© 2009 The Runner

The Run, Episode Three

Even in the summer, the City of London is painted in a pallette of two colours – grey, and dirt. No matter where you are, no matter how deep into the public parks you run, the horizon never fills with anything other than concrete and glass. I’m staying in for my run today.

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In screenshots, Mirror’s Edge tends to look very white. In actual fact, colour is a huge player in every aspect of the game. It’s not just the Runner Vision, which we saw on my last run, highlighting the best path through a level in bright red. Greens, oranges, blues and purples are all used in their own places, all feeding the player information about the game world, as well as adding to the sensory experience. This is why I run with the lights around me switched off. Mirror’s Edge likes colour.

Overnight, Faith tunes into the police band at her boss’ shack. Her sister, Kate, is a police officer and she’s just been called out to the office of a prominent politician. Soon after, shots are heard in the building, and the police are called for.

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Unless I can get there first.

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This is Faith hitting the ground and balling into a roll. You can see her gloves and shoes, which you’ve probably spotted in previous shots, are highlighted in red. Red is Faith’s colour, it’s the colour of the entire game. The menus, the box art, the Vision – the red stands out against the marble white buildings and piercing blue skies; it’s a good colour, it shouts and demands alertness.

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A few kicked in doors and narrowly made jumps later, and I’m in a lift, bearing the cool green paint that generally indicates safety. Faith often seeks refuge in basements and maintenance systems, and they’re mostly in a reassuring lime tint. Some call them shameless loading screens. Others see them as time to take a breather.

Colour’s a great tool in a visual art form like gaming, particularly in one as fast-paced and demanding of concentration as Mirror’s Edge. For one thing, it’s a subconscious trigger, one that you can read without having to think about it too much, without having to lose focus on the run. You veer towards the red almost naturally, just as the green relaxes you, slows you down. In some ways, it’s a Pavlovian process that happens over time; by the end of the game, alternating colours in rooms can allow you to know what’s coming before you round the corner. Danger. Acrobatics. Escape.

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Robert Pope, an old friend of your father’s, running for election, is dead. Shot in the head with your sister’s gun, who was knocked unconscious when she arrived on scene. Your sister is essentially on the opposite side of the law to you, but there’s a close relationship between the both of you, and if she’s being framed then Faith will want to intervene. And intervene we will. Note the blues in this room; the colour of the police uniforms and their lights, fading into the green that decorates much of this building. The peace won’t last.

Sure enough, the rest of the boys in blue show up. Faith’s back on her toes again, and we’re back on our run.

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Colour also signals transition. From that door above, we break through into blinding sunshine. When the whiteness dies down, we’re faced with an incredible vista. From natural green tones to more vivid sunset shades. The game’s ordering you to make a quick decision. So naturally, you jump.

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But the game knows its place; behind you, encouraging you to keep moving without punishing you for stumbling. Later levels are crushingly demanding, but we’re still in the honeymoon period. The helicopter, which swirls overhead, opens up on Faith with its machine gun – but it’ll wait a long time to hit you, preferring instead to just lick at your heels, keeping you moving and making you feel like you’re in control.

The game knows its place.

Another transition. Blue walls give way to orange – a marker, a warning. Bash open the door, and you might find anything.

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Orange to red, a harsher warning. Sure enough, those figures in the distance are armed. We dodge right, hop the fence, time another hope over, and dash into the life they arrived in. Gunshot hammers the door, but nothing breaks through. Time for a breather.

When we resume, we’re barrelling out of the building again, past television screens, through walkways and even down to ground level itself. We’re on the street with traffic for the first time, fighting our way through the subway system to get to an escape. The police own this place.

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And so we pass hurriedly through it.

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Colour isn’t something that’s applied to Mirror’s Edge by an artist. Colour’s part of the design itself, as much as the layout of the pipes and balance beams are, and as much as the combat and puzzle design is. Colour directs, it informs and it frames the story. In a game where you’re often running to fast to make out your surroundings, the colour speaks to the player in ways that complicated architecture or visual cues cannot. There’s no lava level here, no enemy flags flying. So instead, they flash lights at you. Danger. Safety. Escape.

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3 Comments

  1. Atlantic
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:57 pm | #

    What a lovely piece of writing, like a love letter to the game in the style of the game. Heart warming.

    Keep it up,
    Atlantic

  2. Posted August 1, 2009 at 1:28 am | #

    Excellent. Like Atlantic wrote before me, ‘…a lovely piece of writing…’. Keep moving. :-)

  3. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:11 am | #

    One thing I have to say:

    “The game knows its place”

    It’s a masterpiece.

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