Art, artists, and the process of creation have served as inspiration for plenty of video games, and yet, there aren’t many titles that let you roll up your sleeves and actually create your own art. Well, the upcoming PlayStation-console-exclusive Chicory: A Colorful Tale does just that. The latest project from Vancouver, Canada-based Greg Lobanov, who previously spearheaded the excellent Wandersong, Chicory is a Zelda-esque adventure that lets players paint literally everything in its black-and-white coloring-book world. It’s a neat concept that sounds like it should be particularly appealing to kids, families, and those who just have an insatiable itch to doodle, but how will it actually work in practice?
I recently got a chance to chat with Lobanov about Chicory: A Colorful Tale, touching on the game’s approach to player freedom and puzzle design, Animal-Crossing-esque elements, co-op, use of the PlayStation controllers, and more. Scroll on down for the full colorful conversation…
Chicory: A Colorful Tale has been on my radar since I first saw it. I have a 3-year-old son and I’m pretty sure he’s going to love watching me play.
Oh, yeah yeah…
Also, and I may be dating myself here, but one of my favorite time wasters as a kid was drawing in MS Paint. I wouldn’t even save my doodles due to a lack of hard drive space, I’d just erase them and start again. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is definitely giving me some of those nostalgic MS Paint vibes.
That’s so cool. That was true for me as well, but… I didn’t even think about that as I was working on this. How I used to use MS Paint just for fun.
So, what inspired you to make Chicory?
At the core of it, I’ve always really loved drawing. I haven’t yet seen a game that uses drawing the way we do, where you can draw at all times and with almost limitless freedom. Most games of this kind of style, they tend to keep the drawing within a small component of the game. So, I was really interested from the outset… can you make a game where the player can always draw and the drawing interacts with everything? I wasn’t sure that was even possible, but I hadn’t seen a game like it and was curious, so I tried it and kind of went from there. […] I think what makes the game really special is the drawing, and that’s something that comes from personal experience, not so much from other games.
How much flexibility will players have to create their own art? Is there some sort of free draw mode?
We thought about something like that, but the reality is, the entire game is already a free draw mode. There are specific places where characters will ask you to draw something that will get hung up in an art gallery or might be used for the design for a t-shirt. So, there’s a lot of opportunities like that, where you’re asked to draw for a specific usage. Overall, it is quite free, the player can just draw with whatever colors or whatever place…I should say, we give you a limited palette of colors to choose for each area. Each has sort of its own vibe, but outside of that it’s quite free. Some people don’t take advantage of that freedom, but some players do and spend a lot of time decorating and coloring everything just so.
It feels like Chicory is a game that every player is going to tackle a little differently. I’m sure you’ve had some folks testing the game – have you been surprised by how people have approached it?
Totally. When we’re playing the game, to me, it’s more like I’m designing tools. I use them a little bit just to make sure they work, but it’s really different to see it in someone else’s hands and see people get inspired to make their own things with it. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it really is kind of cool and surprising to see people really getting into it and drawing cool things. We released a demo with our Kickstarter and Steam Game Festival and I’ve seen some really honestly amazing drawings from players already. Making really cool landscapes or character drawings or whatever. So, I’m just really excited for when this game comes out [to] see all the things people are going to do with it.
Is there an easy way to share/show off what you’ve done with your world?
On consoles, with Sony for example, there is a Share button, so we’re kind of relying on that. One feature we’ve added into the game is a time-lapse option. That exists everywhere all the time – on any screen you can pause the game and the hit play to see a time-lapse replay of your drawings on that screen.
Ah, that’s a cool idea…
So yeah, if you’re on PC there’s no Share button automatically, but hopefully, players will take advantage of the existing screenshot and video-sharing tools that exist.
Beyond being able to doodle to your heart’s content, how is Chicory actually structured? What are your goals? Are there dungeons? Enemies? Bosses?
There are kind of bosses and action sequences. The demo we’ve released before, it ends in a boss fight…
Yeah, I checked out the demo – I was kind of surprised to see that boss show up!
Our boss fights are kind of like…musical painting things. Each one is really different. The general gist of the game is that it’s a black-and-white world and you have a magical brush that can color it in. There’s this legendary artist named Chicory that everyone’s a huge fan of, and she, at the beginning of the game, disappears along with all the color in the world. So, you’re playing as her #1 fan, who takes up her brush in her absence and is kind of filling in for her and trying to figure out what happened. That’s kind of the objective of the game.
In terms of the actual game structure, you’re exploring areas, using your paint to solve puzzles. You’ll find mysterious locations and sometimes fight bosses and other things, and then you’ll get new powers. You’ll increase you bond with your brush, which unlocks new painting abilities that you can use to get to new places, kind of like a Metroidvania exploration thing.
You’ve promised the game will have Zelda-esque puzzles. How open-ended are they? Can players come up with their own “artistic” approach or is there usually a set solution?
They’re honestly fairly open-ended, but not entirely, because to make an interesting puzzle there has to be a solution to it. […] That’s one of the more interesting areas of the design of this game that took a lot of iteration, because we want players to feel like they’re still in a headspace where they can be creative and do whatever they want. So, it comes down to using your painting abilities and combing those in different ways and the fun and surprising and unique ways that your paint interacts with different things in the world.
What are some of the ways you can interact with the world?
One example early on are flowers that when they’re erased grow really tall so you can stand on top of them, but when they’re colored in they shrink down and you can walk through them, so they open paths in different locations. Later in the game there are bugs that eat paint and if you draw on the ground they’ll follow your drawings around. So, you can draw paths to move the bugs around and they can push things or carry things. Lots of things that react to your paint in different ways, that get into that fun tension between drawing whatever you want, but also solving a problem.
