Screen Brightness – What a Nasty Thing

Since the dawn of the Dead Wake development (heh), I’ve got some people saying that the game is way too DARK. Now finally, in the next version I’m bringing it a feature that allows changing the brightness. Hint for developers: that’s something almost every game should have: I remember playing Dune 2 with some crappy monitor that had brightness/gamma ratings in maximum values.. and it still was barely playable. I was amazed to see all the funky stuff that was in the game when we got a better monitor…

Anyway, to get a better picture on how dark screens people might have, I would need your help. I’d need you to check out the following pictures and tell me which of these are TOO DARK for your screen.

Simply make a comment in this blog entry and tell which pictures are too dark (as in “heck no I would play the game if it was that dark, I can barely see anything”). Let me know the number of any of these pictures that looks too dark (and too “unplayable”) to you.

Here’s the candidates:

Picture #1:

Picture #2:

Picture #3:

Picture #4:

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Exactly, it’s not a matter of brightness, but a matter of CONTRAST. It can be dark if only each part [especially the player and its enemies] is easily distinguishable from the background.

  2. #1 is good for me, if the main character will have some light source. The other screens lack contrast on my monitor, the shadows don’t look like shadows at all… perhaps I need to check my gamma again :)

  3. They all seem far too bright; I’m sure a game like this could stand to be quite a bit darker.

  4. Amazingly many replies – I really didn’t think people would be this keen to say how stuff goes.

    Thanks everybody for replies. Most appreciated.

  5. Funny blog post, I’m actually at work right now dealing with this precise issue!

    I have two monitors here – a Dell consumer LCD, representing worst case scenario. And I have a Wacom Cintiq, which tends to have a bright gamma response in the dark areas:

    PIC 1 = Too dark, can barely see player.
    PIC 3 = Best of them

    PIC 2 = Best of them.

    Hey, make THIS image your backdrop in Windows and stay calibrated to it. It’ll help you:

    and then use QuickGamma (it’s free)

    Your ideal situation is to develop based on a properly calibrated monitor… test it on a CRT, because LCDs are notoriously blown out in the dark parts…
    And then add a gamma slider to your game.

    Good luck and thanks for the cool blog.

  6. I’ve got 2 monitors. On the right one, picture #2 is quite ok for dark zombie game, but player is barely visible. On the left one, all pictures are too bright (at picture #4 any shadows barely visible:-)).

  7. At first I was going to say that 1 is far too dark to be playable but then I saw your post on the indiegamer forum where the pictures were a lot bigger. After seeing the bigger pictures, 1 is playable but the character is just to close to the background color.

    The #2 one is probably the closest to what I would consider a zombie style, although I think Accord at the indiegame forum did post a good suggestion. “In TV and movies, there is a trick that is done for night time – basically, they put a dark blue filter on the camera. For night time, there needs to be some color. Set your ambient to a really dark blue, and your light to really pale white/yellow. It should improve things a lot.” Although I think this is the affect your going for anyway, I feel as though it’s not quite there.

    The 4th is far to bright on both sets of pictures to make a game scary at all for me. The 3rd is not too light but isn’t too dark but rather looks like it’s a day time with some extra light as the flashlight.

  8. I think to convey darkness, it is often effective to work with the greyscale on top of toning down the actual brightness. A higher greyscale combined with a much lower displacement of brightness should give it a lack-of-light atmosphere yet still keep the visibility effectively high.

  9. Alright. Picture 2 would be just barely playable if I were really into the game. Picture 1 would be totally unplayable.

    However, I’ve taken to bumping my gamma up to 1.5 for all values using xgamma, and at that setting, any of those images above would be workable.

  10. I like #1 the best, by far. Sure, the shadows get a *bit* murky, but just have enough local lights to add contrast and interest to certain areas, and you’ve got yourself a moody zombie game!

  11. It’s not just screen brightness, it’s the fact that I am not sure if I am supposed to be paying attention to anything in the dark areas. There’s no moon light and thus no bumpmapping, and the geometry looks very flat. If you want those areas totally dark, make them pitch black. Otherwise, add a directional light and an SSAO filter. Grey flat lighting just doesn’t cut it.

  12. It’s not just the darkness. There is no moonlight to accentuate the ambient light, and it looks extremely dull. An SSAO filter would also help with this.

    In Doom 3, dark areas were pitch black, and I see why they chose to do that.

  13. The first one is ok with me, but I think the human character (assuming it is your own character) is too dark.

    That means I would set the main character to be more visible and leave the rest as it is. I think the idea is that it should be dark, isn’t it?

  14. 1 and 2 are too dark for me. I can’t even see the player character in either one. 3 is Ok, but the player character is in shadow and a little hard to see in the still picture. If he was running around, it wouldn’t be much of an issue.

  15. None of them look all that great on my monitor. Other than the first one, they’re all extremely bright for me… my monitor isn’t even at half brightness.

    One trick you might want to try using is a little color bar that has people adjust their monitors (or even sit in a different position when it comes to LCDs) to the right settings. I remember that being used in Nocturne well, and the game pretty much depended on the right lighting settings

  16. I don’t think this question really is answerable in an empirical way.
    Even within a single game, I will often change gamma/brightness from *activity* to *activity*.

    For example, when playing World of Warcraft, if I’m questing alone or with a friend, I enjoy the atmosphere as (I think) the developer intended – which is generally relatively dark. On the other hand, if I’m running an instance/dungeon or other larger group activity where groupmates are counting on me to do things “right”, I tend to turn up the gamma to the point that much of the atmosphere is “lost” in the interest of not “wasting” my groupmates time in the case that I might have a hard time seeing something important.

    I’ll also do this in single-player games. For example, Half-life 2 is a great game with the best “feel” I’ve ever seen. So good, in fact, that one particular part was too creepy for me. I get the shudders just thinking about Ravenholm. And the mines, especially, that follow. It’s not that I’m a weenie, or a kid – I’m nearing 40. It’s just that Valve did such a great job on those two areas that I had to – after appreciating the creepy – tone it down a bit by cranking the gamma.

    I don’t think any of your images is too dark.
    I do think #4 is a bit washed out.

    But I also think both of those statements depend immensely on what you are shooting for in atmosphere, environment, and feel. If you want it to be creepy and scary, #1 is probably “ideal”, but I also think that taking the choice away from the player is a big no-no.

  17. I think the original everything is fine, its hard to see stuff in your original screenshot on the blitzbasic forums but when i played 0.7 (which most of those guys are too lazy to see it it action) the flashlight makes it work. maybe if you got a screenshot with the zombie farther away from you so your flashlight can illuminate the level or fraps like 30 secs of gameplay and youtube it!

    from 0.7, game has potential with additional content=)

  18. I don’t think that these screenshots are too dark. The first one is the best though. IMHO it would hurt the game atmosphere if you make it too bright. This is the game about zombies. It must be dark. :)

  19. #1 looks the best on my monitor, even if the monitor is set to minimum brightness. #2 looks like it was a late evening, and #3 full daytime in game, #4 is just too bright.

    The problem is not in the brightness itself, but in the color selection. I assume you want the player to feel the darkness of night. Traditionally in movies, the night time is represented in scenes by using blueish lighting. Or, go in the film noir direction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_noir

  20. Hmm, I really wouldn’t know how much it bothers me until I actually playtest it.
    But I think the first picture is a bit too dark, and the rest are pretty ok or good.
    In the first picture, the crates are bright enough, but the character is too dark, and his color is too close to the ground color.
    I think that when you make colors darker, you alos lose some of the saturation of the color.

  21. The #1 is already ok for me. A bit dark but not to dark to let me play. So on my screen it’s all good!

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