words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Zeppelin Studio for PC, originally released in 2014.
Schein is a puzzle platformer that begins with a man wandering alone in a dark swamp, looking for his lost son. He has returned to the swamp day after day, looking in the place where he last saw him, but to no avail. Eventually, he wanders into a mysterious part of the swamp that has glowing stones and floating platforms, and he continues on until he reaches a cliff edge… apparently a dead end. But just when he is about to give up and go back the way he came, he hears a strange voice that urges him to move forward.

At the base of the cliff, the man meets a floating green wisp who calls herself Irrlicht, and she seems to be the man’s last hope. While she offers to help, her intentions are somewhat nebulous, and it’s unclear whether her purpose favors the man’s search for his missing son. Irrlicht is the German name for a will-o'-the-wisp, a ghostly light that is seen by travelers wandering in the woods. According to folklore, the wisps recede as travelers get near, luring them away from their chosen path and deeper into the woods, eventually causing them to become lost. Throughout the game, the man and Irrlicht exchange words as she continues to direct him toward some unknown destination.

Using the light of Irrlicht, the man is able to see things that he couldn’t before, as the green light reveals nearby platforms wrapped in vines. This light, Irrlicht explains, is a window into another world, allowing its forms to pierce through, even going so far as to change the physical characteristics of the protagonist. In the green light, the man’s dark hair becomes blonde and his face holds a smile. Platforms become wrapped in greenery, with long grass growing up out of the ground, moss appearing on rocks, and autumnal leaves falling in the background.

Not long after making use of the green light to reveal platforms, the man finds himself facing a vertical green wall, requiring that he temporarily extinguish the light in order to move forward. Then, he must jump from a green platform, extinguish the light in midair to pass through a wall, and re-light it to land on another green platform on the far side. You will also encounter green thorned vines that kill you on contact, sending you back to the most recent glowing stone checkpoint. Here again, you must extinguish your flame in order to snuff them from existence and move forward.

Eventually, the player is introduced to cogwheels, which spin when lit with a green light, allowing the player to shift walls that block his path, and even ride cogwheel-driven platforms that hover above the water and soar through the air, as long as the green light shines upon them. Extinguishing the light or moving it out of range causes the movement to slowly reverse.

Completing a series of light-driven puzzle platform challenges leads the player to a boss encounter where he must use his recently acquired knowledge to navigate an environment made up of spiked walls, solid stone platforms, and green platforms that only appear when lit. At the far side of the room is a giant toothed creature that occasionally reaches up and crumbles the stone platforms with its long tentacles, potentially causing you to fall into the water below and die. The player must lure the beast to break platforms that allow him to pass safely through.

In its first phase, you simply need to reach the boss on the far side of the screen to move it out of the way, but you face it again in a battle to the death where you must lure its tentacles away from platforms while you attempt to hold your light on a cogwheel near the top of the screen. Lighting this wheel causes a spiked wall to slowly lower, eventually piercing the mouth of the boss and killing it. As a reward, the glow of the green light is extended to a larger radius, which allows players to revisit a previous area of the map to reach a new location.

Players are able to freely warp between any previously-discovered location, although the path toward narrative progress is always made clear. Returning to previous areas does allow players to hunt for hidden collectibles, which are indicated by glowing yellow fireflies spread through each of the levels. Collecting all five pieces of a given item adds it to your collection and provides a bit of additional backstory. Collectibles are lost if you die before reaching the next checkpoint and must be re-collected, adding some additional challenge to an already challenging experience.

Lanterns add a new layer to the puzzle experience, allowing you to pick up and drop a secondary green glow wherever you like, remotely triggering cogwheels and creating windows into the green world that allow you to activate hidden platforms. Sometimes the player has access to multiple lanterns, and sometimes he must return to a previously solved puzzle to fetch a lantern and bring it forward into the next puzzle sequence.

There are also green glowing fireflies that show through pieces of the green world, occasionally revealing platforms, but also revealing thorn bushes and other dangers that must be avoided, forcing players to move through the negative space between glows.

Defeating the second boss grants the player the ability to summon a red glow, revealing a twisted world full of flame and black char. Under this glow, the protagonist dons a gruesome visage with glowing eyes and a sardonic grin. Even the character’s voice slides into the reverb of evil when speaking to Irrlicht, although she assures him that all is well.

From here, puzzles get considerably more complex, as the player can alternate between red and green glows, making platforms of the same color appear, while making the other disappear. In addition, red lanterns are introduced, allowing players to maneuver red and green lanterns and make use of a red or green glow to reveal platforms and activate cogwheels.

At this point, many of the puzzles become trial and error affairs, as the player is often presented with a series of cogwheels that operate platforms or raise doors. Green cogwheels are activated with a green light, and red with red, but the glow of a lantern is sometimes large enough to cross more than one cogwheel, potentially activating two at once or cancelling out the effect of an opposing color. Even more complicated are sequences where the player must retreat into a previous puzzle area to grab a specific lantern and move it forward for use in the next puzzle, and some lanterns have larger glows than other, requiring that the player use a specific lantern to solve the puzzle.

Adding the fact that players still need to switch between red, green, and no glow in order to move about, this can lead to some logical challenges where the player gets caught pressing the wrong button during a jump and dropping himself into the water or spikes for a quick trip back to the last checkpoint. And, since the player’s light cancels out the effect of any lanterns, you may find yourself accidentally causing a platform to disappear, sending a lantern plummeting into the water, whereupon it will respawn at its original location (although respawning lanterns are sometimes used to solve puzzles as well). In addition, checkpoints don’t always appear between each puzzle, so the player must sometimes solve two or three puzzles in succession – usually with death as the primary penalty – to avoid a repeat of the section.

After solving a daunting series of red and green glow-based puzzles, the player is offered a bit of a reprieve with a series of more action-based platforming challenges where success is built around proper timing rather than deft positioning of lanterns. These challenges focus on a number of cogwheel-driven platforms that race through the environment. Here, the player will find himself jumping from one moving platform to another, running across solid ground to catch up to a moving platform, and swapping colors to shift between red and green platforms.

Things quickly return to puzzle territory, however, as the player is introduced to the blue light and blue lanterns, adding yet another layer of complexity to the proceedings. Many of the puzzles presented here are duplicates of those that the player solved with the red and green lanterns, merely adding an additional color to the mix… although there are plenty of new mind-bending 3-lantern puzzles to contend with as well. Of course, the player must also swap between all three colors on the fly to complete various platforming challenges, and must move between red, blue, and green fireflies that reveal platforms and spikes (and spiked platforms).

The entirety of the game takes place in a murky swamp with spikes and water acting as the primary dangers. New set pieces are slowly introduced in the background that add a bit of mystery to the world around you, although this mystery is primarily set forth in the dialogue exchanges between the man and Irrlicht, which grows ever more strange as the tale unfolds. Oddly, the man merely seems exhausted by the whole experience, rather than showing genuine concern for his fate, or that of his son. Still, the danger and mystery are enforced by the hazy swamp, the effects of the strange colored glows, and a haunting soundtrack.

Schein was developed by Zeppelin Studio, based in Vienna Austria. The game originally started as a student project in 2011 and eventually led to the studio’s foundation in 2013. Music and sound for the game were created by Leed Audio.