Colourblind Gaming: Is It In His Eyes?

By Dan Grill on February 12th, 2010 at 4:26 pm.

Friend of RPS and sometime games journo Dan Griliopoulos suffers from deuteranopia, a form of red-green colourblindness. He’s a lifelong gamer, yet the industry at large seems entirely ignorant of how difficult games that rely on red and green differentiation can be for his condition – one that’s shared by at least 6% of all males. So, pray allow the man to vent a little…

I’m Big Daddy Delta, terror of Rapture, splitter of splicers, defender of the weak, diving suit fetishist extraordinaire. I’m stuck on one side of a door, there’s a broken window and a yellow glowing switch a few feet away. I have a clever hacking dart gun, which requires my simply pressing a button when a needle on its meter passes through a certain colour. I shoot, I score… and get a mild electric shock. I repeat. Again and again. There’s an endless supply of darts so I keep shooting until I die of Electron Overdose and respawn, humiliated, at a Vitachamber. Yet again, someone on the art team has thoughtlessly swallowed the Manichean standard that red is bad and green is good, and decided he should use a primary palette to distinguish between these opposites -which means poor old colour-blind me gets killed.

For me, that hacking tool is the most lethal monstrosity in Bioshock 2. In the hacking minigame, red hurts you and wastes a rare and pricey hacking dart, green is success. Negativegamer have already broken this particular howler to the world, complete with [frankly startling to us non-colourblind types – RPS Hivemind] Photoshopped images demonstrating roughly what the hacking dial looks like to various different types of colourblindness. In my case, both red and green appear as a murky yellow. Or so I’m told – it’s not as though I’ve ever seen what green, red or yellow looks like to everyone else. Eventually, through trial and error, I worked out there are just-detectable contrast and location differences in the puzzle, and that if I focus really hard and fast, I can just work out which is which before the timer runs out. Bioshock 2 just got challenging.

Bioshock 2’s oversight has since been picked up by Kotaku, and hopefully that’ll be loud enough a protestation to entice a much-needed patch out of 2K – but what about the rest of the industry? It hasn’t paid much attention to it in the past. This screw-up is everywhere in games. My first experience was an old halflife mod called, I think, Frontline Force which, curiously, played and looked just like Modern Warfare 2 (multiplayer War FPSes don’t really change much do they?)

For some reason this, and MW2, differentiate enemies by red & green names (I’m told, never having been able to tell the difference) meaning all colour-blind gamers spend their time following other players trying to work out what team they’re on, then spraying bullets into them randomly anyway. Puzzle-Bobble is unplayable. I could only play Rockstar Table Tennis on the consoles by watching my opponents’ arm movement (praise be to the redundant beauty created by anal designers). Battleforge has problems. Darwinia and Quake just look like rubbish sepia nonsense; I imagine Space Giraffe looks even more of a mess for me than for you.

Now, I know, there’s a lot of whingeing constituencies in the endless depths of PC Gaming, endlessly grinding their particular axes about DRM, patching, netcode, whatever happened to The Monster That Ate Kieron’s Beard and so on. Clearly, they have good cause – but colour-blindness is a genuine disability. Yet it doesn’t enjoy anywhere near that degree of outraged campaigning. Without deliving through too many Wikipedia pages, I can’t think of a Western nation that doesn’t have disability legislation. This can be easily dealt with if the developer just thinks about it as part of a design doc, and is easily reparable afterwards. So why don’t they do it?

You see, designers, there are certain colours of Red and Green that aren’t problems. Traffic lights, for example, have carefully been designed (blue-green, not green!) so that there’s no problems, but pure colours are a no-no. You’ve also got to remember there are three strains of colour-blindness, two common (red-Green, 8% of males, one really rare (yellow-blue, 0.01% of people) to take account of. Here’s some tips for developers, and cross-stitchers.

So are there any developers worthy of praise? Valve, as always. The two TF2 teams are cleverly designed as no-one, except very rare monochromatics, have difficulties telling between red and blue, and Left4Dead has a range of colour-blind modes. Popcap are also heroes, with Peggle’s superb colour-blind mode being a thing of beauty, but most puzzle games are blasted nightmares.

