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I was talking to a friend the other day and we got onto the discussion about colors in videogames, relating to actual in-game graphics/art. He told me that even though it's easy to see things when everything's brightly colored, sometimes it's better to use dulled or faded colors, especially for things that you might see all the time (like walls or crates or rocks.)

The question I have is, does it matter too much if I have a lot of bright, lively colors for game graphics/art? Or should I tone it down to less lively, dull colors? Does it even matter too much, or can something like this only be evaluated on a game-by-game basis?

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Maybe you can take a look at Dota 2 art guidelines, from Valve, it has some interesting points about color.…… – Luke B. May 22 '13 at 18:54
up vote 9 down vote accepted

It's much more complex than that. It's not the colors themselves that look attractive, it's the combination of colors, the contrast between them. In a picture only out of bright colors, there is a lack of contrast, same for a picture only consisting out of dull colors. In a picture out of dull colors bright spots will immediatly jump into the eye, this can be both distracting and guiding, depending on what elements it is used for. In the best case you use it to make the important game elements more appearant.

A general rule of thumb for games: Use dull colors for backgrounds and bright colors for characters/gameplay elements.

Note that not only Saturation produces contrast.

Examples for different types of Contrast

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"Use dull colors for backgrounds and bright colors for characters/gameplay elements." This. – sm4 May 23 '13 at 2:00
Did some playing around with it, and sure enough this actually looks really nice. Thanks for the tip! Accepting. – Shiester May 23 '13 at 22:03

What you don't want to run into is so much visual clutter that you can't easily tell what is going on. Backgrounds should generally be more muted and foreground elements should generally be brighter and more lively. Granted, some games work with equally bright/muted elements all around (Elder Scrolls, I'm looking at you -.-)

Depending on implementation, this can be achieved through coloration or some other method (blurred focus for background elements, for example).

Even though it's a pixel art tutorial, Tsugumo has some good insight into this sort of thing: So You Want To Be A Pixle Artist?

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Hey, MS Paint is the editor of my choice (inb4 flames) and that guide might be really useful to me. Thanks! – Shiester May 23 '13 at 22:04

I'd say it depends solely on what kind of game it is and what kind of feel are you trying to create.

Let's say you are creating a dark fantasy RPG targeted to older audience. You will definitely want to have lower contrasts, darker and dull colours. Fog, darkness. You will reserve bright colours for magic effects. Look at Planescape Torment!

When you are creating cute platformer for younger audience, you will want a lot of bright colours and a lot of contrast in the layer where the game happens and low contract in the background (and foreground) layer. You can even use bright and vivid colours for background, just avoid contrasts. Human eye is very sensitive to contrasts and edges. Check out games like Rayman or Worms. Plenty of colourful backgrounds.

And then of course when creating a realistic 3D game you want to recreate the real colours as closely as possible.

So yes, something like this can only be evaluated on a game-by-game basis.

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It does matters and it entirely depends on your vision of your game. For a quick example, compare Diablo I vs. Torchlight. Games are essentially the same, but the color palette differs drastically.

Of course younger kids are more attracted to vivid colors and cartoonish figures, where's older generation (25+) have more mature tastes and might prefer grim / realistic sets.

EDIT: Closest match I could google up yet: Do bright colors appeal kids

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Do you have any kind of reference for the claim of such a correlation of age and "color taste"? – Maik Semder May 22 '13 at 18:10

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