Understanding the Art of Hue

Understanding the Art of Hue

Danielle Mesa is a contributing writer to IndieHangvoer and an aspiring writer from Boston, whose essays consists of in-depth analysis on video games in a similar fashion to that of how books and film are discussed. Her other writings can be found here

As we know, color is subjective and our connection to a certain color varies by person to person and culture to culture. Pick any specific one and ask different people from all walks of life what that color means to them, each individual will have a different response each time. A set of colors can define positive, neutral and negative moods on a personal level as discussed in one of my previous essay about Pehesse’s Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire. There’s no statistic to define an emotion or mindset. The use of color expresses the state of mind more effectively. It all depends on the person’s life box package. In the case of Hue by Fiddlesticks Games, the protagonist is placed in a new position where he is rethinking his perception of what each color represents based on how his mother encourages him to rethink the world he thought he knew.

The story of Hue center focus on the titular character’s search for his mother (voiced by Anna Acton) who has mysteriously disappeared after an experiment has gone awry, throwing the world into a colorless scene. She is no longer visible as she cannot live in the monotone world. It is up to Hue to find each color to fill the ring she and the mysterious Dr. Grey made. Throughout Hue’s journey, the player sees his character development reshape from myopic minded to being able to see beyond his expectations. Upon accessing the game’s premise along with the character design, how the art direction is utilized and how the gameplay ties into the natural flow of the story, it is no wonder how Hue is another solid indie title that takes the art of games another step further in quality and heartfelt emotion.

Story Introduction

Upon starting a new game, the player sees Hue standing alone in a gray scaled setting. The background is different shades of the color with black blotches and the ground and above him is different variations of black. With a watercolor aesthetic and bright dots of lights varying in size, it appears almost dreamlike. Even though the setting displays a sense of lifelessness without color, there is also a sensation of surrealism. In addition, the way Hue himself is depicted adds to that sensation. His entire body outline is highlighted in white lines rather than his usual silhouetted design the player sees him drawn and animated as throughout the game indicating that this is a vision he is having. Moving forward, he comes across and envelope with a letter written by his mother.

“Dearest Hue,

Oh, I’ve had the most dreadful luck. I feel terrible that you’ve been left alone all this time. The traitorous Dr. Grey tried to steal the Annular Spectrum – a ring I developed to allow perception and alteration of colour. Some call them impossible colours. Hah! Impossible for Dr. Grey maybe. Anyway, something went wrong. I turned a strange shade and became invisible. The ring… it fractured, scattering coloured shards far and wide. I stayed home for many weeks, watching, waiting. Existing on this coloured plane, I couldn’t speak to you, nor interact with anything in the mono-world. So I left. I left for the University where I hid away the coloured tools I had created. I pray you have found what is left of the ring”.

After reading the letter, Hue comes across two mysterious characters. One of them is a woman sitting at a typewriter on one platform, who appears to be his mother. The other figure is one draped in robes and is seen traveling with a walking stick. The scene transitions into Hue’s bedroom where he is seen waking up from his dream. From there, the art approach differentiates itself from the dream sequence by depicting Hue with a solid color black and white lines highlighting his eyes. His neck tie, collar, hair style and outer lines are transparent as with the other characters. Once Hue climbs out of bed, the player sees the world he lives in and what his mother hopes he understands.

The outdoor setting is represented with shades of gray. However, in contrast to the use of gray to reflect a dreamlike quality as seen in Hue’s dream, the use of the color is painted as dreary and gloomy. This is to demonstrate the state of mind and perception Hue and the other characters are sharing. Stepping outside his house, clouds are above and some raindrops fall. A crow is right next to Hue’s house pecking at the ground, looking up when the protagonist is at the doorstep and takes flight when he passes his way. Hue runs towards the docks where he interacts with a man in a raincoat and hat, carrying a lantern. He tells him that the fisherman saw ‘something unusual’ close by the lighthouse and then talks about Hue’s mother and says he’s ‘sure she’ll be back’ though he ‘[hasn’t] seen her [himself]’. The man then comments on the weather and the poor condition the lighthouse is in. When Hue reaches the end of the dock, he finds a sky-blue piece of the ring. He picks it up and upon its inclusion, the pale gray sky turns into that same shade of blue, causing the rain to stop.

