Speaking with Chandra Hughes of Chisa Studios

Local creator Chandra Hughes is a Hampshire student who co-founded a small game design studio that specializes in “Visual Novel” games, which are basically what they sound like? Choose-your-own-adventure stories with stats and pictures and also you tend to wind up involved in about a half-dozen simultaneous whirlwind romances and/or puzzle solving competitions. download

She and the rest of Chisa Studios have been hard at work between studies getting this small primarily student-staffed studio set up to produce their first game! We got to speak to her this week about that game, Bitter Truth, and about her experiences getting into game development.

James Olchowski: Hello! Thanks for talking to me today.
Chandra Hughes: Hey, thanks for having me.

JO: Were you born in the Valley? If not, what drew you here?
CH: No, I was not. I grew up in Manhattan. I am currently a student at Hampshire College which is how I ended up in the Valley. I really like this area though.

JO: You mentioned that you got into voice acting in 2010, what got you interested in voice acting?
CH: In high school, I stumbled across someone’s voice acting audition on youtube one day and decided to give it a shot for fandubs. After some practice, I bought a USB mic and spent most of my free time auditioning for projects on Voice Acting Alliance.

JO: What was your first voice acting experience?
CH: Honestly, I can not remember. But I will say, voice acting is the thing that brought me to video game production.

JO: And what exactly is a fandub, or the Voice Acting Alliance for that matter?
CH: 
A fandub is fans dubbing a show. [Alright so… that makes sense. – ed.] I got involved in fandubbing for anime although people have certainly done it for TV shows and video games. Voice Acting Alliance is a website for those interested in finding online voice actors for their projects.

JO: Do you have recommendations for people interested in doing VA work?
CH: Recommendation wise, I’d highly suggest start by auditioning for fandubs. You learn a lot by imitating emotions that already exist from characters. Once you’re able to do that, it will be so much easier to voice original characters. Voice Acting Alliance is a great place to start!

JO: Have games always been a hobby for you?
CH: Yes and no. I wouldn’t call myself a gamer. But when I was a kid I would play a lot of Pokemon and other DS games. Honestly, I don’t remember why I started playing. It was certainly popular in my generation, but I remember picking up a gameboy one day and playing it.

I have also loved Japanese video games. Later down the road, when I became interested in game production, I got myself a ps3 and ps vita, and I have been trying well known titles since.

JO: When did you become interested in making a game?
CH: During my first semester at college, I took an introduction to game design course and fell in love with the production aspect of it. During that time, Bitter Truth had also arisen, and with the nice timing, I started developing games.

JO: How did you and Samantha start working together?
CH: Samantha and I are actually friends from middle school. I brought her into the voice acting world with me back in 2010, and since we both loved writing, we decided to write a valentine’s day radio play that was called “Tsurai Shinjitsu”. The project never was completed, and so we decided to revamp it into a visual novel, and changed the names to be a American, and hence “Bitter Truth”.

JO: I notice that neither you nor Samantha list programming as a skill, is it necessary to know how to code to make an interesting game? Did you need to call in specialists for any part of the process?
CH: While I do think knowing programming is beneficial, I do not think it’s necessity. Rather, if you under game design mechanics, that should suffice. That said, I do have minor programming experience as I’ve dabbled in Ren’Py (the visual novel engine we’re using) which certainly did make things easier.

JO: The inaugural game of Chisa Studios is a Visual Novel romance, why did you choose this format?
CH: I have always been a romance fan since a kid. When I encountered anime in sixth grade, I did not ever stop watching. I went through the sailor moon and magical girl phase, which had a huge romantic part in it. That said, we didn’t exactly choose to create a romantic visual novel. We had taken our romantic valentine’s radio play and decided we’d be able to expand on it, turning it into a visual novel.

JO: There have been, at last count, an infinite number of visual novels produced. What sets Bitter Truth apart for veterans and what makes it approachable for new players?
CH: What I can say is, Bitter Truth isn’t your typical romantic visual novel, and while it has elements of an Otome game, it is not completely an otome. The protagonist, Emilia Teague, is already in a relationship with her best friend, Callister Grant. In this sense, the gameplay revolves around Emilia’s life and interactions with other people, and less around deciding which guy she ends up with. Our game is heavily story based.

JO: Have you encountered any challenges putting working on a game with a small indie studio?
CH: Definitely. The biggest challenge, that I’m sure any indie can agree on is, budget. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find people willing to volunteer their time to work on games, and we are very fortunate to have Gaby as our artist. Our team consists of college students and full-time employees, so there isn’t much free time for any of us to work on this, especially if they can not get compensated for their efforts.

JO: You’re going to Kickstarter for this work, were there challenges involved in setting up an effective Kickstarter? Do you have recommendations for fellow artists?
CH: There were a ton of challenges setting up the Kickstarter and still more to encounter. The biggest challenge is that we’re asking for $10,000 for the project which is a huge sum. With that in mind, we spend a lot of time working on promotional art, rewards and updates. Since September we updated twice a week. On Mondays we’d release a description of how we were building Bitter Truth, and on Fridays we would release the assets regarding the description. In terms of recommendations, I’d highly suggest spending a lot of time researching and listening to feedback. Audience is the key to success, and at the end of the day, the game is made for the fans, not for yourself.

JO: Not to be pessimistic, but is there a plan in place for if the Kickstarter doesn’t reach the final goal?
CH: Our publishing company, Sekai Project, and us are discussing a plan if the Kickstarter fails. At the moment we’ve decided that we would cancel the project and regroup. We’d discuss with the team on who would be willing to keep working on the project for fun, and see if we could launch another Kickstarter with a smaller goal. Each volunteer would get a small compensation.

JO: How do you keep Chisa Studios projects on track working with someone long-distance?
CH: It’s a lot of constant emailing back and forth, along with Skype calls. With our volunteers, we get a deadline from them and then check in periodically. Those for hire, we try to assign deadlines/ That said, it isn’t the easiest, especially with time differences.

JO: If you could only recommend one game to our readers, what would it be?
CH: Oh man, I’m never a fan of the “favorite” game. Considering I’m making a visual novel, I will go with one from that genre. I would suggest Clannad, for anyone who enjoys romance.

JO: What’s interesting about Clannad?
CH: I think Clannad’s gameplay mechanics are very impressive in terms of giving the player an immersed interactive experience. Choices really impact your ending on which character or story arc you end up in.

I’d recommend it to those who love romance because the game is highly romantic while still being realistic, in ways. There is a slight amount of supernatural in it as well. I did not attempt to imitate Clannad into my own work, as their protagonist is a single male while Bitter Truth has a female already in a relationship.

JO: Is there any other local work you’d like to highlight? Are there local developers that people should look up?
CH: I would love to highlight GlowLime Games, a student organization in the five colleges that aims to build a community of professional game developers. As the Operations Manager, I find working for this organization very rewarding in so many ways. For anyone in the Valley interested in trying game development or mentoring I’d highly suggest contacting us.

Thank you again for the interview. We have launched our Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight. Check it out! We’d love all the support we could get!

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