The subtleties of shadow play

Chroma is a unique take on the tried and tested Metroidvania sidescroller. It plans to gradually impart knowledge to players whilst relying on an intriguing game mechanic. We spoke to I Am Claw top man Mark Foster to find

out more.

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“Oh, so that does that?” I thought to myself. “Ah, right. I get it now.”

My trip to the Eurogamer Expo back in September last year is now a blur. I left Glasgow in the wee hours

of a stereotypically wet and windswept morning, and was back home, completely shattered, underfed, and sprawled out on my living room couch stuffing my face with salt and vinegar crisps before midnight of the same Thursday evening. I left my house in the dark, I returned in the dark. Besides running the rush hour gauntlet

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to and fro Luton Airport and the centre of London, I spent the entire day in darkness.

Unbeknown to me, this profound juxtaposition of light and dark; of brightness and shadow was to be somewhat of a recurring theme that day courtesy of Chroma, I Am Claw’s upcoming shadow-managing puzzle-platformer. Tucked away in Indie Games Arcade corridor of the Earls Court show floor, Chroma maintained a fairly low profile throughout the conference, against the neighbouring neon fulminations of Call of Duty and the likes, but it was undoubtedly my game of show.

Chroma is built around an incredibly interesting mechanic which, once discovered, not only delivers a great sense of achievement, but also a sense of wonderment – that all of a sudden there could be more to this game than what initially meets the eye.

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“It started off being a Metroidvania game,” says I Am Claw’s frontman Mark Foster. “Where – in my head, I never actually made this – you’d collect colours, and they would give you different powers, for example red might be to punch through boulders and stuff like that.

“It was more about the world to me, it was like I wanted to make a world on my own. Ever since I was kid playing Sonic the Hedgehog, I’d wanted to create my own space, so it started off as that.

“Then, at one point I – this’ll sound weird – I was playing Gish, and the shadows in Gish made me think, ‘Oh, what if you could just walk on them?‘ so I ran with that and that’s the sort of seed that started this game.”

Shadow master

After some initial floundering, I made this discovery. At first, I didn’t quite understand the importance or necessity of being able to switch between my light and shadow “bulbs” – my inquisitive sense of exploration often ending in fatal misadventure. But once I did, it was hard to fight the smile which infectiously spread across my face. This shadow manipulating mechanic is central to the game’s Metroidvania-esque makeup, however in lieu of standard power-ups, Chroma plans to adopt of more subtle approach, coercing and educating players as they go.

“The mechanics in a Metroidvania that come from new items that you collect – it’s the same sort of thing here,” explains Foster. “Except you don’t actually collect physical items in the game, you gain knowledge of how things work.

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“So, if you come to a puzzle earlier on in the game that uses some kind of weird technique that you maybe don’t understand, casino pa natet later on in the game they might be more subtley introduced so that you get your head around them and the next time you go back

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you’ll be like, ‘oh, wait, casino online this is what this does.’ So, you can iterate over the game and find new things each time you go round.”

Realisation lies at the heart of Chroma. The demo segment I played was short in itself, however there were several “oh, I see” moments, such as Foster describes. What’s more, each is carried out with such aplomb that even in the short snippet, it was beautifully obvious that this feeling of awe will be carried with each and every discovery.

Bucking the current trend of procedurally generated landscapes, Chroma harks back to days of yore comprising of eight meticulously designed areas, enveloped within one non-linear expansive map, meaning new discoveries will never be too far around the corner and can be sought out at will in any order.

“It’s one massive map,” Foster tells me. “[The current build] is one area of eight. The mechanics [in this build] are mostly just shadow walking. There’s seven main areas and then a final area, and the seven areas each have a colour assigned to them.

“The colour denotes the mechanics of the area, so each one has new things that are introduced, for example in the orange area, items that are orange pull the light source out of the character to a specific point.”

Such is the norm during in-and-out trans-Britain journeys – I was tired. I’d hardly slept the previous evening, I’d gotten up remarkably early, and after having blown the best part of £30 on energy drinks, I had developed an unhealthy dose of the shakes. I partly blame this for the occasions where Chroma had me completely stumped. How the hell do you actually get up there?

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As I played, Foster patiently stood peering over my shoulder, graciously overlooking the barrage of sweary words I muttered under my breath. He did this because he knew I’d get there eventually – a confidence the game evokes, continuously urging you onward until you find success. Reassuringly, Foster explains the amount of thought and effort put into Chroma’s puzzle difficulty is a result of a “brain exploding” design process.

“Yeah, it’s tough,” he says. “I really like puzzles that are very difficult, like [in the] game Jelly No Puzzle – I really like that for puzzle design. I like stuff when you’re trying something and you think, ‘oh, wait, no this doesn’t work’, and then you try it a different way but it becomes harder and harder the more you try it. So I really like puzzles to be difficult in games.

“There was one moment where you did get completely stuck (in reference to the demo), and you couldn’t get out of it. That’s the one point in the game that I probably need to change a little bit, I’ve saw people get stuck there before but I’ve always thought I kind of like it like that.

“Mostly, the puzzles are attached to the path that you’re going down so you can enter a puzzle area

but if you can’t solve the puzzle, you can just get out again and go a different way – sort of like in Braid, where you can just go through them all. So that’s how I mostly approach that stuff.”

Chroma is expected for release “not too far into next year” on PC and Mac, according to Foster. Check out I Am Claw’s official site to be kept out of dark.

Joe Donnelly

Author: Joe Donnelly

Joe is the line editor at BeefJack and often wonders who introduced the whole 'talking about yourself in the third person' thing. Maybe one day I'll, ahem, he'll find out.

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