One of our earliest design goals for PMPY was to let players create their characters. This was initially a little hard to justify, considering how small we were trying to keep the scale of development - this was a totally aesthetic decision that’d take a lot of time to get right, and wouldn’t do a lot to enrich the mechanical complexity of the game - but we quickly recognised how much a customisation system could magnify the competitive spirit of local multiplayer games.
Local multiplayer games - especially ones that you play over and over with the same group - are really good at fostering attachments to your favourite character. After playing as Luigi more than a few times in Mario Kart, you come to identify with him. Rather than offering a handful of bespoke characters to choose from, we wanted to make this an expressive choice: giving players a bit of agency and breadth in deciding how they’d represent themselves is meant to make the game feel a little broader in scope, and hopefully a lot more inclusive (i.e. this is a game that ANY sports-monster can play - not just these few pre-made characters). This all sounds very basic and self-evident, but it took us a while to really identify how a choice like this was going to affect the tone of our game (or, to put it more simply: sometimes you don’t know why you’re working to put a comb-over haircut in your character customisation, you just know that it’s the right thing to do).
The other thing that happens with regular play and consistent character selection is that you end up with an intuitive understanding of how your opponents are represented onscreen. The four of us are so attuned to each others’ respective characters in Samurai Gunn, Towerfall, and even Hokra, that we don’t need to spend any time figuring out how the characters in-game correlate to their players. If I behead the orange demon in Samurai Gunn, I don’t need to do any mental legwork to know that I should be gloating at Nico - I get to gloat at him immediately and unrepentantly. Once these character-player relationships are internalised, games immediately become more readable, and (importantly) more sociable - hopefully, through our character creation system, we’ve made it a little bit easier to enable this internalisation.