The question is, if a little team like the Galcon developers can get it right, off the bat, first time [Galcon Fusion has an optional colourblind mode, supporting up to four players), how can a firm the size of Activision or EA consistently ignore what could be 8-12% of their paying customers? That could be a million of the people who bought MW2, for example.

There are upsides to this, of course; Colour-blind people typically have better pattern recognition, so can see through camouflage or spot objects more easily in complex scenes. We can also differentiate shades of khaki better, which means we’d make excellent military couturiers. Hidden object games, or games that use obfuscate through colour rather than pattern, we own.

The harder levels of hacking in Bioshock 2 add a bonus blue colour, which perversely makes it much easier for the colour-blind. Unless they’re yellow-blue, in which case it suddenly becomes even harder.

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137 Comments »

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  1. Web Cole says:

    I must admit, this is something I was not aware of. Thank you RPS and Dan Griliopoulos for bringing it to our attention.

  2. Dan says:

    Very interesting article, that. Seems like the bigger devs have just missed a trick – cant believe they’re cynical enough to say ‘don’t bother with colourblind support, we’ll make enough money anyway’.

    Also, I thought the picture was Bomberman. Bit disappointed it wasn’t.

  3. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    Excellent piece, Dan.

    It’s striking really, to see how much we’ve come to expect certain elements and visual cues in videogames, and how we don’t often realize how they need very little change to accomodate people in this situation.

  4. The Diddler says:

    “can see through camouflage or spot objects more easily in complex scenes”

    Haaax !!

    Nice article by the way

  5. Springy says:

    My best friend is similarly afflicted. Most of the time this translates in a truly horrendous team-kill figure for most of the multiplayer games he plays.

    Occasionally it cripples his ability to play a game to a satisfactorily proficient level. Maps, mini-maps and radar screens are big bugbears, red and green used to discern friend and foe there, too. Sometimes rarely, but not dramatically so, it means he simply can’t progress past a certain point in a game.

    Fun to watch him shoot his team mates on MAG, though.

  6. JJMarmite says:

    I feel your pain, seeing as how I have pretty much the same deal going.

    And if another person holds up a black pen to me and says “Nah mate, it’s yellow” I’m going to kill them.

  7. cliffski says:

    I use red/green in various places in GSB. I had no idea this was such a big problem. I should definitely stick this on my things to do list.
    Cheers!

  8. Cooper says:

    Using blue-green instead of green is a staple of accessibility. Seems like a few games designers could do with a short stint with the NHS – or any UK public body for that matter. /Anything/ intended for public use should go through some very simple, very basic accessibility decisions.

    Thing is, you often find that making something more ‘accessible’ for those with various disabilities actually improves the ease of use and experience for everyone. It’s basic good practice. I mean, 2k, duh?

    Anecdote time:

    I have a deaf friend who plays a lot of TF2. I asked him (a while back) if he ever played much else multiplayer. He sat me down with CoD4, Quake Arena and TF2 and we played a few rounds on each with no sound.

    All but TF2 were massively disorientating. And it wasn’t until I played TF2 muted that I realised there is a -vast- amount of visual information it provides you with that I was never fully aware of before, even if I was probably relying on it all the time.

  9. SAeN says:

    Finally someone speaks out on this! Several games have been ruined for me (deuteranopia colour-blindness), mainly any rts that likes to use red and green on the mini-map (damn you total war). But its not always red-green that inhibits play, I have recently got into League of legends, a game that uses purple and blue to distinguish its two sides. I cant tell the difference! Looking at Metro 2033, in a trailer/interview they talked about a light on your wrist that changes colour depending on your level of stealth. I saw no change. Splinter cell double agent did something similar which did nothing to help me.

    Many games do offer a colour-blind mode that helps quite alot and as a result I get alot more enjoyment out of them (<3 peggle). Multiplayer games using the red vs blue idea are perfect for gamers like myself. 2 distinct colours that are easily identified.

    Type in 'games with colour-blind mode' in google and you will mostly find forums filled with people asking for such an addition. Its a problem that definitely needs addressing. :(

    • Pod says:

      @Saen:

      >Finally someone speaks out on this!

      If you’re affected by this, why didn’t YOU speak out about this? No one spoke out about this before because no one cared. Not even colourblind people, it seems.

