Shedding Light on the Dark Corners of Schein
I had a great time with the Schein demo I played a few weeks ago. It was an interesting puzzle game that just oozed atmosphere; and despite the length of the demo, it left me wanting much, much more. The game is still a ways off, though, so I thought that I would pick the brains of the developers to see if I could get some information that would sate my craving for this game. Fortunately, they had a lot of great stuff to share with us.
JC – What inspired you to frame a puzzle game in this bleak environment?
We wanted to create a game full of opposites: the cartoonish graphical style in contrast to the grim history of the magical swamp and its guardians, the gloomy environment in contrast to the colourful dimensions, our entertaining, cheerful gameplay and challenging puzzles in contrast to the sad and dark tale of the young man.
JC – Will the entire game take place in the swamp? What sort of changes will there be to keep the environment fresh?
The whole story takes place in the swamp, but I think it’s already obvious that this swamp is no ordinary one. The closer the young man gets to the heart of this magical place, the more peculiar the scene gets. As you are stumbling from darkness into regions bathed in differently coloured light, you will discover the terrifying lairs of the ancient guardians of the swamp. And the vegetation, climate and surroundings will transform depending on the currently reigning guardian.
JC – The main character almost has a cartoonish design to him that feels a little at odds with the bleak swamp. What prompted this design decision?
As mentioned before, the reason of creating the main character in his rather comical style was to strengthen the contrast between the dreary scenery and the cheerful game which frames the whole story of Schein. This conflict results in a disturbing interplay of opposed sensations creating the creepy mood we are aiming at. Nothing is more disturbing than a sad clown.
However his appearance can be expected to change in the near future, due to the feedback we have received on the Schein Dev-Demo. Among the many compliments, one issue emerged concerning our main character: Some players found it hard to empathize with the protagonist. He seemed unfit for the whole environment. People out there, we take your feedback seriously – it was instantly passed on to our Art Director and we are currently in the process of reviewing and redesigning.
We published our Dev-Demo for two reasons: Firstly, we want everybody to witness our daily work. We want you to see that development is alive and our game is steadily approaching completion. And the second reason is that we want everyone to be part of it! So let us know what you think – we greatly value your opinion.
JC – Is there anything you can tell us about the swamp guardians and monsters? What sort of creatures will we be running into in the swamp?
You will face one of four ancient magical beasts– the guardians of the swamp – in every third level. Those mighty beings, survivors from long forgotten times, watch over the hidden paths through the marshes. Until now you have met two of them in our published trailers and artwork.
Zenel, a manifestation of the swamps life energy: Its physical form consists of strong, agile vines surrounding a beautiful, flesh devouring blossom. As a creature of pure instinct it is not actually evil, but it doesn’t experience remorse and is not capable of showing mercy either. The poor protagonist is simply unfortunate enough to enter its realm.
Satarsis, the queen of the fireflies: The magic of the swamp gives and takes. In Satarsis’ case it took her caring, motherly nature and gave unimaginable power in return. The centuries she spent in this dreary place have turned the strongest of the fireflies into a huge, vicious abomination. Sitting in her cave she sends out her children to lure in prey.
JC – Will enemy encounters be resolved by fighting or escaping? Despite focusing on puzzles, will Schein have a degree of violence to it?
The protagonist does not own any weapons, so to defeat the ancients you must put the environment to work for you. And just as the whole game consists of puzzle solving and jump’n’run, the boss fights will pursue the same course. Depending on the enemy you will have to approach the beasts directly, dodge their attacks or even run away. The only way to truly defeat these beasts, however, is by killing them, so you will have to endure some violence against these magical beings and will witness the effect that has on the young man’s tortured soul.
JC – How will combat work in a puzzle-based game? Do you have any interesting tricks to use puzzles in boss battles?
An ordinary puzzle game consists of static situations and the player trying to figure out the correct order of actions. I like tricky puzzles that make you rack your brain for days until you come up with a solution while taking a shower. But I am happy that nowadays puzzle games tend to implement more action, requiring the player think quickly. Our game takes it even further: Our bosses give us the possibility not only to create a dynamic puzzle the player has to react to, but to compose a puzzle that actually reacts to the player as well.
