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SimCity is shaping up to look pretty goshdarn amazing, and now Ocean Quigley, the game's ultra-stylish art director, has offered us a quick glimpse of how you can customise that look. Want more tilt shift? Add more tilt shift. Want to view your city through a sepia-tinted lens? Apply a clever filter or two.
A big part of what makes a game look beautiful is the way that all of the colors work together. Usually, an artist does what’s called “color grading” to make everything look just right. You’ve probably seen examples of it in movies – think of the sepia tones of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” or the vivid greens and reds of “Amélie” or the teal and orange palette of pretty much any Michael Bay movie ever. In fact, it’s kind of startling to look at movie footage before it’s been color graded – it looks OK, but nothing like it does when it’s finished.
There are other influences as well, of course - the raging success of apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic has made filters and effects like this much more popular. Quigley writes that he was faced with a decision: Pick one filter, apply it to everybody's game - or let you decide how you'd like your city to look!
In a game where the emphasis is on imagination, personal choice and customisation, no prizes for guessing which option he took.
SimCity is a game with a tremendous amount of player creativity. I wanted to extend those options to the way that you look at the game itself.
To start off with, that's a nice clean screenshot, with no filters applied. That's an option too.
Similar, but different, is Neutral, which ups the contrast just a bit. You can also easily make things either Warmer (like a "typical hardcore FPS colour palette") or Cooler (modelled on mid-20th century print film), with just the touch of a button.
There's a few options to make things more bright and colourful, including the simply-titled Vivid, which does exactly what it says on the tin.
On the flipside, there's filters like Soft (desaturated and a little bit bleached), Platinum (for the 1930's glamor photography look), and this one - Desaturated, "for people who don't like bright colours in their video games".
...and then there are some which play around with colour:
Film Noir is not just a black and white version - Maxis has played around with contrast, making blues and greens darker and yellows and oranges brighter.
Teal + Orange is a "classic" Hollywood blockbuster palette, designed to hype up contrast even further.
My favourite, at the moment: Black + Red, a super high-contrast palette, "inspired by a movie that sounded a lot like SimCity".
There are also plenty of others - the 70s inspired Green Tones, another washed out colour highlight in Orange + Gray, the beautifully vivid Juicy and, of course, Sepia Toned.
While these filters are simply there to make SimCity look even more pretty, Quigley explains they also have a more practical, functional purpose. Some of them - and others we haven't seen yet - have been added to SimCity to make it "more playable" for colour-blind gamers.
As well as all that, there's a tilt-shift slider, so you can have as much or as little of that as you'd like. More eye candy is also thrown in with some ultra lighting effects - want more bloom? Get more bloom. Bloom is realism, y'know.
SimCity is due out exclusively for Mac and PC in March 2013, which still seems so very, very far away. We do hear rumours of a big Beta announcement in the next few days, however, so please - stay tuned - or, in the meantime, pop over to Ocean's Blog to catch up on all the latest SimCity screenshots, as well as the beautiful artwork he does in his "spare time".
Jimmy the Geek