Candycreeps Development Diaries 2: Aesthetics

Welcome to Candycreeps Development Diaries! This series of posts is like our transparency policy — it’s designed to paint a picture of the ideas and motivations that went into putting the game together. Keep an eye on this space for future updates.

Aesthetics are one of the key mechanical concepts behind Candycreeps; they link the style of the game setting to the mechanics of character interaction. The essence of the Aesthetics mechanic is that:

1) each character has certain qualities that make her more or less Cute and Creepy;
2) each character can draw on her Cuteness and Creepiness to sway other characters during social interactions; and
3) each character has defined opinions on Cute things and Creepy things that can affect her interactions with others.

The inspiration for Aesthetics came in two separate chunks, as the game setting and the game system fused together into a delicious custard of gaming sweetness.

Early on, we took a look at the market, thought about styles of creative product that we liked, and decided there was room for a game that fell right at that stylistic sweet spot between comedy and horror. We loved the works of Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, Tim Burton, Ted Naifeh, and the like (as the “Inspirations” page of Candycreeps points out), and we wanted to tailor a game to let players pay homage to that creepy-cute aesthetic and explore it with their own characters. So we knew early on that the continuum of “cute” and “creepy” would play a key role in the game, and we started thinking about how to make that visual style a key part of the game system.

That eventually led us to the idea of Features, which made the appearance of characters a key part of their stats. (For more on the Features mechanic, see the next post in this series.) We wanted characters’ Features to make them cuter, creepier, or both, so we started keeping track of which Features would do that, accruing the values in “cuteness” and “creepiness” pools for the characters that took them. But we didn’t know exactly what would happen with those pools until we hit on the Pembrigan Academy setting.

While talking about setting the game at a school, we realized that it was more than just a way to have all ages and sizes of characters. We intentionally wanted the game to take place in an environment where characters would judge other characters by appearance, to strengthen that tie between the visual style of the game and the actual gameplay. A school seemed like the right environment to enable that type of story ideas, so we ran with it.

Once that was decided, it was a short jump to figuring out what to do with the “”Cute” and “Creepy” pools; they would be incorporated into social interactions as a way to enshrine that school vibe of superficial interaction mechanically. It was very important to us not to make the Aesthetics into exclusive categories, though. We wanted to encourage players to take a mixture of Cute and Creepy features, though, to promote that style of combined cute-creepiness rather than just one or the other. That meant players would have both types of points, and each character would need to be set up to deal with both kinds of points. From there, it was logical to separate the mechanic that determined the *effect* of the points from the actual points themselves, so that GMs and characters could determine how Cute and Creepy points would come into play for each character.

That was the birth of Aesthetics as they stand, where every character has an “up” or “down” stance on both Cute and Creepy as concepts and reacts differently (from a mechanical standpoint) to other characters that play up those traits in themselves. The extra tad of complexity added by the “up” and “down” (or “plus” and “minus”) made the mechanical representations of character personalities more flexible. What we really liked about this model was that it was easy to represent the sense of angst, insecurity, and exclusion that’s so key to the school setting by making a character whose Aesthetic stance is geared toward the style element that’s weak for him or her (a really Cute character who dislikes Cute stuff and likes Creepy things, for example).

There was some question about how pervasive the effect of Aesthetics should be; should Creepy characters be totally unable to interact with characters who disliked Creepy things, for example? To keep from limiting character interactions — and especially interactions between PCs — too heavily, we settled on the bidding pool system, with a per-session refresh rate. That had the twin virtues of putting more control over the effects of their Aesthetics into the player’s hands and making less ongoing math, as the GM didn’t constantly have to keep track of exactly how Cute and Creepy all the PCs and NPCs were. With the point-bidding system, each player could decide exactly how much role their character’s Aesthetic qualities should play in a given interaction. (We thought some of the other options kicked around for the use of Aesthetics were worth thinking about, so we put them in the book; you’ll find them listed as Optional Rules under Aesthetics.)

And that was it! We’re pretty proud of how Aesthetics encourage constant awareness of the Cute plus Creepy style that drives the Candycreeps setting. The mechanic is versatile enough to retooled for other styles of gameplay, though. In a future series of posts, we’ll talk about how to change up Aesthetics to support different styles of game.

All the best,
the Candyman (Nick)