Behind the Games – Interview with Nochi Studios

Hey Hey Blerdy Tribe, I’m back with another Behind the Games post! For those of you just joining the party, Behind the Games is a segment where I interview the folks ‘behind the games’ I review. Giving you guys a chance to get to know the developers that spend so much time carefully crafting the games you enjoy.

Last time, I spoke with members of the Nix Hydra team—the team behind the largely popular mobile game The Arcana and the story app FictIF. This time around, I had the chance to chat with members of Nochi Studios, the team behind the mobile otome game Sifting Thyme and the upcoming magitech isekai romance game Somnium Eleven.

Nochi Studios is a female-founded and run indie game studio based in Midwest, USA. The studio started as a two-woman team and has recently grown to include six dedicated members. Their first commercial release Sifting Thyme is a food themed mobile otome that is current being released episodically. In the game, you play as the newest transfer student at Lincoln Culinary Academy, a private culinary school and the perfect place to start your path towards finding your culinary calling. Immerse yourself in the vibrant world of food, business, and innovation throughout your school adventures. It’s a cute game that will definitely awaken your  inner foodie

Their second title, Somnium Eleven is currently on the crowd-funding site, Kickstarter, and is described by the team as being a “magitech isekai” visual novel. The upcoming game also boasts a more immersive gaming experience that includes mini games, stats raising, and social media management. I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming release and I am super excited to get the opportunity to some of the members of the Nochi Studios team! Big thank you to Natalie and Alexandra for agreeing to let me pick their brain a bit… and without further ado, let’s turn things over to them…

Interview Nochi Studios

Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, I recently downloaded your otome game, Sifting Thyme and I am having a blast! I want to give my readers a better feel of who you are as a team. Could you tell me a bit about yourselves?

Natalie: Super excited to chat with you! My name is Natalie and I’m the Founder of Nochi. For our game titles, I’m the producer – basically a glorified project manager haha

Alexandra: Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat with you! My name is Alexandra and I’m the scenario writer at Nochi for Sifting Thyme and Somnium Eleven. I also assist in marketing and community outreach.

Before I dive into your work with Nochi Studios, tell me a bit about when your love of games developed. What were the titles that sparked your love of games?

Alexandra: I started out playing platform games with my mother and younger brother on the SNES, and arcade games with my father. Then during middle and high school, I discovered visual novels from constantly looking up new games and anime to explore, and I was immediately hooked. I pretty much played whatever I could get my hands on. I became really inspired by games like EF ~ a fairy tale of the two, La Corda D’Oro, and Fate/Stay Night (and Ataraxia), many of which I still replay today and inspire my writing. I’m still an avid player of otome and narrative-based games and visual novels on a daily basis. There’s a recurring gag among our team about my undying love for Mystic Messenger.

Natalie: Haha, it’s true. Mystic Messenger references are a must! For my love of games, I have to thank my mom for this. She’s not a gamer herself, but she would always buy consoles & games for me at whim. Funnily – and thankfully for me!- she bought me games I didn’t ask for like Ocarina of Time when it came out. But overall, I would say Pokemon did me in. Pokemon swept my childhood self away with their games, trading cards, and the anime show. Their marketing is A+. Super Smash was another huge title in my childhood. It would be a community event when all the kids would get together and play hours of Smash with lighthearted trash talking.

Nochi Studios hit the scene with their mobile otome game, Sifting Thyme, which is being released episodically. With the sheer number of mobile otome games on the market, how successful has the game been? Do you find that the mobile gaming market is much more accommodating for indie developers than other gaming platforms (PC or console)?

Natalie: Sifting Thyme was – and still is – a huge learning experience for us. It was a way for Nochi to prove that we could publish a game for the mobile market and show what we stand for as a studio. From a commercial point of view, it wouldn’t be considered a success – at least as of now haha. But from a studio point of view, it’s a success for us in showing our brand. Plus, we absolutely love our fans and have so much fun interacting with people on social media. This might be controversial, but I think mobile gaming is actually harder to break into compared to PC in particular. There’s extra hurdles you have to go through in terms of technology and regulatory-related things. For visual novels in particular, I would recommend indie devs to start with PC or just make sure to fully scope out the mobile publishing landscape and requirements.

