Interview: Arclands Dev Has “No Plans To Give Up” On The Game Post-Launch
It is not uncommon to find indie developers working on passion projects that take inspiration from classic games that have defined video gaming as is. As such, when a project’s potential is noticed, the developers are funded well by the fans who look forward to the game’s release. The same thing happened with Arclands, which managed to reach its Kickstarter goal within a short period.
Jon Keller, the creator of Arclands, founded a big community supporting his project and has since dedicated a lot of his time to creating the game. Although it has yet to receive a release date, the city-building RTS melded with RPG elements appears to be a very promising title within the indie sphere. Taking this opportunity, we interviewed Jon Keller over email to get more of his insights.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Arclands.
Hey! My name is Jon Keller. I’m a Professional Pixel Artist and Graphic Designer. I’ve been making games forever as a hobby and Arclands is the first project of mine which I am planning a commercial release for. In Arclands, you play as a Wizard who got banished to a mysterious and dangerous land. Try to survive by expanding your settlement to a full-blown castle, learning mighty spells, and forming alliances with all sorts of characters who also found themselves banished. Roughly speaking, Arclands is a city-building RTS with RPG elements – Kinda like a mix between Age of Empires and Zelda.
Although RPG with city-building elements isn't really a common theme for games, there are already quite a few popular titles, like Kenshi, Dwarf Fortress, Littlewood, etc. Were those or any other titles taken as inspiration for Arclands? And how does the game differ from those titles?
Keller: I love all those games you mentioned! The biggest difference to most is that Arclands lands decidedly more on the RTS / City Building side of things than those games. While in most games, you only control your player character, in Arclands, you can take direct control of all units, giving it a more RTS-like feel. This makes defending your settlement a much more tactical thing and allows for different playstyles. You never fight against other settlements though – it’s you versus the wild! A very big part of Arclands’ design is also the so-called Artifacts: powerful relics that can be unearthed by exploring or completing quests and challenges. These have a lot of varied uses: Some might help you speed up certain processes in your economy, and others may be used as defensive mechanisms against enemies. When you discover a new artifact you can also take it with you when you start a new settlement (kind of like a loadout system) – this creates an interesting meta progression in combination with how you build your wizard. The need for those artifacts creates an interesting loop for the player: On the one hand, you need to stay in your village to defend it, but on the other hand, you need to venture out to get more powerful and optimize/defend your city better. Inspiration mainly comes from older RTS games like Age of Empires, Stronghold, Warlords Battlecry or the Battle for Middle-Earth series, which already combined strong Hero-Characters with more classical RTS mechanics. Visually though, the game looks way closer to an old-school Zelda title – as a kid, I always wondered what a game would look like where you could build your own Kakariko Village and then had to defend it. And I’m making that game now.
It has been some time since you started the Kickstarter for Arclands, and during that time, it has not only reached its goal but is close to hitting its second stretch goal. What was it like seeing that sort of reception from the people?
Keller: It felt surreal. I’ve worked on little projects on my own here and there, but actually seeing such a great reception was mind-blowing. It was also a lot of work – people often forget that running a Kickstarter is a job on its own. I had absolutely no time to do anything else than focus on the Kickstarter during the campaign. It was worth it though. Even though it’s been a while, it is super cool to see that the community is still hanging around from day one.
Did that support from people encourage you to expand the scope of the title?
Keller: No, it actually had the opposite effect. I am very wary of over-scoping the project and getting caught in an endless development cycle. Both RTS- and RPG games are already very complex and time-consuming to develop – the support from the community kind of forced me to set realistic and achievable goals. Otherwise, they would be left with a game that tries a lot but does nothing quite right!
I believe you are the game's solo developer, but have you received any help for some of the game's assets?
Keller: I worked on Arclands as a solo developer for a long time, but recently I welcomed another Programmer on the team – Paddi. Programming has always been my weak point, and I was really hesitant to bring more people to the project. For one, because I was very protective of my vision (which was misguided) and also because I didn’t have the funds to fairly pay anyone. But having Paddi on the team has been a godsend! We have been working together at a Design Agency for multiple years, so we already know how to work with each other well.
Could you tell us what challenges you have faced in developing Arclands and how you overcame them?
Keller: As mentioned before, programming has never been my strong suit. I have hit roadblocks before – most in performance or related to shader programming. Paddi has helped me tremendously as an advisor to fix these issues. Before he was out of a job himself, he decided to join the Arclands team full-time. Being a solo developer also always comes with a big amount of mental pressure. When you have nobody to bounce ideas off of, you can easily lose focus of what’s important and end up with really bad tunnel vision. I have definitely wasted a lot of time working on features and throwing them out again because I had nobody tell me to think twice. When you’re working on a project alone for so long, it can take a big toll on you. For example, when you’re sick and unable to work, there is absolutely no progress made. That can be difficult to deal with, but luckily, I found my ways to cope.
Even though the game still has a long way to go, what is the release window you are aiming for? And do you plan on releasing a demo version?
Keller: No word on that yet, sorry.
Considering how well the game does after release, do you think you will continue supporting it with more content, or are you hoping to jump into another project?
Keller: We absolutely plan to support the game after release! In what way and how much obviously depends on how well the game is received and what we can afford. Let it be said though that we have absolutely no plans to give up the world of Arclands so quickly.
Arclands – via Jon Keller.
Are you planning to release the game on consoles or GOG eventually?
Keller: As the game was primarily designed for keyboard and mouse, we have to really think hard about how we can create a console version that doesn’t feel like a cheap afterthought. We are not there yet. Regarding GOG, I don’t see why not.
Do you have any advice for new Indie developers? (Like choosing the right engine, pitching on Kickstarter, building expectations, etc.)
Keller: I think the most important part is to stay realistic. The chance to make big money (or any money at all) is very, very slim, and if your only goal is to be successful, chances are high that you will end up broke and disappointed. I think universities offering game development courses are very often doing their students a disservice – oftentimes, those students get treated like engineers and are hoping to find a job just like somebody with an engineering- or computer science degree would do. But in the indie world, it seldom works that way. I know it sounds a little pretentious, but it is much closer to working in any art-related field. People who are successful in the field usually would do the same if they were not successful. Also, connect with other indie devs! The community is super supportive, and most people are glad to share their knowledge.
Anything else you would like to share with the readers?
Keller: We are really thankful for the opportunity that has been given to us with Arclands. Getting to develop a game has always been a big dream, and we are so glad we are now living it. 🙂
Arclands is the passion project of Jon Keller, who worked on the project as a solo developer for a long period before welcoming Paddi, a Programmer. The city-building RTS with RPG elements will receive a release date on PC and macOS sometime soon.
Shoaib Rashid is a passionate Gamer and an experienced writer who has been covering the Gaming Industry for over 3 Years. He started his career as a freelance journalist, writing reviews, previews, news, guides, and features for various industries. He joined VA Gaming as a Writer in 2022 and was promoted to Content Editor in 2023, where he oversees the editorial tasks and ensures the quality and accuracy of the content.
Shoaib loves to play all kinds of games, from Competitive shooters to the latest AAA releases, you name it, and he got them all covered; a PC Enthusiast who loves to stay upgraded with the latest hardware, and he enjoys sharing his insights and opinions with the Gaming Community.
While being a hardcore competitive Gamer he also a big Anime fan so his IGN goes by #SHiNiGaMii. and you can join him on Steam and checkout his library to learn more about his accomplishments.