Colored Text, distracting or helpful?

I wonder what people think about using colors in text of IF games.
I’ve seen this done well, such as Quest for Lost Sheep, where item names were one color, exits were another, and NPCs were yet another.
I’ve also seen this done well in Photopia where each color shows a different part of the story (though some of the colors can be hard to read on screen).

Any thoughts on colored text? How can it be enriching to the experience?

Here’s my 2 öre (adjust for inflation as appropriate): I see coloured text as filling much the same function as outlining a shape would in a more visually oriented medium.

It is a contrivance, yes, but not so glaring that it forces you out of immersion. It lends an emphasis to areas and things, but still (hopefully) remains unobtrusive enough to blend with the prose. Of course, I don’t doubt it can be misused and give rise to horrors of which Lovecraft could only dream, but then that is true of most narrative techniques.

Coloured text as markup may also help with the problem of areas that sport a good main description, but still end up feeling either cluttered or strangely barren (this is often the case when the player can’t easily envision the objects present in the room). Seeing that colour, a player is reassured that yes, there are in fact things and objects in the room that she can affect and manipulate.

I think coloured text works if it’s built into your story. At it’s simplest form, if you’re in King Midas’ throne room it makes perfect sense for the text to be gold. If there’s a red, green and blue door choice - cool. But if you’re simply making the interactive elements stand out by using a different colour that risk is that your adventure becomes to obviously artificial (like reading a blog post festooned with links). You undermine the suspension of disbelief.

I’ve used colored text very occasionally (especially to mark unexplored rooms on the Bronze compass), and I found it all right in Blue Lacuna, where there were blue and green words to mark objects worth manipulating and directions the player could go. I’ve also played several games where I found the colored text completely eye-searing. So I guess I can see a point to using some color for accent, but I prefer to see only one or two accent colors at a time.

Past that point, the effect starts to be so cartoonish that it distracts me from the text rather than helping me pick out important details.

I’ve found one place in particular where I want to use coloured text - similar to what Eleas said about fighting clutter. In certain kinds of games players can get multiple strands of text appearing at once. Every turn, say, they might get a response to their command, an update to some ongoing situation, and perhaps a footnote like a tutorial message or score notification. Making these different strands different colours is a simple way to make all this text seem less overwhelming to the player, while also highlighting which parts they might want to skim or skip.

It makes a logical kind of sense, yes, but I’m not sure it adds that much, especially if you wind up hurting readability.

Although on a similar note, I do think colour can be a way to try to denote changes in the narrative voice. I considered inverting the colours when switching PC in one game (but then decided against it when trying to figure out an in-character way to allow the player to turn this off). And although I’m not so keen on making a vampire game now that they’ve become the new zombies, one game I stopped working on had you controlling a vampire where, as the desire to nom on throats increased, the text gradually turned from black to red.

As a player, I’d find a different color for

  • prompt
  • commands typed
  • speech inserts (each person gets his/her own color)
  • events (“meanwhile, in another room”)
  • achievements, scoring and other out-of-world actions

very useful while not distracting at all. For colored or bold-printed words within the paragraphs, my feelings are mixed. Boldprinting is usually abhored because you immediately trip over such words, in the literal sense while reading the text. Italic would be the far better choice.

I’m not a big fan of colored text. For one thing, even commonly used colors can make readability much more difficult. Blocks of bright blue text does nothing good for me. I’d like to encourage presentation experimentation - I’m sure it could work sometimes, but most of the time I find it distracting or painful or both.

If I’m playing a fast-tracked real-time game, I appreciate the color changes because all I really need is that red “-50 HP”. My brain can pick out the necessary info. One of the things I enjoy about IF is that I have time to savor the experience. I find that associations between color and text work best for me in situations of intense pressure. I find color in IF hard to hold onto - I’m always reminding myself that color X means Y.

An additional issue I had with Blue Lacuna was that some other part of my brain was trying to parse out all the combinations, make sure I typed in everything, make sure no stone was left unturned. In a way, this is a good thing, especially for beginners. But I found it really took me out of the experience of just trying things. It increased the sense of limitation to the play, which isn’t always a bad thing, but sort of an unintended consequence.

There’s a place for non-textual information and cues, but I’d vote for limiting color to peripheral things - the status line, possibly exit listings (preferably not in the paragraph text), and possibly ultra-urgent warnings (“You are starving.”).

I like the feedback here.

From a programming standpointe (inform 7), is there a way to have score notification or other out of world messages print in another text by default, or do I need to manually change the color of every piece of text?

Score notifications are already printed in a custom style. In Glulx that’s called “note”, although there’s no consistent interpreter agreement on how it’s displayed. (The game can add style hints about that.)

The Z-code library is set up to print score notifications in “roman”, same as the regular output font. However, it would only take a small I6 replacement to change that to italic or bold.

This raises another question: If I’m using a custom scoring system in my game, how do I tell Inform to use the note style for score notifications?

I don’t see a standard I7 way to do it, so:

To say note-style type: (- VM_Style(NOTE_VMSTY); -).

Switch it off with the normal “[roman type]” phrase.

