Serenity Forge slammed onto the gaming scene in 2012 as a self-developed, self-published entity with the standalone title Loving Life. You could say ‘the rest is history,’ but after many published titles and a mega-viral sensation with Doki Doki Literature Club Plus developed by Team Salvato, Serenity Forge ‘forged’ a name for themselves, even as a smaller publisher.
Fast forward to 2022, where Twin Otter Studios has announced a new Tactical RPG called Arcadian Atlas, proving the publishing track record Serenity Forge has cultivated over the past decade while showing it holds strong. Twin Otters Studios was founded by twin siblings Becca and Taylor Bair, and Arcadian Atlas is their debutante title with only a two-person development team at first.
After being able to dive into the political intrigue and strife of the Arcadian land, this is not your average first title from a studio, this RPG has polish. While Arcadian Atlas is a love letter to all the 8-bit and 16-bit tactical RPGs that came before it, it succeeds in breaking the mould and becomes more. Before you know it, you’ll be unable to escape the Game of Thrones meets Romeo & Juliet plotline that spans the in-game continent.
Luckily, CGMagazine was able to chat with Story Producer and Gameplay Designer for Arcadian Atlas, Taylor Bair, who is one of the Twin Otters themselves, about the nuances of Arcadian Atlas and the tactics the team used to develop such a title.
The strategy RPG genre has seen a resurgence lately. What would you say was the main inspiration for making Arcadian Atlas?
Taylor Bair: We had the seed of what would become Arcadian Atlas as far back as 2015, in terms of story and the sort of tactical role-playing game we wanted to make, and our core inspirations were some of the shining examples of both the genre (Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics) and pixel art/animation from the SNES and PS1 eras (Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Xenogears). It was born from a desire to marry that strong storyline to gorgeously drawn and animated environments while layering in the strategic choices of tactical battles.
The old-style hand-drawn art of the character portraits is striking. What influenced the artistic direction the most for Arcadian Atlas?
Taylor Bair: Aside from the games mentioned previously, a huge inspiration in the art and design direction was the Art Nouveau movement and its naturalistic, almost airy colouration and these environments that feel carved from the earth. This filtered into our character portraits, map design, and cover art. There’s a gorgeous flow to the art, almost dreamlike in its stylization, and we think that plays to the themes of the brutality of man, striving to rule over lands they never made, while the world of Arcadia and the forces that shaped it refuse to be bent to the will of any ruler—that struggle of the human versus the supernatural runs through the story.
Besides the staple ‘rout the enemy’ objective that is present in every strategy RPG, will fans see more objective winning conditions in Arcadian Atlas? If yes, what winning conditions can we hope to see?
Taylor Bair: Oh yes, we have battles where you’re tasked with assassinating VIP foes, escaping insurmountable odds by traversing maps to escape an onslaught of units, juggling boss units and kamikaze troops, and more. We wanted to create interesting strategic choices across several layers, whether that be in victory/lose conditions, terrain that can harm, slow, and route your units, and skills that lay traps, sap skills, or target foes all across the map.
There seem to be a lot of moving pieces in Arcadian Atlas, such as a power-hungry Queen and unnamed ‘ancient evil forces,’ is there an episodic approach to storytelling, like the first act being devoted to political conflict? Or does everything kind of happen at once?
Taylor Bair: Players will get to see the story unfold over three chapters, and without going into too many specifics about where each chapter leads to avoid spoilers, we can definitely say the key players and forces at work in the world are present from the beginning, but the choices they make along the way throw the kingdom into a maelstrom that threatens to shake the very foundations of Arcadia. Our favourite part about crafting the story was following these people to the logical end of their desires, seeing how they change — sometimes into heroes and others into monsters.
I see in the reveal trailer there is a choice system in Arcadian Atlas. How much will choice affect a playthrough? Will there be multiple endings? Are the choices based on extreme morality, like good vs. bad, and is there a way to walk a line in between?
Taylor Bair: We had a very specific story to tell from even the earliest concept of Arcadian Atlas, but we wanted choice to be present from the start. The player will be able to choose how they respond to certain characters, even whether some survive until the end, and based on those choices others will respond differently. While this doesn’t play out with large alternate pathways, it does mean scenes will play out differently, characters will lose or gain trust in their interactions, and you may even gain allies along the way.
In typical choice-based titles, the player’s choices can affect whether party members will stick around or not, and are there party members that will betray the player if they don’t agree with your choices?
Taylor Bair: While we wanted to tell a very focused, character-led story (which is very difficult to tell in a Western-style RPG where character motivations are formed by player choice rather than characteristics inherent in the character’s upbringing and background), we also strove to create scenarios where more than one choice was realistic for that character — for those choices, we leave them up to the player to decide how Vashti or others would go. So, characters won’t necessarily leave your party based on choice, but they will change their opinion of you, and this plays out in alternate dialogue and scenes.
As a two-person sibling development team at Twin Otter Studios, what did you guys find was the hardest feat to accomplish while developing Arcadian Atlas?
Taylor Bair: Thankfully, we were only a two-person team for a very short time. Becca and I added the wonderful programmer Paddy Otterness and the talented musician Moritz P G Katz to the team in late 2016, though we’ve certainly had challenges. I think the hardest part was iterating on the battle systems until we found the perfect mix.
We started with a slew of ideas — too many, if I’m honest — and began implementing and testing them, all while having to ask, “Which of these are essential to the experience, which are nice, and which bog down and over-complicate the gameplay?” Editing is always the hardest part of game development because it entails trimming things you may have liked but don’t fit this particular game. We’ve all played those games that feel too bloated as if they were designed by committee, and we wanted to keep Arcadian Atlas a focused, well-refined experience.
Lastly, What does Twin Otter look forward to most about having people get their hands on Arcadian Atlas?
We’ve been living in the world of Arcadia for a long time, and it’s wonderful to finally share that. It’s a brutal, often cruel place — but just like in our daily lives, there’s a lot of beauty, kindness, and joy in the midst of it. We can’t wait for players to experience the music, the battles, the world, and the characters we’ve spent such a long time crafting. It’s a world we’d be happy to call home, and we hope players can say the same on the other side.
Thankfully fans don’t have to wait, Arcadian Atlas is available right now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5 and PC, so fans can dive into this labour of tactical RPG love right now.