    • MD says:

      People did care though; he mentioned forums full of people speaking out about it. There’s a big difference between the average person ‘speaking out’ via the channels available to them, though, and someone with a public platform (say, a widely read blog) choosng to raise the issue.

  10. Mal says:

    That’s a remarkably basic oversight. Colour blindness mitigation is one of the major bullet points in UI design for “regular” software (and web pages).

    I’m also slightly surprised that the famously strict Microsoft QA requirements don’t include this kind of thing as it’s clearly present on the Xbox version too.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Sagan says:

    Isn’t it possible to write a program that runs a filter over the graphical output of the game, replacing every green with, let’s say white?
    Like the Steam-overlay, except all it does is replace the colour, and you can continue playing the game.

    edit: I just realized that this might be very hard to do. After all the Steam overlay just draws over what the game outputs. That is probably very different from actually modifying the graphical output of the game.

    • Hodge says:

      Actually, I think most video drivers these days have brightness/eq settings (just checked and my NVidia drivers do indeed have this), so you could do something similar – if you turn down the intensity of one of the trouble colours, then in theory the colour blind person would be able to tell it apart by its darker hue.

      In theory… haven’t tested it yet but I will…

    • jonfitt says:

      Actually, a better place would be for it to be in the graphics drivers. It would be perfect because an individual could tweak their PCs colour interpretation and it would apply to all games.
      Has anyone spoken to NVidia/ATI?

    • Premium User Badge

      James G says:

      @sagan/jonfitt

      I noticed that the http://www.vischeck.com/ link some other have posted contains a discussion of ‘daltonization’ which helps improve images for distinguishing by colourblind people. I’m not sure how resource intensive the algorithm is, or whether its even possible to use without manual tweaking, but it would provide a starting point for any driver manufacturer.

    • jonfitt says:

      Intel patented it in 2005, http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/6931151/claims.html
      So surely the intend to implement it any day now….

    • Premium User Badge

      Sagan says:

      Yeah the driver manufacturers would probably be the right people to contact. Who knows, maybe it is really easy for them to do something like putting in a hotkey to change colours. So maybe RPS or Mr. Griliopoulos should write to them.

      Also I just had another idea: Since the Steam overlay is transparent over the game, it would probably be really easy to make an overlay which is completely transparent for the red and blue channel, but only 50% transparent for the green channel. That would really set the colours apart. I have looked a little bit into tutorials for that stuff, and I have only figured out that I don’t have the necessary base knowledge to understand what I would have to do. (google for “directx overlay” if you want to try it)

    • Premium User Badge

      James G says:

      Fortunately the Daltonization page is dated March 2005, prior to the Intel patent, and already suggests that it could be applied to a graphics driver. While I’m sure that Intel have their own separate algorithm, which may well be more suited to graphics chipsets, there is a nice bit of prior-art that should stop them from over-flexing their patent muscle to cover any in rendering-pipeline solution.

      Of course, perhaps I’m being unfair in my assumption that Intel wont be implementing this any time soon. Hell, I haven’t looked at any Intel graphic driver settings recently, so its possible they have already implemented it. On the flip side I’m pretty sure its not fear of patent infringement that has stopped nVidia and ATI producing their own solutions.

      * Assuming of course there exists something more reliable than a ‘last updated’ flag.

    • weegosan says:

      there are lots of programs that do this, unfortunately most of them will get you VAC banned as they flag up as cheats (due to the fact they are regularly used as such)

  12. SuperMatt says:

    I am similarly effected. There’s a really good example of “getting it right” from Microsoft (shock horror). In the Vista version of Majong, there are three dragon tiles, black, red and green. I cannot tell the difference between the red and the green ones, but in the Windows 7 version, Microsoft flipped the image of the dragon for one of the colours, so now I can play without frustration.

    Games like bejewelled frustrate me no end because the red and green tiles are again so very similar. One is 5 sided and the other 6 so I can’t quickly rely on shape recognition (as the brain struggles ‘naturally’ count above 4). However, I have a clone on my phone where the green is similar to the blue-green in traffic lights and I freaking own that game!

    When I found the colour-blind mode in peggle I was over the moon. L4D comes with a colourblind mode too, but I couldn’t spot any difference.

