Seeing how differently a game plays after a year of development is always fascinating. The controls might be little different, the camera might handle differently, and you can end up playing a very different game. Chroma Shift, however, feels almost exactly the same as it did last year, but that’s not a bad thing. There were obvious improvements to the camera and puzzle design, but the consistency of the developers’ vision seems to have shone through into the game’s execution. To find out more, I talked with David about what a year meant for the game.
For anyone who hasn’t seen Chroma Shift, what is it?
Chroma Shift is a co-op based, colour-based puzzle platformer where the two characters work together using the different colours in the environment to make their way through and solve puzzles and eventually figure out the mysteries surrounding their creation about where they are.
We saw this game last year, and it looks like the game has changed quite a bit. What has changed from last year?
Last year we were still fairly early in development, we were still only about three acts into the game. Now, we’re pretty much finished. A couple months ago we went back and stripped out a lot of the second act, which is the yellow area, and we made a lot more exterior so you can see the world outside. We got a bunch of feedback for our puzzles about the flow of them and how people sometimes got stuck, so we added the camera, dragged it back a bit, flattened the world a bit, so it felt more side-scrolley and it didn’t feel like they were walking into the background as much. We worked a lot on our flows, make sure the player can always see where they’re going, but then we can make the puzzles bigger because of that flow.
So, now we have six colours by the end of the game. Each act introduces a new colour and some new mechanics. The purple act will introduce purple, obviously, but also steam vents, reset walls that’ll change you as you walk through them, change bullets, destroy cubes, stuff like that. We gone through and refined our puzzle design a lot. I’ve been making them now for a year and a half, so they’re a lot, uh, better now. I’ve gone back and fixed a lot of the old ones that I thought really weren’t up to the new standard too.
There are other games using colour these days, especially VR games (coloured lasers). How are you differentiating yourself from other colour puzzlers?
We’re focused pretty heavily on our co-op. That combination of two players using those colours. Normally in a puzzle platformer, you get your thing, you go in. Our game, we added the second player, but we didn’t want that to be just be like, “Oh look, you can play with your friend but it doesn’t really change the way the game works”. Each character brings its own unique flavour to the puzzle, and you’ve gotta remember their strengths. Say you wanna go up, well, Fader’s heavy, so you have to throw Psion. We feel that combination of two characters adds a lot of uniqueness to the pre-existing colour mechanics.
Does that mean you need two people to play the game?
It’s definitely designed with two people in mind. It’s been designed for couch co-op, sit with your friend (or online) and get through it together. You can play it by yourself, so, you control each character individually with one controller, but it’s not as nice of a flow. It’s there for people who just want to play the game on their own, if they want to experience the story or aren’t into co-op. We don’t want to deny them a chance to play our game, but it’s definitely designed to be played with a friend.
Why did you decide to focus on two players for the core experience?
Myself and the rest of the team loved co-op games since we were little. If a co-op game comes out, we’ll pretty much buy it without checking anything else. So, we really wanted to make that the focus of our game, more than the puzzle element. This is a game you’ll want tot play with a friend because it’s been designed to be played that way. You get a lot of frustration with your friend sometimes, where he’ll keep dropping you off a ledge or something, but it lets you experience the game in a way you can’t on your own. On your own, it’s either your fault or the game’s fault, but if you’ve got a buddy next to you, it’s a totally different experience and it will stand out a lot more.
What’s it been like designing puzzles around two people instead of one?
That’s been a challenge from inception. We started off- originally we had a single-player campaign, because we were heavily recommended we make a single-player campaign. Further through development, we decided that it wasn’t really what we wanted to make. So, we ended up taking some of the elements from that single-player character and bringing them over to our co-op characters, which changed the design a lot. In single-player, if you die, you can just fade to black and go, “Hey, you died.” In a co-op game, if only one of you fails and dies, the other player’s still halfway through the puzzle, and we didn’t want to have a linked up mode where if one of you dies, the other one dies, and everything resets.
So, if one you dies, it now changes the puzzle rather than resetting. If you’re halfway through the puzzle A and one of you dies, you now have to do puzzle B over the top of that, where you start at different points, and you have to solve it in a slightly different way. The other guy is halfway through the puzzle and has access to two colours, so they can bring the other character through in a different way. So, you can get back to where you were, but not the way they did it originally.
How are you guys dealing with the story?
We didn’t want to have those moments where you’re plodding along and then the black bars come down and there’s a 20 minute cinematic that shows off what you can’t do. So, we wanted tot ell the story through the environment, where the area you’re in tells the story about what happened to that area without someone outright telling you. When you hit our exterior buildings, you can see something went very obviously wrong. You’ll pick up collectibles like schematics along the way and piece together the event preceding the game that led to this static state that our characters find themselves in.
How important is the story for you guys?
It’s hugely important to us. As fun as the puzzles are, we still wanted something to pull you in and keep you invested. There’s 80 or so puzzles, and after 40 of them, you start going, “Okay, these are fun, but are they fun enough to keep me playing?” For some people, they are, but other people played Portal 2 for that horror-comedy element and they wanted to know what happened with Caroline. Getting further through the game is how you find that out, so we’re hoping we can do the same through our environment and storytelling. We want to give people a reason to keep going and want to get to the end to find out what happens.
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