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Colors & Contrast

Colors and contrasts can be used to help your map look wonderful, or they could make your map look like trash. Both can also be used to draw the players’ attention in the ways you want them to, as we discussed earlier. In this lesson I want to go into a little more depth of using colors and contrast on your maps, to improve the quality of Art, and to utilize them effectively for the players’ benefits as well.

Contrast In Color

Colors of similar hues don’t contrast with each other – they don’t clash. But colors of opposite hues do. Take a purple weapon and sit it on a yellow table. It sticks out because the purple is at the opposite end of the color wheel from the yellow.

Now take that same purple weapon and place it on a blue or red table. It stands out far less. It blends in more. This is why the purple leaves on Boardwalk work so well as soft cover – both red and blue teams blend equally well behind the purple leaves, and both are just a little noticeable behind the purple leaves.

Understanding the color wheel can help you understand how to maximize or minimize contrast for various colors.

The Purpose Of Contrast

Contrast is used in level design to attract or grab a player’s attention to something important. It can be used to draw a player’s attention to a power weapon or some important pickup. It could also be used in a similar manner to draw a player’s attention to an open doorway, as a visual cue to where they player should go next. The former is used through out level design, the latter is used for campaign mode rather than multiplayer mode.

Where there is contrast, there is attention grabbing. Where there is no contrast, there is a lack of attention grabbing. Those areas that lack contrast do not compete for the attention of the player. Therefore, most of the map should lack contrast. This is why visual noise in Architecture needs to be well controlled or it can wind up inadvertently competing for the attention of the player where it should not.

Contrast can occur either through variation of intensity or variation of color. For example, a black weapon on a white table is an example of contrast of intensity, and a purple weapon on a yellow table is an example of a contrast of color.

Managing Contrast

Since contrast should be avoided everywhere except where you want to draw the player’s attention, you want to avoid contrast through out most of your map. However, this doesn’t mean that the ceiling should be the same color and texture as the walls or the walls the same as the floor. This is exactly the problem with Halo 4’s Forge Island Blindness that is created in the shadows when the ceiling, walls, and floor are all the same color.

You really want the surfaces to differentiate from each other so that when a player looks into a room they can immediately perceive the walls from the floor and the ceiling. But at the same time you don’t want this contrast to be significant enough to be grabbing the player’s attention. You want the differences to be subtle, such as the same hue of color, but a different shade or saturation; or just a slightly different hue.

A more natural approach is to use a flooring material that looks like flooring, a ceiling material that looks like ceiling, and wall material that won’t class with either. Of course, this is dependent upon the palette.

Once you establish the bulk of your map’s contrast level, you then know how much to raise the contrast level to grab the player’s attention. Hopefully the level through out most of your map is very low in contrast – you wouldn’t need to go to extremes to grab a player’s attention when you need to.


Colors can contrast as well as blend, you just need to decide what you want to achieve and with which colors.

Contrast can be from colors or from intensity.

Contrast is used to grab a player’s attention.

You need to minimize the contrast levels through out your map so that they don’t compete for the player’s attention.