Wandersong dev on the challenges of trading singing for painting in Chicory
When Greg Lobanov was putting the finishing touches to his adorable vocal bard adventure Wanderersong and waiting for it to debut in fall 2018, the first threads of his next project, Chicory: A Colorful Tale, formed in his head. He wasn’t sure then what it would be, but “a game about drawing was my first idea,” he says, “and seemed like the most natural evolution of Wanderersong, the game that Chicory would be; there were many bad versions of it to be spotted first. “
Chicory: a colorful story
- What is it?
- When is it out?
- Where can i get this?
A top-down adventure game about a dog with a magic brush and the next game from Wanderersong developer Greg Lobanov
the 10th of June
The version of Chicory that Lobanov eventually settled on (and which you can play later on June 10th) is a top-down adventure game about a dog named Pizza with a magic brush. After playing for the first few hours, it seems just as sincere and full of character as Lobanov’s earlier work. Not only can you paint the city red (or even any color) with large, satisfying dabs of your mouse-controlled brush, but you can also solve puzzles, help your animal friends, find lots of hats, and bring the world of picnic province back to its former glory. It’s a lovable and charming little adventure in the style of classic 2D Zelda games, and everything is accompanied by crisp music by Celeste composer Lena Raine and traveling song sound designer Em Halberstadt.
“I’ve always enjoyed drawing,” says Lobanov. “I wasn’t exactly the best at it, but it was something I did all the time, as natural as eating and breathing. I just enjoy doing things, and with Chicory especially, I wanted the entertainment in the game to explore a bit of creativity. But I don’t think that really makes me special; anyone in the world can have fun playing with the keys of a piano or a pack of colored pencils, so it is perfectly natural to base a game on these concepts. “
First and foremost, however, Lobanov had to find a way to let the players go at any time. “Drawing is a really challenging concept to design a game,” he says. “Games are generally based on providing the player with extrinsic rewards – increase your character, reach the next level, etc. But drawing and creativity are intrinsically motivated. Being creative with the expectation of rewards has been studied and has been shown to be psychologically demotivating, so if you stick to the way games are usually designed, it is almost impossible to do anything satisfying. We could only explore this space and find Chicory by breaking the rules and trying new things in a special way that only indie games are allowed to.
Oh yes, the harshest of all colors, salmon pink.
“It took me a while to realize how well a top-down perspective worked with the concept, and it wasn’t until I figured that out that I began to look at Zelda as a design model. In particular, I was really interested in the original GameBoy version of Link’s Awakening. I love the cozy, satisfying way it fits together screen by screen and how its story and atmosphere fit in. And at Chicory, this structure fits together perfectly; the task of coloring the entire map is broken up into satisfying little pieces, with each screen composed just like that. “
Despite being a drawing game, Chicory’s big, chunky art style didn’t become big until Lobanov persuaded environmental artist Madeline Berger to join the project.
“I felt a bit lost in terms of art direction until I hired my roommate at the time, the zine artist Madeline, to draw the surroundings for me,” says Lobanov. “Their art is wonderfully charming, and they didn’t have a background in games, so they brought something new to the mix. Often my role in directing was balancing Madeline’s wildly diverse drawings with the need for clarity in gameplay . ” , and the result to me is something that feels like nothing else. “
I also asked Lobanov about his move from People in Wandering Song to Animals by Chicory, and it was all thanks to character artist Alexis Dean-Jones, he tells me.
“We first met when I was doing Wanderersong and from the beginning I loved your work and wanted to play a game with your characters. I also just love the energy it brings to the world before you even start talking to a character, you can get such a strong impression of them just because of their nature, their design and their name (which always refers to the Food is related). “
Of course, with hundreds of different animal species and food names to consider, many iterations had to be done before the team finally settled on Chicory’s central characters.
For example, one of the first animals you will meet is Blackberry, who trained the chicory in the art of its magical brush. At first she was a reptile, but in the course of development she also turned into an otter, some kind of wolfish creature and even a porcupine.
“We tried more than a dozen different species before we decided it was a deer,” laughs Lobanov. “It’s funny though; with hindsight, I can’t imagine any other way. A lot of the process was trying ideas until we found something that ‘just felt right’. That was the case with character design as well.” was for game design. “
You really weren’t kidding about these forests, did you, lizard friend?
With all of its moody and cute characters, however, it quickly becomes clear that Chicory – both the game and the rabbit that gives it its name – has to do with much heavier things than the simple, joyful act of putting the brush on canvas bring to. As with Wandersong before, which drove right into the heart of what it means to be a “hero”, Chicory doesn’t shy away from asking big questions. For the first few hours, Chicory touches on topics like burnout and self-care and the toll of constantly being creative.
“As lifelong creative people, I and the people on this team have had all kinds of experiences,” says Lobanov. “Nothing is 1: 1, but everything discussed in this game is inspired by our lived experience and the experience of the people around us. That is really all we want to do because that is all we can do while we are true and real. I say this with an understanding that no one is an island, and our experiences cannot help but speak to the larger systems that contextualize them, including the industry in which we work. But at the end of the day it all comes out of a desire to express something personal. “
Of course, there are challenges associated with telling such a story, and it can be difficult to tread the line between sincerity and arrogance. However, according to Lobanov, the secret is knowing when to shut up.
“I work everything like crazy,” he says. “I often approach critical scenes and think about how it would be read to someone who was bored and really didn’t care, and look for ways to get that person’s attention. And then yes, to eliminate the word count as much as possible. Each button press to advance a text box burns your benevolence with the player, so I try to count each one.
In this brevity I will close with that. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is out on Steam today, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest of Pizza’s story soon.