Envixer June 30, 2020 An Interview with Belle

An Interview with Belle


I was lucky enough to get Belle, the developer behind Long Live The Princess, to agree to an interview about the game. If you haven’t discovered this game yet, then here is Belle’s description:

The King is dead. His daughter, Princess Selena, is set to take the crown. But something is wrong. Murder, backstabbing, and visions of extinction threaten to bring ruin to all that is good. And at the heart of it all is a tale of personal tragedy and lost love.

You are a Truthsayer. Yours is the ability to tell if someone is lying. With your mentor dead, it is up to you to protect the Princess when she arrives in your hometown for her coronation. But a secretive old crone and her foul-mouthed pixie assistant have different plans for you.

With a newly learned ability to uncover secrets and use them to your own advantage, you are tasked with getting close to Princess Selena to save her from her darkness. But to achieve that, you must practice by getting close to the women in town. Real close.

And as you venture towards your destiny, someone is watching you closely…

Q: Before we start talking about your game; what got you into adult gaming?

A: Coincidence, mostly. Like the developer of “Vinland,” whom you previously interviewed on this site, my first encounter with adult gaming was through the Japanese game “True Love,” which I came across by random chance. This was a long, long time ago, but I remember obsessively playing through every possible path in that game before putting it away. Once I did, I didn’t play any adult games again for many years, perhaps because there were so few of them at the time. Sure, like most people, I played the Leisure Suit Larry games, but they hardly count, in my opinion.

Many years later, I stumbled across Akabur’s Witch Trainer. I don’t even know how that happened, but my interest was immediately piqued. While the beautiful art and fun setting were interesting in themselves, what really caught my attention was Akabur’s brilliant comedic writing. Here was a developer who really understood brevity, timing, and the art of implying a joke rather than telling it outright. Had I encountered an uninspired incest cash grab, that might have been the end of my foray into adult gaming. Instead, I started exploring the genre to see if there were other games of equal brilliance out there. It turned out there were a few, but they were all different from each other. After that, I kind of kept exploring and trying new adult games, and here we are. 

Q: What are some of your favourite adult games right now?

A: The sad thing about turning something into your job is that it is too easy to lose your passion for it. It takes a lot to impress me these days because I no longer see a game, but a collection of tiny pieces that come together in a (hopefully) coherent whole. I can’t help but analyze every little bit. Combine that with basically working two jobs simultaneously, and the end result is that I barely even have the time for these games. Having said that, I do occasionally find a gem that keeps me coming back. 

Disregarding the easy choices that everyone knows about, such as Summertime Saga, Four Elements Trainer, Treasure of Nadia, and Something Unlimited, I find myself really enjoying games like Aurelia (that pixel art is just amazing), Heavy Five, and Timestamps. An honorable mention goes to City of Broken Dreamers, a game I have yet to play but are saving for later, knowing that it will deliver quality.

Q: What inspired you to become an adult game developer?

A: What, indeed? It’s hard to pinpoint something specific since becoming an adult game developer resulted from many different events converging. I think the defining moment came while I was playing Big Brother several years ago. The graphics were incredible at the time, enough for me to want to know exactly how they had been made. That led me to discover Daz Studio, the 3D rendering tool that most adult game developers use these days. At the same time, I began to learn about Ren’py, the popular visual novel engine. I began to realize that making a game entirely on my own was a real possibility.

Before this, I had been writing and creating both stories and fantasy worlds for a long time. My writing was getting very positive feedback. This made me feel confident taking on a bigger project of some kind, but I didn’t know exactly what. After playing a few modern adult games, it dawned on me that the writing was the least developed aspect of these games. I felt like I could do better, and that thought got the ball rolling. Luckily, I had been writing a design document for a hypothetical adult game a year earlier for reasons I can hardly recall anymore. Game design is a passion of mine, so I always have several game ideas jotted down simultaneously, if for no other reason than the design experience itself. I now had a design as well as the ability to write, create graphics, and implement everything in a game engine. What else could I do but dive in?

Q: Did you have much experience with art or development before you started?

