Exclusive Q&A interview with the developer of Candleman on Xbox One
Candleman has recently dropped his waxy ways onto Xbox One to rather decent applause. We very much loved the tale it brought, taking the concept to our hearts and enjoying the platformer for what it is.
In fact, we were so taken with it, we hunted down the main developer behind it – Gao Ming at Spotlightor Interactive – to get some further insight into how Candleman became an Xbox One reality.
So, without further ado…
Please introduce yourself – what is your role on Candleman, the latest platformer to hit Xbox One?
My name is Gao Ming, an indie game developer living in Beijing, China, the co-founder of Spotlightor Interactive – the team behind Candleman. I created the first prototype of Candleman in a 48-hours game jam called Ludum Dare.
So, sell it to us…why should Xbox One gamers buy Candleman?
Candleman is a unique game. With many titles, you can easily find “a sequel” or “a better one” in today’s landscape, but it’s hard to find something truly unique – a totally new experience. Candleman has unique core gameplay design, visual atmosphere, story, character… I think this gameplay experience is worth Xbox fans to play and enjoy.
Also, Candleman is a camera-locked 3D platformer, which means players don’t have to use complex camera controls. Along with that, simple control designs and a gentle difficulty curve make this game easy to play, even for kids and people who aren’t good at action games, so Candleman is really suitable for everyone.
The main character seems a fairly unique little guy – what was the inspiration behind him?
Candleman comes from the gameplay idea “10 seconds of light”. In the Game Jam prototype, I just used a man with a torch in his hand as the main character. After some testing, I found this core game mechanic had potential, so I started to design a real main character. I thought the concept of “only 10 seconds of light” could perfectly lend itself to a main character, and then a candle which has a limited burning time came to mind. I let him walk and jump, added legs, and the basic mode “a walking candle” came to life.
There’s an interesting interlude – at first I tried to create candleman with 3 legs, as the figure shows below (Game Jam design sketch):
But when we made a 3D model, we found making three legs was too hard, so we reduced to two legs. When we finished the two legs model, we found candleman with two legs is more human-like, so we kept the two legs design.
…and were there any games that inspired Candleman as a whole?
As I said before, Candleman’s inspiration comes from a 48-hour Game Jam, its core gameplay and story are both original. But when we made the Xbox One version, Super Mario 3D World and Limbo gave us a lot of inspiration. Super Mario 3D World is a very good 3D platformer, and taught us a lot about 3C (Character, Control, Camera). We also used automatic camera control to reduce difficulty and solve problems of awkward camera angle. With Limbo, I really admire and agree with its attention to detail and minimalist game design. I wanted Candleman to be minimalist but exquisite, and when I think of that, I always go back to play some Limbo.
How long has Candleman been in development? Was it always the case that you’d be releasing the game on Xbox One?
Candleman was developed for a year and a half. We got the chance to bring it to console because of ID@Xbox. So, when we started the console version, we worked closely with the ID@Xbox team and decided to publish on Xbox One.
…and during that development process, how has the whole Candleman feel evolved?
Candleman was born in Game Jam, completed in 48 hours, so the quality of the initial version was rough, as you might expect.
We spent a lot of time polishing the screen picture and details of level design, which you see some of the changes in pictures from development below:
But the greatest improvement in a year and a half of development was exploring more gameplay and level design possibilities with the “10 seconds light” core game mechanics, and digging up the unique story of Candleman. Then we did our best to tell the story within the gameplay experience.
How long would you expect the average gamer to spend with Candleman’s adventure? Is there any reason to run through things a second and third time?
It takes about 3 hours to complete the game; if you want to light all candles in the game, that will take about 4-5 hours.
After publishing, we saw some feedback like “too short” or “too easy” … Some gamers may look at these as disadvantages, but in fact we spent a great deal of time on gameplay testing and modification to make this flow smoothly. We can easily double gameplay time with increased level difficulty. For example, in the very first version, people needed 2-3 hours to complete the first 3 chapters…
The core gameplay of Candleman is all about the dark and limited resources, so it’s easy to guess, this could easily be a very hard game. The reason why I reduced the difficulty was to let more players complete the whole game, especially those who aren’t good at platformers. I think the value of Candleman is not just the unique gameplay, but also its unique story which I want to show gamers, all the way through.
