Arctico: Developing an Open-World Game

Claudio Norori talked about the development process behind the upcoming open-world survival game Arctico, discussed the game's art style, and told us how to use lighting to evoke calmness.

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Hello everyone, my name is Claudio, born and raised in Nicaragua. I’ve been working on Arctico for about 8 years and I keep working on it, hoping to finally reach 1.0 by February 2022.

I started working on Arctico right after graduating high school. I told my mom that I would enroll in college after finishing the game and that I just needed 6 months to complete it. I was very very naive back then.

My biggest inspiration was Indie Game The Movie, watching these guys making the game they wanted to make while also making a living out of it sounded like a dream to me, and I think lots of the current indie developers in their mid to late 20s were inspired by this documentary. To be completely honest the original plan was to make a simple survival game set in a snowy landscape, I was just learning to use Unity and I wanted to see if I could create an open-world prototype with an inventory system and simple survival mechanics.

I never thought of releasing this because I knew it would have nothing new to offer, and then my brother told me: “What if you put a rideable dog sled into it?” A few months later Arctico (back then called Eternal Winter) was launched into Steam Early Access.

Art Style

The game looked very dull and grey when it was first launched but after about a year of working on Arctico, I met a very talented 3D modeler from Costa Rica – Antonio Vargas and we have been working together ever since. We knew that being a team of two meant that we should stick to a very minimalistic style because we were trying to fill a large open-world map, so I focused on the visual development of Arctico, making sure that the game’s colors, skybox, and atmosphere would compensate for the lack of details and textures.

Astroneer and Eidolon were a big inspiration in what a game could visually achieve with a minimalist no texture style, Shelter 2 and its beautiful and vast snowy landscapes was another great source of inspiration.

The World

Every single object from huge boat frames to small loot crates has been placed by hand in Arctico’s open-world map, which has consumed a lot of time, but I knew that with my skill set I would never have been able to make a detailed and well composited procedurally-generated map. Making Arctico’s terrain feel fluid, aesthetically pleasing, and vast has always been one of my top priorities, I want players to feel like they are traversing a smooth and harmless landscape, I want them to find peace in the horizon and also be curious about what could be ahead.

Traveling Mechanics

Making a functional dog sled traveling mechanic that also works in co-op was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of building Arctico. There are no tutorials or articles available on how to approach this, so I had to do a lot of general research on Unity’s rigid bodies and physics systems in order to make the sled idea work, it was a very tedious and hard process, but as a reward, everything that I implemented later (the kayak, the parachute, the airship) felt like a fun and uncomplicated task.

I believed that by introducing so many traveling mechanics into the game I would end up offering the players total freedom over the way they explore Arctico, and this went perfectly with the game’s relaxing discover at your own pace theme.


Arctico relies on ambient lighting, one-directional light, a gradient cubemap skybox, a “distant fog” cylinder surrounding the whole map that is rendering a transparent blurred texture, and lots of 2D sprite clouds and wind trails to achieve its distinct color palettes in a day cycle.

The color values and intensity of all these elements are constantly being updated as the day progresses, the main objective of these tweaks is to always present the player with harmonious and calming color palettes that also evoke the feelings and colors of a sunrise/sunset/nighttime. My favorite part of this cycle is when the game goes pink, I think it is the time of the day when the tender and serene direction of Arctico is at its best.


My plan is to release Arctico by February 2022, it’s what I spent most of the day thinking about and working on. The most challenging time was definitely 2019, many bug reports and negative reviews were coming in, and I felt incapable and overwhelmed. I thought that it was almost impossible for us to finish this game, that we over-scoped, that the map was too big and we would never fill it. But we kept working, and now Arctico is in a much better state, almost ready to finally leave early access, seeing the game’s visuals and gameplay improve over all this time has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

The biggest thing I learned by working on Arctico is that over-scoping and big crazy features can be very problematic. I also learned that if you are patient enough you can fix those problems and that some ideas and features might be worth the trouble and time.

Claudio Norori, Developer of Arctico

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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