The Best Colors

Mario red.

Pikachu yellow.

Alizarin Crimson. Yellow Ochre. Phthalo Blue.

Are these the best colors? Are they even great colors? It might vary by who you ask; at the very least, each are iconic or recognizable colors in their own way.

But what makes a bad color? It depends on what the color is used for: is it informative, decorative – or both?

Everyone has different tastes, so in games, a bad color can be one the player can’t see, that misleads them or misses its purpose: a door that’s a bright red that the player can never open; a glowing yellow coin that kills the player when they pick it up; or a difficult-to-read deep purple text written on a blue wall.

But color as decoration isn’t unimportant – it can change the feeling of a game by showing what time of day it is or colors associated with moods, like blues for rainy sadness, or golden yellows for a delicious fluffy bun to pick up.

Balancing highlight helpful cues with colors that match is challenging. Yellow might mesh well with the reds and oranges of a fiery pit, but if that yellow shows a shrine icon the player can’t see or thinks is damage, it could be a “bad choice” for confusing them.

[ image: yellow icon / fiery fire ]

A color that shows up well – like a forest green – might not draw the players eye to it, though. Forest green could make the shrine icon seem non-magical, since we usually see magic in glowing colors not found in nature.

[ image: forest green icon / fiery fire ]

In interactives, choosing colors for what’s most important first simplifies this. Going through your asset list and figuring out color groups for what is safe, dangerous, friendly and informative before the player and background colors is a good start.

[ example asset list for known game (can be indie/game jam) + screenshot ]

Relying on what colors you see in other games to show safety, danger, magic, and so on can jumpstart you and isn’t “cheating.” If you do choose non-standard colors, let your players know somehow!

[ common color identities – i.e., yellow coins, yellow-ish green gas ]

Color combinations can feel unlimited, though. In the “bad color” examples above, though, some adjustments could create “less bad colors”:

[ image of each of the above examples, looking all right ]

Over the next lessons, we’ll learn how to choose colors that make our games easy to play while showing the atmosphere we’re imagining – even if it’s a dissonant one [ link to lesson where that is discussed in more detail ] – starting with how to identify colors.

NOTE (more detail in later lessons?) if we want to show an uncomfortable world, a negative emotion, or express another way. Some games include figuring out how to interact as part of the puzzle or story. (Worth a mention: games that use this misinformation intentionally?) see: hypnospace outlaw + adding a section in choosing palettes

[ link to lesson where this ^ is discussed in more detail ]