A: Art? Not really. I’ve always been more of a music person in that regard, and that wasn’t a skill that was immediately useful to this kind of game. The development side was a different matter, however. Software development is my day job, so that part of the equation was more than covered. Except in figuring out some of its quirks, working with Ren’py was a breeze. 

Q: What was your inspiration behind Long Live The Princess?

A: A combination of the Ace Attorney series and the later Persona games. Both game series were fresh in my mind when I began the development of LLtP, and I decided to use some of my favorite parts from each. Those parts were the interrogations and evidence gathering from Ace Attorney, and the time management and relationship building from Persona, though I simplified them. 

The setting itself was inspired by the fantasy genre in general. I love fantasy, but I despise fantasy tropes. To my dismay, every adult game out there set in the fantasy genre used almost every single trope, apparently more from habit than from actual creative thought. I wanted to make a fantasy setting that avoided nearly all of these tropes without coming off as a Game of Thrones ripoff. That meant getting rid of dwarves, elves, orcs, fireballs, paladins, adventurers, dragons, treasure hoards, dungeons, and so on. I feel like the best kind of storytelling is about humanity itself, so that’s what I wanted to explore. I do feel like magic needs to be part of a decent fantasy setting, however. Still, I didn’t want people lobbing fireballs around to solve their problems. I wanted magic to be subtle and limited, though powerful in the appropriate circumstances. That was how the art of Truthsaying, knowing when someone is lying, came about. To spice up things, I also threw in a solid serving of Celtic mythology. It has always fascinated me but has remained woefully underexplored in gaming except as meaningless cameos or references. Celtic mythology can be both sexy and scary, and I wanted to use that.

Q: Admittedly, this is one of very few open world games that I enjoy. Did you consider making the game more linear at any point?

A: That already happened, kind of. My original design document described an even more open game. However, I cut away some concepts that were either too complicated or would have served no purpose except to waste the player’s time. The original design was more of a point-and-click game that featured environmental puzzles. As with so many other things, that part ended up on the chopping block. That might sound like I deliberately made the game more linear, but that was certainly not the goal or my motivation. 

Q: One of the design decisions you made was the ability to rush the romance of Evelyn, but with consequences. What was behind that decision?

A: I love choice and consequence, and I always seek ways to use that in my designs. The repercussions for rushing your relationship with Evelyn weren’t a goal for me, to be honest. That came about because of my focus on consequences elsewhere in the game. As I wrote her story, I realized that there needed to be a way to fail with her if you weren’t paying attention. The only natural outcome of that failure would be for her to go away. Permanently. It wasn’t a difficult choice for me to include that. I do, however, insist on making all choices rewarding in different ways. As a result, there is a unique sex scene tied to this outcome. You gain some, you lose… a lot, in this case.

At the time, it was also something I included early on in development to demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, that actions have consequences in this game. Evelyn’s are obvious, but other decisions might not be so clear-cut. The idea was to train the player into actually thinking about the choices made instead of merely clicking on every available option in the menus.

Q: Of all the characters you’ve created in LLTP, which one has been the most fun for you?

A: How could I answer anything but Belle to a question like that? She is the glue that holds the entire game together. It just wouldn’t have worked without her. She’s what saved this game from being about yet another Akabur protagonist. Too many comedic games go that route already, and none reach quite the same heights of brilliance. So, instead of having the main character in LLtP come up with funny quips and one-liners and thus competing against Akabur, I offloaded most of it to Belle. I honestly didn’t know if she would work as a character when I first designed her. As a result, I wrote a piece of example monologue, where she complains about the nature of her sexuality. I fell in love the moment she uttered her first line. In fact, that entire monologue appears in the game today, unchanged. It perfectly encapsulated everything I wanted Belle to be.

Best of all, writing Belle’s dialogue is easy. I barely have to think about it as her quips come naturally to me in real time. I suspect her style of comedy is close to my own, which, surprisingly, isn’t a given when you write comedic characters.

Q: I’m a great fan of the clue based system you put in the game as a mechanism to make progress with the characters. How did that system evolve from concept to execution?