    Colourblindness is so very under-represented in the industry. I’m surprised these problems weren’t picked up in testing. I’d be willing to offer my help.

    A final point I’d like to make is that my colour blindness is affected by size/distance. If I’m sitting far away from the screen (playing ps3) I’m unlikely to notice the difference, and the same goes for colours which are separated by the width of the screen. When they’re closer together, I can begin to notice the subtleties in the shades.

    • SuperMatt says:

      Now I think about it, audiosurf scores highly for me. I couldn’t tell the difference between some of the blocks, so I just tweaked the fuck out of all of them until I could. I went for massive extremes. Black, White, Red, Yellow and Blue. It was the only way I could play the game.

    • Starky says:

      I think the colour blind mode in L4D just switches around the colours used on glow effects to more CB friendly shades, though it may do more than that.

    • Foamer says:

      Heh, I did exactly the same on Audiosurf after continually mistaking the grey blocks for light blue-green ones.

  13. egg says:

    I have a colorblind buddy as well. Whenever I find a game which supports colorblind mode, I tell him about it. Too bad there are not many of them around.

    It’s really frustrating, especially because of the large percentage of people affected by this.

  14. Leeks! says:

    And here I thought this was going to be a gag.

    I am not a sensitive person.

    Anyway, this was awesome. It makes me think there should be a mod community devoted solely to making popular games playable by the colourblind.

    • SuperMatt says:

      Leeks!
      The point is that the mod community should never have to get involved in this. Colour blind support should be built in out of the box. I might go a step further and say it shouldn’t be a feature you need to enable, it should just be so.

  15. Lugribossk says:

    Vischeck.com has a pretty neat online tool for simulating how a page would look with colourblindness. The RPS front page ends up like this: http://vischeck.homeip.net/uploads/126599386612525/
    That Monaco game looks like it could use some colour tweaks.

  16. mandrill says:

    My wife has been complaining about this for years (She’s one of the very rare women with red-green colourblindness) and used to have real problems in EVE (her favourite game) telling when one of her modules was active (green) or in the process fo shutting down (red) until they fixed it.

    She does have one advantage over us people with normal colour vision though. She can instantly spot when someone is wearing fake tan and derives much amusement from watching green people walk down the street. I’d love that. green people would be awesome.

    • SuperMatt says:

      That reminds me, yesterday I saw someone with enough fake tan/makeup it made her face look yellow (to me anyway). Had I not noticed that her hands were still normal, I would have called the ambulance and had her checked out for liver failure!

  17. ShadowNate says:

    Excellent article. I can’t tell you how much this describes my problems with certain games’ design.
    I’m also color blind. I’m having difficulties telling green from yellow, and also red-green-brown (ofcourse I’m talking about close enough shades of these colors, not any tone).

    It’s especially frustrating when a game puzzle requires to put colored thingies in some order or pattern in order to progress into the game. This just kills me.

    I don’t own Bioshock 2, yet, and didn’t know about this little game mechanic nightmare before now. So, now I’m certain I should wait for a patch.

  18. Glen Moyes says:

    Very good article. I became more aware of this issue after reading the Kotaku article yesterday, and have been discussing it a lot around here.

    The good news is that it’s really easy to check your concept art to see if it’ll work for people who are color blind. http://www.vischeck.com/ can simulate different colorblindness, and they also have a free Photoshop / ImageJ filter for download.

    The big thing with design in general is that you always want to make sure your design holds up as black and white no matter what. We see value and shape first anyway, so if you can play your game in black and white (which is really easy to set up from your graphic card’s color settings), then you don’t have to worry about color blindness.

  19. Taillefer says:

    I’m not sure about your figures, 8-12% seems a little incredible. It’s still an issue for people, of course, and one I hadn’t really considered before. Thanks for raising the awareness!

    • Taillefer says:

      Well the figures seem about right. Although the issue won’t necessarily effect them all, as it’s the figure for all colour blindness regardless of type, severity, or whatever. I’m still amazed it’s that high though. Given me a lot to think about.

    • Blather Blob says:

      @Taillefer: 8%-12% is a little inflated (wikipedia says 7%-10%), but it’s going to be quite high because the definition of colourblind also seems to include those who are only colour “weak”. Sort of like if a count of the blind included anyone who uses glasses. Colour blindness is something that comes in degrees, like vision loss, but is only measured as any/none.

