By Leif Conti-Groome / May 9th, 2016
Victory Belles is one of the more interesting Kickstarters that I’ve covered in the last few months of doing crowdfunding spotlights here on oprainfall. If the beautiful anime style of the titular Belles (aka the spirits of WWII warships) didn’t catch your eye, then maybe the deep naval combat simulation drew you in. Within the captivating elements of the campaign were small red flags that begged for more answers: the controversial free-2-play model for the game and for the Kickstarter, the similarities (as pointed out by our readers) to KanColle, the dense language and seeming inaccessibility of the strategic elements of the game. I brought these concerns and other questions to the Black Chicken Studios team. They passed it among their team leaders and got back to me with the answers below:
Tell us a bit about the history of Black Chicken Studios.
We formed in 2006 from a gaming group that wanted to play more interesting games than what were in the mainstream, as well as support indie artists and ideas. As a company we’re all about creating unusual games, concepts that simply wouldn’t be made otherwise. That’s probably the most important thing about us, and what we do.
You’ve run two Kickstarters in the past with Ars Magica and Holdfast. The first was unsuccessful but the second, and more recent, raised $10K more than your $20K goal. What did you learn from running these two campaigns and how have you applied that to Victory Belles?
The consensus around the room is that the most important lesson has been that you need to have invested pretty deeply in the project first, before going to Kickstarter. If you have a huge, AAA brand, perhaps you can fund on concept-otherwise, you need to have to worked on the title. It makes it more real, helps you better explain what your game is, and gets you faster, more usable feedback.
You slowly moved from the Western art style found in Arcademagia to the more Japanese style in Scheherazade to the full blown anime style in Victory Belles. Why did you make this slow switch? Will you continue to attempt other art styles for future projects?
We’d say that’s probably not an accurate assessment: we went from Western in Academagia to Japanese in Scheherazade, then back to Western comic art for Holdfast, and then back to Japanese for Belles. And that’s not including the as yet unreleased projects, which vary again. We tend to pick the style that seems to fit the project best, we’d say.
It seems that all three of your previous games were very narrative driven. Will this continue with Victory Belles?
Yep. We’re a company that’s about 50% writers. Story is very important to us.
How does the story work in Victory Belles? Is it a branching narrative that will explain what happens to the world after the Morganas appear? Are there multiple endings?
There are two kinds of Stories in Belles: one, the Nation Story, which is the tale of your Nation’s experience in ’39 and beyond, and Belle Stories, which deal with friendship & romance for each of the Belles in game. There are also a few other Stories that you can stumble into. They are surprises, however.
You haven’t talked much about the new global threat in the form of the Morganas. What are they? Are they spirits like the Belles or aliens or misguided defenders of the Earth?
Our lips are sealed, alas! You’ll get a closer look at them in a future Update, but they are very mysterious. The only thing that can be said about them for certain is that they are implacable enemies to the nations of earth.
Will Mahan take a break from talking to the backers and potential backers during your updates to become a playable Belle in the game?
She is playable, definitely. She’ll get her own interview/introduction towards the end of the Campaign.
The small peeks you’ve shown of the gameplay indicate that there is a lot of strategy needed to come out on top in this mobile game. How accessible is this game going to be to audiences who aren’t familiar with strategy heavy games? How steep is the learning curve?
It’s not too hard to pick up-you can go a long way just considering which classes of ships you bring to battle. And, if preferred, you can choose to tackle combat overlevelled [sic], in which case… basically no strategy needed apart from, ‘don’t bring an aircraft carrier to a knife fight.’
If you do want to fight on or under-level, or take on more challenging battles, the strategy will come to the fore. Naval Flag Commands, Equipment, Research: all this customization is what you’ll use to make your Belles the best.
Overall, we don’t think it will be overly complex to get into… but has a lot of depth for those that really like tweaking and optimization.
Obviously with so many characters you want each one to stand out and be an accurate representation of their place of origin. For instance, you’ve got an American Belle who loves food (Henley) and an Italian Belle (Espero) who fits the femme fatale moniker. Have you found it difficult coming up with personality traits for so many characters? Do you find it difficult to work with archetypes and avoid stereotypes that can come up in cast with so many nationalities?
Definitely not! The beauty of working with history is that, in almost every case, the ships are full of anecdotes, life and real (or imagined) traits you just have to go hunting. As writers, we start with archetypes, but our characters end up being fairly nuanced. We’ll point you to our earlier games, or even the Espero Dialogues for evidence of that. We’re pretty proud of how developed characters get.
Do you guys have favorite Belles? What can you tell us about them?
Too many choices! And every new Belle becomes a Team favorite, before she’s supplanted by the next one. It’s hard. Really hard to say.
A lot of research has obviously gone into this game and it’s completely different than your previous titles. Why did you choose such a specific place and theme for the game? Are a few member of the team history/naval history buffs?
The story actually comes from an earlier idea that eventually grew into Scheherazade. When one of us saw the shipgirls in Japan, though, we knew *that’s* how we could tell the story of the part of the idea we didn’t use. Three of the Team are pretty hard core WW2 nuts, though. Not naval in particular, but overall.
Why do you feel like the free-2-play model is right for Victory Belles and for a Kickstarter campaign?
F2P offers constant funding for updates, especially really obscure or minor elements that normally won’t make a budget cut in an expansion or DLC. It’s really attractive, because we can create art and story in a constant flow, working *with* the Players, as opposed to larger, ‘safer’ releases. We think this model is a better way to tell a war story, so that there aren’t any abrupt cut-offs.
For the Kickstarter campaign-well, we want to put more in the game, and we’re hoping that gamers will help. So far, that’s been true.
We do think F2P has a negative connotation, which is probably comes from the fact that some folks view Kickstarter as a store, rather than a vehicle for funding ideas-we don’t blame them though (a lot of us are guilty of the same thing.
Why do you have a cap at $150 for in game currency for the higher pledge tiers?
It seemed a good stopping point, given the value of the rewards at the higher Tiers.
You’ve shown that you’re going to use 6 different languages (English, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Russian) for the dialogue in the game. Are you going to include any other languages since you do mention places like Poland in your reward tiers? Will you have any more obscure languages: for instance Innu-aimun for Saguenay?
[If] you’re asking about Spanish, Polish, Dutch & Turkish… the intent is to voice those Belles in their native tongues. Saguenay does speak Innu-aimun, but she prefers Canadian French, which will be the language of her dialogue.
Victory Belles shares a lot of similarities to the massively popular Japanese only mobile game Kantai Collection (KanColle). If you’re unfamiliar, it’s another free-to-play mobile game that features strategic naval battles and features anime girls from all over the world dressed up in warship style garb. Did Black Chicken Studios use KanColle as inspiration for Victory Belles?
Absolutely, [that game] and Arpeggio of Blue Steel were inspirations. We have a love affair with Japanese games in general.
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