Miss Bullard’s School for Former Ladies is the only Old Continent boarding and etiquette school for women of “unfortunate circumstance”, who are not quite as normal as they once were, but still wish to enter society as convincingly human as possible.
You play as Lillian Graham, the daughter of a respected trader from the New Continent, who attends the school after fits of nightmares and possessed sleepwalking deemed to have magical origin. While it is unclear what is happening to you or what will become of your humanity, your job is to unravel the mysteries that surround you and the location itself. Separated from society and moved to a new place at such a trying age can be intimidating…but perhaps you will not have to face it alone.
We asked her about her inspirations, advice she has for other micro indies, and what a Fallen London player might enjoy about her new title.
How did your game idea come about, initially?
When I first took an interest in game development, I knew I wanted to begin with a visual novel. My background in writing is primarily with prose, and choose-your-own-adventure stories like Goosebumps and those published by Bantam Books were childhood favorites. I wanted to apply my idea of Victorian-inspired paranormal lesbians at a boarding school in the framework of this medium, knowing it would be within my skill level and provide interactive, branching play.
What was your experience of running a Kickstarter like? What advice would you give to another indie developer looking to use Kickstarter?
My experience running a Kickstarter was primarily positive. I ran my campaign in October of 2017, and ended up reaching the stretch goals before the end of the month. I found the word-of-mouth approach worked well over any kind of paid advertising in promoting the campaign; in particular, posting about the campaign amongst visual novel communities like Lemma Soft and r/visualnovels, and using social media avenues like Twitter and Tumblr. Understanding who your audience is (in my case, lovers of the Victorian era, supernatural elements, and/or lesbian fiction) is especially helpful when spreading the word and finding which communities to share the campaign with. Also, having a demo will both get potential players excited for your project and demonstrate that you have the ability to bring your concept into fruition.
My advice for indie developers interested in using Kickstarter to fund their project is to identify their audience, research the best times of the year to run a campaign, and set a realistic goal for you project scope and skill level (you are more likely to have success in funding with a >$5000 budget than a $10,000 one if you are a beginner). I highly recommend estimating the amount of the time you expect developing your project will take—then add a couple of months to that number for any unforeseen difficulties. Being upfront about the time needed to create your project is much better than trying to release something in haste and running into delays!
You’ve said Fallen London inspired your desire to pursue a narrative with multiple paths, how has that come out in the final game?
Fallen London is one of the first online choice-based games I encountered. I adored the scope of the game and plethora of narrative branching—an exchange in FL feels less like a dialogue tree, and more like a dialogue forest! The wealth of choice and lore to explore is something I wanted to capture within the scale of a visual novel; particularly without the pressure to choose one particular answer. Allowing players a fair choice is important to me, as in Fallen London, there is never a clear-cut “right or wrong” answer to a situation. In Miss B’s, I wanted players to be able to answer honestly once locked onto a route (rather than look up a guide to reply in the “correct” way to make a character love you, and reach a best ending as you often have to in other romance visnovs). I aimed to create meaningful choice with a focus on character development (driven by aforementioned choice), character diversity, and plot lore spread out across different routes to encourage multiple playthroughs.
Who is the player character in Miss Bullard’s School for Former Ladies?
You play as Lillian Graham, a new student attending Miss Bullard’s school who is looking to find a cure for her chronic nightmares of unknown origin. Throughout the game, you have the choice to acquaint yourself with one of four women all struggling with their own paranormal afflictions. Lillian has an identity of her own as a character, but her view of the school and the other characters will be highly influenced by whichever lady she pursues.
What appeals to you about the meeting of historical and paranormal?
Historical fantasy is a blend of two foreign worlds that still has homely or familiar feel to it. I also find the fantastical element allows flexibility in bringing modern notions or themes, such as LGBT representation, into the plot without needing to stretch the past too much. Likewise, being able to provide an alternate look at history with paranormal influences allows for writing that changes up history’s rules, as well. I enjoy discovering the ways in which old eras could have been enlightened and/or corrupted by the presence of magic.
What else would a Fallen London or Sunless Sea player delight to find in your game?
The thematic similarities of a dark Victorian paranormal storyline and LGBT romance options are the immediate appeals. Miss B’s has much darkness brewing within the school grounds, but there is plenty of warmth to be found amidst the chill. Aforementioned flexibility in choice that Fallen London inspired me to design sets Miss B’s apart from the visual novels that require guides to get through. The morally grey situations you see in both games challenge the notion of answering correctly and incorrectly, even in the more realistic situations you may encounter in Miss B’s, such as swaying a character between choosing between family or career. (Being an active player of Fallen London during my formative writing years, there may be further underlying similarities in diction or atmosphere that presently allude me.)