In a relatively
short period of time, videogame art has gone from the single white blocks
found in Pong to thousands of colors wrapped around thousands
of polygons. This in turn has allowed the worlds in games to evolve
from a single black screen to immense 3D worlds. For those of us who
find ourselves in the lucky position of being game artists, the trick
is to find ways to leverage this cache of materials and palettes to
create powerful, realistic worlds that draw in players. How does one
do that? By educating yourself about the elements of color and production
design and applying these lessons to your games, you can focus the player's
emotion within a world, as we did at Insomniac Games in our Playstation
title, Spyro the Dragon. In addition to color theory, Spyro's
production design is explored by Insomniac Games artist John Fiorito
Difficulty of Color
the example of the traditional painter. Subject matter, design, composition,
and color must all be balanced together for the painting to come alive.
Now take the example to the next level: A movie director or cinematographer
has the same issues as the painter, plus the added complexities of motion,
changing perspectives, and timing. In games, we face the challenge of
making a movie in which the viewer can go anywhere and do anything whenever
he or she wants. Our "viewers" can see our world from any
distance or perspective anytime they want. How much harder does that
make our jobs? We not only have to worry about what is in front of the
"camera," or more precisely, in front of the player, but what
is behind, below, above, and all around him or her, in real time - and
it has to be fun to boot (see Figure 1).
1. An artist's job is complicated by the fact that in the 3D worlds,
players can now see everything from everywhere.
of traditional art and great games is the careful use of color. What
makes getting color "just right" so complicated is the fact
that color has a powerful effect on our senses, and we're also very
sensitive to subtle color changes. A little too much blue in a scene,
and the mood of the whole world changes. Fortunately, there are a couple
of techniques that can make the process of coloring a game world more
of Worlds and Emotions
basic game design has been completed, as an artist or level designer
you ought to start thinking about specific ways that the world you are
creating will draw the player in. Which emotions will your world or
your level need in order to draw players in and entice them to stay?
When selecting a level's color palette, you're also making a decision
about the underlying emotion that the level will convey to the player.
found that it helps for me to think of the game as a gallery of paintings.
In a gallery, each painting must stand by itself, yet it should also
support and strengthen those paintings around it. This happens only
if each painting in the gallery is balanced; each painting has been
placed with complementary paintings which have been thoughtfully selected,
and carefully arranged and lit. So it must be with the art and colors
in a game. Each level's colors and textures should be chosen to support
and strengthen not just the level itself, but the whole game.
Strokes of Color
to work in broad strokes of color, picking two or three colors that
will be the foundation for the color design for each individual level.
It's important to ask yourself, what emotions do I want to evoke in
players when they first step out onto the playing field? The color palette
you choose will naturally depend on the nature of the terrain, the architecture
of buildings, time of day, and the effects of weather. However, if you're
trying to evoke a particular emotion as well, you'll have to take that
into account. Do you want to fill the player with awe and wonder, or
fear and turmoil? Do you want them to feel comfortable and at home,
or unsettled and far from home? Once the core emotions are laid out
for each level, decide which colors best elicit those emotions from
the player and also work well with the other level elements (terrain,
architecture, and so on).
how each of the various characters within the game will fit into your
color scheme. For Spyro the Dragon (a character-based platform
game with a cast of dragons set in a medieval fantasy world), we made
Spyro green in the earliest stages. But we quickly discovered that this
didn't work with many of our primarily green environments - Spyro kept
disappearing into the environment. We experimented with over a dozen
different colors for Spyro before we finally found one that satisfied
all our concerns: purple. As purple, Spyro didn't disappear into the
grass on many levels, he was no longer the same color as several of
our competitors' characters, the detail in his textures stood out, and
he was a bright, fun character.
same questions had to be asked for each and every object and creature
in Spyro's world. It also was important for game objects. For
example, a great amount of treasure has to be found and collected in
Spyro, so it was important that players could easily identify
treasure at great distances. We made this easier by applying motion
and a little animated sparkle to the gems to make sure they were always
the brightest thing around.
core palette should contain only two or three base colors. Using these
base colors, a level's detail is then defined using various shades and
values along with small amounts of complimentary or contrasting colors.
Be careful when extending this core palette because using too many colors
can lessen the impact of any one color and you end up with emotional
mud - just as if you mixed too many different colors of paint together.
A variation to this rule is that some worlds may have multiple, distinct
palettes, one for each area found within that world. For example, one
palette for inside a building versus outside it. Even in these cases
though, each of these distinct palettes should be limited to two or
three colors, and there will still be one master palette, of two or
three colors, which sets the tone for the entire world.
to check the overall state of your "gallery" - the color continuity
between game levels - is to view screenshots or test swatches from each
of the levels side by side, as if they were a color wheel or contiguous
screenshots in a consumer game magazine. Decide if each individual level's
look supports and strengthens the others. If not, rework the colors
in one or more of the levels. More often than not, it doesn't take much
of a change to find that balance if you catch the problem early. With
Spyro, as soon as we had a rough design document with its specified
worlds, we put up a white board in the art room with a brief description
of the sky and the core palette for each of the levels. Further along
in the development process, small color print outs of screenshots augmented
the white board (see Figure 2).
2. During the development of Spyro, a white board was used
to display all 30 levels and their respective colors. It went
through many changes before the end of the project.