Ever since I got the chance to try it out at PAX East, Arcadian Atlas has stolen my heart as a unique-looking take on the strategic RPG genre. It reeks of Final Fantasy Tactics, yet feels so different and personal. Recently, I was given the opportunity to send in some questions to ask regarding the game, its direction, and inspirations, as well as Steam Deck optimization! So, I decided to take the opportunity and ask some questions I was wondering about.
These range from the inspirations of the game, its development process, and story, all the way to developing a Linux build and Steam Deck support. There's a lot here and I am grateful I got the opportunity to ask away.
Before I begin, I just want to give a big thank you to Taylor Bair, the story producer and level designer of the game, and Tinsley PR for the opportunity to ask the questions I wanted to. To make things a bit more readable, I will bold my questions and Taylor's answers will not be:
Noah Kupetsky (Me):
So first, tell us a little bit about who you are and what Arcadian Atlas is.
I’m Taylor, the story producer and lead animator on Arcadian Atlas, a strategic role playing game about the choices we make in pursuit of the things we most desire, and the havoc that wreaks on an entire kingdom. It’s about the struggle for political power as much as it is about the principalities that made and control Arcadia from behind the scenes – where ancient forces and modern gambits for the throne collide.
How long has Arcadian Atlas been in development for?
We began very early concepting for the story and systems back in 2015, but it has been in full-time development since 2020, releasing July 27th 2023 for PC, Mac, and Linux.
What was the development process like? Were there any hiccups during your time developing the game?
Any developer who says there weren’t hiccups isn’t being honest – game development is as difficult as any creative pursuit. There are numerous ideas that are pitched, a smaller number are developed, and an even smaller number of tossed because they don’t fit in the overall world or aesthetic you’re creating. That iterative process is sometimes painful, but just as often it means taking a great idea that maybe doesn’t fit the setting or style of game you’re creating and means adapting it to fit, taking elements that make sense and leaving the rest behind. We’ve definitely had our fair share of ideas left on the cutting room floor, but it’s always in service of the original vision of the game.
When it came to development, were there any specific priorities that were set to make sure the game reached its full potential? Did you come up with the story first before setting in to develop the game?
Our first priority was to develop a core cast of characters and their motivation. From that seed of an idea we began to layer on battle systems, skill concepts, and overall design flow that we felt would marry nicely with the world we were building. Story is a fascinating thing, because as game designers you have to leave certain elements up to the gameplay design – for instance, we knew we wanted to take our heroes and players in the eastern land of Volin for gameplay reasons – a snowy and desolate waste full of lawless magic users abandoned by the law to their own machinations – but the gameplay came first there and the story altered to fit the gameplay needs. That constant push and pull keeps things interesting both from a skill and gameplay design perspective as much as a story production standpoint.
The story for Arcadian Atlas sounds incredibly interesting and quite tragic on the surface. Were there any influences from outside that helped mold the story into its final product?
There were numerous influences in the story, from historical figures like Queen Elizabeth I and her cold, lonely, yet deeply impactful adoration by the people of England and how that personality fed into the character of Lucretia, a daughter of the rightful King, but declared illegitimate and determined to win back the crown denied her. I’ve also always loved the idea of the metaphysical and how we’d respond if forces beyond us began pressing themselves into the everyday – that element of super-natural influence plays a large part in Annalise and Fennic’s stories as they wrestle with powers even they don’t complete comprehend.
While the art-style feels familiar, the portraits and other aspects of the world have a very distinct style. How would you describe this style and what inspired it?
Becca is a fantastic artist, so we wanted to lean heavily into the Art Nouveau style (as seen in Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona and French advertisements in the early 1900s) but translate that into pixel art and the portraiture of our characters – capturing both the fluidity and airy beauty of these often cold, calculating characters. On the pixel art side, we also adore the animation work of Chrono Trigger and pixelated majesty of Secret of Mana – these games that elevated the art form and breathed a certain humanity into the characters and world through tiny squares of color.