Your team recently announced your upcoming title, Somnium Eleven—which you describe as being a “Magitech Isekai” visual novel. Can you give my readers a bit more insight into what magitech is and how your team came up with this concept for your sophomore title?

Natalie: We knew that we wanted to do an isekai concept no matter what and had been playing around with different genres of isekai. We actually had started with a more traditional medieval-like isekai concept back in Fall 2019. But after developing the concept, artworks, and a rough prototype, we found out during user testing in Jan 2020 that it wasn’t a strong enough title. So we actually went back to the drawing board and went through the brainstorming & development process again. We decided that we wanted to keep some elements of tech and social media in this game, especially since we had been seeing that Sifting Thyme players enjoyed those “in-game phone” interactions. So that led us down the magitech route. I’ll let Alexandra explain what it exactly will entail in Somnium Eleven.

Somnium Eleven

Alexandra: Somnium Eleven takes place in a parallel world where magic exists, and technology has developed at a different rate. Much of this magic has been infused with technology, which therefore enables them to have their own iterations of modern tech counterparts including social media and state-of-the-art infrastructure. At the same time, we wanted the aesthetic to look and feel as if it had directly evolved from an antiquated civilization like ancient Rome. Several titles from the Final Fantasy series contain this similar aesthetic.

In otome games it’s through the heroine that we the player experience the events of the games and in most cases these characters tend to be pretty bland. When crafting your heroine characters for Sifting Thyme and Somnium Eleven what were some qualities that you wanted to make sure your heroines have to set them apart from the typical blank slate protagonist?

Alexandra: Natalie and I definitely had several conversations about this, and we both feel strongly about designing protagonists who can have their own personality while still giving players the opportunity to inject their own style and energy into the story. In Sifting Thyme, we wanted our heroine to be able to hold herself on her own throughout her school adventures just as much as when interacting with each of the boys. They’re motivated by their culinary aspirations just as much as they want to romance their dream guy. In this case, both of those opportunities go hand-in-hand, which gives our heroine the chance to share their love of food and cooking with their love interest. This naturally helped us to develop some of their more unique characteristics. Their interactions with Tyler as childhood friends also helped us shape their personality. In Somnium Eleven, we want to take the same approach, since Aria (her default name) has her own set of motivations to find her way back home, and her own insecurities to battle along the way as she explores a new world which we hope players will find relatable. In both stories, we wanted our heroines to have confidence so they can build a more meaningful relationship with their love interest.

Somnium Eleven MC Concept Art

There has been a bit of controversy within the otome games fandom concerning certain publishers choosing localization titles that they feel will appeal to players outside of the otome games demographic (ie. male gamers). How do you feel about this trend? Also, when creating games, do you target the typical otome games fan or do you try to create games that will appeal to everyone?

Natalie: It’s unfortunate – especially for devoted fans – when an awesome game ends up not being localized. Totally feel that and I myself have been desperate enough to bumble my way through games with my poor Japanese skills – anyone a Tokemeki Girl’s Side player out there? But yea, it’s tough… tough for both sides in my opinion. Actually, for Sifting Thyme, we’ve been asked about translating it to other languages. We absolutely would love to if it was possible. But unfortunately our team just doesn’t have the budget to do so. We’re so small and trying to keep our doors open. Of course, I don’t know if that’s the same case with publishers but I could see financial impact being their concern. For Nochi, we don’t really try to target a specific group per se. For us, the story content and game design is the most important thing. We just want to make sure we’re delivering quality content that we believe to be impactful and fits within our mission of sparking a conversation and building a community.

In your mission statement you mention that your team strives to encourage players to “engage with the gaming community”. What type of engagement does this entail and what steps are you taking to create spaces where players of your games can actively engage with one another outside of the game?

Natalie: We really place the importance of values and topics being represented through good storytelling. For Sifting Thyme in particular, we weave in educational foodie-related information into the game so that hopefully it sparks conversation with players. To help supplement that, we also try to curate our social media feed with related content too. For example, we address the current trend of lab-grown meat in chapter four of the game and then also made social media posts about it. We loved the interaction and comments people made online about their views of lab-grown meat and hope those conversations continue! We plan on hitting up as many conventions as we can to interact with people and have these conversations in-person if possible. But with covid, that’s made it a bit more difficult to connect with people online, especially with “Zoom fatigue.” So we’re trying to think of virtual ways to foster this sense of community during the pandemic. We’ve tried livestreams and one other thing we’re going to test out is a dedicated Discord server for Somnium Eleven development.