JC – I noticed at one point that I had to use two different colored lights to cancel each other out and block out a barrier. What other sorts of puzzles do you have in mind?
Indeed, with that you have discovered one of Schein’s main puzzle mechanics. There are many light sources scattered throughout the swamp: lanterns, insects and the Irrlicht – the main light source in the protagonist’s hand. It is stronger than any other light and can overlay their effect. This allows the player to advance to places that are otherwise blocked by coloured platforms. But it gets really interesting when you look at the situation with two light sources which are equally ranked – such as two differently coloured lanterns. Their interaction reduces the size of each others light radius, hence partially cancelling each other out. This is an important tool that allows you to apply different colours precisely on required regions. Schein features mechanics that are easy to grasp and allow us to create complex puzzles with sophisticated solutions.
JC – The puzzles require good reflexes as well as intelligence. What prompted you to do things in this way?
Schein is targeted for mid and hard core gamers. Although the first steps into the game are smooth and easy, the action soon turns more complex and the same thing goes for puzzles too. We’ve discovered that a mixture of skill and wits is the best prerequisite to create a challenging game for this group of gamers.
JC – Will there be points where the game tells you the story, or will the narrative unfold through visuals and gameplay?
The story of Schein will unfold in short cut scenes rendered with in-game graphics as well as with dialogs weaved into the level’s progress. Currently we are in the recording process for full English synchronization.
JC – The background story seems to have some basis in folklore, even if it is invented. What prompted the story? Was there anything that inspired it?
Everybody knows the tales of lost wanderers following strange lights into the perilous depths of a swamp – the will-o’-the-wisps luring their victims deeper and deeper into a boggy maze. But very few people actually know the truth about will-o’-the-wisps: They are not just vague lights flickering in the distance attracting lost souls, but instead they truly interact with the exhausted wanderers. They use their ability to bend realities and conjure illusions to reveal new paths that were hidden from the eyes of mortals. All we did was drill down on this legend and without much effort it blended in perfectly with our whole game setting.
JC – You seem to have a long and intricate backstory forming about the game (Referenced from the developer’s site). How much of that will we see inside the game itself?
In Schein you get thrown into action without any introduction, allowing you to dive directly into the gameplay. But as you advance, you will discover the true reason of the young man’s journey.
JC – You said that you will be updating the demo as the game progresses. What sort of things do you plan on changing/adding to it for the next update?
The next update will feature a more refined background – redesigned tree graphics, ground mist, prettier water, and many bugs have been resolved as well. But our main focus is the feedback we get from players. In reaction to that, the character design is currently being reviewed and the collision detection will be improved. Throughout the Dev-Demo updates the demo level itself is subject to change as well – so stay tuned!
JC – Will the characters and background be kept vague or will we be learning a lot about them?
During the game there will be many opportunities to learn about the background story of the young man and the Irrlicht, as well as the legend of the swamp and its inhabitants. Some sequences won’t require any additional effort and will be triggered during the player’s progress, others however won’t be revealed until you have completed some additional challenges. So in a way, you decide how much you wish to learn.
JC – How will the lost souls factor into the game? Do they do more than just give you access to secret levels?
How do you know about the .. secret levels? To be honest, there will be more to the lost souls. They are one of the previously mentioned possibilities to learn about the story of the characters and their environment.
JC – Despite only hearing a little bit of it, I think the sound really tied the atmosphere together. Will we see a lot of emotional variety in the soundtrack, or will it be mostly dark and bleak?
Every level will feature its own atmospheric soundtrack. According to the narrative arc the soundtrack will capture all emotions and events. The music studio Leed:Audio is responsible for all this magic. They perfectly complete the delicate task of creating the right music and ambient sounds for the complex structure of our game. I can truly recommend them to every other game studio!
Mash Those Buttons would like to thank the Schein team for taking the time to talk to us, and we can’t wait for the game’s release in 2013! First quarter can’t come fast enough!