Goodbye, Blue Sky
April 26, 2011 5:33 AM   Subscribe

The Blue Sky In Games campaign is an old but still relevant call to embrace bright colors and happy themes in videogames. It's the opposite of the currently prevailing Real Is Brown style. Because of cheerful Sega games like Outrun and Afterburner, it is often referred to as 'Sega Blue Skies'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (33 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Now this I can get behind.
posted by jklaiho at 5:43 AM on April 26, 2011

While I understand and deeply empathize with the stated goal of this campaign, they would probably do well to jettison the weird racism angle.
posted by DU at 5:44 AM on April 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

While I understand and deeply empathize with the stated goal of this campaign, they would probably do well to jettison the weird racism angle.

Yeah, I was thinking that. It's a joke post from 2005 responding to GTA: San Andreas, but it's never been posted here and I thought that, quasi-racism aside, it's still relevant.

I play games as a way to relax or kill time and most of them just end up being too 'heavy' or depressing. I still bought an Xbox 360 instead of a Wii, so I guess it's my own fault. Ironically enough it seems like Rockstar builds 'relaxing' moments into its games, whether it's driving around listening to the radio on GTA or just just riding the range in Red Dead Redemption.

Of the last gen games I loved Ratchet & Clank because they were hard videogames without being grim thematically.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:46 AM on April 26, 2011

Please, not the racism angle again. I mean, it has a guideline right there: "Make the black characters something other than drug dealers."
posted by jklaiho at 5:49 AM on April 26, 2011

Perhaps they could have a site that didn't make me want to stab myself in the eyeballs?
posted by pompomtom at 6:11 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Make the black characters something other than drug dealers."

Like zombies!
posted by absalom at 6:18 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

This brought to mind a favourite anecdote of a friend of mine, Pete, who worked on the art for a certain mid-90s tennis game. Every day for a week, the managing director of the company, who liked to be 'hands-on', would take a look at the work-in-progress, discuss it with Pete, and end with some variation of "but I still think the grass on the court could be a brighter green".

So each day the grass got greener. Finally, on the Friday, it was pure (0, 255, 0), or 0x00ff00; in other words, 100% pure, blinding green. "Better", said the director, "but maybe just a bit greener". So on the following Monday Pete, having nowhere else to go, turned up the brightness and contrast on his monitor. "Perfect." said the MD, "We'll go with that."
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2011 [18 favorites]

"We want music that goes PLINKY-PLINK AND DOOPY-DOO"

When do we want it?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:32 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was just playing Bulletstorm, a game which somehow manages to cram blue skies and men who are as wide as they are tall into one game. The space marines, I feel, have won.

UK Resistance has closed down.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:36 AM on April 26, 2011

I recommend the "Fellout" mod for the PC versions of either Fallout 3 or Fallout : NV for prettification purposes.
posted by longbaugh at 6:45 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

This was why I loved Serious Sam. All the fun of unlimited robotron-style FPS mayhem, but lovely blue sunny skies to do my killing under.
posted by umberto at 6:46 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is actually really cool. I've felt pretty alone in noticing that videogames have looked more and more depressing over the years.

I think it's more complex than "we need Blue Skies", and perhaps the best examples of it being done well are quintessential games like Super Mario World or Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Both games had areas that could be called 'brown sky'. Boss Castles and Ghost Houses in SMW, and Boss Dungeons and the Dark World in LoZ.

They worked well, because there was a dynamic between cheerful and foreboding environments, with a larger percentage of cheerful environments overall. This actually creates a very rewarding emotional experience as one plays through the game; there's a feeling of contentment, happiness, and accomplishment as one blows up Lemmy Koopa's castle underneath serene skies.
  • You have done well Player, you've restored order to this part of the world.
  • Go forth, and bring back peace, and happiness, and the ability to select+start out of a level whenever you want, to the rest of the land.
It's important to note that these feelings would not be experienced if the player didn't have to go through 'brown sky' environments.

