Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a Zelda type adventure where the world is your coloring book
Greg Lobanov likes to create art around art. In its favorite medium of game development, this self-examination has become increasingly evident in recent projects like Wandersong, an adventure song game, and now Chicory: A Colorful Tale, which is all about art. visual.
“Doing stuff is a huge part of my identity,” Lobanov said, speaking to IGN. “This is probably the main way I relate to others, as all of my friends are creative people too. And all I talk about with everyone I know is just, ‘What are you working on? ? inspires you? “And” What are your challenges right now? “So in a way it’s very personal to make a game that talks about this conversation in that space, because that’s just what I think about all the time.”
Lobanov is an independent game developer from Philadelphia, now residing in Vancouver. He’s created and completed a dozen games so far, starting with simple free-to-play titles and gradually moving into more complex RPGs. His first great escape game, Wandersong, helped him focus on nonviolent play and creativity.
While Chicory is a very different game both mechanically and narratively, it still has the same roots in the challenges and struggles of being a “maker”.
“With Wandersong and Chicory, the mechanical starting point of these two games was a mechanism of creativity like making music, making art and trying to make a game about it,” Lobanov explains. “I haven’t seen a game that plays these concepts that way, a game that is literally, you draw all the time on things all the time, and the game is about that drawing. It’s kinda surprising to me too, because playing notes on a piano and making music or just getting a box of pencils and drawing on paper is something that is fun for people of all ages. Everyone loves to do this at some point given of his life. Yet there are no, or very few, games that explore this space. “
Chicory interprets this philosophy quite literally. It’s a top-down adventure game set in a black and white world, where a “wielder” is assigned to use a magic brush to color everything. The current wearer, Chicory, is a beloved celebrity, but at the start of the game she disappears, and all the colors in the world go with her. As janitor and number one fan, you pick up his brush and refill the color of the world as you venture out and try to find out what happened to him. The puzzling and adventure elements are combined – the entire game world acts like a coloring book, where you can use a brush to color literally anything you see. Much of Chicory’s exploration and puzzles relates to your use of the brush, with different environments reacting to the application of color in different ways.
For example, a small plant can grow instantly when colored, allowing it to be used as a platform to cross a space. Conversely, you may later need to erase that color to shrink the plant again, as its large size could block a path you need to travel.
Lobanov is candid about how the game’s exploration and puzzle components were inspired by the Zelda games from top to bottom, but it is the art that is at the heart of the game. exploration weren’t even part of his original idea for Chicory – drawing came first, and exploration was added to answer the question of what players would do other than draw. And in the end, Lobanov says, the drawing elevated a style of play that people are already familiar with. For example, he mentions that whenever a player walks into an entirely blank screen, they immediately know whether or not they’ve been there before – paint stains left behind can help improve puzzle and map memory.
With painting at their heart, Lobanov and his collaborators had to go to great lengths to ensure that everyone could play chicory, regardless of their level of artistic skill. He says you don’t have to be an artist to play, as Chicory is ultimately more about the characters, puzzles, and story rather than being able to draw anything particularly good, although the in-game painting tools are sturdy enough to accommodate those who want to get whimsical.
One creative element that Lobanov limited to help make the game more accessible is the color selection. Each unique zone of Chicory has only a selection of four colors for players to choose from, which serves both to give zones their own distinct flavors, but also to help players feel less overwhelmed (and less inclined to spend hours in the interface simply choosing colors).
“If you give [players] a set of colors that always go well together, you can’t help but do something that looks good, ”he says.
This is also not where Chicory’s accessibility ends. Lobanov wants to make sure people know that his game is accessible to deaf and color blind players as well.
“Usually when people see color in a game, they assume that if you’re color blind, it’s not for you,” he says. ” This is not the case. This game is fully accessible to color blind players; half of our [quality assurance] testers are color blind. Your ability to distinguish colors is not a puzzle or challenge in this game, as it is not something the game is about. So please don’t worry about it. “
Despite its focus on the visual arts, Chicory is certainly no slouch in the music department. Its soundtrack is by Lena Raine, a game composer known for Celeste but with works in Guild Wars 2, Minecraft and many more. Lobanov has known Raine for years, claiming they bonded out of a shared love for JRPGs like Earthbound and Pokemon.
