One of the most difficult things about indie game development is getting an eye on any given project amid a sea of ventures crowding platforms like Steam. Even games with unique mechanics or art often need a lucky break. For SCHiMa minimalist game about hopping between shadows mainly developed by one man out of the Netherlands, that kind of break has helped it grow beyond its inspiration of capturing childhood play: jumping between cracks or shadows on the sidewalk.
While SCHiM began life as a final exam, it caught enough attention online to interest publishers. No one is currently signed to the isometric platformer, but with the assistance of the Netherlands-based indie studio Extra Nice it has a deeper backstory and mechanics that have established a full-fledged project. Game Rant spoke to SCHiM lead developer Ewoud van der Werf about garnering attention for his game through the adoption of Steam Playtest and other marketing means.
Growing SCHiM From the Ground Up
SCHiM has numerous inspirations ranging from classics of the 3D platformer genre to splatoon‘s ink hopping, as well as “good-looking” indie titles such as Gray or Journey. Its minimalist style is largely inspired by linge claire (clear line) art popularized by The Adventures of Tintin‘s George Remi and Dutch illustrator Joost Swarte. However, when it was still a school project the scope was slight; van der Werf said it was just “short, small levels” developed largely by himself in a few months’ time.
As the project began to attract attention on social media and Extra Nice co-founder Nils Slijkerman saw its potential, van der Werf’s relationship with the studio grew, and they began to expand upon SCHiM together. Though van der Werf said he’s the kind of creative who fleshes out ideas for an entire game around the time he envisions its basic concept, SCHiM was primarily a mechanical and art style at its onset. Only after they committed to the project did its silhouettes solidify with more detail, its underlying folklore become established, and more puzzles came to be through “plays” that let the player use properties of objects after hopping into their shadow.
“Essentially, they’re interactable stories of characters in the world that you can influence. Each object has its own sort of activatable state where if you hop into an object and interact it activates a certain property. For example, if you hop into a car and interact it makes the car honk its horn.”
Marketing an Indie Game like SCHiM
Once the idea for SCHiM caught on, it really caught on. In an introductory Devlog uploaded to YouTube by van der Werf on January 31, 2022, he discusses its appearance in media like Edge Magazine and winning the INDIGO Award in 2021. Since he’s responsible for marketing his game at this stage, van der Werf said the Devlog was another platform to reach out with a “very different format than I’m used to for Twitter, TikTok, Instagram.”
Most of the groundwork on SCHiM is complete, so it’s in the production phase now. In fact, those who are interested in exploring its Dutch-inspired urban environments filled with canals, dikes, and beaches can expect a demo to appear at the WASD expo in London, England from April 7 to 9, 2022. However, this does not mean the game is releasing a beta as some may believe.
When Valve launched the Steam Playtest feature in November 2020, van der Werf thought it would be interesting to open sign-ups for SCHiM in advance so playtesting access could be spread down the line. After media outlets picked up on this and made it seem like a beta announcement, “Things got kinda out of hand.”
The developer isn’t comfortable committing to a release date yet, but ultimately he is excited to get more reactions. He said prior feedback has helped him adjust details like color choices and the “nauseating” speed of a feature letting players view the level’s objective. More importantly, it lets him work past more critical views of his own work, as “very rarely I get to see the game truly for what it is.”
“We usually just see so many errors in the game, so many flaws. But then others will play it and be surprised, saying how smooth it plays. When we design levels it’s very easy to get lost or not know if it’s fun, so it’s important to get those playtests.”
SCHiM is currently in development for PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, and Xbox One.
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