A: It was actually a lot more involved at the concept stage than what it ended up as. Two games inspired this system: “Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth” and “Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments.” I wanted the player to find a series of clues, where some would be related, and others wouldn’t. The idea was to figure out which ones were related and connect them in a UI screen the player could bring up at any time, which would create new, more useful clues. This would allow you to chip away at a mystery until you were left with the most central facts needed to solve it. As I tried to figure out how to present this kind of system to the player, I realized that it was going to be way too complicated for a game like this. I couldn’t imagine a way to make a clean UI for it in Ren’py. 

So, instead of that cool, but unwieldy system, I took a step back and imitated the core Ace Attorney games and their trials. There, two lawyers throw evidence back and forth at each other and try to spot inconsistencies in witness testimonies. Instead of a court, I wrapped the whole thing in a magic spell instead, both for simplicity and to fit everything neatly into the game’s theme. It contextualized the entire game in a way that brought everything together for me. And instead of trying to combine clues, it was instead about presenting the correct one based on hints given by the game.

Q: You’ve started on the endgame now. Is the story where you’d planned it to be?

A: For the most part, yes. Back when I released the first version of the game, I wrote down an outline of how the endgame would play out. While this outline has since expanded a little, it’s still pretty accurate for a design document. It was vital for me to make sure I was working towards a clearly defined story goal from the beginning, or the mystery wouldn’t feel earned. If the player thinks that I’m faking it, the appeal of the mystery goes away. You can’t just wing a mystery. That would result in something like LOST, which could never have had a genuinely satisfying payoff.

Interestingly, the original design document described a more light-hearted story than what this ended up as. What happened was that as the characters grew and became more lifelike, drama became unavoidable. Many of the light-hearted, funny parts suddenly felt out of place. The altered direction worked, though, so I rolled with it.

Q: While there are a few different playthrough options, what, for you, is the canon story?

A: Every story told through this game is the canon story. There is no one story or even interpretation of certain events, that is more correct in my mind than the others. I also took this to the next level by introducing concepts in the game that will never have an official resolution but are meant to be interpreted by the player. I did this because I want the player to have some agency in what this game world is and what everything means in it. The player’s interpretation is equally as valid as mine for parts of the setting that are not vital to the central mystery. While it’s not apparent right now, by the time this game is complete, I want it to be in a state where each player will have taken different paths that all feel like the True Path to them. 

Q: Seeing as we’re in the endgame of LLTP, what, if anything, do you have planned next?

A: After the endgame, I’m going to implement New Game Plus. The basic concept is that you get to replay the game while keeping some of your existing abilities from the previous game. However, there’s far more to it than just that, including unique content that you cannot see during your first playthrough. There’s even a (partially) unique character. I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you.

I’m still going to be creating many more updates for LLtP after the endgame is done. I will flesh out obviously missing content and add new ways for character stories to branch out differently depending on player choice. While the main story will end soon, the game’s development will continue for some time. As for what I will do once I deem the game complete? Who knows? I have a couple of ideas for other games, but I don’t want to commit to anything just yet. All I can say is that whatever I make next will not be a sequel to LLtP. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.

Q: Imagine you’ve won an award for Long Live The Princess. Who would you thank in your speech?

A: All the people who have supported me at any point during the game’s development, even if it was just tossing me a one-time $1 tip. I appreciate every one of these contributions, and seeing this kind of support has motivated me to keep pushing myself. The first time someone pledged to my Patreon campaign was an incredibly humbling experience. I can only hope that I have lived up to the faith these early patrons put in me.

Q: If you could send a message to the fans of your game, what would it be?

A: Thank you for investing some of your precious time into playing a game that tries to do something different. It’s not always easy to attract attention to something that doesn’t neatly fit into existing genres, but you have proven that it is possible. So again, thank you!


The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the Writer(s) alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions and/or beliefs of LewdPixels.com.

Envixer

Writer and developer. Plus, I play with virtual dolls.

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Nadadine1
Nadadine1
3 months ago

Wow Belle was so detailed and passionate about concepts and development. It can be feel how into this whole thing to create something new something different.

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