Speaking of inspirations, what were the inspirations for the gameplay elements?
We of course love classical tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre but saw so much potential in the rich skill trees from games like Ragnarok Online and Diablo II, where all your skill choices fill impactful and differentiate your units so no Cavalier, Warmancer, Apothecary, or Ranger is the same, yet all feel useful and strategically interesting depending on the situation.
With other games like this, what makes you feel Arcadian Atlas stands apart when it comes to its story and gameplay elements?
The story and gameplay are such complementary elements that we feel our greatest strength is creating a world that make sense, populating it with characters that have real, human flaws and motivations while marrying that to the richly detailed world they live in. We wanted every piece to serve the larger sense of belonging, so when you fight in a battle and watch a cutscene you feel the emotion behind it and understand why our core cast of characters do what they do in pursuit of the things that matter to them – whether that makes monster or heroes of them in the process.
Were there any compromises made with the game or would you say this is exactly the game you set out to make?
I would say both can be true. Arcadian Atlas as it is now is definitely the game we envisioned it would be at the outset, though there were certainly ideas cut along the way to ensure the core experience held to our initial vision. As game developers, much of our initial concepting work is tossing up as many ideas and seeing what sticks – and because of that we were left with core concepts that absolutely were essential to the gameplay and story experience, while some other systems we worked at but quickly found they didn’t makes sense with what we wanted to create. It’s important to not dilute the experience or pad it out unnecessarily with bloat so what you’re delivering to people is the best possible iteration of a game.
I know that a native Linux version of the game will be released as well. Were there any challenges unique to developing for Linux over Windows or Mac?
Paddy, our programmer, hit the ground running with Linux from the outset, and we were constantly cognizant of both Linux and Mac needs while developing within Unity to ensure we could deliver stellar experiences across all three platforms. And Unity makes that incredibly easy as well, to the point where we were pretty shocked there weren’t more issues taking a Windows build to Mac or Linux, but the process was relatively painless.
As our outlet's name states, we do work a lot with the Steam Deck and other handhelds. The store page doesn't note any controller support, or cloud save support, but will either of these be integrated into Steam on release or later down the road?
Our game definitely has multiple controller preset options that work seamlessly with Steam Deck – that was extremely important to us to ensure both controller and mouse/keyboard players had the best of both worlds. And we’re currently working on cloud saves, attempting to have it in at release but if not definitely post-release as it’s a feature we’re also spoiled by in the games we love.
Has the game been tested at all on the Steam Deck prior to release?
Yes! We have multiple people on our development team and publishing team that primarily play and test via the Steam Deck, so it was always a focus for us since its initial launch.
Are you going to aim for the Verified or Playable badge on Steam?
Verified is always our goal – we want that gorgeous check mark! We’ve submitted for it and followed Steam’s checklist to ensure we have everything covered, but the process takes time while Steam verifies everything in that checklist so we’re hoping prior or shortly after launch we’ll get the official designations.
Is there anything we haven't asked about that you would like the community to know?
We’re just incredibly grateful to the community that has come alongside us way back since early development in 2016 and has been with us ever since. We have such a rich fan community providing feedback, feature requests, and motivating us to constantly strive towards better. It’s been a true joy talking to them, aggregating bug reports, and creating a product that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Without our community we wouldn’t be in the position we are, and it’s deeply humbling to have their support all this time, through thick and thin.
Thank you again to Taylor Bair for taking the time to answer my questions. I think it is interesting hearing about their Diablo 2 and Ragnarok Online inspirations for skill trees, as well as Queen Elizabeth I's influence on the story. It is also wonderful to hear about the support for the Steam Deck that is being pushed out, including that cloud saves will be coming to the game at some point.
If you are a fan of rich, story-driven, strategy RPG games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, this is not a game you will want to miss. You can wishlist the game now on Steam ahead of its release tomorrow, July 27th.
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