There’s nothing we love more here at Gamezebo than when a brand new developer comes out of the blue with a game that blows our socks off. Such was the case with Black Chicken Studios’ Academagia: The Making of Mages, an impossibly deep life sim set in the first year of a magic academy. We sat down to learn more about Black Chicken Studios and their plans for the future of the series. (Hint: it involves downloadable content packs and four sequels!)
To get things rolling, please give us a little background about yourselves and your studio.
We formed the Studioin spring of 2006 as a way for a group of friends to create imaginative games where choice mattered and the player’s story was king. We’re all gamers, and we know (and play) the mainstream titles, but almostall modern games are linear exercises in violence. We wanted to form a company where we could do something different, unique and quite possibly more healthy. And here we are.
What were some of the inspirations for Academagia in terms of other games and general pop culture? For example, Harry Potter is one influence that comes to mind.
The inspirations for the game are actually Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series, both of which I read as a child, and which made me realize that school was a place of learning, yes…but that what you learned depends on the school, your teachers and what you put into it. The idea that you could learn magic, just like you could learn any other subject, was something that I carried with me as the seed of many games. We love Rowling’s Harry Potter, of course, and while that was not an inspiration, it definitely influenced all our writers in ways both subtle and obvious – starting with the way many stories are told. For general pop culture, we’ve drawn ideas from every school or education-relatedmovie and book you can think of, from Ferris Bueller to Twilight to A Series of Unfortunate Events and beyond.
Tell us about the downloadable content packs that you have planned for Academagia, and how players can become involved in submitting story ideas.
The beauty of the game is that it’s very expandable, and there are still tons of stories left to tell even in just Year 1. We plan to release a DLC each month, right up until the month before Year 2 is launched, each one exploring some facet of the University. Our firstset of DLC, for instance, will be about the various Colleges in the University, and contain various Adventures, Events, Locations,Spells and Items relating to them. After the Colleges we have several ideas, but we’ll see first if the community is clamoring for anything in particular.
Because the game is so expansive and deep, however, there is alsoplenty of room for player created stories – and as the developers, we are very interested in reading these! It’s kind of our reward for making the game – and we will be releasing our Mod Tools in October so that Players can create their own mods, with their own adventures and unique viewpoints.If you prefer your work to appear in the official content, you can also submit yourideasdirectly on our forums. If you write an Event or Adventure, provided it is within the spirit of the game and needs only minimal editing, we’ll put it in our DLC. It’s a fun way to get the community involved, and some of the Events that have been created are simply brilliant.
What are your long term plans for releasing downloadable content for Academagia vs. coming out with a full-fledged sequel?
They are complementary. The DLC will cater to our community, providing new options for the players, exploring shadowy corners of the University, and shedding some light on the larger world around the Academagia. That release schedule will continue right up untilthe month before Year2 launches, so that our player’s characters can always have new experiences. The sequel will be released in about 1-2 years, and you will be able to bring any character you have saved directly into it. I’d better savethis topic for the next question, however.
You’ve stated that you plan to release four sequels that allow players to experience second, third, fourth and fifth years of the school. Can you give us some hints about how the gameplay and content will evolve?
Definitely. Year 1 was about your arrival to this strange School, and situating yourself with the Students, Spells, environs and Actions that you need for success. Year 2 is about larger influences on campus, and the opportunities and dangers they present to your character and their studies. Year 3 will be about important choices: you may not realize it at the time, but it will be here that you have the most ability to change things for yourself and for others. Year 4 is about planning for life after the Academagia, and includes romance, patrons and societies. Year 5 is graduation, and your chance to tidy up any and all loose ends. It’s also worth nothing that each new year begins with Summer Vacation, which is almost a mini-game as compared to your experience on campus.
Allthat you experience, all your friends and enemies, everything you learn and acquire in previous years will carry forward into the next, and operate nearly the same. At the same time, however, you’ll find that the tools you needed for success in Year 1, are not the same tools you need in Year 2, and things which were seemingly unimportant in Year 1 may now have important consequences in Year 2…
How will you deal with players who didn’t play previous games and want to dive right into one of the sequels?
New players will be “transfer students,” with a set of pre-generated backgrounds they can choose from for instant play, or a more detailed approach if you prefer to fine-tune. New characters will be comparable to a casual playthrough of the first game, and have some fairly unique bonuses as well.
What were some of the biggest challenges coming up with a game as complex as Academagia?
The biggest challenge was editingthe content in the game. We have 800 Random Events,200 Adventures, 500 Actions, Spells andItems. We have something like 2000 Abilities! In short: literally thousands of pages of writing. Every one of these was created by a member of our writing and design team, and every one of them has their own unique voice, view on rewards,understanding of the gameplay mechanicsetc.So,everything needed to beorganized, read, errors corrected, re-read, corrected again, ad infinitum. We have a good process to do this now…but in the early days, it was a real challenge.
Every other problempales by comparison, to be perfectly honest.
What are some of the features you’re most proud of?
I personally love howmy character’s plan for an entire year can change purely based on a Random Event. Something will happen, unlocking some interesting Skill, and I’ll decide “no, wait: this is what I want to do instead.” I think we did a good job in creating an environment which is always changing, ever-surprising, and this being a “life simulation,” I am very happy with the result.
Our writing is also fun to read, and particularly well-written- there are ideas and turns of phrases which still make me laugh, and our authors are very adept at their craft.
And for a third? Spell casting. I enjoy tinkering with Spells, and searching out new and rare Phemes to aid in my casting.
Any last words for your fans?
Besides a resounding “thank you” echoing from the mountain tops? We can’t wait for you to play Years 2-5, read your stories and adventures, and hear about your characters. Graduation may be bittersweet, but we think it will be worth it.