When Hue goes back the way he came, he finds another letter by his mother. The first one in the game’s reality. This one reads:

“Since the beginning, we have pointed to the sky and declared it blue. It is this shared vision, this unquestioned understanding that connects us. But are you really seeing blue the same way I see it? Perhaps blue is nothing more than a shade of grey to you. Perhaps everyone in this world sees nothing but shades of grey”. Don’t you see Hue? This… this is why we’re here”.

Upon reevaluating the information given to the player so far, they understand why Hue is a meaningful name. At this point, not much is known except that Hue’s mother’s experiment was intended to display alteration of color and perceptions of them. However, when the pieces of the ring were scattered, she faded into obscurity because she is unable to be seen in the myopic mono-world. The palette of the mono-world does not let one see beyond their usual perceptions, but rather rely on their own comprehensions and bias. Hue’s mother on the other hand is represented as an individual who sees beyond those expectations and therefore, encourages Hue to step out of his comfort level. The ring she created symbolizes that will to think of the world around them as not what it there, but what could be.

Hue’s name reflects her belief that there is more to life than the conventional expectations their society settles on and her hopes for her son to reach his full potential. The moment Hue finds the first piece of the ring and finds the letter is a step in his character development. His dream serves as a premonition that this ring is part of his legacy and discovering that first piece reshaped the way he sees the world he would normally wake up to. Once he embraces this new perception of the color, it opens his mind and vision. The further in his quest Hue delves into and the more of the missing pieces he finds, the more expansive his point of view becomes. This as a result influences the perception of the other characters such as the man in the raincoat and a miner trapped underground. As seen in the gameplay, this new skill also becomes beneficial for his survival when facing peril for when he enters the caves soon afterwards. Much like Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest, where the game’s protagonist further develops their skill set as part of character growth, the gameplay of Hue paints an image of a young boy who’s coming-of-age story stems from the skills he builds throughout his journey. In addition, Hue’s mother is similar to the playable character’s grandfather in ConcernedApe’s (Eric Barone) Stardew Valley  in that both these character encourage their loved ones to look beyond the monotonous way of life. They both leave them a letter. The protagonists read them when the redundancy of their shortsighted environments have left them wanting more than what is handed down to them. Moreover, because of their will to reject the common way of thinking, they both serve as the stimulation for the playable character to reconnect with their origins in hopes they become more than what they could be.

With all that’s been revealed this early on the story, Hue starts his explorations below the earth’s surface where each new discovery he makes guides his navigation. After rescuing the miner and traveling further into the caverns, Hue stumbles upon, yet another letter which perhaps describes the entire theme of the game. His mother describes how upon entering a cave, our expectations lead us to believe there is a waterfall inside and sure enough, there will be. However, if one enters the cave without expecting to find one, she asks “don’t you think instead, the cave will be full of surprises?”. She invites her son to set those expectations aside in order “[t]o pull [her] back from the brink of unreality” and concludes by saying that she “need[s] [him] to see the world not for what it is… but what it can be”. Thus both the beauties and dangers of the cave open up to Hue in ways he never imagined before and therefore, the player is welcomed to do the same based in what the gameplay and narrative have to offer.

How the Gameplay Harmonizes with the Story

With its unique gameplay mechanics, puzzle design and approach player reaction’s timing, each of these components tie into the theme of the story and the message Hue’s mother tries to get across. Upon discovering the blue shard of the ring, clearing the skies and helping the miner in the cave, Hue’s mind and perception gradually open up to other possibilities he had never been exposed to before.

