A big part of making games fun is making them understandable. You don’t want players getting hit by something they couldn’t really see, or getting stuck on an item of scenery that doesn’t look like they get stuck on it; those aren’t the fault of the player and therefore aren’t fun things to have happen!
One easy way to differentiate between different objects and their affect on the player is with colour, for example; red = baddie, green = pickup, yellow = impassable wall etc.
But I also like to try to use the tone of an object to communicate its importance to the player.
Referring to the image above, let’s start with the least important part in the gameplay heirachy;
- The background! In the above image the background is dark and muted; the player has no limitations in this area.
- Second is the objects that the player can interact with. These objects do not hurt the player, but may impede movement or have a non-critical purpose, like smashing into bits when someone is punched into them. These are tonally brighter than the background to make them more noticeable than irrelevant objects.
- The next brightest thing is the really important stuff; baddies! Things that can hurt you or that you should be especially aware of are tonally bright, to set them apart from the background and non-baddie objects. Baddies pose a threat to the player and their position is very important information for the player to know, so they’d better be easy to spot!
- Finally, Stunt Guy himself! As the player character, he’s the most important item on the screen, and so should be tonally brightest; the player should always know where he is. Particularly as how as a touch game the screen may be covered in fingers, you may need to find him again after briefly obscuring him.
Of course, this is only a guideline. There can be bright background objects, and dark baddies! And of course adding colour hue and saturation messes it all up again… But by setting out this principle in the first place it gives the art a yardstick to measure against; it keeps the game easily communicable, which is half the battle in producing an enjoyable game.
For fun (well, fun if you’re me :D), do an image search for black & white GameBoy screenshots, and see which games you can make sense of at a glance and which ones you can’t! If it’s a maze game, what differentiates a wall from the floor? If it’s a platform game, what’s the difference between a background object and a platform you can jump on? The original GameBoy only had 6 shades of grey to work with, so it’s really informative to look at what they did, what works and what doesn’t. Mario is an interesting example, there’s a very clear difference between the background and the foreground tonally, but the character sprites are neither light, nor dark. While this contradicts my theories for the Stunt Guy heirarchy and does make Mario harder to spot, it does mean that the same character sprites are as visible on the bright outdoor levels as they are in dark caves!
Cool huh? :D