Your games are very accessible, which is commendable. That said, there were times I wished your previous game Wandersong asked players to engage with its musical theme in a deeper way. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I can draw pretty well. Will I be rewarded for that in some way? Or will personal satisfaction in a world well-painted have to suffice?
The problem is, there’s really no way to judge if art is good or not, especially algorithmically…
Oh, I dunno, I think I could impress the algorithm.
…but I would say that yes, it is rewarding. If players put time in and care about their drawings…like, one small example – you can go and take art classes in the game. You’re given a prompt and a blank canvas and can draw whatever you want, and there is kind of a procedurally-generated art critique based on your specific choices in the drawing. And that drawing gets hung up somewhere in the world and other characters may show up to appreciate it.
There’s the pat on the back I was looking for!
So, in some sense, it doesn’t really matter what you draw, a lot of the outcome is kind of the same. But on the other hand, if you really put time into your art and are proud of your drawings, I think you’re going to get more out of that experience. And definitely your world is going to look better to you. I hope that’s rewarding to players. One feature I think is really cool, but it’s really kind of small – when you look at the map of the world it also shows all the drawing you’ve done on all the different screens, so if you’re spending the time, your map is going to look really cool. [Laughs].
I enjoy a good video game map, so that’s a nice incentive.
Yeah, I do too. So yeah, your map is just going to look awesome if you spend a lot of time drawing in your world. It’s definitely a game that gives back to the time you put into it.
Wandersong was highly varied, changing setting and genre from chapter to chapter. Will we see similar twists from Chicory or will it strike a more consistent tone?
There are definitely some surprises on the way for people [who play] this game. [Laughs]. It’s working in a really different space than Wandersong, because that was a very linear story-adventure game, so we could do things that were very, very special and specific that a player can’t go back to. This is an open-world game where every area you go to, you can come back to later on, and it’s kind of more about that. Things will change in old areas when you come back to them, characters will move around, or the story will progress in different ways. So, there are some really cool interactions that will come from that opportunity, but it is really different from Wandersong, which is almost more of a linear cartoon or animated film where every scene is its own special place. [Chicory] is a game that’s more about the interconnectivity of all its different places and people.
You’ve said Chicory has a touch of Animal Crossing in it. How will that work? Beyond all the characters being adorable animals, of course.
This game has a lot of side content in it. So, caveat – we put this in the game before the most recent Animal Crossing game was first announced or came out – there’s a feature in [Chicory] where you can collect furniture and plants and then you can place them anywhere in the world. When you put down furniture and plants, other characters may show up and hang out in the spaces you’ve made or comment on the decisions [you’ve made] there.
So, there’s a vibe to this game… you are doing exploration, you’re solving puzzles in kind of a Zelda way, but then a lot of the collecting you do, […] a lot of the gamified objectives in this game, the treasure and secrets, they all kind of come down to more things that let the player personalize their world and their character. So, in that sense, it really does have that Animal Crossing feeling where the world feels really cozy, and it’s all about helping out people with their small-time problems and filling the world up with your ideas and creativity.
How does the game’s co-op work?
You can have a second player and the player basically just acts as a second brush. Player 1 controls the character and has a brush and Player 2 is just a second brush that can also draw. Because everything in [Chicory] reacts to the paint, it’s a pretty full-fledged experience – you can help solve puzzles, you can do all the sidequests. I really enjoy watching people play together, because you have two sets of eyes working through problems, and it is actually helpful and kind of changes the mood of the game in a way I think is nice. You’re playing the exact same game, but now you can draw together and help each other out, or get in each other’s way! People do that too [laughs]. Erase each other’s drawings or argue over colors…
Like, you mentioned you have a young kid. He might be a little bit young, but I can definitely see situations where a parent is Player 1 and the kid is Player 2 and gets to draw and interact with the game and get a lot of the experience, but they can’t mess up your save file or solve a puzzle for you or walk off a ledge. They’re purely there to have fun and add onto the drawings and stuff.
What was behind the decision to make Chicory a PlayStation console exclusive?
I really like a lot of the features on PlayStation, I’ll say that outright. I think the [DualSense] controllers are really cool. I think mouse-and-keyboard is a really fun way to play this game for players who are focused on drawing, but the PlayStation controllers with their touchpads are a really, really great solution as well, because you can kind of fingerpaint. I like the vibrations and sounds in them as well. The controllers are really fun to use.
Could the game eventually come to other platforms?
We have interest in a lot of things. For now, we’re pretty focused on your launch, which is just going to be on the Sony consoles and PC and Mac. There might be opportunities for other things going forward, but yeah, that’s our focus right now.
Your first game was about music and this one is about painting. So, what art form are you tackling next? I feel like papier maché is due!
[Laughs]. Very hypothetically, I think it would be cool to make a game that’s about making games. I know there are already games that are kind of like that, but I am curious about that kind of space. It’s a really, really hard problem to solve. Wandersong interacts with music in a way I haven’t seen other games do before, and Chicory works with drawing and painting in a way I haven’t seen other games do it before, so…I don’t know how I’d do that with game design [laughs]. The closest thing that probably exists is Mario Maker or something, but there might be something there. But honestly, for the next game… we’ll see. I’m not sure.
Hardcore live-service shooter?
Hardcore shooter, yeah, I’ll commit to that.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!
Chicory: A Colorful Tale makes its mark on PC (via Steam), PS4, and PS5 sometime this spring.