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Who Forgot The Lights?
"Somebody turn on the lights! I can't see shit!"
Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii, No More Heroes

Lighting can add to the atmosphere of a game. Unfortunately, what looks dark and atmospheric on the developer's calibrated monitor just looks black on your average Joe's computer monitor. That goes double when playing during daylight, especially if the sun shines into the room.

Other causes include poor lighting code, bad shaders, not using enough light sources or not making the light sources bright enough.

Regardless of the cause, the game ends up too dark, forcing the user to adjust the brightness controls of the game or their monitor. Sometimes this kills the atmosphere once the view is bright enough to see what they are doing.

Note that this does not refer to games with the occasional dark area such as the flashlight-intensive sequence in Half-Life 2: Episode 1. That would be Blackout Basement. This trope is when the whole game is too dark. For the sister trope dealing with a shortage of color saturation, see Real Is Brown.

Invert this trope and apply it to music and you get Loudness War. Not to be confused with Blackout Basement. Contrast Hollywood Darkness.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Action Adventure 
  • Tomb Raider 3 does it, though it's worse on some monitors than on others. Thankfully, this game came with a gamma adjustment control, which when increased improved visibility but made the moody lighting almost impossible to see. No such luck for players on thePlaystation, however. Even though you do have flares, they do not last very long.
    • It got so bad that on Tomb Raider Forums, someone posted screenshots of a hoax nighttime version of the Croft Manor level. In reality, this was just the regular Croft Manor with the gamma turned to the bottom.
  • Soul Reaver 2, especially in the Bad Future parts and when you're underwater in a cave can be so dark that literally all you can see is Raziel himself. Cranking up the brightness is the only way to see where you're going.
  • Some areas in Mirror's Edge are really dark, especially the parts where you have to move through air vents. If you turn the brightness to maximum, you can see fine there, but other parts become too bright.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess always asks you to adjust your TV brightness before you start playing because of how dark the game is. It kinda makes sense since it's supposed to be a Darker and Edgier Zelda.

    Adventure 
  • Riven has an install screen which specifically explains that if they go making everything bright, it blows out some of the detail. So the game has you adjust your monitor to a sensible curve.
  • Limbo of the Lost infamously demonstrated why adventure games should never do this. (The poor lighting would seem to have been caused by the game's backgrounds being ripped off from other games that were poorly lit.)
  • Dracula 2: the Last Sanctuary. Solving puzzles when you can't find the components because it's soooo dark? Not very entertaining.
  • Several of the Nancy Drew games have this problem. It can be hard to find the alarm-setting button on Nancy's clock in White Wolf of Icicle Creek because of her bedroom's darkness.
    • In Legend of the Crystal Skull you enter a room in which the only thing you can see is the door and window. There's a bed and a nightstand in it, but you only find them thanks to your cursor changing and the sound effect of opening the nightstand drawer.
    • Ghost of Thornton Hall has a few moving shadows meant to startle the player. You can see them when playing the game on a very bright monitor, but play it on a darker one and you can't see the shadows. At all.
    • Warnings at Waverly Academy has some problems with darkness, but only when Nancy's creeping around at night.