With the color sky blue as his first color to guide him through his explorations below, anything that looks like an impossible obstacle to pass has a solution. If he looks in all the right places, he is bound to it. For example, when Hue is standing on a small bridge made up of bricks. Above him are a couple of boulders being held by a similar platform. The only object available for Hue to use to land safely is a wooden crate. When Hue uses the ring, one false move, he could either be crushed or stabbed to death. To make the scenario even more complex, there are more spikes above the crate. Hue works around the situation by simply dragging the crate to the safest position there is, climb and stand on top of it and select the matching color. This causes the boulders to fall on a platform and the crate hitting the spikes, breaking Hue’s fall. This gives him a chance to jump from the crate to the next platform safely.

After Hue walks through the next door, he then finds more platforms, all of which are blocked by sky blue colored brick columns. Hue uses the ring once again and alters his perception to find his way through in order to make it across.

Throughout the rest of the gameplay, Hue finds new ways he can use obstacles to his best advantage. Upon letting boulders fall, for instance, Hue can retreat to a safe spot as he blends the matching color. Once the boulders have fallen and/or rolled, he can use them as a means to get from one place to the next. There are times where the player will have to act fast and timing will play an important role for Hue to survive. Hue will have to run away from a ceaselessly rolling boulder while dodging other obstacles along the way. Moreover, when Hue finds another color, these types of challenges enable the players’ abilities to act quicker, which ultimately contributes to his growth as a character. With the more dangers lurking in the cave, there are moments where the player can make Hue jump in midair and temporarily decrease his motions. This offers the player a limited amount of reaction time to decide which color Hue is supposed to land on and what plane to find it. An example of such would be after he finds the next missing piece of the ring, which is a shade of purple. There is the first puzzle where Hue has to jump on a crate based on the correct matching color shade. Because sky blue and purple can’t exist on the same plane together, the player jumps Hue in midair and quickly assesses where he should land. If Hue jumps on a sky blue crate, the player uses the ring to briefly go into the monotone plane to locate where the purple crate is. By selecting purple while he is still idle on the sky blue one will immediately cause him to fall to his death and thus respawn. Upon measuring where Hue will land, the player would then have to make a jump from the sky blue crate, click to go into the monotone plane and as Hue is slowly falling, quickly make the selection.

The perils become significantly critical as Hue discovers another missing color deeper inside the caverns. When orange is added to the set, it takes each familiar peril up another level of difficulty, encouraging quicker reaction time. In these scenarios, one of which Hue is seen running from another landslide of boulders while avoiding spike pits and acting as quickly as possible when standing on color coated unstable blocks that begin to crumble.

With every new color added to the wheel and new perils Hue faces, the way the gameplay harmonizes with the narrative is that with each new means of solving puzzles the player learns, the more they are seeing from Hue’s point of view what his mother means when she says to suspend his expectations and see the world for what is could be. At a first glance, all Hue sees is a cave wearing the same monotone shades as his hometown had at the start. With each shard he finds, he is able to see all that remains hidden, even in the most remote places. As with life itself, sometimes with the rapid pace we move each passing day, we rarely take the time to slow down and curiously explore our environment to seek hidden places we never noticed before. The world Hue is exposed to at first does little to welcome such opportunities, leaving no room to reach a full potential. The letters Hue’s mother leaves for him to find are his wake up call to release his curiosity. As a result, Hue is able to help his community and finds all the solutions to even the most seemingly impossible puzzle by keeping an open mind and heart to what could be there. In the end, it gives him what he needs to find his mother and learn more about why she holds these values so dearly.

Art Direction and Character Design

Perhaps the best way to describe the art direction of Hue is like describing a light in the dark: within a world dressed in shades of black, white and grays, the addition of each color shine through. From the title screen to the climax, the transitions between color to color within each selection during gameplay blend within every scene. In addition, the characters are animated with a cinematic quality.

