Wood, metal, plastic: ship design in Skies of Arcadia

In this extract from my thesis I look at the significance of the materiality of ships in their design as narrative objects in Skies of Arcadia. In spite of the mention of ‘most advanced ship’, which contradicts my last post in this series of extracts (facepalm), I’m really pleased with this bit simply because of the parallels I found with 2001: a space odyssey. Click through for amazing comparison images.


The design of ships mirrors scenario design in the use of materiality to express the atmosphere and narrative of the six civilisations.

Drachma on the Little Jack – every man should make sure his accessories match his clothes.

Wood is used in the ships of `good’ characters, most notably in the Little Jack. For the first twenty hours or so of gameplay, the Little Jack is a second home to the main characters. Its wood textures are set o ff by tarnished brass, mirroring the character design of its owner, Drachma, who has a brass prosthetic arm. This design feature is a charming contribution to the
storyline, as it creates an intimacy of place even though the character himself is stand-offish and private.

Wood on the Little Jack is less about playfulness, as it was on Horteka, and more about homeliness. It connects the ship to Pirate Isle, even though Drachma is not a resident of that island. The implication may be that as Blue Rogue pirates, Drachma shares a common culture with Vyse and Aika. This culture, however, lies outside of the system of six moons, six civilisations, a fact that is never addressed in the course of the game’s story.

Metal is used extensively on ships of the Valuan armada. While the actual materiality of the wood on pirate ships is perhaps little more than a surface texture, the metal of Valuan ships is implicity linked to danger. Metal walkways are often `dungeon’ areas, where encounter battles may occur with Valuan soldiers. This danger is further emphasised by searchlights and red alarm lights. Other floorings in Valuan ships may be wooden tiles framed in metal, or red carpeted areas.

This dichotomy between wood and metal is broken when characters come into
possession of the Valuan ship the Delphinus. It becomes their very own ship, one of the most advanced vehicles on the planet, made entirely from metal and decorated with lush, imperial red carpets and curtains. Aboard the Delphinus, metal becomes benign, and the power of Valuan technology becomes naturalised as the property of the player and main characters.

The silver shrine. I wondered why this had to be upside-down until I watched 2001 again…

Identical moon shot from 2001: a Space Odyssey

At the end of the game, having been to five of the six civilisations, it emerges that the sixth civilisation is not a landmass, but a huge ship floating above the world. The crystal is embedded in the few remaining inhabitants of the ship. The silver civilisation lives aloof of the rest of the world, in a place that is not land, but a ship that no longer travels. The design of this area is heavily referential of 2001: a Space Odyssey, giving the impression of a people who lack groundedness, nature or culture.

The eeriness and loneliness of this super-clean, white space are important signi fiers of plot, indicating the arrogance and lack of humanity that precedes the apocalyptic disaster about to occur when the fi nal Gigas is summoned. There is a millenarianism to the end of Skies of Arcadia that falls outside of the dark apocalyptic imagery of 1990s RPGs. The evocation of 2001 is poignant in a game released in the year 2000, and Sega were not the only entertainment or technology company referencing it at this point. Apple opened their fi rst high-street store in 2001, using clean, white, plastic modernism to stand out from ordinary computer stores.

The apocalypticism of 2001 was perhaps not a concern for Apple; the point was to show that their computers would bring consumers the comfortable familiarity of a future as it had been imagined in the good old days. For Arcadia, the 2001 look may have represented a long heritage of technological ambivalence; future technologies are impressive, but also frightening.

Ultimate weapon storylines in Japanese RPGs often, as in Skies of Arcadia, tell a story of mankind’s folly in playing god with technology, by trying to unmake the evil in the world with a `great flood’ style disaster. For example, in Final Fantasy VII the supervillain Sephiroth intends to use magical technology to attack the planet, so that the lifeforce within it will rebuild a better world, intending to fuse with the lifeforce and become god. This event causes all the warring factions of the world to join together in order to prevent the cataclysm Sephiroth tries to bring upon the planet. Skies of Arcadia echoes this basic plot, similarly creating a scenario in which all di fference the world is equalised under the threat of totalizing destruction.

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One thought on “Wood, metal, plastic: ship design in Skies of Arcadia

  1. Pingback: 2012 in writing | Zoya Street

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