Xbox Indie Spotlight: White Shadows

By Heidi Nicholas,
White Shadows was immediately eye-catching in the Guerrilla Collective indie showcase — having caught your attention with its striking monochrome palette, White Shadows then held your interest with its focus on profound themes and exploration of concepts such as social hierarchies and the idea of freedom. We chatted to developer Monokel to learn more, with creative director and co-founder Daniel Wagner having been kind enough to answer our questions.

What is White Shadows?

White Shadows seems to be an intriguing amalgamation of numerous different ideas and themes. It’s a dark, atmospheric adventure, also described as a “modern fable, a distorted mirror of our own world.” It’s an experience which wraps together puzzle solving with a story “laced with social criticism” and an art style that is “equal parts sci-fi and industrial age steampunk.” By all accounts, it seems to be an enigmatic title, which we’ll attempt to explore in more detail here.

When does White Shadows launch?

We don’t have long to wait for White Shadows, which launches for Xbox Series X|S on December 7th.

white shadows release date

What’s it about?

A tricky question, since White Shadows holds its secrets close. It’s set in the White City, in a world in which humanity is half animal. The devs expand on this a little more over on the White Shadows site: “To protect against a deadly pandemic, those who can afford it try to keep themselves alive — by covering their skin in bright white light. But their safety is based on a lie, brutally exploited by the ruling wolves. To keep order. To keep themselves in power. But their grip on the world is starting to crumble. Something is coming.”

We play as Ravengirl, who is trying to escape The White City to find a place called Tin Town, “where the last free people live.” Wagner explains that the team “tried to build it in a way that
Ravengirl's story and the player's story connect with each other. And if you think I'm being cryptic,” Wagner adds, “you're absolutely right! I really believe we should experience things for ourselves, with as few spoilers as possible. You try to get away. You try to understand what is happening. You'll make it, but we won't make it easy for you.”

White Shadows is “laced with social criticism,” but Wagner says the team “want people to make up their own minds. What I can tell you is that we're not trying to be preachy. Our first job is to entertain you. Having said that, we feel that games should be more confident about having something to say about the world we all share — in this case that means thinking about hierarchies of power, the systems that generate and uphold those hierarchies and the different ways in which that affects us all. That's what we're trying here.”

white shadows release date

Social hierarchies seem to be a fundamental part of the White City. Wagner explains that “it seeps into everything: the world, the art, the puzzle design. Let's just say that the game does not put you very high on that ladder,” he continues. “You're not exactly powerful, but you're also not quite at the very bottom. There are things you use, and things that use you. It's about hierarchies and how these hierarchies feel to people who aren't at the top.”

How does White Shadows play?

White Shadows melds together exploration, puzzles, platforming, “jump’n’run,” and narrative scenarios. “You'll do all kinds of things,” Wagner explains. “You need to run away, you'll need to react quickly, and sneak around. And a lot of the people who have played it so far spent a good deal of time scratching their heads, if that counts!”

What’s the world like?

The world of White Shadows is visually striking, with a monochrome palette. “For a designer, it's great fun, but it also makes some things really difficult,” begins Wagner. Basically, all you have is shapes and contrast. So, everything is kind of amplified and darker and moodier. Dramatic images are easy to come by, but clarity and giving the player a sense of knowing where they are at all times is harder to achieve. You want to go not just for the high points, but also leave some space for the moments in between, the ‘grey moments’ where players are able to breathe a bit, take it all in and find their own meaning. So you just need to be more careful to not make everything look the same. You have no red for danger, and there are no subtle changes in palette to make the screen readable,” Wagner continues. “You have to work extra hard to fill the world with details. But it's all worth it, because you do get to put in those dramatic images, and you get to play with an incredible history of black and white photography, film and art. It always feels like there are still a million more things to explore, a million unseen sceneries for you to build. If you do it right, that enthusiasm for what you see can transfer itself to your players. And that of course is a great, great joy.”

white shadows release date

One thing that comes across from the trailers and screenshots we’ve seen of White Shadows so far is that it looks incredibly atmospheric. “There are so many things involved in creating an atmosphere, and everything needs to connect with everything else. There is no real formula to this,” begins Wagner. “You feel a bit like an alchemist, playing with all these weird substances, trying to find the secret for making gold.” Wagner mentions that the art and sound are important to atmosphere, “but methodically, it's about getting feedback and listening to people tell you how it feels to them to play the game, to be in this world. And from there, we can approach everything from a storytelling perspective: how do we want it to feel and what is the best way to achieve that? What are the tools we have? You will usually find surprising solutions in all the places you didn't think of looking in. And when it comes to implementing all that, it's all about pace and flow: when to let something sink in, when to ratchet up the pace, when to make it dark and mean, when to give some levity. And then you hope it works!”

Wagner adds that the team worked on the world of White Shadows to “not just make it a fantasy environment, but to reflect the world that we all see around us each day. The precise ways in which it's like our world is really up to our players to tell us.” But what is Wagner most excited for players to experience when the intriguing White Shadows launches in December? “For me, I would love for them to discover what the world we have built has to say about their own worlds,” Wagner begins. “How the world of White Shadows can mean different things to different people. How talking about those differences can pull people closer together. We just tried to leave a lot of space in there for your own interpretation, and we hope people share their interpretations with us — and with each other.”

white shadows release date

Any news on the White Shadows achievements?

We don’t yet have the list of the White Shadows achievements, but Wagner gave us their thoughts on the achievement design process. “It was hard at first. Honestly, we feel achievements shouldn't be such a mandatory thing for games. It can set the wrong tone,” he begins. “There are games which are great for achievements, and then there are the other games. White Shadows is ‘the other games.’ But, if you do something, you do it right, so we decided to have some fun with it,” Wagner continues. “We use it to underline things in the narrative, to create extra layers for the propaganda in the world, or to play on a few themes that would work as sort of an inside joke — so that players who cared about it would look at them and maybe smile or chuckle or shake their head at. In short, we used it as a tool to continue telling the story elsewhere. And in that, we discovered that achievements, contrary to our initial concerns, could actually serve our game pretty well.”

What do you think? Will you be checking out White Shadows in December? Let us know in the comments!
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Heidi graduated with an MA in English Literature, and now enjoys writing news, reviews, and features across TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. When she’s not writing, Heidi is usually either looking for her next RPG, or trying to convince the rest of the team to hear about yet another delightfully wholesome game she has found.