This is the introduction to Rainbow In The Dark, a series about games that actually contain colors. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Longtime readers will know that I often lament the lack of colors in modern games. Whether it’s the constant reliance on only blue and orange, excessive use of shaders to tint the screen a monochrome hue in a crude attempt at atmosphere, or just dull greys and browns everywhere, games tend to have very limited colors these days. I’ve had the idea for a blog series celebrating colorful games kicking around in my head for a while, but two things in particular prompted me to start it now. First, my series about early console role-playing games (which has now expanded to include action/role-playing hybrids and Metroidvanias) has been emphasizing just how much more colorful these old games were, despite technical limits that meant they could only display a fraction of the colors that computers and consoles can today. And second, I have — at long last — started playing Dark Souls for the first time, and while it’s fascinating in many ways, it sure is very grey and brown. Since it will likely take me a long time to finish it, I want to counterbalance it with a bunch of colorful games.
So, I’m starting a new series, which will highlight and celebrate modern-ish games that dare to actually contain colors. It’s called Rainbow In The Dark. Read on for some more introductory thoughts.
My trek through early console games hasn’t made it past the 1980s at the time of writing (going by original Japanese release dates), so the consoles I’m emulating were still pretty limited. The Famicom/NES, for example, could display up to 25 colors simultaneously, out of 54 total colors. Its competitors raised the bar a little: Sega’s Master System could display 32 colors simultaneously, out of a total of 64, while the PC Engine by Hudson Soft and NEC (known as the Turbografx-16 in the US) had an impressive 16-bit graphics system that let it display a whopping 482 colors simultaneously, out of a total of 512. Today, most monitors and TVs can display a minimum of 16.8 million colors (that’s 256 levels each for red, green and blue) and some up the color depth to push the total number into the billions.
So it should follow that modern games would be more colorful than their ancestors, yet the opposite is often the case. Although it does make some sense: when you only have 25 colors to work with for a given scene, you will pick those 25 very carefully. And as each new technological leap added more colors, developers could revel in them with vibrant artwork. Art direction for modern games is perhaps a more challenging task, with far more detailed images, models, and environments to paint with a vast array of colors. How to evoke the right feeling of dread — or triumph, or peace — that a particular scene needs, when the options are nearly limitless? There’s also just way more art in games now, often requiring huge development teams many times larger than the small groups who made games in the 1980s. With so much to do, I can see why someone might decide to stick to a few dominant colors in most scenes, or to simply add a green tint to the screen when players enter a swampy area. A quick way to induce gloom.
Yet there are some recent games that experiment with wider palettes. I’m always happy to find these, because they stand out against a sea of muted, near-monochrome games. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of games that barely contain any colors, but I like to offset them once in a while with something a little brighter. Rainbow In The Dark will celebrate such games, and also encourage me to specifically seek them out. I’ve already played a few games that I want to highlight as part of the series, but I have a longer list of games I’d like to play specifically because of how colorful they are. As the series continues, I expect that most Rainbow In The Dark posts will be about games I specifically picked for it, hopefully adding some color to my general gaming routine in the process. We’ll see if that actually works out; my Keeping Score series was originally conceived as an excuse to specifically pick out games from my backlog that also included their soundtracks, but more recently has just highlighted games whose exceptional musical scores I only discovered after playing them. Only time will tell if Rainbow In The Dark will fall into a similar pattern, but I hope not. Colors should be easier to judge than music at first glance.
Stay tuned for the first proper Rainbow In The Dark post to go up soon! After that, they’ll be appearing periodically. I hope they will help bring a little light to your gaming life.