To begin, the title screen reflects the story in a single image and its boarder. The illustration depicts a timid Hue with a piece of the wheel in his left hand. His facial expression reads that he fears the unknown, yet despite his apprehensions, he retains a clear mind as he ventures through his quest. Prior to knowing anything about the character, the player learns about who Hue is and his situation from examining how he’s represented on this screen: a shy, clean-cut boy who despite his trepidation, he is ready and willing to solve this puzzle and mysteries and find what, or really who he is looking for. Behind Hue are a woman in a lab coat and carrying a beaker, whom the player discovers is his mother. From the looks of the title card image, the player knows she plays a prominent role in the game’s narrative. Another significant character depicted in the image is the mysterious man in robes Hue meets in his dream and throughout his quest. Below is a book open to a page with symbols that the player sees in the menu screen option, but they serve a meaningful purpose in the colorblind mode. In addition, there are other figures that the player will see throughout their playthrough such as a skeleton, a seahorse, a wolf-like figure and carcass of a deer. Behind the cast of characters on either side are torches, which Hue sees lit during his travels. Like in the game, the flames are animated with fleeting diamond shapes. In contrast to how they look in-game, which are a single shade of white, the flames in the opening screen vary with shades of gray and whites.

The characters are all depicted in grayscale colors in front of background with shades of black. They are also in front of illustrated puffs of smoke with light grays overlapping dark ones. Framing the entire image is a scaly looking boarder and the game’s title in the center above, both of which change into all the colors Hue finds during his search. As these colors transition from one to another, there is a light of the evolutions reflecting on Hue, the edge of the book, the beaker and his mother. It appears that the shard Hue is carrying, where he is holding it and the direction he is seen looking at it is the main light source that is creating the color changes. From that subtle representation, the information the player gathers are that there is a power behind the shard. Also, because Hue and his mother are the only characters highlighted along with the beaker and the book, this is very telling due to the nature of their relationship and backstory. Hue’s mother already knows the power each color possesses while her son is experiencing it for the first time.

This leads to character design and how it suits the narrative, the gameplay and the universe the characters inhabit. In the opening screen, the characters are depicted in a rubber hose fashion like that of the 1920’s. Within the game, however, they share more similarities to the animation works of German animator Lotte Reiniger, known for the 1926 film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Like The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the aesthetics of Hue consists of color backgrounds behind layers shaping the scene. In contrast, the silent era film’s layers depicting the setting are all solid blacks whereas the layers in Hue contain whites for clouds and water and grays for windows. Another difference in style is aside from the characters of Hue being depicted more simplistically is also the features given to the characters such as eyes and lining. In The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the characters resemble shadows of side profiles, facing either left or right with any type of features. Nonetheless, much like in Reiniger’s work, the characters in Hue all genuinely blend in the world the players immerse themselves in.

One other detail about the art and animation of Hue is how the protagonist interact with his surroundings. Aside from the gameplay mechanics where Hue relies on the ring to venture through each level, it’s when the player controls him to walk towards objects, water fountains and even a bird. When the player walks Hue into a jug, the jug tips over (albeit without it falling over and shattering). If Hue walks through a stream of water pouring from a cliff above him, the animation will depict the water is running and falling on him as he goes under. If Hue is heading in the direction where a bird sits, the bird will immediately take flight as he approaches. While this might seem trivial, it’s an interesting detail to indicate considering this type of interaction between character and surroundings are often absent from games. It makes it more so that the playable character is not only moving within his world, but authentically rooted in it.

Hue as a Whole

Hue is yet another rare gem and prime example that demonstrates the potential and emotion games are equally capable of imprinting. With its powerful storytelling, unique gameplay, art direction, character design and animation, the player is invited into a world where they are encouraged to think outside their comfort level. As the player progresses throughout the game, they see Hue’s growth from a myopic boy who has yet to be pushed out of the only perception he ever knew to a farsighted coming-of-age character who sees beyond the surface. Perhaps Hue in some ways reflects the player and their take away from the experience: we all glance at a scene with biased perceptions of what we think we see. Once we take a step back and explore those little details, we discover many hidden gems we didn’t realize were there the entire time. Upon discovering it, we come to an epiphany that reshapes our character and leads to our further self-discovery.

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