The Spec­trum Re­treat could be this year’s The Wit­ness

PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) - - CONTENTS -

”I’ve spent a quar­ter of my life mak­ing this game,” jokes Dan Smith, creator of the new colour-based, first-per­son puz­zle game that could be this year’s break­out in­die hit.

That state­ment sounds alarm­ing. Just how many decades has Smith spent cre­at­ing his puz­zler? Not that many, it turns out. The 21-year-old has spent the past five years on The Spec­trum Re­treat, cre­at­ing his first pro­to­type aged 15 be­cause he was “bored”.

That pro­to­type won him the BAFTA for Young De­signer Of The Year and gave him the im­pe­tus to turn an idea into a com­plete game. “There’s no es­cap­ing how much weight the BAFTA of­fered. It def­i­nitely opened doors. Be­cause of the stage I was at, the game wasn’t pub­lic at that point, so it was a great way to get the game in front of peo­ple,” says Smith.

As well as land­ing him a pub­lish­ing deal with Rip­stone, which has ush­ered in a num­ber of changes, Smith man­aged to get ad­vice from his de­vel­oper he­roes. One of those was Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell, who, Smith says, has “been re­ally sup­port­ive of me, and has been there to of­fer ad­vice, which is great. But I find that’s quite typ­i­cal of most peo­ple I’ve met in the in­dus­try; peo­ple want to foster new peo­ple and help them progress.”

dev talk “When you’re at­tached so closely to a project [work­ing on it for five years] I was so fa­mil­iar with how the me­chan­ics worked I could no longer be rel­a­tively ob­jec­tive about the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.” Dan Smith Creator, The Spec­trum Re­treat

When it came to push­ing his pro­to­type on, Smith was en­cour­aged by pub­lisher Rip­stone to add a nar­ra­tive to of­fer an emo­tional con­nec­tion to the puz­zling.

Smith ex­plains: “I def­i­nitely think it [the story] en­hances the ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s re­ally nice, es­pe­cially when you’re solv­ing puz­zles, to have a mo­ti­va­tion. It al­lows you to at­tach some­thing to the task you’re car­ry­ing out rather than be­ing just ar­bi­trary puz­zles you have to com­plete in se­quence.”

In­spired by his love of games as well as TV (Por­tal and Black Mir­ror are among his favourites) The Spec­trum Re­treat has you wak­ing alone in the Pen­rose Ho­tel. It’s pop­u­lated by man­nequins that have a scary de­sire to stop you leav­ing.



To ex­plore the ho­tel and es­cape you’ll need to prove your men­tal dex­ter­ity

with the game’s colour-themed puz­zles. Us­ing a gad­get you can ma­nip­u­late coloured blocks in the en­vi­ron­ment in order to nav­i­gate the lev­els and un­cover clues to who you are and why the Pen­rose Ho­tel wants you to stay. Throw in head-spin­ning tele­por­ta­tion and grav­ity af­fect­ing rooms – you can walk on walls – and The Spec­trum Re­treat soon gets vex­ing.

Smith com­ments: “It’s sim­ple in prin­ci­ple, but the way they [the coloured blocks] in­ter­act makes the puz­zles more and more com­pli­cated. Peo­ple will be sur­prised by how such sim­ple me­chan­ics can present such in­ter­est­ing and, ul­ti­mately, mind­stretch­ing puz­zles.”

Smith tells us that en­sur­ing the qual­ity of the puz­zles is main­tained has been the big­gest ad­van­tage of work­ing with a pub­lisher. He says he was “ap­pre­hen­sive about giv­ing over con­trol of the cre­ative process,” but soon found hav­ing other peo­ple to bounce ideas off proved in­valu­able. Hav­ing spent five years work­ing with the game’s me­chan­ics, a sim­ple puz­zle for the New­cas­tle-based in­die dev proved too dif­fi­cult for his ad­vi­sors at Rip­stone. Not fun.

“Now, I tend to try to make things as hard as pos­si­ble and then make them eas­ier ac­cord­ing to feed­back,” he ex­plains.


The key to mak­ing puz­zles, says Smith, is that “ev­ery puz­zle has to be unique in one way but still be recog­nis­able by some­one who’s played through the game.” The dev ex­plains it’s very easy to make 10 puz­zles in the same way once the core me­chan­ics are un­der­stood, which is some­thing he’s avoided do­ing in The Spec­trum Re­treat. “The rule I have is that if I show some­one a screen­shot of a puz­zle they’ll be able to tell me ‘yes I re­mem­ber that spe­cific puz­zle’.”

So has Smith fi­nally found the for­mula for the per­fect puz­zle? He laughs, say­ing: “That’s a good ques­tion; I hope I’ve fig­ured it out.” Watch The Spec­trum Re­treat trailer on YouTube:­trum-re­treat.

You can only hold one colour at a time but need to swap and match them to es­cape.

Just as it’s look­ing easy the game comes up with rooms like this.

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