Another feature of these two games is 'the long slog through Mordor'; the very end of the game where everything turns 'brown sky', but realizing that the end is near encourages you to press forward. This extended 'brown sky' experience adds to the climax of the ending of the game and the ultimate satisfaction in having beat it. In SMW, the sense of satisfaction is furthered by seeing the ending credits roll and watching all the enemies you encountered appear successively on the screen like the end of grand performance you just attended.

(I'd also like to add that the my favorite game in the world, Earthbound, also follows these conventions.)

There are many other ideas that one could extract from SMW and LoZ (and Earthbound :D )
  • Safe Zones: where enemies don't exist and you don't get attacked.
  • Restoring Unsafe Zones to Safe Zones.
  • Milestones in Character Improvement/Transformation/Evolution
My perfect videogame is an emotional and psychological journey. I say "my", because the possibilities in videogame design are vast. One can take these established conventions and (intelligently) alter the them. Games like Resident Evil vastly alter the balance of safe zones vs. unsafe zones, to create the genre of Survival Horror (I remember very clearly dashing into the wooden shack of Resident Evil 1 where the soothing sound of a piano could be heard and saved the game to the soothing clickety-click of the typewriter, and soothingly never played the game again. Survival horror is clearly not for me).

What videogames need more than a simple tagline like "We need Blue Skies" are critical essays that videogame designers can read to understand their craft better. I'm not aware of an essential Videogame Design Theory Reader that one could use to understand these essential concepts, but the industry is clearly past the point where it's necessary to emphasize theory in videogames to get a better understanding of how to practice.
posted by lemuring at 6:51 AM on April 26, 2011 [14 favorites]

I remember the blue sky games from my early teenage years. What happened to them? Everything is about headshots and Grand Theft now. At least EVE give me my Internet Spaceships. And I have Galaxy on Fire on my iPhone for some Pocket Spaceships :-)
posted by no1nose at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2011

I guess graphic designers figure grim'n'gritty stylings give you more opportunity to render damage unto game objects, which allows you to show off your breakable environments, bump mapping, and so forth.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:23 AM on April 26, 2011

So basically another reason why Katamari Damacy is the Best Video Game EVER.
posted by happyroach at 7:32 AM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Blue, blue skies I see
posted by incomple at 8:01 AM on April 26, 2011

What if I like the games with 'splosions and rainy environments? Am I a bad person?
posted by grubi at 8:23 AM on April 26, 2011

grubi- If you're a brown/bloom kind of guy, you're not a bad person; you're just already well-pandered to by the majority of AAA titles. UNPACK YOUR KNAPSACK ALREADY
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 9:11 AM on April 26, 2011

Way to extrapolate who I am from my video game preferences.
posted by grubi at 9:16 AM on April 26, 2011

I was just going to say: "yes, you are a bad person".
posted by pompomtom at 9:20 AM on April 26, 2011

Yes, I must be. I am not insisting on infantilizing my video game experience, therefore: bad person.
posted by grubi at 9:22 AM on April 26, 2011

One of the things I liked about Mirror's Edge was the brightness of the environment.
posted by PenDevil at 9:45 AM on April 26, 2011

...Assassin's Creed too. There's really nothing like stabbing a bard in the face or tackling a nun in the surreal glow of a bright overcast day.
posted by lemuring at 9:54 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My regular life has enough ill shit in its sensorium. Since I was a kid, ive preferred the bright fantasies of things like Space Harrier or Fantasy Zone; now I'm a big fan of Katamari Damacy and the Nippon Ichi stuff, and it can get to be a drag seeing GUY WITH GUN III: BRUTAL REAPENING and that sort seemingly dominating the new related and sales racks.
posted by jtron at 10:10 AM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I remember the blue sky games from my early teenage years. What happened to them? Everything is about headshots and Grand Theft now.

