Earlier today we wrote an introductory piece to Culina: Hands in the Kitchen, an intriguing new visual novel/restaurant simulator that is currently in its final hours on Kickstarter.
Despite the game being funded already, we had to chase down one of the masterminds behind the game, Chris Doran.
Niche Gamer: For our readers who haven’t been following your Kickstarter, could you briefly describe what Culina is all about?
Chris Doran: Culina is a visual novel/strategy game where you step into the shoes of a culinary school graduate who dreams of opening up his own restaurant. Due to his family’s trust in him, he gets to embark on that endeavor. However, he will have to prove that he can create a successful business and pay his parents back in time so he doesn’t have to move back home. If I had to describe it in terms of other games, I’d say it’s a lot like Persona 4 if you removed the JRPG part and put in a restaurant sim inside with a dash of Recettear for good measure.
Your team seems to be from all over – is this challenging as far as your development/management goes?
Since the world has become so small with the advances of technology, we’ve been able to work with extremely talented people from all over the world. That has been a blessing, however living in different time zones can make it difficult to communicate with each other at certain times due to time zones and the like.
What gave you the idea to make a cooking-based visual novel?
Cooking has always been very important to us. Growing up, our mother was a cooking teacher and we’d be inspired and want to create dishes of our very own and do some cooking (We make an excellent pizza). Games have also been an extremely big part of my life. Visual novels have also been a type of game that I loved growing up as well. My favorite game is Persona 4, but I always found myself grinding though the dungeons and battling just to get back to the social link parts. Culina is kind of a love letter to both of those parts of me. At the time we didn’t notice any other titles doing similar stuff that what we were out to do, so we started making steps towards it.
How in-depth do the restaurant management systems get? Will you be able to micro-manage even your waiters?
Currently, the only systems that are implemented are making recipes, buying ingredients to use in those recipes, and the selling system. We are planning a lot more depth with the influx of Kickstarter funds. Ideally, we would like to let the player serve the food and cook it themselves in separate mini-games in order to make more money. With the exception of a tutorial section (and possibly a few days because of story events), they will be completely optional.
What are we looking at as far as length goes? This could be just a single romance story-arc, or the overall campaign.
Each of the main characters has their own story arc and all, save Paul, you can have a romantic relationship with, or just friendship. The length of each arc varies by character and are still subject to changes by the backers. We also are planning on elongating some of them and possibly adding new ones. Right now, we are currently planning to have over ten times the amount of text as is in Culina: The Spirit of Cooking.
You’ve said the restaurant will be customizable – how much can we customize? Can you even pick the coloring of your seats?
As of this moment, restaurant customization is still in the planning stages. The original idea was just to be able to upgrade the equipment that you had in the kitchen. However, now that we are moving our game engine to Unity that opens up a new world of possibilities to us. That being said, the more customizable we have the restaurant, the more resources and art assets we will need to make. We also don’t want to make things too complicated to scare people off. Ideally we want something that will provide enough depth for the connoisseur and not be overwhelming for the casual player. Getting feedback from our design consultants and their playtesting will be very important in determining the direction we go.
How does the story progress? Is it mostly linear or more open ended?
The overall story is linear (you have to make this amount of money in this amount of days, a food critic will come at this date, etc), but the game is open in terms of how you want to spend that time. The player can choose to spend time creating recipes, increasing his abilities at cooking, or spending time with friends and coworkers. Each of the people you can choose to spend time with has their own route, but the order in which you do them matters. There isn’t enough time to be best friends with everyone and run a successful restaurant (though I’d love to be proven wrong).
Continuing along with progression, will there be multiple endings? Or even an actual “final” ending?
There are multiple endings depending on the choices that you made throughout the game.
What’s the replayability look like, then? Are you planning on a new game+ mode of sorts?
We would love to make the game as replayable as possible. In the game you may receive special items from the people that you build friendships or relationships with. This, as well as your stats, will transfer over to a New Game+ which will have additional options which may give you a different ending.
You mention in your KS video that you’re looking to move to Unity. What engine are you working in now?
We developed the game in Ren’Py, which is an amazing engine to use in visual novels and can do some amazing things. However, by moving our engine over we get a lot of new capabilities that we didn’t have previously, such as realtime lighting and animations. In addition, we are no longer limited in terms of what our mini-games can be, as we can develop it all from scratch.
How many different characters will you be able to form a strong relationship with?
All of the main characters
What about a romantic relationship?
All of the characters have that option except Paul and one other character on the first playthrough.
Coming from this, are you implementing “revealing” or “fanservice” type CGs, or are you staying away from this?
As of this writing, our CGs are tasteful with the most “fanservicey” thing being two characters kissing. The storyline has some moments that can go in that direction, but we are going to leave that to our backers in terms of what they’d like to do. We would be happy to show up to a point, but we still want to be able to put the game on Steam if we are approved on the Greenlight process.
Are there multiple difficulties?
Yes, that way for those people that just want to play the game for the story can, and those who think it is too easy or want a challenge can play at a more difficult level.
Have you thought about allowing players to play the game as a restaurant simulator without the visual novel elements? And vise-versa?
Yeah, we were just talking earlier today about the possibility of a “career mode” that could be unlocked once you finish the game or possibly by entering a cheat code at the start screen. Ideally we would prefer you try the game once in its intended format, however we know that some people would prefer not to have to play in that way. We may play around with a just visual-novel mode of the game, but playtest it for feedback before committing.
Now that you guys have been funded, are you confident in making the April 2015 release window? How far along is development currently?
We feel fairly confident that we will make the target release date, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Obviously, if we reach any of our stretch goals it may have to be pushed back to allow our artists and writers to create content. For the original game before porting, adding new characters, animation, mini-games etc., I’d say we have the assets and storyline pretty much 90% complete. We were not satisfied with that though, so we turned to Kickstarter to seek the funds to really make the game shine.
Lastly, do you have anything to share with your backers, the potential backers, and your fans?
We couldn’t have come this far without you. It means the world to John and me that you wanted to stick by us and liked our idea enough to support it. We also can’t wait to hear from you to see what you really want from the game. Thanks for everything!
Thank you so much to Chris Doran and the rest of the team at Culina: Hands in the Kitchen for giving us the time to do this interview. Although they’ve already reached their funding goal, they still have some time left to hopefully reach their stretch goals.
If you haven’t considered backing Culina: Hands in the Kitchen, head on over to their Kickstarter campaign to give them a look.