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The developers at Baroque Decay break down the specific factors contributing to the underdog's success.

Henrique Lage, Contributor

January 30, 2023

14 Min Read
Yuppie Psycho art

We are Baroque Decay, a small video game developer with members from Spain, France and the United States. Let us tell you the story ofYuppie Psycho.

Most of us didn't come from studying specifically for this: we came from film school and doing horror short films between us. We are regular gamers. Until some first shy attempts in the mobile game market in 2012, the idea of taking this as our new job didn't seem possible.

Our first project was... a complete failure. Two years of work and the game had hardly anything to show. And yet, a single trailer for that project had already been seen by more people than any of our more expensive and laborious-to-make short films.

So we had to step up. The idea was no longer whether we could pull off our dream game. The idea was whether we could bring at least one complete game to market.

Instead of designing a game and creating the mechanics later, we took the mechanics that worked in our previous project and set ourselves the constraints of working only with them. This meant making a much shorter game, narratively less ambitious, and with very limited gameplay. Therefore, [it would be] a short and simple story, like a fairy tale, and less action, centering on a protagonist who had to hide away from danger, like a stealth and survival game. The outcome was The Count Lucanor. It’s a neat small game. You should try it. But we aren’t talking about it today.

We’re talking about the game that came after: the unique first-job-survival-horror Yuppie Psycho.

Our Old Mistakes

The best thing about the release of our first commercial game was learning from the experience, something that lifted the veil and challenged our preconceptions. When it came time to tackle our next work, we hoped not only to produce something more ambitious in size and narrative, or a more polished technical level, but also not to make many of the beginner's mistakes that were dropped on that first work. Some examples of these corrections are:

An Easy-To-Read Title

The Count Lucanor was a title that amused us for many reasons. The most obvious is that it is the title of a collection of Spanish medieval tales, and it seemed appropriate for that game, but it also referred to the same loudness as Count Dracula, which paired it with gothic horror. It’s a “clever” title. It's also an unpronounceable title if you don't speak Spanish. "Lucanor" often becomes "Luchador" or some variant. It's kind of hard to recommend to someone else a game whose title you have trouble pronouncing.

So our next title was going to be in English. And although many people today don't understand what "yuppie" means in this context, "Yuppie Psycho" immediately makes you think of "American Psycho." Hopefully, "Mob Psycho" as well. And if you're already looking hard enough, you might remember a manga/mini-series called "MPD Psycho." “Psycho” is a very eye-catching word for a title.

A More Empathetic Character

Hans, the boy protagonist of The Count Lucanor, starts his adventure [disregarding] his poor mother. The idea was to replicate the moralistic style of traditional fairy tales: Hans needs to learn the lesson of appreciating what he has. But what we got was [many players pointing] out that Hans seemed like a childish boy from the beginning. They didn’t like him. He was a brat.

The protagonist of Yuppie Psycho, Brian Pasternack is, by contrast, someone very close. He is young and inexperienced, out of place on his first day on the job, and, as a result, we, as players, feel the same disbelief and suspicion as he does. Brian sometimes thinks out loud things that we expect the player to be thinking at the time. Also, he is a sweetheart.

Yes, we are aware of all the horny fanart for Brian. And yes, it caught us completely by surprise.

The Importance of Setting

If the basis of The Count Lucanor was the classic fairy tales, it took us to a made-up Middle Ages in a nondescript, magical Europe. Many players immediately assume this fantasy setting to be generic and inherent to many video games. Which means it's also a somewhat less flashy setting.

Contemporary settings, while not uncommon in video games, are something different. Mostly because instead of pulling a well-defined archetype, we have to design a distinctive style, a particular vision of the present. Yuppie Psycho does not take place exactly in the present. To tell the truth, it doesn't take place entirely in our world either: it is an alternative and dystopian reality, sometime in the nineties.

The important thing is that it is identifiable: it is somewhere in between the office jobs of the 20th century and the popularization of new technologies. There are computers and something similar to an internal network, but no cell phones. The Sintracorp building could be the same one that opens the movie The Crowd (1928), the one where Jack Lemmon works in The Apartment (1960), or Jonathan Price in Brazil (1985), or Keanu Reeves in The Matrix (1999). Although there are other games set in office jobs, ours aims to recall specific comedies with a dark humor. Think Gremlins 2 or The Hudsucker Proxy or Joe vs. the Volcano. Did you watch Severance? Cool show!

