Back in February we sat down with game developers Becca and Taylor Bair to hear about their general experiences working together as brother and sister in the indie game industry. At the time the duo was preparing the details for the launch of their Kickstarter campaign for this biggest and latest project, Arcadian Atlas. That project was recently made live, and we took the opportunity to chat with the pair again, this time to learn specifically about their story-driven tactical RPG.
According to the campaign page Arcadian Atlas is designed to be, “a modern love letter to classic tactical RPGs.” Positioning, strategy, and team composition are all important aspects of the game which also focuses on a deep story filled with emotionally compelling characters. Players will be able to build their team from a variety of different classes, which each feature unique skills and advanced character class upgrades as they gain experience. The narrative is designed to be character driven and personal with the overarching plot devices taking a back-seat to the growth of the characters as individuals. We sat down with Becca and Taylor to learn a bit more about what inspired this title.
Jesse Tannous: Final Fantasy Tactics appears to be a big inspiration for the aesthetic style, and perhaps even the story of this project. In what ways does Arcadian Atlas push the envelope or differ from something like classic FFT?
Taylor and Becca Bair: We love Final Fantasy Tactics. It was and is a fantastic game – easily one of the looming giants of the tactical RPG genre – but our memories of something are often gilded in gold, and we forget the flaws.
It’s rather a dangerous tightrope walk for us because it’s arguably the most recognizable game of the genre, so comparisons are inevitable for us, but at the same time Arcadian Atlas is inherently different, because we’re different. FFT took a broader, big picture view of storytelling, but many of the core characters were swallowed up by it.
We both prefer intimate and honest portrayals of characters in relationship with each other – so we’re focusing the plot on the very personal choices people make in pursuit of the things they love, and how those choices shake an entire kingdom.
And enfolding that story is a very modern take on the classic tactical RPG model. Imagine a mixture of the complexities of chess with its different pieces operating in unique ways and the agility of modern games. We want to honor the pieces of tradition we love, but we aren’t subservient to tradition, and we’re excited about improving the formula – even if just in small ways.
JT: Is Arcadian Atlas fulfilling the lifelong dream you mention on the official website? What makes this particular project or genre so important to you?
BB: It definitely is. I love working on this project & seeing it come to life! It isn’t the only genre I considered when the idea was still in early conception, but it was the only genre we knew we were passionate enough about to do it well & do it right all the way through to the end.
Plus, as a freelance artist, I had been waiting around forever on a cool tactical RPG game to hire me as its lead artist – It never happened so I took matters into my own hands.
JT: Most of your expertise and previous work seems mainly focused on art assets, but you are the lead game designer for Arcadian Atlas. What sorts of new challenges have you encountered as a result, or is this all familiar ground?
BB: It’s all familiar ground honestly. Most of my freelancing jobs have entailed total artistic control of essentially everything so although the Creative Director title wasn’t applied to those jobs I was still undertaking that workload.
I’ve also made my own games & had my hands within the guts of the game before, so the only real struggle has been trying to blend the art styles together into one cohesive piece.
JT: What sort of pet peeves do you have specifically when it comes to video game stories? How are you working to avoid those in Arcadian Atlas?
TB: I think my pet peeves with video game stories are largely my pet peeves with storytelling in general. There’s this line of thinking that a compelling plot is sufficient for a good story. Frankly, it isn’t.
There may be a huge story about a kingdom crumbling to its knees, but why does it matter? History textbooks have been telling that story for decades and we’re as uninterested now as we were in high school. Plot is dry because plot has cardboard people who enter stage left and exit stage right with some dramatic line so we know person A betrays person B.
But that’s not life. Person A might betray person B, but what makes that interesting is learning about person A and why they would dream of betraying person B. We may even find out they are both pretty great people in the end. People we might actually admire and laugh with.
The authors I admire most are those who look at traditionally despised people and ask, “But what if you knew them?” And that’s my goal with Arcadian Atlas: to create people we know – people we see on the streets, people who sit next to us at work, people who sleep in our beds.
Because to be perfectly honest, I sort of love these characters. I love them because they sacrifice so much, mess up so spectacularly, and come out different people on the other side. All of them. And I’ve always felt the essence of relationship is coming to the place where you can say, “Though it means I have to change myself, I will. Because I love you, and I’m willing to sacrifice some of me to keep some of us.”
JT: What does it mean to you to be working on this project with your sibling?
TB: It means the world to me. Truly.
Not always, of course. I mean, sometimes it’s a job right? Sometimes we wake up and we do what we have to do and we forget why it all matters.
But it does matter, and I won’t lie and pretend like there aren’t familial things in the past that color this. How could there not be? We’ve had a whole life together – jokes, regrets, and a whole host of cares and fears we’ve shared.
Arcadian Atlas isn’t just a project. It’s an opportunity to do what we’ve always done: collaborate. We get to spend time together, and that’s worth the world to me because we have limited time on this earth, and I’d like to spend it with people who make me laugh, scream, fight, and change.
That’s what matters. Coming out the other side a different – a better – person. And if just a tiny portion of that makes its way into the game, then we’ve done something special.
BB: It’s great! It’s so easy to work with Taylor. I knew from the beginning with this project that I only wanted to do it if it could remain fun the entire time, so working with my brother/childhood gaming buddy was a no-brainer.
We have worked together on project after project since we were little – from Lego Shinra Reactor dioramas to Mario Popsicle stick puppets to entire years-of-development RPG projects. Arcadian Atlas is just another creative endeavor to add to our list!
For additional images, details, and of course to help support the creation of Arcadian Atlas, make sure to check out the official website and Kickstarter campaign.