2016 seems to be the year of colour. Fallout 4 rediscovered blue and yellow, Overwatch is drowning in the stuff, and Chroma Shift isn’t even subtle about its dedication to the church of hue. The game plays off an interesting premise of using colour to solve puzzles, and from the sounds of things, there’s more to it than meets the eye. After having a quick go of the game, I managed to have a chat with developer James A-Bates about what he sees in the game. (I promise there are no more colour/sight puns.)
For anyone who doesn’t know, what is Chroma Shift?
Chroma Shift is a co-operative focused game that takes two players to play where you use colour to solve puzzles. So, there’ll be colour orbs floating around the area which the players can interact with and change their colour so they can interact with things in the environment that are the same colour as them.
How long have you been working on this for?
We’re actually a 6-person team, and we’ve been working on this since February this year. So, that’s, what, 10 months? Do maths, right? Wait. 11?
Uh, hang on a sec… 9.
Oh my god… PAX, man. Yup, 9.
Where are you guys from?
We’re from right here in Melbourne. We work at the World Trade Centre, full-time, self-funded.
How are you guys getting funded? Kickstarter or…?
Right now we are in the AIE’s incubator program, so we’re using their facilities, their computers and such, to work. We’re also looking at getting funding from Film Victoria, and we’re looking at getting funding from the Unreal program as well.
What made you want to make a game like this?
Back in uni, my friend and I made a small 2D-like game where we had to make a game about colour. That was the kind of theme of the game. We made a game that was similar to Chroma Shift; just simple coloured blocks that you could jump on, and if you weren’t the right colour, you’d just fall through them and die. At the start of the year, we were like, “That was a pretty cool concept. We really like the unreal engine. Let’s just go from there.”
It’s an interesting choice that you’re picking Unreal over Unity. Why did you wanna use it in favour of Unity?
For us, we have four artists on the team of six, so we’re art heavy, and they love Unreal. So, it’s really up to them. We’ve been developing with Unreal all through uni, so we love the engine.
So, all of you guys were uni students and you just decided to make a game?
Yeah, we just thought, “Why not?”
As far as puzzle games are concerned, what seperates yours from the rest?
Well, for us, it’s not just the co-op focus. Other games have done it. For us, it’s definitely how you use the colours and how you interact with the environment using the colours, using the coloured orbs to change the colour, and using the same colour in the environment.
Where are you drawing your inspiration for the art from?
Tron definitely shaped it. I’m a big fan of horror-like games. One of my favourite games of last year was Soma, which was a sci-fi-esque game. So, we knew from the get go we wanted to do a sci-fi environment. We started off with normal industrial environments, but we didn’t like the look of it, and we really wanted to show off the colours. So, what shows off colour more than Tron-like glowing doors and glowing characters? From there, through Google Images, searching sci-fi crap, we found what we wanted and ran with it. As soon as we found it, we just went, “Yup, that’s our vision, that’s what we want.”
In terms of a story, you told me before that there was a five act structure. How important is the story to you?
So, the way we tell it is with collectibles throughout the level which players can collect and play an audio log of a previous scientist that worked on this facility and unveils how this facility came about and how it was a big part of how this world turned out. I’m a big fan of looking up things, like in Five Nights At Freddy’s, how you have to piece it together, and that’s how we kinda have it. We give you a date, but you kinda have to tell when this happened or how this went down. We definitely like that method of storytelling.
More like inference than direct storytelling?
Yeah. Not really direct, if people don’t care about the story, they don’t have to, they can just play through the game and not even care about the story. Most people, we’ve found (including me), like the way the story is going, very interested in it.
In terms of puzzle design… Some seemed devious. How do you find the balance between a satisfying puzzle and something that’s too challenging.
Oh man, it’s so hard. We only have such a short time at PAX, so we wanna show these awesome, insane puzzles, but they’ve only played it for five minutes and have no idea what’s going on. There’s quite a large ramp up in the demo today, so, for us, it’s kinda tricky. We have simple ones like the bridge where people just try to kill each other. It’s a co op game, but people just seem to want to kill each other! Why not, right?
We have a lot like that where it’s not difficult but it’s still fun, and then we have some really difficult puzzles, like the one going on right now. They can take a long time to figure it out.
Do you think you’ve found that balance?
Yeah, with this demo, we probably could have made the last one a little easier, since that’s the only one people really get stuck on. Otherwise, yeah, we think we’ve found that nice balance, good times to ramp it up, when to teach players new stuff. What we’ve done for the actual campaign so far, that takes a much slower approach.
Have you found the feedback from PAX useful?
Amazing. We have analytics in the demo, so the next week will be going through what people did, where people got stuck, all that stuff.
Looked at any other games at PAX yet?
So, we’re pretty good pals with Harmonious Games over there who are also doing a co-operative game that uses colour as their main mechanic. Yeah, but they’re using Unity, very cutesy, made for kids, quite different of ours. We gave that descriptor to someone and they said, “Are you workiing with those guys?” And we went, “No, but we should definitely go meet them!”
Tickled pink by what you see? (I’m sorry, but it had to be done.) You can follow the game at http://www.devordiestudios.com/