hotel, but there are immediate concerns related to the demanding and unpleasant guests. Their personalities are intentionally rude and snooty.
“I spent seven years running shifts at a grocery store, and I have poured every inch of bile from those years into this game,” Harvey revealed. “Many members of our team have similar experiences. Our writer, for instance, worked a long time in a coffee shop before joining us. We draw from these experiences.”
These demanding guests assign you tasks, and the game emphasizes your completion of each task. You earn XP, which, contrary to expectations, is necessary to progress in the game. Although you don’t require a substantial amount, you will hit the XP cap early on.
“Anything beyond that is just pointless cosmetics,” Harvey explained. “We included them to allow players to reach a high level and unlock new skins for items like flowerpots and coffee mugs, adding some fun to the experience. Ultimately, the game is about being petulant at its core.”
If Roman Sands RE:Build resonates with you as it did with me, you can wishlist the game on Steam to support Harvey and the Arbitrary Metric team before its release.
“My greatest hope is that people play our game, absorb our ideas, and create works that reflect our worldview,” Harvey shared. “Through its overwhelming satire, I hope the game provides a cathartic and spiritually refreshing experience for players after they finish it.”
I interviewed Jessica Harvey and played Roman Sands RE:Build during PAX West 2023.