The Rhythm is Gonna Get You: Hands-on with Spectra

Updated on April 24, 11:30 a.m. PDT with new image

Ever since the early days of the medium, musicians have been enamored with video games. All one needs to do is look back to the days when bands like Journey and Aerosmith put their considerable clout behind branded games for evidence of this ever-evolving relationship. Now, a DJ from Northern Ireland named Chipzel is adding her name to the list by teaming up with ID@Xbox developers Gateway Interactive to create “Spectra: 8bit Racing,” which flips the script on what we’ve come to expect from a music-based game.

The first elements of “Spectra” that stands out is the music. As you may or may not have guessed given the game’s full title, the music in “Spectra” is of the 8-bit variety. To be more specific, it’s chiptune music, which uses 8-bit chips to recreate retro sounds similar to what you might have heard coming from your console of choice in the mid-80s. Each track in the game is taken from Chipzel’s most recent album, which just happens to be called (you guessed it!) “Spectra.”

The developers at Gateway Interactive took each of the tracks off of the “Spectra” album and dropped them into their engine as the cornerstone of their music-based racing game. However, rather than hand-building tracks that would sync up to the music, the development team created an engine that allowed for procedural generation of the tracks. In game development terms, this means that the racing tracks in the game are built on the fly using an algorithm that “reads” the music, rather than being built from scratch by the team.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, in many ways, nothing and everything. Players wouldn’t know that the courses weren’t built by hand without being told, but they also wouldn’t know that the process saved the developers hundreds of man hours of labor-intensive work. Besides, once you begin playing “Spectra: 8bit Racing,” you’ll find yourself too busy trying to stay alive to even think about how the course was generated.

Each course in “Spectra” floats in the emptiness of space, forcing players to stay on the track if they want to stay alive. The courses change on both the horizontal and vertical axes depending on the music, and pinball bumper-like hazards pop up often depending on the speed and tempo of the music itself. Even if you’re not a fan of the music itself, it’s impossible not to enter a certain type of zen-like state once you get moving and are constantly trying to stay (literally and figuratively) on course.

The racing action is very fast and requires quick reflexes, but there are a few neat little wrinkles that can prove essential during certain moments. For instance, if you’re going fast enough, you can get back onto the track when bumped off provided you react quickly enough. Players can also jump from one level down to a lower one at times, occasionally saving you from having to deal with obstacles.

With its bright, beautiful visuals and addictively challenging style of racing, “Spectra: 8bit Racing” looks to be one of the most unique games currently under development in the ID@Xbox program. You can be sure we’ll be bringing you more on the game as soon as we get our hands on it again.