The first thing about Hue that grabs your attention, quite rightly, is the art style. It’s full of vibrantly coloured objects juxtaposed with the black stencilled backgrounds and scenery, but its real trick lies in turning this into a lovely puzzle platformer.
As the titular protagonist wakes up in the morning, he’s surrounded by blacks and greys. It’s a dismal day in the small coastal town that he lives in, made all the more depressing by his mother’s disappearance. Though they live in a 2D monochrome world, she was deeply involved in groundbreaking research to add colour, before she vanished. Hue picks up the trail, learning to see and manipulate the colours of the world around him as he searches for her.
Starting with just blue and gradually adding all the colours of the rainbow to his colour wheel, you control the background colour to the world, and this, in turn, lets you make objects of the colour you choose disappear from view and, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist. If an orange box is blocking you way, you can turn the background orange and walk straight through it, or switch colours back and forth so that you can rearrange platforms and jump up to a ledge that you need to reach.
“So the first thing that we came up with was the [colour switching] mechanic, which we really enjoyed,” explained Henry Hoffman, Creative Director at Fiddlesticks. “We had a coloured object and, this was just in Photoshop, we had a coloured background and we were testing out the colours, changing the hue, and then observing as the object disappeared and reappeared. We thought that would be an interesting mechanic.
“In order for that to work aesthetically, we needed to have a flat colour background and couldn’t have depth or anything overlapping it, because then the magic of how an object disappears would be lost. We looked at aesthetics that work with a single flat colour background and maybe blacks and whites, so we looked at Saul Bass and some minimalist poster design, and there were really bold cut out aesthetics that we went with first, which looked like it was all cut out of paper or screen printed.
“But we found quite quickly that we couldn’t communicate detail. We were trying to convey something like a water cave sequence and then a temple sequence somewhere else, but with these bold black filled colours, we couldn’t show detail, so I started cutting detail out of the terrain and started doing it with a wavy pen aesthetic.”
Of course, with such integral use of colour throughout the game, it’s not surprising that Fiddlesticks have had to think long and hard about how best to cater to those with colourblindness. A simple checkbox in the options enables little symbols that hover over each block of colour, as opposed to attempting to do some form of colour switching.
“We spent a lot of time researching colourblindness,” Henry said. “There’s a subreddit dedicated to people with colourblindness, so I appealed to their community for support, and I think my post was titled ‘I think I’ve created your worst nightmare!’
“We originally experimented with patterning. We had pattern overlays, but this was when we had a really simple art style and we found that as we started cutting stuff out of the terrain and everything else, adding a pattern over that was too much visual noise and actually made the game harder.
“So then we added these colourblind symbols. We’ve done a lot of testing for this and there was an accessibility expert based in London who does lots of videogame consultations, Ian Hamilton, who also does talks at GDC and stuff about accessibility, and what he offered us was really valuable.”
Working my way through the first area, there’s a good blend of slow paced, thoughtful puzzles and those that require a little bit of thinking on the fly. Nothing’s too challenging at this point, but as boulders roll down ramps toward you, you’ll be thankful of the game slowing down when you move the right analogue stick to pick your colour. It’s satisfying to play just ever-so-slightly on the edge and change colours right at the last second.
Of course, it does get much trickier later on, and the puzzles start to involve coloured lasers, jets of coloured paint that change whatever passes through them, skull-like blocks that drop down at you when you pass underneath. Needless to say, you’ll have to have mastered the colour wheel by this point, and learnt to spot the sometimes subtle differences in hue, while you think on the fly.
When I asked about some more freeform puzzle design, Henry replied, “There’s various puzzles that you can solve in different ways, but that’s never really been my design, it’s just been an accidental by byproduct of building levels. I think we tried to do it; we wanted every puzzle to be solvable both forwards and backwards, originally, and we liked the idea that no matter how far you got in, you could always go back, but then we found that the more limitations we were imposing on ourselves, the more we struggled to do creative puzzle design. So yeah, in the end we just went for more of a linear route.”
There’s a quiet charm to Hue, as it tickles both the more cerebral and the more action oriented puzzle solving parts of the brain, and from the art style to the puzzling gameplay that the shifting colours let you play with, this is a game that I’m rather looking forward to when it releases at the end of this month.