I miss color.
I don't know what the hell is going on with modern game design and aesthetics. Remember those days when you'd turn on a video game, and it truly felt like you were being transported to another world? I remember having feelings of happiness playing games like Duke Nukem 3D or Mario64. Even with their simplistic gameplay and storyline elements, I honestly think I had more fun playing those games than playing any of the more modern and "immersive" games of today.
So why is that? I started to analyze this question and I narrowed it down to a few answers. For one, the storylines of today tend to be dark and depressing. Between being trapped with crazies (like in Bioshock or Condemned), or trying to save the world with a chainsaw and some bullets (Gears of War), it's no wonder I find today's games to be stressful and not stress relieving. But then again when I look back, these themes are nothing new. Wolfenstein 3-D had you trapped with Nazis, and Doom had you fighting in Hell with a chainsaw - yet I didn't get depressed playing those games. So what is it about today's games that is so damn depressing? Well, it finally dawned on me. It's the damned color and lighting.
Game developers are always pushing the envelope in regards to the hardware wizardry that is available to them, and today's consoles have some fantastic features when it comes to the lighting and rendering of realistic images. With self-reflection, bump mapping, pixel shading, high dynamic range, and every other buzzword at their disposal, developers would be foolish not to utilize these newfangled features, no?
Well to be honest, I disagree. Personally, I think developers need to get smarter about when to use some of these features, and when to opt for less realism. The main reason is because games that shouldn't be depressing, are. Take the EA game Skate for example:
In looking at these screenshots, it doesn't exactly lift your spirits. These shots should depict a fun-filled skating game, yet in reality they look like shots from a heroin game where you have to skate to get your next fix. Now do these images look real? Well yeah, pretty much. But do they look warm and inviting? Hell no. I'm not saying I want my games to give me a warm cup of milk and a blanky when I start playing, but I don't necessarily want to be left out in the cold urban jungle at all times either. If a game is supposed to be fun, isn't it ok for developers to make it look fun? Back in the day, you could tell what the theme of a game was from a single screenshot. Nowadays, all screenshots basically look like they are from the same post-apocalyptic World War III nuclear fallout nightmare. Check out these next shots for more examples of what I'm talking about:
I like pretty sunsets as much as the next guy, but do we constantly have to be playing in one? Now sometimes, this kind of lighting can be important to the art design of a story. Gears of War is a game that looks depressing, but that depression is arguably a key element to the game's "Destroyed Beauty" theme:
I can give Gears a pass, because the lighting and atmosphere really set the tone for the game's core storyline, but do all games really need to use the same color palette? Apparently they must, as I'm fairly certain most modern game designers are using the following palette for 90% of the games they crank out:
I can just imagine the initial design meetings for some of these games...
Hotshot Game Designer: "As you can see, have a broad spectrum of color at our disposal, ranging from lifelike piss, to soggy poop..."
Bigshot Publisher: "Brilliant, I love it!"
Hotshot Game Designer: "Following that, we have complete coverage of the Concrete Range, followed by,... you guessed it: Burnt Sienna!"
Bigshot Publisher: "BRILLIANT!!!!"
Ok, at this point some of you might be thinking, "This article blows, these games don't look depressing at all... In fact, I have a raging boner from looking at the GRAW screenshot." Well, that may be true, but I challenge you to find any screenshot above that really makes you feel happy. Be honest... do any of those shots evoke a light-hearted feeling of fun? To remind you what that really feels like, behold:
Ahhhh... Doesn't that feel good? It's like somebody opened a window, and blew away all the nuclear winter. Even the sandy brown Mario64 level doesn't look half as depressing as the graffiti-filled permanent sunset jungle of the Skate world. We need more games like this. Bright, clear, and refreshing.
Take note, game designers and developers! Games don't always have to look realistic. It's perfectly ok to have the aesthetic mood match the style of gameplay you are going for, but can we at least lighten things up a little?? Maybe you can draw upon the following color palette for future inspiration:
That's right, bitches... Good ole CGA!