I am just about annoyed with these articles, actually. It's not that current AAA current-gen blockbuster games aren't mostly bland, pandering wastes of time. It's that to anyone with eyes this is obviously so, and has been since the days of the PS2. What kind of game will a huge risk-adverse company with no artistic sense of its own make? Wherever the force of gravity causes it to roll to.

I have no idea who the hell calls them "Sega blue skies."
posted by JHarris at 10:26 AM on April 26, 2011

Sega Master System. Fantasy Zone. OPA-OPA 4EVAR.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:19 AM on April 26, 2011

Whoa! jtron, I never played Fantasy Zone, but I'm pretty positive I've seen that ship before! An Alex Kidd or Wonderboy cameo maybe?

I agree with the lack of bright fantasy world games. It's not so much infantalizing, grubi, as it is the emotional/psychological effect of videogames.

When I first read about Amnesia: the Dark Descent, for instance, I couldn't understand why someone would subject themselves to such psychological terror.

The thing is, I realized I did understand. Because, for a good amount of people, that's entertainment. That's awesome fun. And I don't think that 'perma-dark' games haven't existed in the past, they have, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Doom was probably the milestone that really created an opening for games whose context is 'everything is fucked up and there's nothing you can do about gotta survive'

Though I could enjoy Wolfenstein, I never liked Doom. What got to me, was the 'everything is fucked up' premise. I didn't want to play a game with such a bleak outlook. For someone who establishes an emotional connection with videogames, that's a messed up trip that you don't want to take. It's also not rewarding at all for me when I play games like that. I end up feeling exhausted at the end.

It's really not about violence, but context. Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2 are about slaughtering people and gunning them down, but with an awesome sense of humor that keeps things light-hearted and genuine arcade fun. I also like Fallout 1 and 2 which, despite taking place in a post-apocolyptic world, also manage to always inform the player of the satirical nature of the whole thing. It's something I've heard was sorely missing from Fallout 3, and so I never played it.

Again, I think the issue with the shitty (literally) color palettes are important, but it's part of much larger set of problems associated with contemporary console gaming.
posted by lemuring at 11:37 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not so much that "everything is brown now" as it is that most major companies have no aesthetic sense whatsoever and just tack together whatever seems popular at the time. In the 90s, the Sega Aesthetic had some popularity, so more games looked like this and this.

Sadly it seems that as development costs and mainstream appeal both rise, experimentation and well defined aesthetics fall by the wayside. It's a shame, because the potential for artistic beautyin videogames has never been greater, but coherent aesthetics are more the exception than the rule.
posted by byanyothername at 11:40 AM on April 26, 2011

I didn't include non-console gaming, because the indie scene in the PC/Mac/iPhone/Android market helps balance it all out and pressure big companies to innovate.
posted by lemuring at 11:42 AM on April 26, 2011

Bit of a shout out to Enslaved as well which has some brilliant acting from a buffed-up Andy Serkis and script work by Alex Garland as well as the prettiest post-apocalypse world out there, even if it is way too easy. Plus - Pigsy is one of the best supporting characters in history!
posted by longbaugh at 1:39 PM on April 26, 2011

Red Dead Redemption is an odd case. I was using it's wide blue skies to show off my HD TV to my parents. Then they asked me to 'kill something' so I shot and graphically gutted a deer. You do spend most of your time riding through gorgeous landscapes though.
It's not that I mind suspense or horror games. It's just that with normal action games I'd prefer the environments be a bit brighter, even if the gameplay is hard. See Halo for a popular example. Or my favorite studio, Clover/Platinum Games. They did Okami, Viewtiful Joe, God Hand, Bayonetta - all serious games mechanically but bright visually. I usually get emotionally burnt out after a few hours gaming but I could play their stuff for days.
Maybe this explains the popularity of the Wii?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2011

This just comes to mind because I was playing some of it coop last-night, but the world in Borderlands has nothing but clear blue skies.
posted by ego at 9:41 AM on April 28, 2011

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