    First Person Shooter 
  • Doom 3, made much worse by the fact that you can't use a gun and a flashlight at the same time note . It's an intentional design decision: the game was purposefully designed with this trope in mind, and unlike most previous games, the engine is actually capable of rendering dark areas as completely pitch black, meaning that fiddling with your brightness settings is not going to help you. Nonetheless, the idea wasn't well-received, so much so that the very first Game Mod released on the internet for it was a fix that adds a torchlight to the shotgun and the machinegun, and the official Updated Re-release simply includes a Ten-Second Flashlight.
  • Quake, especially the GL version. Some areas are rendered pitch black until you activate the lights, this being one of the first games to do it (so adjusting the brightness won't help you). Quake II also suffers from this, although to a slightly lesser extent.
  • BioShock borders on this in places, being set in an underwater city that's falling apart, right down to the electrical system. BioShock 2 gives you an automatic flashlight, but it only triggers in areas that are even darker than the first game.
  • Deus Ex. Perhaps it is because J.C is wearing Sunglasses at Night. Then again, his vision is augmented.
  • F.E.A.R. and its sequel do this. Both games even have you calibrate your settings at the start of the game to ensure that you have just the right level of darkness. As with Doom 3, some rooms are completely black, which doesn't stop the enemy from seeing you. The second game is the worse of the two, especially with the dimmed-down flashlight, although it's an Infinite Flashlight as opposed to the first game's Ten-Second Flashlight.
  • Descent Maximum, as shown in a Let's Play.
  • Dark areas in the first Soldier of Fortune had you running blind, even with night vision goggles, while the enemies could still see you.
  • You Are Empty goes above and beyond the call of duty by having no lighting effects to speak of.
  • The original Marathon was very dark unless you turned up the brightness, which killed the atmosphere.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist has the light adaptation feature, which is supposed to adjust the light level in the game in a way that the human eyes adjust to changing light levels in real life. However, the feature usually causes the screen to darken at most places, making it hard to see where your enemies are shooting from. Luckily, you can turn the feature off and stick to the standard brightness settings.
  • At first, the Left 4 Dead series was going to be this trope by having the game use realistic lighting and fog, but the developers canned the idea after seeing how difficult it was for players to tell where the zombies were coming from: instead, Valve went for the dense tinted fog effect to simulate the same effects used in horror films. The solution was twofold: not only did the fog effect make the game look more like a typical horror movie, it also created silhouettes for distant zombies, allowing players to easily see them and prepare for the onslaught. The fog and lightning idea was later reused in Left 4 Dead 2 in the Hard Rain level, but the actual trope is only played straight in custom campaigns like Suicide Blitz 2 and Blackout Basement. Even then, you can't see the lights of the other survivors, which makes the games particularly dark.
  • E.Ψ.Ǝ.: Divine Cybermancy had extremely dark levels to go hand-in-hand with its Cyber Punk themes at its release, to the point where the flashlight (and sometimes EYE Vision) had to be activate pretty much constantly. An update a few weeks after release increased the lighting brightness in most areas to be more playable.
  • At one point in Nightmare House 2, the flashlight goes kaputz, and you're forced to use (a thankfully abundant supply of) single-use emergency flares to light your way around. This trope, the platforming elements, and the lack of memorable scares the mod is famous for ensure that not many people like this segment.

    MMORPG 
  • RuneScape's high detail graphical updates have added this to the game. In dungeons, it can become very difficult to see if both lighting detail, textures and ground detail are turned on. Fortunately, turning one or all of these off makes the game much brighter.

    Platformer 
  • Abuse, a shooter with dark graphics, does this on some, especially older, monitors.
  • Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, despite having a bright, kid-friendly color palette during the game's "day", becomes a world of black during the night cycles.
  • Parodied in Earthworm Jim with its secret level, "Who Turned Out The Lights?" The level is completely dark except for a few spotlights (stand in front of them to see a silhouette of Jim) — and you spend most of the level looking at Jim's googly eyes and shooting at other menacing eyes. At the end of the level A set of huge eyes appears and chases Jim around until he gets back to the main game.
  • Owing to the Darker and Edgier factor, Epic Mickey can often be too dark to see properly.

    Puzzle Game 
  • Developers wanted to make sure that you'd play Limbo at night due to brightness levels being low.
  • The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour. Both asked you to adjust your brightness to the proper level before playing.

    Role Playing Game 
  • Fallout 3 is an offender as its very many dark areas are almost pitch black even at the highest brightness setting. Turning on the Pip-boy lamp only brightens a tiny area and makes everything in it, such as rocks, shiny and causes lots of bloom. There are mods around that affect it both color- and reach-wise to address this issue.
  • Kingdom Hearts can have this sort of effect. Some players have complained that the original game needed the brightness at max to be able to see in dark places like the secret place. With the brightness at normal it is a black room. With the brightness at max you can see the detail. Kingdom Hearts II got similar complaints.
  • The Maimed Gods Saga, a fan campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2, has trouble with being too dark to see your hand in front of your face at times. Good thing your starting equipment includes a holy symbol of Tyr that can cast light an unlimited number of times.
  • Dragon's Dogma asks you to adjust the game's brightness before you begin playing, telling you to change it until you can barely see one of the dragons and clearly see the other. Most players should probably just turn it all the way to max, though, even if the instructions would put it only half as bright, because nighttime will be pitch black otherwise and you'll probably end up blundering into a cyclops or something.

    Simulation 
  • Night missions in flight simulators such as F/A-18 Hornet. If you turn the brightness up, it becomes Hollywood Darkness.

    Stealth Based Game 
  • The Thief series, to a ridiculous level.
    • A bit of gamma adjustment can go a long way - besides, it's sort of the whole premise of the series. In any event, the developers were thoughtful enough to include flares in The Metal Age.
  • The first Riddick game, Escape from Butcher Bay, throws you into some very dark situations before Riddick receives his Super Senses. The worst of these occurs in Pope Joe's den, where you're asked to retrieve a radio in a pitch black sewer while armed with a dying flashlight. Also the sewer is populated with howling mutants.
  • Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. The game actually looks pretty good. Too bad it's so dark that you'll almost always be playing it through the black-and-white night vision. Somewhat justified, it being a stealth game.

