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.
Development Diaries 4: Features
The Features mechanic bridges the gap between an intriguing sketch on the page and a playable Candycreeps character. The process is simple; you pick out the parts of the character doodle that you’re the most excited about and associate them with official Features that make up the stats and special abilities your character will use during play. Features are the flip side of Aesthetics; in addition to giving you kewl powerz, they build the Cute and Creepy pools that your character will leverage to recruit others into his or her mayhem.
The whole idea behind the Candycreeps chargen mechanic is to spur players’ imaginations into running wild. We knew that the flip side of that was that the game would need a solid yet flexible way to turn virtually anything player might draw on their characters into playable statistics. Accordingly, there’s an extensive list of Features in the Candycreeps book, including rules for some of the key features (like Dead) that the setting calls for, but it’s allowed and encouraged to invent new ones as well. In devising Features for the game list, we tried to make them both engaging and transparent, so you could see what made them cool and use them as a framework around which to build your own ideas for Features. That meant setting them up along certain guidelines:
- To maintain the connection between the character visualization process (i.e., doodling) and gameplay, we wanted each Feature to do something that made sense from its appearance. Basically, this means that we drew the kind of characters that we thought the game should have and then determined the core Features based on what would make them playable, rather than starting with a set of important stats and then inventing characters to use them.
- The Aesthetics mechanic relies on Features to supply it, so most Features do just that; they grant the character either a Cute point or a Creepy point based on appearance. Only a very few special Features, with effects that are difficult to compare to other Features, don’t do so. It’s possible to make a Candycreeps character with a full complement of Features and no Aesthetics points, but we wanted it to be very hard, so that players would be motivated to embrace the aesthetic focus of the game.
- Any particular base Feature either gives a character a +1 bonus for some kind of action or grants him or her a power or special ability that most people don’t have. There are some Features that stretch this rule, but that we felt the game wasn’t complete without. When those had natural connections to other Features, we built them into trees with prerequisites. When they didn’t, we added hindrances to balance out their power level. Normally, only the first Feature in a tree gives an Aesthetic point, to keep the pools manageable. There are a couple of exceptions in the book, based on common sense and our perception of the aesthetics involved (for example, having the Muscles feature doesn’t confer an Aesthetics point, but having Really Big Muscles gives you a point of Creepy).
More of these guidelines are described in the Candycreeps book, but hopefully these show the kind of ideas that led us in putting Features together.
As an example of how Features come into gameplay, I’ve put the sample character from the previous post, Paul “Puffycoat” Pirelli, here for your consideration. I drew Puffycoat up as one of my favorite mental images from the Candycreeps world — a little dead kid whose mom bundles him up tight for winter recess, even though he’s just a skinny little skeleton. The sketch is just my attempt at an image of that idea, this little skeleton kid with his skullcap (ha!) and his big, puffy coat and his enormous boots, with a snowman scribbled on there to get the winter idea across.
To me, the coat is the thing that sticks out of the image — even more than his grinning skull — so I marked that down to be made into a Feature. The skull is important too, showing that he’s undead, so I marked that as well, plus the boots, because they kind of stick out to me too. Then while I was just doodling the snowbanks and the snowman on there, I thought, “hey, since he’s in the snow all the time, what if he had some kind of snowball-throwing thing?” I kicked around drawing a catapult or something, but in the end I settled on the shoulder-mounted snowball thrower in the picture. When I make a Candycreeps character, that almost always happens — I start doodling an idea, messing around, and then I wind up adding something I wasn’t planning on, and then that turns into the most fun part of the idea.
So once I had those key points of the drawing picked out, I went to the Features list to look for some that line up. I happen to know there’s a Bundled Up Feature in there — inspired by this same mental image — so that’s the first thing I jot down on the sheet; it makes Paul immune to cold and gives him some protection versus close combat and falling damage. The skull is the next thing I went for, and that lines right up with the Dead Feature, as well as with a Feature that trees off of Dead called Dry Bones (i.e., you’re a skeleton), so I marked those down too. For the boots, I could have gone with either the Sweet Kicks or the Steel-Toed Boots Feature; I picked the latter, because I saw Puffycoat as more lumbering than fast (which Sweet Kicks would make him). Finally, I assigned the classic Ray Gun Feature to his snowball launcher, effectively buying it as a ranged weapon with an attack bonus. This one could have gone differently, though; if I didn’t want to go with a straight-up weapon, I could have bought it as a stun effect (maybe based on the Latest Thing feature) or devised some kind of a distractor function.
And that’s how it goes! The elements of the character sketch I drew provided the foundation for picking out some cool Features to make up my character’s stats and special powers. If the Features in the book weren’t enough, I would have followed the guidelines and devised one or two of my own.
We’re proud of the range of Features included in the book; I think they support the creation of a very wide range of cute-creepy characters. Sometimes, though, a Feature isn’t quite enough to encompass the full scope of your character’s elite skills. If you find yourself wanting a clearer-cut niche in the Pembrigan social hierarchy, Roles may be just what you’re looking for. The next post will tackle them. ‘Til then,
the Candyman (Nick)