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Shades of Heroism

Game:Nier Gestalt/RepliCant Release:Apr 10 (all regions) Platform:Xbox 360 / PS3 Game Director:Yoko Taro

Nier, the latest offering from distinctly Japanese developer Cavia by way of Square-Enix, is a game with an intensely rich visual presentation. For me, memories of milestones in my personal gaming history as well as my own life are thrust forward during its 30+ hour run time. This is primarily due to its exceedingly controlled use of color and the way in which Cavia has used analogous colors punctuated with complementary ones in the majority of their environments. The use of these colors calls to mind a list of 8 and 16-bit role playing epics of the past. It is not hard to view the sweeping Northern Plains of Nier and not be reminded of titles like Falcom’s Ys series, a franchise that’s over 20 years old.

I mention older games because their use of color was far more limited and less subtle. As role playing titles, the original installments of Ys, The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy rely heavily on the portrayal of wide-open lands  laden with adventure, much like the landscapes of Nier. The inferior technology of the 80s required that developers be deliberate with the placement of pixels and color in their texture and character work. Most older 8-bit titles can be reduced to a handful of colors (literally 5 or less) that work just as well as games do today with a near limitless palette to pull from.

The Legend of Zelda Ys

Having the power of subtlety that modern gaming affords, developers can differentiate objects in the game world utilizing color schemes that are far less contrasting and far more nuanced. As seen in the first screenshot above, it is possible then to reduce the base “swatches” of color in modern games to even less than those in older generations. In Nier, Cavia has wrapped the world of 3049 A.D. Earth in subtle shades of green, blue, and earthy reds that imbued games like SCEA’s ICO and Shadow of the Colossus with the faded storybook quality that made those titles tug at the imaginations of 12-year-olds (both literal and inner) everywhere.

In the following screenshot, the fishing town of Seafront is constructed in a wide spectrum of color-shades, but is predominantly a duotone of blue and gray.

Nier – Blue Color Scheme of Seafront

On a color wheel, the shades of brown on the ships and deep blues of the distant crumbling bridge are of approximately the same level of brightness (or blackness if you prefer); in order words, many of the colors in this shot contain the same amount of “gray”.  Punctuated against this are the rich blues of the sky and the ocean.  It is a subtle effect, but imagine if the ship to the left was a chocolate brown, the pier landing was a solid gray, and the distant hills were dotted in a bright limey green.  The scene would become busy with color information and the impressive blues of the sky and the water would be lost.

The reasoning behind this technique is to put emphasis on certain elements in a design, or in this case, an entire virtual location.  Cavia wants you as the player to focus on the water and the sky, and to see the objects between you and those things almost in silhouette (in this case, the distant bridge is the best example of this) and almost disregard them at first glance.  It is not to lessen the importance of these things, its important that you know the boat is a boat and looks like a boat, but it is more to accentuate the occurrence of those blue colors in the scene.  When I set foot in this village, I am taken-aback at the sheer awesome saturation of the water and the sky and my mind is sent reeling thinking about the grandeur of such a place. In the windy canyon of the Aerie, the bright orange tapestries that line the bridges and walkways grab my eyes and force to me to really take in my surroundings.  I could write volumes about the magnificent use of color in this game; it really is that striking.

The following screenshots will illustrate similar concepts of grouping analogous colors (colors that occur near each other on a color wheel), colors that employ similar levels of saturation and brightness and punctuating those scenes with bright and saturated colors.

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Posted in Color Theory, Nier

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