Arcadian Atlas appeared on my radar in early February when their first trailer dropped. Besides the fantastic, nostalgic art style and the intriguing hints we’ve seen of narrative, one of the things which initially attracted my attention is the fact that Twin Otter is made up of siblings Becca and Taylor Bair. The idea of family working together on an indie development passion project like Arcadian Atlas brought a smile to my face and prompted me to reach out, ask about both siblings history in game development and how they came to work together on Arcadian Atlas:
Q – Introduce yourselves! Tell us a bit about your background as indie developers separately.
I’m Taylor, the one hunched over a keyboard or agonizing over a plot detail. As game developers, it’s difficult to separate our backgrounds, as we started developing together as children. We played games growing up, and it naturally progressed to making games, primarily with RPG creation engines as kids. Eventually I was drawn to the writing side of things, working on story development and doing journalism pieces for different game publications.
I’m Becca, the one behind the art direction for the game. Originally in charge of the art side of things on our game projects as kids, I moved away from game development and pixel art for a few years to pursue other interests and eventually came back to it in the form of freelancing in my mid 20’s. I’ve been freelancing for several years now and while it is satisfying, the urge to pour myself completely into one passion project has always prevailed.
Q- What brought you together as a brother and sister team?
Our parents brought us together primarily. As kids we lived in the country, were of similar ages, and did what kids do: played. LEGO sets, forts, whole summers of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy – living the dream really.
And so we already did everything together. With so many teams you have the issue of learning to not just work, but live with another personality. When you’re siblings, you get both of those concurrently from birth, which has distinct advantages. There are still fights, but they aren’t as childish as the time I ripped up her Chrono Cross drawing because she called my Evangelion drawing ugly. It was ugly, for the record. I’m big enough now to admit that.
Q- How is the process of development different working with a family member?
Oh wow, focus is the main advantage. We started working on games separately – you know, our own projects and whatnot. But they were scattered. Our strengths are so different and when apart we struggled to stay on track. When we finally joined forces on our first major project Genesis, we benefited tremendously from focus.
A thousand times one of us would be worried or distracted and the other would swoop in and equalize things again. It keeps projects from derailing, which can happen incredibly fast when the central vision doesn’t have that give and take from people who have known each other their whole lives.
Q- How did you transition from freelance work to full game development? Have there been any challenges in balancing these? Were there any benefits to freelancing first?
I’m still doing both, so that transition hasn’t been made fully yet. And yes, there have for sure been struggles balancing that. I work full time during the day as a freelance artist still, so when I get off work I’m sitting at the same desk using the same drawing tablet and art programs, just for a different game in the moonlight hours.
With all the art for Arcadian Atlas, team communication, business stuff, planning, marketing & PR that come with being an indie dev, well, that can be really tiring sometimes. And pair that with a 9-5 job of freelance pixel art – it’s not a work schedule that’s easy to sustain, to be honest. That’s why I’m working so hard at this Kickstarter. It’s our dream game, and if our phenomenal community wants to see it brought to life as much as we do that would mean I can pour my whole heart into this.
Q- What’s the inspiration behind Arcadian Atlas? It’s clearly steeped in nostalgia and homage.
There are a plethora of influences, though I’d say the core consists of three: deep characters, gorgeous pixel art, and complex RPG strategies. We cut our teeth on these in the golden age of pixel games during the SNES and PS1 era, but with time we’ve expanded our influences and tempered the old with the new.
The exact inspirations are hard to pinpoint really, as it’s like a delicious stew. We’ve got a sprinkling of Chrono Trigger, jazz, Cowboy Bebop, Tactics Ogre, The Sopranos, but those influences are as all influences: a collection of tools you use to inform something new. They aren’t the thing itself, and that’s what we’re most excited about. We’re making something special – something different because we’re different. A lot of our personality makes its way into the game, and that’s where the magic happens.
Q- The themes that have been hinted at in the Arcadian Atlas trailer seem pretty heavy: love, betrayal, morality vs. duty. Yet, then there’s a little Bandit Raccoon; How do you successfully balance these potentially disparate elements?
Life is full of disparate elements – that’s why we enjoy it so much. People are the prime example. We’re goofy, dancing about one moment, and the next we are melancholy, spewing deep philosophies of life. The key is weaving those disparate elements into a world that is big enough to fit them with people who are believable enough to display them.
That’s a difficult task, no doubt, but it’s not so difficult when you don’t try to over explain it. I think that’s where the weird or supernatural goes wrong. We live amongst strange things, but we don’t feel the need to understand them all. Why is gravity a thing? Science has complex answers, but at the end of the day it’s because when I let go of something, it falls. That’s good enough for me, and I think that’s true of a lot of puzzle pieces that just don’t fit snugly.
Q- Can you give us any hints about that Forest Spirit? Seems like a complete tonal shift from the trailers and has us very intrigued!
Ah the Forest Spirit! I love that creepy lil’ dude. And yep, there’s definitely an occult element of the game we only hinted at in the trailer. Arcadia is a complex world, and rumors have always swirled that desperate men have, at times, commanded dark forces. The Kickstarter actually introduces a bit more information about Fennic, one of the central figures of the game, and how he plays into all this is something we’re excited to tease come April 5th.
Q- Final question, and one that we always ask; Other than your own game, what have you been playing recently?
Taylor has been playing a little Firewatch, BroForce, XCom 2 (only as research… right?!) and, though he feels a little privileged to say so, going back through his and Becca’s first major project, Genesis.
Becca has been busy with the Kickstarter, but every now and then she finds a bit of time for Breath of Fire 4 or Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together on her PSVita. Up next on her list is Chaos Seed & Energy Breaker.
Our thanks to both Becca and Taylor for answering our question. It’s fantastic to get this kind of insight into life as a brother and sister indie dev team, and into the background that has led to Arcadian Atlas.
The Arcadian Atlas Kickstarter is starting tomorrow; be sure to take a look at our Kickstarter Watch for more information and analysis of the campaign!