      Wikipedia gives the prevalence as 7-10% (for men) for red-green deficiency, but only 2.4% (of men) are truly dichromatic (see things like the demonstration images in the Negativegamer article). For that other 5-8% of men, the amount of colour weakness varies from person to person, and I don’t think anyone knows how many are very nearly dichromatic, and how many instead only have trouble with a few closer shades of red and green to such a small extent that they’re not even aware of it without taking a test.

      But even just 2.4% of men/0.03% of women/1.3% combined is still a significant number of people even before you add in however many of the folks with “anomalous” colourvision have it bad enough to have problems. I wonder if it’s higher than the number of gamers with deafness / substantial hearing loss (especially considering the age of most gamers).

      For all you know, you might be “colourblind” too, though only in the sense of having anomalous trichromacy (weak colour vision). It might be very light and you’ve never really had to tell the difference between some similar reds and greens (seeing 74 means normal colour vision, 21 means dichromacy (colour blind) or anomalous trichromacy (colour weak)).

  20. Hodge says:

    Another colour-blind person here, I share your pain! Though luckily for me it’s very rarely an issue – it only crops up in games where you need use colour alone to distinguish things, and even then it’s only if the devs have used certain colours. Going off the screenshots in that Bioshock 2 article it looks like I’m not affected by that one.

    (I’ve never gone and had a formal diagnosis so I still don’t know exactly what type of colour blindness I have, or to what extent I have it… though I suspect I’m at the minor end of the scale.)

    The best workaround for this I ever saw was in the PC version of (I think!) Bust A Move 4, where each type of bubble animated in a different way – so people like me who had trouble with the colours could instead use the movement to tell them apart.

  21. jsutcliffe says:

    Sounds like a case for Able Gamers, one of my favourite gamer type organizations.

    I’m not disabled myself but I’m nuts about accessibility in my job (web development) and I love that there’s an organization advocating for accessibility in gaming — it’s easy to overlook that games might have issues. The Able Gamers reviews are especially interesting for anyone who cares about this kind of thing, particularly when their score, which naturally takes accessibility into account, differs greatly from the mainstream consensus (e.g. their Mass Effect 2 review).

  22. LionsPhil says:

    @Sagan: It sounds like the kind of thing a single pass with a pixel shader could do, but I don’t know if there’s any way to jimmy that on the end of an existing rendering pipeline.

    The harder part is probably working out what to map things to, because that’s likely to be game, or ever situation, specific. You’ve got to pack the same amount of information into less visual space—you don’t want to make green text now invisible against a blue sky because you were trying to disambiguate it from red.

  23. jonfitt says:

    On the flip side, when I’m looking into security systems for my evil lair, I now know of a way to keep 8-12% of the male population out!

    • Starky says:

      Eh? I know a way to keep 100% of males out, automated crotch targeting laser turrets.

  24. the wiseass says:

    I’m not color blind, but as part-time web-designer and graphics designer I always check for readability of my creations with a little tool called “Color Oracle”. For those interested in how color blind people see their Computer-Screen, you can download the nifty little program here and have a look for yourself (it’s free and only 145kb):

    http://colororacle.cartography.ch/

  25. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    Another colour-blind victim reporting in. Having said that, I certainly don’t suffer from it to the degree that most people on here a reporting. Outside of a few puzzle games that use lots of colours as the only distinction, I have only ever really had a problem distinguishing colours when an optician would show me numerous pictures of different coloured blobs and insisted there be numbers hidden within them some where, and quite often I can’t tell the difference between red and brown ball when watching snooker.

    The only real mainstream game I can think of where I have actually had a problem is, in fact, Team Fortress 2. My problem seems to emerge when a player is doused in Jarate and I find it really hard distinguishing which team the player is on. I can just about tell, but I have to stare at them for a few seconds, which is usually a few seconds too long. I was disappointed to discover that the colour blind option just places a jar of Jarate above the head of anyone covered in the piss, without indicating which team they are on.

