Color as a Game Design Tool
Today I’m here to talk about colors, and how the right choice of color for certain game elements can become a powerful tool to support your game design. They can be explored in a variety of ways: Evoking certain emotions in the player, reinforcing your game’s visual identity, setting a hierarchy between elements of greater or lesser importance to the player or even reinforcing the feeling of progress throughout the game.
That said, the focus of today’s post is going to be an aspect of color design that has been largely used in many different types of games: Color as an identifier.
Color identifiers are used to group or separate elements, like differentiating players, characters and areas. They need to be easily distinguishable among themselves and among the overall color scheme of the scene. Who’s never played a board game and found themselves saying things like “I’ll be yellow” or “I’ll play as blue”?
Well, this tool has been vastly explored since the very first board games and it’s still used up until this day, having made its way into digital games as well. Just look:
But how to use them?
There are a couple of small rules that will make the creation of color identifiers a little easier.
The colors need to be easily identifiable
In the sense that users should be able to name them. Primary and secondary colors tend to work well enough since most common users will be able to easily identify them.
The colors need to be mutually exclusive
For they need to be identified while leaving no margin for error or confusion.
Double color identifiers
A large number of competitive games make use of two factions that compete against each other. Games of war, sports and duels are such examples.
This dichotomy demands a clear visual communication and a majority of designers prefer to represent it with two clearly different and opposite colors.
Identifiers with three or more colors
When your game design demands the use of two or more colors, it’s also possible to observe several patterns. For a trio of colors, a very functional choice is to make use of red, green and blue (The primary colors of light), or red, blue and yellow.
With four or more colors, the choice of red, green, yellow and blue is very common. When more colors are a necessity, common additions include orange and violet.
The Colors of Nevermore
Since we’re going for a multiplayer game for up to four players, we opted for the more common combination of red, green, yellow and blue.
Kyle: Our young warrior got the blue color, that’s featured in his shirt and pants in different hues, shirt being lighter while the pants are darker. The rest of his color scheme is comprised of neutral colors (hair, skin and swords depicted with ocher hues), except for his tennis shoes, that add a touch of red to his design, resulting in a more pleasant look. Notice how blue is the predominant color, totalizing about 90% of his attire.
Margot: Our hammer girl got yellow, since it’s a color that contrasts pretty nicely with her brown skin. Her dress received some details in blue that cover a considerable portion of her attire, but are still sufficiently different from Kyle’s blue identifier, since it’s a much lighter hue that is slightly closer to violet.
Sam: Our little yo-yo master got a green hoodie to match a slightly darker pair of shorts. I decided to add some small touches of red and blue tennis shoes to make for a more compelling design, but green is still the most prominent color on his body and even his head, since we opted for the hood that would only reveal a small part of his blonde hair, as that would end up adding too much yellow to the character.
Scarlet: Our nimble little girl is the owner of the red color. Used in different hues on her shorts, cape, belt and hair clips, we decided to combine it with a shade of pink (Which is a color very close to red) on her shirt to give her hues a more unified aspect. Just as a small detail, we added some yellow to her tennis shoes, along with striped socks to give her a little more character.
At the end of the coloring process, all characters went through a bit of desaturation on their colors in order to keep the slightly darker aspect we opted for the game.
The end result of this mixture was a group of easily identifiable and very diverse characters with loads of personality.
If you’re interest in reading more about the subject, you may find more information on this excellent article: Color Theory for Game Design