Our next update will add leaderboards, including calculating every levels’ complete time, length of candle, etc. I hope this will bring gamers back to the challenge again. But this will only show up after their first gameplay completion, to keep the initial focus on all the game’s content, not on high scores.
We understand Candleman plays on some low-light gameplay. How important was it to get the lighting effects spot on? Were these your biggest challenge?
We spent time and energy to adjust lighting effects, but this is not the biggest challenge in our development. The biggest challenge of Candleman is level design and story-telling. Unlike randomized levels in Rogue-like games or open world sandbox design, Candleman is a very natural platformer design. We combined the environment and story, and designed levels that are easy to understand, to help gamers directly understand every new gameplay mechanic and face new challenges. That cost a great deal of development time and required high design ability, but I think it is worthwhile.
Did you play around with multiple burning times for Candleman. How did you finally settle on the ‘10 second’ rule?
Candleman was born with the “10 seconds” theme in Game Jam, so the burning time was locked in at 10 seconds in the beginning. I know a normal candle burns for more than 10 seconds, but this time is very suitable for the “limit ability” to Candleman, and the story I wanted to tell, so I kept it.
His burning time is short, but Candleman’s fire is larger, and his light is brighter.
We understand that Candleman comes with just a basic single jump. Were you tempted to go down the whole ‘double jump’ route, allowing for further level designs to be included?
The Candleman character came from game’s core mechanic, but soon I found Candleman’s unique character deserved a bigger story to tell. Candleman is unique, but he also is normal and weak. Traditional platformer gameplay elements, like double jumps and wall jumps are too strong for him. I considered these, but in fact, we ultimately reduced Candleman’s run speed and jump height twice. Platformers always focus on smooth control and complex jump skills; character is second to gameplay. Candleman is different, this game is meant to focus on the character.
Was there any temptation to try to squeeze in and create some multiplayer modes, either for those wanting to experience Candleman with a local friend or with others around the world?
We considered local co-op mode at the beginning of our Xbox One development, to design an interesting multi-play mode, but because of the limitation of development time, we decided to focus on single player mode. Multiplayer is possible in the future.
What type of achievements are we looking at? Are the ones included given out for completing levels or should we expect to find some more, interesting, challenging ones?
Our goal is to encourage players when they feel a sense of accomplishment and to enhance their happiness. So, you can see achievements about completing levels and about lighting all the candles in the game, but not about any weird acts or failure. We don’t want to encourage players to cope with very limiting or high difficulty control to earn achievements. This is a design choice – Candleman’s gameplay and story are connected, and achievements are part of gameplay. We don’t want achievements to take away from the whole gameplay experience.
Can you tell us more about the musical score that accompanies Candleman on his adventure? How difficult was it to find something that worked well with the overall theme of the game?
We were very lucky to work with Zeta, a very talented Chinese indie musician. She is an experienced musician and a hardcore gamer. When she played Candleman, she gave us an overall sound design idea: not to use rhythm in game levels, but to use environment sound and sound effects to improve immersion, only using music to increase immersion in key story scenes. I think this idea is very suitable to this game – you can feel a real little candle taking his adventure in variable harsh environments, and along with storytelling in cut scenes, the voice actor’s lines and background music will touch your heart.
Should we expect a sequel to Candleman? Are you working on any other titles which may be appealing to Xbox One gamers?
We are working on Candleman’s DLC, which will include a new adventure. We threw out an important question in the current end scene, and hope players will think about the meaning of Candleman’s life. In the DLC, we will answer this question ourselves.
And finally, what happens if you say Candleman three times? 😉
Many thanks go out to Gao Ming for taking the time out to answer our questions. We must also thank Spotlightor’s pr team for help in the translation from Chinese to English!
If you want to know even more about Candleman, then make sure you check out our full review right now. It’s well worth a shot.