  26. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I think I’ve been pretty lucky with it so far (I have protanopia, judging by the images in the negative gamer article), the only game it seemed like an issue was Peggle before I found the handy colourblind mode. Of course, I’m not much of a puzzle gamer so that helps too.

    For some reason this, and MW2, differentiate enemies by red & green names (I’m told, never having been able to tell the difference) meaning all colour-blind gamers spend their time following other players trying to work out what team they’re on, then spraying bullets into them randomly anyway.

    Wait, those are tags are supposed to be different colours?

    • Luis says:

      PopCat did a good job with the colourblind mode. It’s also found in Zuma (I lost at every game until I found it)

  27. Serenegoose says:

    I have immense problems with a few colours. There’s a shade of orange and a shade of green I confuse all the time (in medieval total war, I thought the turkish flag was simply plain green, it took over a year for me to spot an orange moon in there). I don’t suffer ‘bright red bright green’ colour blindness, as it’s limited to oranges, not reds. I can’t tell the difference between blue and purple though, which is occasionally problematic, and some yellows and greens are just the same ‘bright lime’ colour to me.

    There was a game recently that was a lot more difficult because of my orange/green colourblindness though, I just can’t remember which. I know that it makes borders difficult to see in civ 4 though.

    • jsutcliffe says:

      @Serenegoose
      Shee, I hadn’t thought of colour blindness in Civ 4 — I have enough problems with some factions’ borders looking too similar even without thinking about colour blindness messing with things further.
      I’ve always found it weird there is no option anywhere to set up faction colours when you’re starting a new game, so you can ensure they’re all distinguishable from one another.

  28. Camilo says:

    I suffer color-blindness and I can tell this is absolutely true. The best thing developers could do is to not design in a color-basis but pattern basis.

    Also I wanted to point out that TF2 Jarate really confuses me, I can never tell if it’s Blu team or Red team.

    I’m glad you guys wrote about this!

    • Man Raised By Puffins says:

      Bloody Jarate, I forgot about that one. At least the mini-crits give good feedback on whether the jaratee is friend or foe. The strange thing is I don’t recall having any problems before I upgraded and was running the game in DX8 to get a decent frame-rate.

    • qrter says:

      You upgraded to DX8..?

    • Man Raised By Puffins says:

      Before I upgraded I had to use the DX8 shaders, yes. I don’t understand your confusion.

  29. Flameberge says:

    Excellent article. Interesting to see so many people who’ve had similar problems as well actually. I am yet another one with colour-blindness, inherited from both my parents. Yay! Compared to several people who have posted, I don’t have it too bad. The one thing I remember always having difficulty with was the radar in CS:Source as well as finding it nearly impossible to get headshots on Ts using the “1337 Crew” skin, as when I trained my crosshair on them, it always seemed to disappear in to their greenyness.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    I wasn’t even aware of this problem till last year when one of the guys i worked with had red green colour blindness. it was pretty interesting hearing what he described seeing compared to non-colour blind folk. it’s defintely something devs should be aware of.

  31. Ste says:

    My wife works in human factors, which is industrial interface design, where to to put the big red warning light, that sort of thing, and one of her mantras is ‘colour should NEVER be the only form of coding’

    • Camilo says:

      That’s what I mean. Design can’t be based on colors only!

  32. Jakkar says:

    Clarification: While that percentage may be partially colourblind (I am), most don’t find it a problem. Most are not even aware of it, they just occasionally argue with a friend about the shade of something. My purple is everyone else’s pink, apparently. Not sure how that happens.

    Secondarily, realistic game design and less reliance upon HUDs fixes the issue.

    If you play Stalker with a minimal HUD, you will suffer the realistic downsides of colourblindness in the world and environment. Perhaps you’ll suffer a statistically tiny disadvantage in making out camoflauged foes in foliage. And that’s just realism, that’s a valid side-effect. Maybe you’re unusually good at headshotting Snorks, everyone is quite unique.

    All of this intended as a ramble of intention – this problem at the source is that games are too reliant upon simplistic colour coded indicators and lazily constructed interfaces.

    Unnecessary interfaces.

    Play Assassin’s Creed 2, you’ll notice the entire HUD can be disabled. This wasn’t very well thought out, it makes picking up money and tools from fallen foes very troublesome as you don’t know what you’ve picked up – a small oversight.