Whoops, silly. There is a standard I7 way to do it – it’s in Glulx Text Effects.

I like to color-code things that I’m working on for quick reference, so I’m a huge fan of color, but I would say that an Interactive Fiction game is not the place for this. I’d even be tempted to say that 50% of the time, colored text is a substitute for good writing.

You shouldn’t have to put your item names in color in order to give clues to an experienced player. You shouldn’t have to put your dialogue in different colors if you’ve properly attributed who’s speaking — even if there’s a long passage when multiple people are talking, it’s still your job to maintain clarity. You shouldn’t have to color-code a multitude of urgent in-game events; that’s usually a sign you’re trying to take an IF engine outside its strengths. If nobody who plays your game can figure out a puzzle because nobody can recognize the properties of an interactive object, it’s not because the clue wasn’t in color; it’s because you overestimated your own cleverness. :slight_smile:

If you really feel your name requires color, take a moment and ask yourself how a color-blind person would play it. Is it still necessary?

Hertz, the reason I find different colors for different characters and “meanwhile” sequences helpful is because I often scroll back and reread. That’s a hundred times easier when the text is color-coded. Same for prompt and entered commands.

I don’t see how color necessarily makes it easier to read the second time — though I admit it might make it easier to find a specific event that you’re looking for. “What did I do with that pencil again?”

A word search, an index of previous moves, or an index of previously visited locations that ties to the gamelog, might be equally useful for all gamers, not just the color-sighted ones.

I’ve a neurological disease, and enough difficulties reading as a result. I find colour coding very distracting. It certainly doesn’t make things easier for me to read.

I don’t mind if writers use it in games, so long as I’m given the option to switch it off.

Not what I was saying. Also I agree that colour is never necessary, and it should be possible to disable it.

But bear in mind that people don’t read IF the same way they read books. Often text is repeated - it’s just there to serve as a flag that your action succeeded or failed or to update your status. This is why players often fail to notice information given in implicit actions or room descriptions.

The following is a transcript I’d be unsurprised to see:

Which is not to say that the implicit action should be a different colour - in fact, I think that would be needlessly distracting. But the fact is that players disregard most of the text they read in an IF game because they think they’ve already read it. Colour is an obvious way to highlight important aspects of the text that can be skimmed for changes (“Hey, there’s an extra blue thing!”), or, conversely, for marking text that can be safely disregarded.

[size=85](This is aside from my point, but I think the solution to the above situation would be to use an Unthing that would explain what happened to the emerald.)[/size]

I think for new players, various colors for item/people names can be helpful while they’re learning the system, so they have an idea of what to refer to, espeically for beginner style games.

I like the idea of having NPC text a different color. It’s helpful that in inform the text in [] and in “” is in different colors. Also the out of world comments may be nice in a different color. (Such as the score notifications or in-game hints of some kind).

Of course I’m not suggesting it necessary, nor that there should be no way to disable it. Much like lock & key’s use of the dungeon map is helpful, rather than irritating, so to should the option of colored text. Even something as simple as (being worn) or (providing light) in a slightly lighter font can make the transcript easier to browse.

Obviously this can be taken to extremes- a treasure room with all gold text, but photopia showed that this can be helpful to the storytelling experience. Likewise, red WARNINGS might be helpful also. (I’m a big fan of video games that change the HP color when it gets low).

I’ve also seen some games that make a small audible blip when the score increases, or when you’re damaged (like in Beyond Zork), and I find this to be helpful also, though not necessary.

In-game minimaps, exit listers, inventory displaying in alternate windows- of course none of them are NECESSARY, nor are convienance commands like GO TO [any visited room] or the OPEN BOX (first unlocking the box with the golden key) option. I guess it’s a question of what would be appropriate and inappropriate uses of the colors.

I guess the IF community may be divided when it comes to pictures, alternate windows, even the way parsers handle commands, so there is no RIGHT answer. I’ve seen games where this works well, especially for a beginning programmer/player who may not know what items can be interacted with. (Experts may cheat and use the “take all” command to see what’s available to mess with).

Oh well, silly rant of mine. I guess I would chime in and say that some use of color is distracting and supurfluous, while others can enhance the experience.

Color is something to which it’s easy to give a meaning, but difficult to find instances that really need the differentiation that color provides. Frequently bold, italic, or bracketed text can do the same job less problematically.

FWIW, the one instance in printed books where I’ve seen color used was in Ralph Manheim’s English translation of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. It’s a framed story. The outer story, of Bastian reading a book in the school attic, is printed in purple. The inner story’s events, set in Fantastica, are written in green. It’s a children’s book in which the outer story’s character enters the inner story’s world, so perhaps color was used to emphasize who did what where.

A couple of other cases where color is used in printed books – in some editions of the New Testament, anything Jesus says is printed in a special color. Mark Danielewski’s House of [strike]Pancakes[/strike] Leaves prints the word “House” in blue, at least in some editions. (That seemed like an unfortunate transition.)

Deadline Enchanter had an effective use of colored text I think; part of the general mind-screw. Similar to Photopia’s, I guess.