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Thank Goodness for Neon in inFamous: Second Son

by Joey Davidson | March 27, 2014March 27, 2014 12:00 pm PST

We’re so tired of brown and gray in gaming. The monotonous monotone worlds of multiplayer shooters and adventure efforts in AAA game design have reared their practically grayscaled heads far too much for our liking.

Which is why we’re in love with inFamous: Second Son for a very specific reason.

Sucker Punch Productions took the stereotypically gray and rainy locale of Seattle, Washington and made it one of the most colorfully diverse and vibrant AAA efforts we’ve seen in a long time.

In between romps in the gray of Titanfall (which can look great, mind you), it’s been a real treat to take on the world of Second Son in urban fields of neon.

It’s not just inFamous, though. We here at TechnoBuffalo are starting to adore any game that breaks up the monotone rules of development.

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Joey Davidson

Is it “gray” or “grey?” Maybe that’s the most interesting question we can pose here today.

I think American English (or, as some would call it, Wrong English) prefers “gray.”

Eric Frederiksen

Now that you’re questioning it, I don’t even know for sure how I spell it. Thanks for that. Let’s go with gray and see how many times I mess it up.

Plants vs Zombies - Garden Warfare - 3

Joey

I know we’re both playing through inFamous: Second Son right now on the PlayStation 4. You’re doing it for a review, while I’m assuming the role of Delsin the Conduit for pure pleasure.

This has easily been one of the most colorful efforts on the new generation of consoles (aside from Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, of course) that I’ve played so far. Seeing all the neon and vibrant use of anything other than gray and brown has sort of made me a little more tired of standard color palettes than I usually am.

Is the use of color in this game tickling your fancy as much as it is mine?

Eric

It definitely is, and it’s not just the neon. Even the smoke powers, which sound grey, are highlighted by glowing cinders that make them as fun to look at as they are to use.

Joey

Yes! Those cinders, and in fact all of the bright particles in the game, are exceptionally brilliant. Here’s a GIF of that for fodder…

I think those particle effects were designed to specifically push us to “wow” and “huh” at the game as it plays out in front of us.

I know people talk a lot about what “next-gen” means for gaming. It means tons of stuff, really, but I especially hope it translates to “vibrant.”

The brownscale world of games is just so lacking thanks to the absence of pure color. I know brown and gray can look great and fit the art design of specific mythos, but, man, it’s just missing so much umph that can drive a whole lot of wow.

Eric

I think this speaks to a greater issue in games. Often times, an aesthetic choice – whether it’s grey colors, heavy metal rocking, or a bunch of buzzcut marines – fits the genre well, and is the logical choice. I want to see more big developers like Sucker Punch go outside of the logical genre choices like this.

The additional power provided by the new consoles gives developers new opportunities to bring color into their games, and I hope they take advantage of it.

Joey

Ha, you did it again. “Grey.” Let’s just pretend you’re English and I’m American here. Good.

‘Murica.

So then, in your mind, being gray isn’t really a problem? I see and applaud the use of gray, too, if a game calls for it. In the post-apocalyptic world of Metro: Last Light, for instance, tons of gray made complete sense.

But why go gray and brown in Call of Duty or Titanfall? Titanfall, especially.

Here’s a game that takes players to other planets through interstellar travel. The other planets? Brown and gray.

There’s one lush environment on the map called Lagoon, but it stops there.

I wonder, and let’s just use this as fuel for just a second, are developers and publishers of major banner titles afraid of colorful games? We see some readers here throw phrases like “colorful games are for kids” around a lot, but has that logic seeped into the minds of publishers and backers?

Eric

Actually, I think we’re in agreement here. What I mean is that oftentimes developers go with a very logical choice, but the logical choice doesn’t have to be the right one.

There’s this thought that grey is more realistic, more believable, but I don’t think that’s the case. Second Son does a great job of recreating Seattle, but it also contrasts the grey of the concrete powers with the color of the city itself and the color of Delsin’s abilities.

I would add, too, that Second Son manages to be one of the most bright, colorful games around and simultaneously one of the most photorealistic. It leaves the developers of grey realistic games without much ground to stand on.

I don’t need everything to be neon all the time, but I’d love to see more games like Second Son and like that Sunset Overdrive trailer we saw at last year’s E3.


Joey

See, Sunset Overdrive looks gorgeous to me. And that’s just a first-blush, gut reaction. I haven’t seen the game in motion beyond that teaser from E3, and its use of color is enough to excite me.

I think back to games on the Super Nintendo, for instance, and I recall an era that used color really well. Consider this shot from EarthBound.