    However you realise as your eyes open to the world that the game has been fully designed, other than that small flaw, to operate without a HUD. Who really pays attention to the circling eagles until they need them to identify a lookout spot. Who watches the sunset shadows to note there’s a guard on the roof, or carefully observes the bodylanguage of a patrolman to judge whether he finds you suspicious or not. Who listens to the audio cues of the crowd to know whether or not they’re in trouble, intuitively judging their state by the way the world reacts rather than by the garish and colourful series of icons and flashing lights painted onto their retinas.

    HUDs are usually inapproppriate and often totally unnecessary. Without them we’re all on an equal footing as individuals with strengths and weaknesses of mind, of eye, and of dexterity.

  33. Saleck says:

    I have a friend who is colour blind.. He also can’t see Green or, to a lesser degree, Red.
    We play a lot of games together, Left 4 Dead 2, Borderlands to name a few, with other people and it doesn’t really get i nthe way of our leisure time.
    I kind of have a constant voice in the back of my mind telling me what he might have problems with. If he gets Boomered, I try and help him out as much as possible because he cannot see through it and is genuinely blinded for a good 5-8 seconds. It also means that certain campaigns have to be avoided like Swamp Fever when playing in serious game modes like Versus.
    I kind of wish, just for a moment, I could see what he sees sometimes. To be able to see the problem for myself, I would understand what it feels like to be in such a situation where you can become at a disadvantage due to being colourblind.
    I have asked him a few times.. “Whats it like?” and “What CAN you see? What colour can you see instead of Green?” and I can never really get a solid answer from him. He could see Grey or Yellow and then I think “well just substitute Yellow in place of Green, how hard is that?” but then I think thats stupid, it just can’t be as easy as that or he would’ve done it ages ago.
    What I may see might not be necessarily what someone else sees.. I could pick up a green crayon and see my interpretation of green whilst someone else could look at the same crayon and see it as Blue.. but all their life they have recognized that colour as Green so they say its Green!
    Its nice to see Valve (As usual) and a few other recognize this problem and are taking steps to fix it. Kudos to them and Hi to my friend who may read this :P

  34. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    I’m one of the lucky 8% who are only slightly colour blind. The situation I’ve noticed it most in is the colour blindness charts that doctors/opticians use to diagnose colour blindness (the ones with lots of coloured dots with a subtly different coloured number).
    The best way to get an idea of what it’s like is in a very low light situation. When there’s barely enough light to see you might have noticed that you can’t really distinguish colours, because the cone cells in your eye that detect colours are not sensitive enough to work, but the (much more numerous) rod cells will be giving you an idea of intensity. Basically in low light you can only see in b&w.
    If you reduce the light intensity you’ll gradually find that objects lose their colour, and while you can kinda tell that two things are different colours, they’re basically shades of grey.
    For me, in less than good lighting, it’s red and green that become difficult to tell apart first. Also, at the intersection of a intense red and green areas, I find it hard to focus exactly on the boundary.

    Fortunately none of this really affects me in games (although I might try some games in colourblind mode and see what difference it makes), I have more problems with the crap short term memory that’s part of my dyslexia. In Mass Effect, I ended up having to write down (or keep repeating to myself) the system/star/planet of the side missions, while I found them in the map, because for some annoying reason you couldn’t flick back and forth between the mission briefing and the map (or just select the destination direct when you select the mission). Yes, the delay between reading the mission and going into the map is long enough for me to forget the names :(
    (another example of a UI change which would make life easier for every gamer)

  35. paradise says:

    i also am color blind and wish that games would provider at least an option for color blindness.
    it seems like the only game that seem to address it are the “distraction” games such as zuma (different colors have different designs) or a few other like that.

  36. mark barlet says:

    *blushes*

    Thanks, we try, Colorblind is one of the things that we look for. Even this morning we posted something about StarCraft II. Here is little tid-bit Chris Sigaty Lead producer of StarCraft II is colorblind. We ask him about it once…

    “In the final few minutes of the interview, we put him on the spot and ask him, “Why, if you are a colorblind disabled gamer, are you not pushing for this game to be colorblind friendly?” Sigaty answered that Blizzard would love to put in every feature to the game as quickly as possible, and then almost nervously laughed that many many features are cut that should actually make it into the game sooner rather than later.”