Vibrant Colors For A Horror Game

Quickly: do a search on Steam for horror games. Take ten of them. How many have a thumbnail image where the main colors are red and black?

It makes sense as a horror game identifier: blood and darkness also contrast well with each other. But it also makes your game get lost in an ocean of competitors with identical visuals.

WithThe Count Lucanor, we were surprised that some players had not grasped that it was a horror game, even though the reference was fairy tales. Perhaps they could expect a certain gothic atmosphere, but not specifically gloomy, tense or gore[filled] moments.

The fluorescent green of Yuppie Psycho branding and its retro 1990s and vaporwave vibe immediately harkens back to a style that pretends to be casual, pleasant, and relaxed, but with the perspective of years passed, it simply comes off as artificial. It’s eye-catching on game stores but also… there’s something WRONG with it. You can’t quite put your finger on it.

Keep The Comedy + Horror Formula

Many horror games often try to be the scariest and most intense experience possible without slowing down for a single moment, which does not always achieve the desired effect. On the other hand, many games focused on comedy seek so much complicity with the players that they end up being uncomfortable and spoil their own jokes.

When you are strict with the codes of a genre, a certain natural quality is lost. The Count Lucanor was a horror game that was made with the sole pretense of proving we were capable of finishing a game and selling it, and part of its charm lies in the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously. The keyword is contrast: while you're relaxing with what looks like a fairy tale cliché or a workplace sitcom, you're even more surprised when it takes a dark turn. And when the atmosphere becomes suffocating, returning to the light tone of humor is even more off-putting. In this pendulum swing between one tone and the other, a suspense is created: when is it all going to change again?

Not only does it allow for greater freedom in approaching game design and creating your own rhythm, on top of that, it turns out that horror and comedy share identical mechanisms even though they seek very different reactions. So when writing an event, the question of whether it will be a joke or a scare is part of the charm of the design.

The Music

As The Count Lucanor was a tiny project, we could not afford a musician dedicated exclusively to the game. Instead, it featured a soundtrack with its own remixes of J.S. Bach tunes that seemed appropriate for the tone of the game. But Michael "Garoad" Kelly had contacted us some time ago and, with the new project, we were eager to work with him from the beginning.

Working with the musician from the start is essential to build the atmosphere and identity of the game. Yuppie Psycho would not have been what it was without Garoad's music. We have kindly asked him to share with us a few words.

"After playing and thoroughly enjoying The Count Lucanor, I was excited to work with Baroque Decay on writing the soundtrack to Yuppie Psycho. The idea of "First Job Survival Horror" and the unique spirit of the game instantly caught my attention. Mixing elements of vaporwave, surrealism, humor, and horror, I worked to craft a musical atmosphere that would flow well with the tonal shifts of the gamethe softer tracks having a subtle layer of unease to them that would naturally transition to eerie and horrific. I'm very happy with the results and having been a part of such a wonderful game."

Thank you, Garoad. We will now return your dog safe and sound, as promised.

The Publisher

The Count Lucanor was a game distributed by taking advantage of Steam Greenlight, but, being a small team and with very little experience in PR and marketing, we knew that if we wanted to be more ambitious, we would need to delegate to people who were more prepared.

Our choice was publisher Neon Doctrine. One of the things that tipped the scales in their favor was their implementation in Asian markets, where we saw that they could reach an audience that might be interested in anime influences and Asian folklore. The game overperformed in other markets, but in Asia, the game has had a very active fandom that has perpetuated word-of-mouth for the game.

Thanks to Korean streamers playing it at launch, the game was featured on Twitch's front page several times in Asia during those critical moments. Neon Doctrine Marketing and PR promoted the game with a physical press kit that elaborated [] the dystopian office setting and granted us the attention of IGN Japan, Vandal, Waypoint and other outlets, garnering a favorable score on Metacritic.

Our New Mistakes

If we learned anything from The Count Lucanor, it was to make fewer mistakes. But the learning process never stops. Here we go on to list some of the issues that bothered us about Yuppie Psycho and that, hopefully, we will do a little better on our next project.

A Content-Based Game

We can't deny it: we are people who come from narrative media, so our main focus is narrative. We focus on it because we believe it is our greatest strength, but it has a huge disadvantage: if you want your game to last longer, you need to create more and more content.

It's a mistake to judge the value of a game based on the amount of gameplay hours it offers, but it would be naive not to understand that a player would want more content for a reasonable price. Games with a strong focus on systemic mechanics or procedural worlds allow for many more hours of gameplay, and also make it much easier to generate new content by changing values and experimenting with those same systems.

