8 June 2014

Brown Factor: A Colour Analysis of Id Software Games

Brown Tide. The Brown Menace. Browntown, Gamesville.

Whatever you call it, the average colour palette of modern games is a sore point for many gamers. Some claim it adds realism, while others say it's a cheap way to hide poor artistic direction, but just how much of a problem is it? Have games really become more brown over time? If so, whose fault is it? And can we make a lucrative claim for compensation?

As always, Checkpoint Restart is on hand to ask the tough questions. In this exclusive exposé, we'll use the power of science to critically analyse a suite of metrics and reach a number of key findings! At least, that's what our engineers said when we spoke to them earlier.

The New System

Helping us along the way will be a brand new analysis technique, which we're calling:
'Average Range and Saturation of Chroma Hue Examined in Entertainment (eXtended)'.
In layman's terms, it produces pretty little pictures showing the average colour palette of any given game.

Example ARSCHEEX output
The inner two sections are representative of the actual gameplay, while the larger, blurry mess is created from the original box art.

Armed with these objective overviews, we can come to a quantifiable value of the blandness of a given game's colour palette - a 'Brown Factor', if you will.

* * *

ID Software

For the purposes of ensuring a fair and balanced evaluation of games across the industry, we've singled out Id Software for intensive examination. Established in 1991, this cowboy outfit is generally regarded as one of the worst offenders for slathering their games in muddy, brown textures, but I'm legally required to say we're not biased against them.

We'll be taking a brief journey through the majority of their catalogue as a developer, and hopefully getting to the bottom of the barrel argument once and for all.

Commander Keen, 1990

Well, this is a pretty good start. Bright colours all-round, thanks to the limited EGA palette. It's complemented beautifully by colourful box art. Maybe we had them wrong all this time?
Brown Factor: 0.5

Wolfenstein 3D, 1992

Okay, this one's a bit more dingy. Graphics technology had moved on, and Wolf 3D featured a 256-colour VGA display mode. According to our in-depth analysis, most of those 256 were actually just shades of blue and grey.
Brown Factor: 2.2

Doom, 1993

Crikey, that's a bit of a jump. Seminal FPS Doom is resplendent in shades of dusty orange and satanic red. Where the two meet, thanks to ARSCHEEX, we catch our first glimpse of brown.
Brown Factor: 4.1

Quake, 1996

While it was a technical tour de force, it's tough to argue with the fact that Quake was almost exclusively brown. The cover art was brown too, so you knew what you were getting into before you even opened the box. Our systems show that Quake sets a new record for Brown Factor, so was this the true beginning of the 'brown era'?
Brown Factor: 9.6

Quake II, 1997

Quake II was another great technical accomplishment from Id - particularly the addition of coloured lighting effects. Critics at the time were apparently so dazzled, they didn't spot that the only colours used were red, orange, and brown, nicely complemented by the moss green box art.
Brown Factor: 8.9

Quake III, 1999

We're at the tail end of the 1990s now, and trying something new with the box art. It's a refreshing change to see the usual washboard of browns and oranges surrounded by a sea of calming pink. Sadly, after this we didn't see any lightly-coloured box art from Id for over a decade.
Brown Factor: 7.0

Return to Castle Wolfenstein, 2001

Not strictly developed by Id Software, this one, but we'll let it slide because it's a fantastic example of how well a brown-dominated palette works with a tasteful splattering of blood red. Truly a piece of art.
Brown Factor: 8.3

Doom 3, 2004

Continuing the theme of flesh, blood, and brown, Doom 3 was a famously dark game. Our analysis indicates that Id managed to keep the Brown Factor down by drenching everything in inky black shadows. Sneaky.
Brown Factor: 7.8

Quake 4, 2005

What's this? Neon green box art? A brighter colour palette? Could this be the turning point where Id Software finally got their act together and kicked the brown bias? Nope - turns out this one was developed by Raven Software, not Id.
Brown Factor: 4.4

Wolfenstein, 2009

We double-checked this one and discovered it's yet another Raven Software interloper. They did a good job keeping the brown at bay, though - I'm sure the artists over at Id will have been paying attention. By the time the next Id Software release rolls around, there should be nary a shade of bleak chestnut to be seen.
Brown Factor: 1.6

Rage, 2011

That's it, I give up. Maximum ochre-drive. Sepia Summit. They've fired their art team and replaced it with a monkey and a pack of Crayola Multicultural Crayons. They've turned it up to 11 on the brown-o-meter. There's no going back now, beige has assumed control.
Brown Factor: Off the charts

* * *

By the power of the ARSCHEEX system, we made a last-ditch attempt to claw something colourful out of this mess from a combined average of the entire Id Software catalogue.

Combined Average, 1990-2011

Oh dear. Evidently, the Id Software art team's favourite colour lies somewhere between 'burnt sienna' and 'shit russet'.

* * *


So that's that, then. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, how much more brown could this be? And the answer is none. None more brown.

Astute readers will no doubt already be partway through writing an angry comment, pointing out that we haven't fed 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order through our ARSCHEEX. Let me assure you that we'd never deliberately make such a mistake. The truth is that the system just wasn't designed to process this much brown. This was military grade hardware, but astonishingly the Id Software catalogue has melted it through sheer 'over-browning'.

I'm assured by our top engineers that, with careful administering of Dulux colour charts, the system could be back up and running in a matter of weeks, but tragically may never be able to analyse an Id Software game again.

If you're reading this and you happen to work in the Id Software graphics department, please consider investing in some primary colours - for the sake of our technology, if nothing else.


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