I Hate Brown Games

Real is brown.

I’ve come to a terrible realization the other day. It’s something that I hadn’t really thought about. It’s something that I never thought I would say. It sounds crazy, and to many people it just doesn’t make much sense. But I’ve decided this is the reason why I feel the way I feel…

Yes, I hate brown games.

It’s actually quite strange to think about, yes? I grew up with color everywhere. The Nintendo 64 with its Mario’s and Kirby’s and Banjo’s was a very colorful system. The PlayStation 2 with its Klonoa’s and Spyro’s and Ape Escape’s was vibrant in its color scheme. Even the Wii, non-HD and all, is undoubtedly one of the most colorful systems ever. But what’s up with those games on PS3 and X360? Why are they so brown?

(Disclaimer: I know that not all PS3 and X360 games are brown, but it does mark the beginning of the gaming industry slowly shifting a darker color scheme.)

Before I got Steam, when people told me they hated a game because it was brown, I just laughed. A color scheme? Really? Are you not going to play a game just because it looks brown? It sounded ridiculous, almost nonsensical, but that opinion was not uncommon. In my mind, I was wondering to myself just exactly what they meant.

But now I understand. After playing some Witcher (clarification: only the first one), some Darksiders, some Metro, and a couple of other games, I’m totally sick of brown. All the mud and dirt and washed out colors annoy me. Every game looks like a compost pile. Whatever happened to the bright and colorful games of my childhood?

Recently, I got to play through the original Mass Effect for the first time (don’t blame me, blame the backlog!). The stages in the game can pretty much be divided into two categories: brown stages and not-so-brown stages. Every time I landed on a planet with lots of color, I felt a strange sense of relief, as if I was finally being released from a chokehold caused by all the brown I was surrounded in for the past two hours. Then I’d beat the stage and find myself suffocating in a world of brown once again.

Some will say that this shift in brownness is an effort to make games look more real. But take a look outside, will you? Real life isn’t that brown. There is green everywhere. Look at all that blue! Everything feels so… alive. Now compare that to a game like The Witcher 2. Why is the sky always gray? Why do the trees in the game looks so dark? Why does everything look dead? I just don’t understand, especially when other games like Mirror’s Edge and Trine 2 can look so nice without needing this ridiculous color scheme.

So why exactly are these games turning brown? A quick search on the internet reveals the answer: as games become more and more detailed – especially after we entered the HD era almost seven years ago – lighting and shading technology had lagged behind. You see, in real life, light bounces off of some objects and onto others, which is why many objects we see in real life have dynamic shading. Take a look at your shadow, and compare that to Nathan Drake’s shadow in Uncharted 3. Huge difference.

In video games, this bouncing-off of lighting – called interreflection – is almost impossible to replicate without using up a whole chunk of RAM, and even then it’s still not 100% accurate. Thus, to avoid this problem, colors are washed out in order to make things look more real. As you may have learned in science class all those years ago, less light means less color.

A lot of people are calling for next-gen systems to have better AI. That’s cool and all, but I feel like there’s an issue out there that needs to be fixed first. Next-gen consoles need to advance in lighting and shading, otherwise we’ll be stuck in this era of brown forever. Nintendo’s Wii U comes loaded with loads of RAM, which is one of the reasons why Ubisoft’s Michel Ancel loves the thing, as he’s making Rayman Legends, a game that has a crazy amount of color and lighting. Hopefully (and if those rumors circulating around the net are correct), Sony and Microsoft will follow suit. It’s a good thing, too; if art class has taught me anything, it’s lighting and shading that makes something look real.

So tell me. Am I the only one who feels this way? Or is brown really not as bad as I think?


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