With a loyal fanbase on PC as well as an upcoming Switch port announced in the last Indie World presentation, Faeria is a deckbuilding card game with an artistic legacy to follow. The game is packed with over 300 unique cards, each one of which features its own distinctive art. These illustrations strive to follow the traditions of fantasy worldbuilding through art, introducing their own unique spin in the process.
“From the start, we were looking at developing a modern take on the classic Faeries, the world of Brian Froud,” says Jean-Michel Vilain, CEO of Faeria developer Abrakam. Froud is primarily known today for his ethereal fantasy illustrations for the novel Faeries, which embodies a watershed moment for fantasy artwork that would define the genre for decades. With their lush and otherworldly designs, Froud’s influence is immediately apparent in Faeria’s visuals.
While Faeria has grown in scope, scale, and ambition since the beginning of development, Vilain acknowledges that Froud’s art was a significant influence from the very beginning. “It is surprising to know where we’ve ended up! But this is exactly where we come from and what has inspired the game’s name, Faeria.”
But that’s not to say that the team has been strictly limited to Froud’s artwork. Rather, they aim to create their own distinct brand, and thus they incorporate a broader array of inspirations. “If Brian Froud is a pillar, then Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are certainly another one,” Vilain adds. “Miyazaki was the key to finding a fresh approach to the world that we wanted to create, [and] we’ve found that his way of representing spirits was very creative and demanded to be further explored.”
Vilain acknowledges that the team used a wide range of references, “ranging from things like the tribal worlds to Ghibli anime,” but emphasizes that each team member’s individual creativity and ideas were prioritized above all. “Concept artists were given a lot of freedom on the concepts, [and] I think that’s the reason why the world of Faeria looks so rich and diverse.”
When it comes to choosing the artistic team to bring this fantastical world to life, Vilain clarifies that there are only two firm characteristics that the development team searches for: “Originality and coherence are the two main qualities we’re looking for in our artists.” Beyond that, Vilain says that “there isn’t any right or wrong ” that makes a good artist, beyond the fundamentals which can apply even in the increasingly digital world of art today. “What every artist needs to learn are the fundamentals such as composition or color theory. Although, with the technological advancements in painting software, we are now able to digitally sketch out the ideas on the go, so we see a rise in artists who are purely digital artists.”
“Of course, a lot of artists still paint and draw traditionally on the side,” Vilain elaborates, “but in a pipeline, it is all about streamlining the process, so many artists that were classically trained had to learn to work with various programs and gain new skills such as 3D design, to be able to keep up.”
Such diverse backgrounds and experiences form the backbone of the Faeria art team. Indeed, Vilain says that “We don’t really look at the artist’s background or at what company they used to work for.” Instead, the primary criterion is for artists whose work is “fitting Faeria’s spirit and vibe.”
The varied skillsets and specialties of Faeria’s art team allows them to flesh out its deck of cards with a swift turnaround time. Vilain explains that, “depending on the complexity of the illustration and the quantity of retakes necessary,” it takes only 2 to 5 days to bring these illustrations to life.
As Abrakam’s CEO, Vilain himself plays an intricate role in the visual and design aspects of development. Given this position, he emphasizes the intricate connection between art and gameplay. “I’m leading the design team but also working in hand with our artists in order to make sure that the gameplay is communicated with maximum impact,” Vilain says. “For instance, I would sometimes write a description of what a card illustration needs to convey its game concept, or sometimes I would help the artists build up the world’s coherence. My role is to try to make sure that everything is in good resonance: the gameplay, the style, and the audio-visual experience.”
Throughout the creative process, Vilain clarifies that gameplay and art must work together to be truly effective. When Faeria’s game designers come up with a concept, he explains, they work together with the artists to properly express gameplay concepts through visuals, and vice versa. For every new creature added to the game, Vilain explains that it boils down to a “dialogue between designers and artists” to best “convey the idea while being visually innovative and attractive.” From concept to cards, and from visuals to gameplay, every aspect of Faeria’s presentation is meant to develop an intricate fantasy world and make it come alive.