  37. Tei says:

    Maybe this can be fixed with a tiny script.. heee.r…. shader. I mean, maybe you can programatically replace colors, so you can automagically convert all games to “colorblind friendly”.

  38. Luis says:

    Thanks for writing this.
    I’m slightly colour blind and work as a usability consultant. Colour should NEVER be the only way to give information to your users, even in games.
    I also agree with Jakkar, HUDs are useless and very annoying.

  39. FreakinSyco says:

    http://www.toledo-bend.com/colorblind/Color45.jpg

    People say theres a number in there somewhere… Lies I tell you LIES!

    Being colorblind sucks sometimes.

  40. pinbag says:

    Soonn to come the color blind fix patch ^^

    Why not !!!

  41. FunkyBadger says:

    Great, informative, article.

    Thanks.

  42. Niels Walta says:

    I’m curious as to why Puzzle Bobble keeps on getting dragged into this, especially as even the earliest arcade versions were designed with colour-blindness in mind by giving each type of bubble their own individual shape inside them. At first these were the familiar enemies trapped in bubbles, later versions included basic shapes such as triangles and stars.

    I always thought this a good example of keeping colour-blindness in mind and designing around it.

  43. Per says:

    I had the a problem with the colours in Armageddon Empires. I emailed the always friendly Vic Davis, and a few days later I received a mod for the game, which solved the problem. Go indie developer

    Wish that more games would think of us poor disabled persons.

  44. Donkeydeathtasticelastic says:

    In all honesty, I think I’d rather be just colourblind than with the malformed clusterfucks that are my eyes.

    I mean, with correction, I can barely see detail well enough to drive, going by license-plate reading. Strictly speaking they’re not bad, but damn does it get annoying. I don’t think it’s awkward vision tests, but man. Being able to see clearly in limited shades seems much more appealing.

  45. nemryn says:

    Another example: I can only play Audiosurf on Easy, because I can’t tell the blue and the purple blocks apart, or the yellow and the green, fast enough.

  46. Birky says:

    Good article. (Much more needs to be written about disability and gaming, as it’s often completely unconsidered)

    I do also have a friend who managed to do an art history masters while being a monochromatic – I think that’s right, he can only see yellow. I suspect it gave him an excellent alternative take on a lot of the stuff he analysed.

  47. Radiant says:

    Note to self:
    GriddleOctopus useless in a Martian invasion.

  48. darth_careful says:

    cliffski says: February 12, 2010 at 4:53 pmI use red/green in various places in GSB. I had no idea this was such a big problem. I should definitely stick this on my things to do list.
    Cheers!

    I’m red/green colourblind and I’ve been whingeing on about this for years. Actually, GSB isn’t too bad, but I did post a forum comment about it during the beta. Oh well, nice to know my words carry so much weight! :p

    Dan’s comment about not knowing which team you’re on in FPS rings really true for me. For some reason, I have real trouble distinguishing between Red and Blu in TF2. I can see the colours if I think hard about it, but my brain just won’t make the connection. It takes a couple of minutes for me to train myself which team I’m on, and then I just stick with that side all night.

    And Mutiwinia? Don’t get me started. A mass of similarly coloured stick men. I really, really wanted to like Mutiwinia, but I’m limited to simple me-versus the PC where I can choose the colours myself. The rest of the game is a total waste for me.

    So thanks, Dan. Excellent article. It’s got me seething again, but I hate how I’m disadvantaged just because my eyes are a bit different. When it could be so easily fixed.

  49. john t says:

    btw, Quake actually IS rubbish sepia nonsense. They really did make it that brown.

  50. pepper says:

    So, quick question for the colour blind, is there a certain standard type of pallet that works for you guys? or is it different for everyone?

    What could be done is writing a driver for the GPU that will render a pixel to a certain value if it meets the requirements. I think it would be a much better idea to handle it all on the GPU to create a consistent experience then to do it on a game by game basis. It should also improve performance since it doesnt need to do a extra pass in the games own render engine.

    Then again, I havent coded any drivers yet so i cant fairly comment on the situation. How big is the colour blindness problem in the mayor OS’ systems(Mac, Windows, Linux, etc).