On the other hand, in a mostly narrative game, having to add two more hours of gameplay means creating two hours of dialogue, images, and sounds. It's a design bottleneck, meaning you can never find development shortcuts.

We're not going to abandon narrative-driven games any time soon, but I do think that upcoming projects will be more likely to rely on systems rather than scenes.

Few Steam Wishlists

One difference over the years since we started developing games is the change in visibility metrics. When The Count Lucanor came out, we had the benefit of meeting Steam Greenlight conditions. Now, to have at least a minimum of front page space the day you release your game, you need to meet a minimum of wishlists and other esoteric values.

Prior to its release, Yuppie Psycho had 11,892 wishlists. Fortunately, the game grew in interest and has gained more attention, with a good lifetime conversion rate of 31.8%.

Not A Simultaneous Release

After outsourcing the ports of The Count Lucanor, we decided to develop the ports of Yuppie Psycho ourselves. This presented the problem that development of the ports could only take place after the Steam release. We had to study the option of which platforms we could export the game to. Being a game developed with a homemade engine, the difficulties increased.

These date shuffles created some confusion among gamers who heard about the game, searched for it on their favorite platform, and couldn't find it. Some media outlets will add visibility to your game once it comes out on a new platform, but the initial impact effect is lost.

The DLC Effect

During the development of Yuppie Psycho, some levels were left out of the project. They were sacrificed in order to finish on time and not to make it longer, no matter how much we would have liked to include those levels. However, we knew if the game turned out to be successful, we could always continue working on it. From there the free DLC Yuppie Psycho: Executive Edition was born, which allowed us not only to release a "complete" version of the original vision for the game and take advantage of all that cut material, but also reward our fans for their loyalty.

Since we were developing the ports ourselves and those levels had been sketched in our engine, that meant we could also work simultaneously on the DLC, using the base game. The levels weren’t originally designed as part of the main plot, so we integrated them as another narrative branch, offering new endings. That means you can play Yuppie Psycho: Executive Edition to the end, start over and find yourself with a whole second half that is completely different. We intentionally wanted both plots to leave unknowns that only the other half hints about.

Much of the re-write on the DLC comes from feedback from our most enthusiastic fans. Thanks to this, characters like Mr. Devil were given more prominence, we delved deeper into the history of the Sintra family and the security guard boss, the disgraced Tiki-Taka, and became a fan alter-ego, obsessed with following Brian on his adventure.

On October 19, 2019, thanks to Neon Doctrine, the game got an early placement into the Steam Halloween Sale, which led to a huge algorithmic impact and engagement on Steam’s front page. At that moment, we released an update that included a secret we didn't tell anyone about—a file that appears among the saved games. It contains a small horror scene that, when resolved, sheds some light on the history of the Sintra family and advances the events of the DLC.

Players, as expected, were quick to find it and start their own theories and speculations. Leaving something to the player's imagination has always given us a lot of joy.

On October 29, 2020, the game was updated for free with DLC and released fully on Nintendo Switch, adding three more hours of gameplay, plus some new scenarios and alternate endings. The release date seemed appropriate, but it meant sharing attention with 53 other new game releases that week, giving it zero visibility in the Nintendo eShop. It was the week with the most game releases of all of 2020. The previous week the number of releases was 40. Next week? About 40 other releases. Luckily, it received a new Steam cover boost that improved our data.

A fundamental aspect has been to include translations into 14 languages. Working with translators has helped to adapt the sense of humor to certain cultures, which has contributed to making our work far more relatable. Streamers love this approach in a game that contains a lot of text and involves a lot of reading: it keeps their communities engaged in the story.

Moving On To The Next Game

Yuppie Psycho has been a success far beyond what we expected, even if it is relatively unknown: it is common to find games that have had better press and instead have received far fewer sales. We owe this success to an enthusiastic fan community that fell in love with the characters. That support has allowed us to bring the game to physical format in two different collector's editions for Switch and PlayStation 4 (thanks to Tesura Games and VGNY), as well as to release the Garoad soundtrack on beautiful vinyl. There have also been T-shirts, pins, mugs and plushies. We are very grateful.

As of January 11, 2022, Yuppie Psycho is available on PC, Mac, Linux, Switch, Xbox and PlayStation (no support for Ouya yet). It's been a long and strange journey, but it's been worth it. Or at least that's what we tell ourselves as we develop our next project. Just in case, we are not going to quit our day job.

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