These days, we’re used to the bright, often realistic images in our video games, but it wasn’t always this way. Back in the day, video games weren’t just simple pixels; they were simple in color, as well! From playing Pong in black and white to the full-color games available today, video game colors have come a long way.
Starting out in Black and White
It might seem odd now, but at one time, video games were played on black screens with white or green graphics. In 1958, William Higinbotham invents Electronic Tennis; it was black and white, using a cathode-ray tube like early televisions. Later, in 1972, the arcade version of Pong, another tennis game, debuts which cuts costs with a cheaper B&W Hitachi television screen. Color overlays were introduced as a way to include color by using cellophane sheets placed over the TV. Magnavox was the first game to use this technique, but the four-player version of “Pong” also used overlays. In 1975, “Pong” comes out with a home edition.
In 1978, the first space shooting game, “Space Invaders”, comes out and revolutionizes the arcade market. Again, black and white, as the hardware could not keep up with color graphics. However, colored overlays were used, and the graphics were reflected onto a cardboard background using mirrors. “Galaxian” was the first game to use RGB colors.
In 1985, the Sega Master System is released with 32 on-screen colors.
In 1989, the Game Boy is released by Nintendo. This handheld console was black and white and more popular than competing color models because the batteries lasted much longer. In the same year, the Sega Genesis game console is introduced. It displays up to 64 colors at a time.
In 1991, the Super Nintendo debuts with 256 available colors on screen. Only 3 years later, in 1994, the Sony Playstation appears with 16.7 million colors displayed!
In 1998, the Game Boy Color is released. It could display 56 colors at a time (out of over 32,000), and a liquid crystal display allowed batteries to last up to 10 hours. Original Game Boy Paks are compatible with this model; 4-10 colors are overlaid to create a colored game.
Skipping in time a bit; in 2007, video game sales hit $41.9 billion. In 2012, Sharp introduced the Quattron 3D TV, which offered RGBY (instead of the normal RGB), red, green, blue and yellow. In 2011, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 (With over 16.7 million colors [Note the error in the infographic. Million, not billion]) are produced with color blind assist to aid those with color blindness.
On-screen video game colors by the consoles:
Atari 5200 (1982): 256 colors
Sega Master System (1985): 32 colors
Nintendo (1985): 52 colors
Atari 7800 (1986): 256 colors
Sega Genesis (1989): 64 colors
Super Nintendo (1991): 256 colors
Sony PlayStation (1994): 16.7 million colors
Nintendo 64 (1996): 32,000 colors
Sega Dreamcast (1997): 16.7 million colors
Today’s video games are played on a range of different consoles and offer millions of colors. Speed has also drastically improved, making it possible to render many hues in order to provide the best colors possible. However, some game developers still prefer the simpler, brighter graphics for their game-playing experience.