How did you pick your color palette for your game? I'm working on a similar styled game with the same software, there's a link at my blog to the itch io page for some screenshots. I tried to have my only restriction be to use the NES color palette but it's difficult to use. My concern with using any color available is a lack of coherency. Have you had any issues with that? How do you decide colors? Your games style is so clear. It looks awesome, I cant wait for it. Any advice is helpful. Thanks!
This is a fun question, especially since I didn’t really know about palettes when I got into creating pixel art. In fact, I didn’t really learn much about them until I was already a good deal into development, and I had to be forced by my brother and my wife to choose the new green of the grass.
Basically, keep in mind that I’m still new at this, so take my advice with a grain of salt. :)
So let’s take a look at your game (thanks for permission to post your images for critique!):
I think your spritework is pretty good in general–kinda has an Earthbound vibe. I’m a fan of the detail on the item shop, and the NPCs have a distinctive “square head” style that works well. Not shown here, but the menu is also nice, the NPCs are funny, and the camera is smooth. But let’s look at the palette:
- There’s a lot of saturation. Most of the colors all feel equally “heavy”.
- The luminescence/brightness level is pretty much the same for everything. Again not much contrast.
- There are a lot of colors. It’s very busy.
- There are four different conflicting greens–the grass, the trees, the cat/pumpkin eyes & windows, and the wall (which is kinda yellow/brown).
- There are two “sets” of orange–the house and the pumpkins–and they also clash.
Compared to this, which looks much better. What are the strengths here?
- There’s only two types of green–the blue-gray-green and the neon green. It compliments the blues well.
- Using a lot of black helps ground the palette (plus it’s sweet and retro), while the bits of highly saturated colors balance it out.
- Limited palette! You use fewer colors, which is great. It helps guide the eyes instead of overwhelming them.
A couple ideas for continuing:
First, use Paletton. Pick a nice base color, then use a tool like Paletton to find complimentary colors. I’d recommend either the triad or tetrad options at the top–three or four main colors is a good rule of thumb for any art. Try to use the “big” color squares presented by Paletton for only one or two of the colors–use the different brightness/saturation levels for the rest. For example, I grabbed your pumpkin orange and came up with this color set. You could use the “big” orange, dark shade of orange, dark shade of blue, light shade of yellow, and light shade of light blue. I wouldn’t use all four of the “big” colors it gives you, otherwise you’ll run into saturation/brightness issues again. And then, if you already have one orange, you only really need maybe a darker and lighter shade–you don’t need a whole new orange.
Another option is to try looking at existing palettes, or even consider using those palettes. DB16 and DB32 are good examples. Also check out this list of “Halloween Palettes”. Get a feel for what colors people chose and why. Notice that colors are almost always very limited.
Remember that grass doesn’t always have to be “grass green”. Here’s an experiment with the first image of yours. It’s not done or perfect, and by no means am I saying you have to use this aesthetic, but it’s just to demonstrate what happens when you consolidate colors and desaturate some of them:
I’ve taken out the original green of the grass and made it a darker, desaturated blue. This helps everything else “pop”. It’s sort of the reverse of what I did with The Waking Cloak, which is now a bright, luminescent yellow/green with hints of brown… and also makes things pop. The name of the game is contrast.
In addition, the walls are now gray, and the edges of the path are the same dark green used in the plants. I also changed it so the pumpkins use the same oranges as the house. I desaturated the brown of the path as well. Are you seeing a pattern? Consolidating and reusing colors, and a mix of high and low luminescence.
This isn’t really the results of a lot of premeditated secret knowledge about colors, either (I’m a noob, remember?). I just grabbed some screenshots and played with tweaking/replacing the colors that were already there. There’s still stuff to change with this, like the color of the item shop so it pops a bit more with the new colors, or to add a bigger range of luminescence. The grass feels very dark and heavy. Again, I’m not saying use this palette (unless you like it–in which case go for it! But keep in mind to use the same palette in your battle scene).
If you’d prefer to read up on some more technical aspects, a suggestion I’ve heard is the book Color and Light, by James Gurney, though I haven’t personally read it.
I think that about covers it. Let me know if you have more questions! :D