While black and white cinema is seen as a product of technical limitations found in the early and mid 20th century, the same cannot be said about black and white video games. The first-ever home console was released in 1972 and the first color video game came just a year later in 1973. As far as the general public is concerned, video games have been available in color pretty much since day one. In fact, vibrant colors and strong contrasts have been a staple of video games for many decades now.
So then why are certain developers still creating black and white games to this day? Similar to movies, some modern video games use achromatic pallets as a form of artistic expression. Black, white, and grey tones are very efficient at conveying drama and mystery. But would these types of games still retain those traits if they were colored? And, more importantly, is it even possible to colorize black and white video games? Let’s start off with the second question before trying to answer the first.
Artificial intelligence is everywhere these days, from airplane navigation to algorithms that dictate what stories show up on your social media feeds. AI has become indispensable to our daily lives but it doesn’t just power our technology. Companies like Vance AI are now using it to develop tools that we can use to manipulate images in ways that would have been considered impossible just a few years ago.
One such tool is Vance AI’s photo colorizer, which does pretty much exactly what you would expect. Visit the official website, upload a black and white image, and let the AI-powered tool colorize it for you. Simple as that. Sounds too good to be true? Well, you’re going to see exactly how efficient the tool is because we’re going to use it to colorize some of the best known black and white games out there.
Many gamers consider Limbo to be a masterpiece among platformers, and with good reason. More importantly, though, Limbo is a perfect example of how to use achromatic colors to make an already dark game even bleaker. Trying to colorize Limbo went about as well as one might expect. We know the game is set in purgatory (hence, the name) so vibrant colors are out of the question. However, the tool did inject some interesting dull hues of orange and brown that seem oddly appropriate. It’s also important to note that the image colorizer did a good job at capturing the lighting, especially around the ‘E’ and the sparks falling from the oversized Hotel sign.
Liberated is a side-scrolling action-adventure game that uses a very interesting art style inspired by comic books. I wasn’t exactly sure how the tool would handle this type of art style but the results are actually pretty impressive. We’re seeing a wider range of colors this time around compared to the first example and some of the details are really on-point. There is a bit of unusual discoloration here and there but overall the image colorizer did a very good job.
Chicken Police is a pretty odd noir indie game starring anthropomorphic animals. Colorizing this game yielded some pretty fascinating results. Most of the colors seem pretty accurate to real life but some of the details are quite funny. Such as the pink discoloration on the horse’s mouth that makes it seem like it has lips. Hard to say if this is an effect caused by the software or if the horse does indeed have human-like lips but this is some good stuff either way.
Albert and Otto is in some ways the exact opposite of Limbo in terms of how the color pallet is being used. Here, the silhouettes of characters and important objects in the foreground are white while everything is black or shades of gray. It’s interesting to observe how the colorizer made very few changes to the white portions but added quite a lot of color to other areas. The sky, water, and background trees in particular. The end result is somewhere between monochrome and fully colored, which makes quite a unique combination. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a mod for Albert and Otto that makes the entire game look like this, to be honest. Click to check out more best tools to colorize black and white photos.
Vance AI’s photo colorizer was clearly designed to restore old historical photographs, particularly those featuring people. While the tool isn’t always able to colorize unrealistic characters and objects, like the ones often found in video games, it doesn’t struggle at all when it comes to colorizing people. As you can see from the side-by-side comparison of Interrogation, a (mostly) black and white detective game, the woman in the image was colorized to perfection. However, I did notice that the AI decided to blacken the red timer found in the upper right-hand corner, which was the only thing that was colored in the original image. It’s hard to say why that happened.
Next up I wanted to colorize a black and white game that’s still in development at the time of this writing. The upcoming title is set to launch sometime during 2021 and will feature a visual style focused on light and shadows. I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this one at first because I was expecting the excessive use of bright lights to tamper with the conversion process. As it turns out, though, the colorized image is actually pretty amazing and sort of reminds me of Bioshock. Granted, the background lights are a bit overpowering but not nearly enough to distract from the rest of the scenery.
Bear With Me is an episodic point & click game starring a variety of anthropomorphic animals. It’s not too dissimilar to the previously mentioned Chicken Police, though this black and white game does take itself a bit more seriously. Despite being an indie game, the visuals of Bear With Me are very crisp and clean, which is one of the main reasons why the AI colorizer was able to handle it so well. As you can see in the image below, the tool was able to capture a wide range of natural colors with very few issues. There’s a bit of blue discoloration on the red car but nothing else major to complain about here.
As one might expect from a game called Night Call, the entire thing takes place in the dark and the only sources of light are man-made ones. Trying to colorize photos and black and white games tends to yield mixed results when the scenery is particularly dark. However, artificial intelligence is able to adapt in some instances, as can be seen below. The illuminated Eiffel Tower looks pretty much identical to its real-life counterpart and the light emanating from the street lamps looks very realistic as well. Perhaps even more striking is the subtle coloration of the road and the bridge in the background.
Even though you can easily imagine how the black and white screenshot of My Memory of Us would look in color, it’s still pretty amazing to see that the AI can also figure it out. The image colorizer seems particularly adept at identifying warm colors like those found on the tram cart and the bridge beneath. Now, this detail could be easy to miss but in the original black and white image of the game, there is a bit of red on the little barrier attached to the cart’s entrance. The AI decided to remove it during the conversion, just like it did earlier with Interrogation. The tool was designed to work specifically with black and white images so it’s possible that the presence of color could interfere with the conversion process.
Wilson’s Heart is a VR black and white game, which is a fairly unique combination. The image I used for this particular game had characters with various skin tones in it and it’s clear that the AI took that into account. The colorized image isn’t quite perfect but it does come pretty close to what we would imagine the scene to look like. The book in the foreground, in particular, is very well realized and many of the colors on the outfits don’t look half bad either.
Colorizing black and white games can be difficult because these types of tools are trained on real-life photos. And as we all know, games can look very different from the real world. In fact, most of the examples used in this article are quite stylized and that should theoretically cause the AI to stumble while attempting to colorize the images. However, I think the results were actually surprisingly good in most cases.
It’s worth noting that a tool like Vance AI photo colorizer is meant to learn and improve over time. The more it practices with images of black and white video games, the better it will become at colorizing them. Black and white games aren’t very common but this style has been gaining popularity in recent times and will no doubt continue to grow in the near future. If you want to help the tool practice, don’t hesitate to visit Vance AI’s website and colorize your own screenshots of black and white video games.
Click to see 10 Popular Video Game Characters Recreated as Cartoons.