Ewoud van der Werf outlined the perks and obstacles of indie game development and provided insight into creating SCHiM's art style, level design, and challenge balance.
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My name is Ewoud van der Werf, I’m a 21-year-old indie game developer from the north of The Netherlands. I started making my own, smaller, games when I was 14 using Blender and Unity.
Before I started the development of SCHiM, I was an intern at Extra Nice and worked on their one-button fighting game, Skirmish.
Perks of Creating Games Independently
I think the most rewarding aspect of being an indie game developer is the freedom to work on different aspects of your project whenever you want to, one day I can focus on modeling and the other on programming.
I don’t think I ever made the conscious decision to become indie. The moment you download a commercially available game engine and make a few small games, you are pretty much an indie game developer, in my opinion.
Challenges of Indie Development
One of the biggest challenges I have faced has been committing to conceptual ideas. Investing time in experiments that are important for development, but don’t directly add to the production of the game.
To overcome this, you have to commit and experiment to see what ultimately works.
Handling Business Aspects of Game Development
I don’t have the feeling that I do a lot of "business". I am responsible for the marketing of the game if that falls under business. I find it important to consistently post on social media because I’m curious about how people react to the game.
SCHiM is mainly inspired by the childlike play most of us remember from our own childhood. Each country and culture has its own variants of made-up games like avoiding stepping on the cracks in the pavement or only stepping on the lines at a crossing.
After I made the core mechanic of moving in shadows, we then came up with the general lore, rules of the world, the schim characters, and what they mean to the game.
To ensure that the lore matches the gameplay, we created sets of rules to stick to, and aim to make it feel lively, consistent, and engaging.
Creating the Game's Aesthetic
Along with the shadow jumping mechanic, the art style of SCHiM was one of the few elements I had a clear vision for at the start of the project. I created the art style with a limited color palette of only 4 colors for the levels. One of the reasons for this was that I have a form of color blindness, so as a bonus, this makes it very clear and distinguishable, even for players who also have a form of color blindness.
Regarding the style of the game, the outlines of SCHiM were first done with thick inverted hull shaders. However, that meant I couldn’t show much detail for each object or character. Now I am rendering the outlines in the post. If you look at the game you can clearly see what a person in a level is wearing, sometimes even what their job is. Previously, we couldn’t do that, they were just walking silhouettes, and the world felt a lot more empty as a result.
Designing and Building Levels
A lot of levels in SCHiM are inspired by real places in The Netherlands. I make a lot of quick mockups that Nils Slijkerman, the level designer of SCHiM, uses to further design a fun level. During the level design, I work on the visual polish to make the level visually pleasing. Most levels go back and forth a couple of times between me and Nils to end up with a final version.
One of the challenges that arise when designing levels, is that objects/shadows, important for the level design, need to be both logical and visually pleasing. Objects create the platforms for the player but at the same time, they are the decoration. If we add an object because it looks nice in the world, it might actually break the flow of the level as a consequence. And similarly, if we add an interesting object to platform to, it should also make sense in the world and look as if it belongs. That has been very interesting and challenging.
Creating Precise and Fluid Movement
I made sure the shadows in SCHiM are object-oriented, each object has properties that define how an object should behave when the player enters the shadow, leaves the shadow, or interacts with the shadow. Cars in SCHiM, for example, bounce a bit when the player enters and leaves the shadow of the car. These properties are easy to apply in the engine and are stackable, making it easy and flexible to create a diverse amount of shadows.
Designing Small Stories
With the small stories in the levels, we want to make the world feel more alive and organic and make the player curious to keep discovering. When we are making a level, we are also hopping around in the world and looking around to see what scenarios would be possible and fun to add.
Balancing Fun and Accessibility for All Skill Levels
We want to make SCHiM accessible to a very broad audience, including people who might not have played many games. We designed the game to have easy and intuitive controls, which are remappable in the settings menu. The main thing the player will do is jump around which means the jump button is the most essential button in the game. Landing in shadows has been made in a way that feels forgiving.
We think that moving around should feel joyful instead of stressful. The game does have more challenging parts but these are designed to be optional. Some tricky-to-reach places will reward the player with something additional, like an object that has lost its schim. These lost objects act as collectibles in the game. They can be found on numerous levels for players who enjoy that.
Advice for Aspiring Indie Developers
I would recommend creating a strong visual language for your game. This makes it easier for people to remember and recognize your game.
Also, make multiple smaller projects first – you’ll learn a lot from doing just that. I would also recommend putting your projects out there, somewhere online where people can easily find them and play, on itch.io for example, even if it’s not fully finished. And to think to yourself, what can I do to wrap up this small test project? You’ll also see how people will react to your game.
Ewoud's Future Plans
I want to release SCHiM on all platforms and handle everything post-release. After that, I’ll probably make some prototypes for potential new projects.