EarthBound and Color

Here we have a shot of Ness outside of his home in Onett, the first town you encounter in the game. Now, the thing about Onett and this moment is that it’s really green and bright. The town almost represents the season of spring.

Travel to other regions? EarthBound uses white, brown, gray, darkness and other colors on the spectrum just as well. There’s a city of undead that uses monotone color very well, for example.

Even on older hardware, there was this sense that color could be used effectively in games. EarthBound is, on the surface, a light-hearted and childish affair. But it’s deeper and darker than that, and the color scheme alone sort of proves that point.

Maybe this is just me being an old man, or whatever, but games today that go the easy route of basic color are missing the sort of soul we fell in love with as kids.

Please, show me I’m focusing too much on the negative here.

Eric

EarthBound is one of my all time favorites. I recently watched my wife play through most of it and everything about it has aged very well, including the color palette you mentioned.

Speaking more broadly about older games, I wonder if developers were forced to use colors so that players could tell things apart from one another. Now that we have depth and viewing perspectives that mimic cameras, it’s easier to convey things with distance and perspective, leaving color variety as unnecessary.

I don’t even really notice when games are mostly grey. It doesn’t bother me, and I don’t want to… abolish monotone games, or anything like that. When I see a game as colorful as Second Son or EarthBound, though, I absolutely do notice because it’s such an exceptional thing to see right now – especially on the “grown up” platforms of Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.

I always end up back at the restaurant metaphor. I love Italian food, but it’d be really boring if we only had Italian restaurants. Let’s get some Thai, some French, some Indian around. Variety is a good thing.

Joey

For me, and perhaps this is where we differ, I’d love to see the use of brown and gray disappear. That is, of course, unless a game’s story and themes call for monotone color play.

Everywhere else? It’s time to jazz things up a little. I don’t want to trudge through another bland world that could have otherwise been colorful. That just doesn’t sound fun to me.

Color, in my mind, is a really easy way to be impressive. With the right use of color, any game can go from so-so to gorgeous.

Consider Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. If Nintendo had, and this would be a completely out of character move for them, gone bland and gray with Mario and his pals for that game, it would have looked miles worse than it did.

Super Mario 3D World - Cat Mario on Rainbow

Here we have a game that’s on what’s unquestionably the weakest hardware between the three newest consoles, and I’d put it as one of the best looking games so far in this new generation.

Why? Color. Art design. A sense of theme and purpose to the use of reds and greens and blues. It’s not just gray on brown with a hint of gold and red, like, say, Ryse: Son of Rome.

Eric

I think I’m a little more conservative on my opinion of the current state of games, but I also think we want to see things go in the same direction.

Games don’t have to be grey and brown. They can be, but we have so many other crayons to use. I want to see developers using all the crayons with, of course, an eye for good design. We don’t need rainbow puke, either.

Of course, we’ve only really talked so far about major releases from big developers. What about the Indie side of things? I’d say things are a bit better over there.

Antichamber didn’t have ANY grey or brown by my memory. Fez, of course, was mostly 8-bit color sensibility. I remember Gone Home being mostly purple. Guacamelee and Rogue Legacy also come to mind.

But it seems like indie developers with big studio aspirations, games like DayZ and Rust, tend to start toward that same palette with similar results. Do you think we’ll see the color variety of indie games bleed upward now that we have self publishing on both of the new consoles as well as Greenlight and Early Access on Steam?

Joey

You’ve basically steered this conversation where I was hoping it would end up, man.

Indie games have become a bastion of color. I’m just scrolling through my Steam library right now, and colorful titles are popping up at a constant clip. Octodad, Monaco, Banner Saga, Hotline Miami… you get the point.

Indie games have the freedom to do whatever they want in terms of color and design, and I think that freedom means that they absolutely can be colorful.

I really think there’s something to the notion that gray and brown are safer for sales than colors. AAA gaming today can mean gray and brown, whereas indie gaming?

It’s all over the place. And for good reason.

One of the reasons I like that side of development so much is the vibrancy of the games made within. I’m not suggesting hope is lost for big budget games, as Second Son clearly proves that it’s not, but I am saying that design by committee sometimes forces developers to go gray.

We’re pretty fed up with gray and brown, as you can tell. There’s so much developers can do with colors, and inFamous: Second Son is a great example. We’d love other developers to follow suit and find ways to work more color into their games – even the brutal, bloody war games.

What do you think? Would adding some color to Call of Duty make it a kid’s game, or would it be a much needed visual change? Do you want gray and brown to go away, or do you hope they’re here to stay?

Ha, rhyming is the best.


Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...

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