“I assumed what we were going to do was basically like Celeste but different melodies, like chiptune piano stuff, which would be really cool for this cool painting game,” he tells me of their collaboration. “And Lena went in a whole different direction with that, it’s sort of as good if not better than what she’s done on our other games. Like, it’s all the old instruments, and the orchestrations, and the jazz, and all that weird stuff just put together – and it works great. And that’s not at all what I expected. She revealed a huge breadth of work basically on this project that really impressed me.
But those who are specifically drawn to elements closer to Zelda than art and music may notice that something is missing: There is no combat in Chicory. Lobanov says he’s gradually taken to creating more non-violent games over time. He sees games as a source of joy, and he prefers to pass this on to others rather than sharing topics that he personally finds unpleasant, such as violence.
“If I’m really going to do things that are going to come out in the world and imagine that people are going to play and have an impact on someone’s life, even if it’s just like in an afternoon window , how can I be more responsible for what I put in? What do I really want to tell people? “
Chicory isn’t just nonviolent. Her aesthetic is charming, her characters are fun and silly, and her message is ultimately positive. As a result, it has been rated by some as a “healthy” game, a label that has gained more attention lately thanks to things like the Wholesome Games showcase.
Lobanov doesn’t blame anyone for the “Wholesome Games” label, saying he thinks it can be a very useful categorization for people who are trying to find a certain type of game and is happy for those who find it useful. But he adds that he personally doesn’t like the word “healthy” as a descriptor of his work, as he feels it has an overtone of challenge-free play – which is not his goal.
However, he’s not to say that challenging is synonymous with frustrating, noting that many popular games are all about frustrating players and creating some tension at the heart of the experience. Rather, he thinks the games should include stimulating themes and ask the player to think more deeply about the ideas that matter in the wider world.
“I think there is a growing scene of games realizing that this [frustrating and tense] design isn’t necessary to create something fun and engaging, ”he says. “So the games that I create, in that sense, they have very little friction for the player; they are not meant to be frustrating. And I think that’s why they feel healthy this way. Because a player who plays them knows that nothing is going to jump on them, attack them or kill them. You expect a relatively comfortable experience. But I see it as different from [not being challenging], because the games are always ultimately about stimulating themes.
“That’s a big part of why I want to make these games and why I think it works really well to have games that have less friction in the design, for players who are really interested in committing to something. on an emotional level… You don’t have to worry about not being able to beat the game because something is too hard, or punishing you so intensely or something, but you are going to be having a conversation about something that is important.
After years of perfecting his craft with little free games, the support Lobanov has received for Chicory on Wandersong’s Heels is a significant turning point for him as a creator. Its Kickstarter was funded from day one, it was featured in multiple storefronts both digitally and at events like PAX, and it was picked up by indie publisher Finji, known for publishing indie darling Night in. the Woods.
Lobanov says he feels a bit of “survivor guilt” now, having come from so many troubled projects before Wandersong and Chicory, and is working hard not to take the support he now has for granted.
“When I was doing Wandersong, I was at no point certain that he would even get out, because being able to pay the rent was a concern at many points,” he says. “With Chicory, I didn’t have to worry about that. It’s so different.”
And luckily for Lobanov, that support has meant that Chicory is already having enough success financially, even before its launch, that Lobanov will be able to make another game after him without worry. So, instead of thinking about selling a certain number of copies, he says he hopes for Chicorée that his message will resonate with someone.
“What I’ll be proud of is if this game comes out and speaks to an audience in a personal way,” he says. “Basically like Wandersong did to some people. It’s good that a lot of people like the game, but what I’m really hoping is that someone really connects to it on a more level. deep. If that really means a lot to at least one person, that’s what I want for this project, artistically. ”
Chicory: A Colorful Tale will be released on PC, PS4, and PS5 on June 10, 2021.
Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @canardvalentine.