    Survival Horror 
  • The Suffering is kind enough to let you set the brightness yourself. But since it's a horror game, it shows you a static image and tells you to make it just barely visible. The end result is dim, eerie lighting, perfect for a fright.
  • This happens for a little while in the Silent Hill games, before you locate your flashlight, and during this point, your best bet with enemies is to simply run your fool ass off.
    • Silent Hill: Homecoming is the worst culprit for this, having areas of the game so dark, that even with the flashlight you can barely see where you're going.
    • What's worse is that this gets even worse in the HD collection.
  • Many areas of Resident Evil: Code: Veronica are pitch-black or close to it, requiring to equip the Lighter to find your way around. For about a third of the game, you won't even have that luxury.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent does as well; the idea isn't to ensure that it's bright enough, but that it's only just barely bright enough. They also recommend playing at night with the lights off, both to ensure visibility and maximum scariness. Oddly enough, the game also has your character's vision realistically adjust to darkness.

    Third Person Shooter 
  • Conflict: Vietnam has a level where you're in a bunker that takes place in the evening with napalm smoke in the sky. The next level, 'Bad Moon' takes place full-on at night... And is easier to see.
  • Bullet Witch. The ubiquitous dark areas are so black the only way you can realistically spot enemies is from their muzzle flashes. And the protagonist is not Made of Iron or anything so waiting to get shot is a poor way of finding them. Made all the more insulting by including a "brightness adjustment screen" in the options...that can't adjust the brightness. What are they expecting, that you change your TV brightness every time you play this game?
  • In addition to the occasional completely black rooms, the sixth-gen Syphon Filter games suffer from this during night missions, particularly if the mission doesn't allow a flashlight or night-vision goggles. Dark Mirror(no pun intended) is the worst of the bunch, as the flashlight has been nerfed to the point of being almost useless, so you'll nearly always be using your NVG's in dark areas.

    Vehicular Combat Game 
  • Twisted Metal: Black. The darkness was intentional — it is intended to convey a Crapsack World, but some players can't see their hand front of thier face except on the highest brightness settings.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • Minecraft does this intentionally. As monsters spawn at lower light levels, the creator (Notch) wanted to encourage players not to simply blindly wander through the night or through dark tunnels, and to place torches as often as possible. A side effect of this is a generally scary atmosphere, especially outside Peaceful mode. There are (glitch) instances where the lighting for various covered blocks fail to take full effect and make the space within at a light level of 0. This can be fixed by placing or removing a block next to the affected area, causing a chunk update.
    • The brightness setting, which was added sometime later, can avert the trope. With the brightness turned up to the max, you can still see in caves with zero light, but it's still dark enough to partially cover up whatever dangers are lurking (Moody, the setting with the least brightness, plays the trope as straight as it can be). You can also avert the trope completely by drinking a Potion of Night Vision, which makes everything bright as if the sun was up.

    Other 
  • The original design of the Game Boy Advance had a very dark screen. The problem was made worse, at the initial release of the system, because early development units had a brighter screen than retail units, so the colors were calibrated to be darker than intended. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and the port of Doom are commonly-held examples of games that are noticeably more playable on a backlit GBA SP or DS. Doom had the option to turn off dynamic lighting (no darkness and shadows), which was pretty much like having a permanent Light Amplification Goggles powerup — which was removed from the GBA edition for being redundant.
  • Hilariously spoofed in one Gamepro Magazine April Fools edition. They claimed to have first-look screens of the new Daredevil console game, but just showed black screens (and the multiplayer had a black screen divided into four!). The joke being that Daredevil is a blind superhero.
  • This was once a common problem for Mac ports of PC games due to different gamma values. (As of OS X 10.6, the Mac has adopted standard Windows gamma as its default.) The Unreal Engine in particular was subject to this, due to a gamma-correction feature that only worked properly on PCs.
    • This platform difference could even spawn a Guide Dang It. When the Mac game Myst was ported to Windows, many PC monitors were so much darker that vital scenery objects were swallowed by darkness.
  • Slender takes placed in a forest at night. While the game does give you a somewhat effective torch, using it too much will cause the batteries to run out. Believe it or not, but visibility can get even worse from there - the more pages you collect, the more Ominous Fog. An official mod was released to play the game during the daytime. The game is still just as scary.
  • Non-video game example: the webcomic Waterworks which features the occasional Flash animation. If there's anything happening underground, you'd better turn up your monitor brightness to the max if you want to see anything at all.
  • Many televisions sold in stores have their contrast and brightness turned up very high so potential buyers can spot the TV from a fair distance away. Usually, most TVs that are bought don't have the store's settings and are set to the factory defaults, which means the screen can appear very dark until you fiddle with the settings.


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