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Gray is Great

As the gaming industry matures, so do the games we play. Recently, we’ve had an upturn of games that are… less than happy. In fact, some of them are downright maudlin. Most of these games have used a muted color palette, relying on subtle shades of color rather than a full-blown rainbow. Being the ever-perceptive and ever-accepting community that we are, it’s become the in thing to bash any game that doesn’t look like it came out of Willy Wonka’s magical gumdrop machine. The thing is, games aren’t losing their color; we’re at a stage where developers are trying something different. Unlike the movie industry, video games don’t have a century under their belt, so when a trend emerges it’s a lot more obvious.

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The cancelled Wii version of Call of Duty 4 featured an unlockable Sparkle Gun.

When Saving Private Ryan was released in 1998, it was praised for the stunning visuals it presented. It used a muted, almost sepia color scheme which felt right at home with the time period and the situation itself. War isn’t a pretty affair, by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the games that have been criticized for lacking color have been shooters – fitting though the colors may be. Call of Duty 4 made use of monotone palettes, displaying a muted Middle East that was brown, and a muted European conflict that was gray. Call of Duty 4 was hardly a pick-me-up, so the somber colors matched the tone perfectly. I suppose it’s not really worth arguing about art design with eight-year old PlayStation, Xbox, or Wii fanboys, but the fact remains that color is a vital part of any storyteller’s toolbox. Telling a dark story? Use dark colors.

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New York on a fabulous day.

The silliest argument that I’ve ever seen is that “real life is colorful!” Well, two things. One: we don’t always play games to see real things. Two: No it isn’t. Granted, the rolling hills of Hey-Nonny-Nonnington may be a lush green in the spring, the grass complementing the blue sky and yellow flowers as you frolick and play amongst the fluffy white rabbits. However, most of the world isn’t so pretty. It’s a testament to the old stereotype that “gamers don’t go outside” when someone pulls out this old chestnut. The world, especially civilized environments like cities or towns, is not a vibrant place. Since many games these days are depicting conflict in such environments – Metal Gear Solid 4, Killzone 2, Resistance, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto IV… the lack of color fits. It’s a mix of fictional storytelling with semi-real visuals. It’s perfectly fine to pine after games with bright colors, but the fact is many of us are stuck in Nostalgia World with our good friends Banjo Kazooie, Mario 64, and everything we played on our NES that had virtually no plot or emotional substance. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. But it’s unfair to judge heavier games by the colors we like to see playing lighter fare. Funnily enough, there is one popular action game that’s as bright as anything: Halo 3. The thing is, Halo is much lighter on theme than most other action games these days.

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Soliders admire the vast rainbow of the African terrain.

This brings me to my point. Color isn’t disappearing; innocence is. Like the movies, video games are finally starting to tread new ground when it comes to plot territory. It’s just that games are moving faster. There are still plenty of colorful titles being released; Banjo: Nuts & Bolts, Halo Wars, Mario Galaxy, LittleBigPlanet, and others are all vibrant games that are sure to please. In fact, there’s one more… isn’t Diablo 3 pretty looking?

Oh, wait, what’s that?

We’re supposed to be complaining about that?

Huh. Weird.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

Gentle persuasion

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