Arcadian Atlas Feature
A LOVE LETTER to Final Fantasy Tactics. That would have been exciting to me at any point in my life. But when you add retro graphics and new ideas into a project made with honesty and love, you're bound to win.
Forget Unsung Story. Twin Otter is a whole different kind of studio, and Arcadian Atlas is a whole different kind of game.
Arcadian Atlas is an upcoming tactical RPG produced by Becca and Taylor Bair, the sister-and-brother team that are known as Twin Otter Studios. It reaches back to invoke the great tactical JRPG's of old - Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. Twin Otter wants to bring that tactical JRPG spirit back; too few games capture the magic and depth of these giants.
"Arcadian Atlas is a tactical RPG about the choices people make in pursuit of the things they love, and the consequences those choices have upon an entire kingdom," says Taylor, the project's lead writer. "There’s love, betrayal, intrigue, raccoons with knives, and a dash of the occult all blended in a gorgeous pixel art world with deep characters who evolve as the story progresses."
Follow the pair on Twitter for a while, watch their creative process at work, and one thing that becomes immediately apparent is just how much they love the world and characters they're creating. Their tweets aren't peppered with pitched marketing or shameless bragging. The art comes first, and the game they're making is quickly becoming something only pure inspiration could make.
Aubrielle: "What is your vision for AA? What would you like it to accomplish?"
Taylor: "Becca and I grew up kids of the 90s with our LEGO adventures, SNES classics like Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger, and old PC computers with game creation engines. So [now] we are building a microcosm of what we loved as children – a game inspired by the classics but with a fresh twist. We have always had eclectic passions, and Arcadian Atlas is blend of those things with it’s trip-hoppy beats, meticulously pixelated maps, and complex battle classes. So our vision is ultimately to create something that takes the classics of the tactical RPG genre and infuses a freshness to them."
Freshness, yes, but AA doesn't reinvent the wheel. Twin Otter's aim has always been to create a tight, neatly-packaged experience where your class matters, and how you choose to progress through that class matters even more. "Nothing is wasted" when it comes to leveling up; everything has a purpose. Pointless skill trees are an absolute no. Weapon mastery skills are the key to this formula. "Want your Ranger to master the wider range and faster movement skills of a bow, or the sheer power and crippling attacks from a crossbow? Choose based on your style and watch as new branches open with more powerful and unique abilities to compliment that style," Taylor says.
Weapon specialization is the key to playing each class the way you want to play it.
Aubrielle: "Naturally, AA's two closest comparisons so far have been Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics (among others). What's your favorite RPG in that category? Why?"
Taylor: "My favorite in the genre is Final Fantasy Tactics. Probably for a mixture of reasons, not the least of which was the fantastic art design, fascinating characters (though the script got a bit wooden), and well-honed battle mechanics. It has flaws, but still one of my favorites, and the only game I still have a PS1 copy of."
FFT's influence is written all over this game, from the character design to the way height is handled on the isometric battle map.
Aubrielle: "What was the spark that started you working on AA? How did you go from the vision and the art into actually designing this game?"
Taylor: "Becca and I both create from mental images – that goes for story creation as much as art creation – so the design and asset creation happen simultaneously. And moving from vision to implementation isn’t too difficult when you have as much experience in game creation as we do. You begin to learn what sort of engines you’re going to need developed in order to make certain things possible. I think of it like learning to see objects in 3 dimensions before drawing them – you have to understand the core mechanics undergirding the thing before you can effectively create the thing."
I asked Becca, lead artist for the project, what it was like to make a game with her brother.
"It's really fun!" Becca says. "We have always had similar gaming interests (having grown up playing the classic RPGs together). So generally we agree on most creative aspects. For me personally I do a ton of google image searches for various design ideas I have, and I build a inspiration cloud of images all around my canvas. Classic game music is also a MUST to get the creative juices flowing!"
I quite agree, and classic game music is a must for any endeavor, I'd say. But I digress.
The fact is that the tactical RPG renaissance is on, and within the next year or so, we're going to see a boom in Tactics-like titles as more of them are released at one time than ever before. What does this mean for Arcadian Atlas? From where I'm sitting, it looks like Twin Otter has their act together. They're one of the only Tactics-like projects that are producing viable results and getting their names out there. Unlike the team behind Unsung Story, Twin Otter have been happy to engage with the gaming press, and happy to make a daily habit of sharing their progress. When you're a journalist, that kind of willingness to talk openly and update helps one have a lot of faith in a project.
Aubrielle: "What makes AA stand out among other turn-based tactical RPG's?"
Taylor: "Us! Hahaha, but seriously, Arcadian Atlas is very much a product of us in all our quirkiness and eccentricities. There are some things we are oddly attracted to, whether it be lighthearted raccoons wielding knives, or the more serious and occult elements we have planned for the Tarot Cards in the game. That seeps into everything really, and it’s what makes the game unique."
And the good news for RPGWatch is that most of the audience here won't miss out - the game will be released on PC first, as a priority. A game like this would be really satisfying to play on PS Vita as well, but those of us with the handheld system may have to wait a while. I asked Taylor about platforms.
"Probably more useful to ask what platforms we can put AA on, as it would even be on SNES cartridges if we had our way!" he says. "But alas, there are limits to time and finances, which put constraints on development. We’re definitely bringing the game to PC, Mac and Linux. Outside that, we’re hopeful for iOS and extremely desirous for a PS4/Vita version. But we still wait with baited breath for that."
Aubrielle: "Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?"
Taylor: "For sure, and I’m feeling a bit candid so I’ll just say: someone will always be better than you. Our job in this life is not to be better than everyone or disparaging to those who are more skilled or talented than we are. Our job is to make the best of what materials we’re given, and we do that best in community by sharing tools and building upon rather than tearing apart what others are doing. All creative industries are prone to jealousies and nursed hurts, but we have to learn to rise above that and see others as inherently better than ourselves. That’s how the best things are made, and I’d rather look back on our insignificant blips of games and say we made them with a wonderful community than alone in a bubble."
It does make me wonder how the two came to that conclusion, though one thing was immediately apparent to me: this kind of honesty is something that marks someone as a truly creative person. Honesty and creativity go hand in hand. This served, for me at least, to set AA even further apart from other titles in the genre. Honesty is simplicity. Twin Otter has a vision - a heartfelt return to how we felt playing Final Fantasy Tactics. Taking everything we loved about the story and characters and battles, breathing new life into them.
Arcadian Atlas isn't a cash grab. It doesn't make massive promises with big names, then run from the press. Twin Otter has been here for months now, working hard, telling us exactly what they want to do and showing us how they're going to do it. The vision is simple, and the love is right there to be seen in every pixel and every line of text.
The Tactics genre has a void, and Arcadian Atlas is shaping up to fill it nicely.
The Arcadian Atlas Kickstarter runs until May 9. If you like Tactics-style games, consider chipping in and helping them reach their goal. You can also vote for them on Steam Greenlight or visit their website here. They're on Twitter and Tumblr as well.
Information aboutArcadian Atlas
Developer: Twin Otter Studios
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· To be announced
· Publisher: Twin Otter Studios