Alexandra: Since we’re players of otome games and visual novels just as much as we’re creators, we actively try to reach out to these communities, many of which overlap into other spheres like cosplay, anime, and manga, both online and in-person. We love engaging with our fans on social media and try sharing memes and other fun character content for people to enjoy and talk about. We also love opportunities to attend conventions as a space for sharing our values as a team, we hope players will feel comfortable with sharing with us too. We also have a new blog on our company website which we intend to feature more content for aspiring game developers, fellow gamers, and cosplayers to inspire more connections within our community.

You just announced Somnium Eleven, and I am super excited to get my hands on the official release. But, behind the scenes are there any other projects in the works? What are some potential story ideas you’d like to work on in the future?

Natalie: Ahh, thank you!! We’re super excited to make Somnium Eleven happen and can’t wait for everyone to check it out! Right now, we actually have a lot on our hands between Sifting Thyme and Somnium Eleven. We’re working towards releasing another game in late 2022 but we haven’t actually sat down to do the brainstorming & concept design work yet haha… We have some pretty late night derp convos when working and we’ve thrown around a few fun concept ideas. Plus we have a backlog of “almost-made-it” concepts so maybe we can revisit those?

One of the most appealing aspects of indie otome games for me is the fact that they feature stories that focus on diverse characters—specifically characters from the BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities. What role does diversity play in your games and what steps does your team take to ensure that you create games with quality representation for individuals from these groups?

Natalie: Totally agree with you! You don’t see diversity much in commercial games in the otome realm which is a bummer. We realized a bit too late with Sifting Thyme but we wanted to make sure we do as much as we can to not only celebrate the communities but also support them. The first thing we did when Sifting Thyme finally got released on iOS was put out a patch to include gender pronoun selections to try to be more inclusive. In the meantime, we’re really excited about Somnium Eleven because we were able to incorporate more representation. Valentina was the first romanceable character we nailed down details for because it was so easy – there’s not enough representation of a badass, female love interest of color. We are so proud of her because everyone has been loving her and we really hope that positive representation perpetuates in the gaming community!

Alexandra: Diversity is something we value both at a production level in our stories, and how we operate as an inclusive team. As Natalie said, Somnium Eleven has been a great opportunity to incorporate a more diverse cast of characters, and we’re excited to tell their stories. When designing our characters, we naturally wanted to include a diverse cast of love interests so we can have the opportunity to develop their stories and truly explore their character. We hope this enables us to breathe more life into the world we’re creating and will resonate with all players.

Somnium Eleven being your upcoming release, what is one aspect of the game that you are most excited to share with players?

Alexandra: I’m really looking forward to sharing a more diverse cast for Somnium Eleven with lots of unique personalities, character arcs, and motives. Their designs also reflect a lot of what’s more to come in their storylines. There’s a lot of opportunities to grow attached to several of these characters, and get to experience their part in this new world. To us, that’s the essence of what makes an isekai story exciting and colorful to experience.

Bonus Question: Since Somnium Eleven is an Isekai romance—If you had a chance to be transported to a different world which world would you most want to visit?

Alexandra: I think I’d really love to either explore an alternate steampunk Victorian world like in Code: Realize, or alternate 1930’s New York in Shiei no Sona-nyl. I’ve always fantasized about traveling by steam trains and becoming some magical inventor or artist in that world. Another world I would definitely have to visit would be something mystical and Arthurian, like from The Mists of Avalon.

Natalie: Ohhhh! This is a tough question… I’m quite obsessed with several romance isekai webtoons. Initially I wanted to say one of those titles, but I imagine the reality is pretty crappy in some of them if you’re not a noble or well-off in some way haha… So realistically I probably would want to be transported to a world like Avatar the Last Airbender and hope that I have some

Interview Nochi Studios (1)

I want to give a huge THANK YOU to the Nochi Studios team for taking the time to do this Q&A with me!

Nochi centered

Below are some links to the Nochi Studios team’s social media pages and game related sites. I highly recommend subscribing to their pages for the most up to date news on their current and future projects.

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