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Who Forgot the Lights?

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"Will 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. Sometimes the developers do it to balance out the player's Infinite Flashlight (or the other way around).


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 third chapter in Half-Life 2: Episode 1; that's Blackout Basement. This trope is when the whole game is too dark.

Contrast Hollywood Darkness, which is when the darkness is dark in name only. Also not to be confused with "Who turned out the lights?", a common stock phrase / gag in which a character calls this out after having their head covered by a bucket or something. For the sister trope dealing with a shortage of color saturation, see Real Is Brown.


Videogame examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Action Adventure 
  • Tomb Raider III does it, though it's worse on some monitors than 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 the PlayStation, 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.
  • Guides for The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask suggest adjusting your television's brightness, particularly in the Woodfall area. However the rooms where this will benefit the player are small, few and far between so most players don't bother.
  • 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 following the Lighter and Softer Oracle games, The Wind Waker, Four Swords Adventures and The Minish Cap.

  • 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 so 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:
    • Doom³, made much worse by the fact that you can't use a gun and a flashlight at the same time note  or, in the case of the Hell level of the core game, you don't have a light at all. 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 (you're meant to use the lights from fireballs and the eye glow of demons when fighting in dark areas, and the flashlight to navigate when it's calm). Nonetheless, the idea wasn't well-received, so much so that the very first Game Mod released on the internet for it (literally three days after the game's release) was a fix that attaches lights to the shotgun and the machinegun. id Software took notice of that, and the official Updated Re-release simply includes a shoulder-mounted Ten-Second Flashlight that dispenses light-to-weapon switching.
    • The DarkDoomZ mod for the classic games invokes this by tweaking the light levels of the maps' sectors rather than simple brightness or gamma. The basic lighting settings range from Dim (mostly normal, a tad gloomy) to Pure (total darkness lit only by dynamic lightsnote , the open skynote  and the Infinite Flashlight the mod gives to the player). Of course, nothing stops you from fiddling with the more advanced settings and making the game brighter.
    • Doom for the PlayStation deliberately has much darker lighting than the PC original, and when coupled with the eerie ambient soundtrack by Aubrey Hodges, it invokes a Survival Horror atmosphere.
  • Quake, especially the GL version. Some areas are rendered pitch black until you activate the lights or light the way with your muzzle flashes, this being one of the first games to do it (much like Doom 3, adjusting the monitor brightness won't help you). Quake II also suffers from this, although to a slightly lesser extent since you're traveling through industrial alien bases and not eldritch dimensions; besides, the Blaster can be fired indefinitely and its projectiles work decently as flares.
  • 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 you have zero control over it, and it only triggers in specific areas that are even darker than the first game.
  • Deus Ex has plenty of dark sections. Fortunately JC has access to the Light augmentation by default, though there's the same problem as Half-Life 2 in that it drains the power reserve for other more useful abilities, made worse in that Bioenergy doesn't recharge on its own. The beam can alert enemies as well, which you definitely do not want if doing a stealthy playthrough.
  • 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.
  • Dark areas in the first Soldier of Fortune has you running blind, even with night vision goggles, while the enemies can 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.
  • Left 4 Dead:
    • At first, the game 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 a downplayed Hollywood Darkness and a 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 see them and prepare for any onslaughts. The fog and lightning idea was later reused in Left 4 Dead 2 in the Hard Rain level.
    • 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.
    • The Game Mod "Darkness Falls" for the second game is this trope taken to its logical extreme for those that don't think the game is scary enough. All ambient lights are heavily muted, to the point where places with lamps seem to be in the middle of a brownout and those without are pitch freaking black, but the survivors's torches illuminate as normal, and in fact reach a lot farther than in vanilla. Suddenly, a gunlight on your Sniper Rifle is not so pointless anymore.why would it be? 
  • E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy had extremely dark levels to go hand-in-hand with its Cyberpunk 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.
  • The PlanetSide 2 beta had pitch-black nights. They looked amazing with tracers flying to and fro, but it had serious issues due to there being next to no lighting in bases at that point, and the dark color palette of the Vanu Sovereignty soldiers made them almost invisible. The game switched to Hollywood Darkness at release.
  • MechWarrior Living Legends: the first release of the TSA_Clearcut map had a night-day cycle with pitch black nights. It was great for showing off CryEngine's power with laserbeams scything through the air and missiles raining down on the terrain, but it made engaging Aerospace Fighters (black against the black sky) and the tiny BattleArmor a miserable experience even with nightvision enabled. It was later brightened up, though nightvision and exterior lights were still required at night.
  • Black Mesa is consistently darker than the original Half-Life — the developers made sure to demonstrate how a resonance cascade would mess up the power grid, lighting systems most of all. Gordon's suit light has unlimited battery power to compensate.
  • Deep Rock Galactic levels are intentionally this dark, with pitch-blackness that no amount of saturation or gamma will fix in mind. These are natural, untouched caverns you're spelunking into and that you need to illuminate yourself, after all. Every class thankfully gets flares, with the Scout getting an even more potent Flare Gun for the biggest and darkest. Though some biomes are darker than others; the Sandblasted Corridors are particularly bad about this thanks to a lack of luminescent flora or minerals and the sheer size of the caverns.

  • 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.


    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 
  • There are several buildings in Cyberpunk 2077 where lighting is either almost or completely nonexistent, and a few sidequests take place in them. Turning up the gamma is about the only way to see anything in these areas, and it's become a common question why CDPR didn't include a flashlight or some form of night vision optics which led to someone creating a flashlight mod.
  • Fallout:
    • 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. On the other hand, there are Game Mods which intentionally invoke this trope, both for this and New Vegas.
    • Fallout 4 is, perhaps, a worse offender by virtue of the fact that it lacks a brightness setting at all. Many, many areas in the game are as dark, or darker, than those in its predecessor, but without a means of compensating beyond manually editing the game's gamma from a configuration file.
  • The Elder Scrolls series invokes this in some areas. The games provide various means of lighting both mundane (torches, lanterns, candles, etc.) and fantastic (Night Eye and Light spells), with the expectation that you'll need to use it to light up the darker places in the game world.
  • 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 God's 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.

  • 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. 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.
    • Thief: The Dark Project includes in-game keys to increase or decrease gamma. Many players use these so often, they remap the controls to the scrollwheel for ease of use.
  • 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. The genre justifies it – it would be hard for a "SIGINT ninja", as Sam himself calls it, to move around the AOs in bright daylight.

    Survival Horror 
  • Perception runs on this because by default your character can't see anything. This is because she's blind and relies on echolocation to get anywhere.
  • 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.
  • Silent Hill
    • This happens for a little while in most 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.
  • Resident Evil
  • 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. The same applies to the spiritual prequel, the Penumbra trilogy.
  • Even the areas with an open sky or containing flaming barrels are shrouded in absolute darkness in the Lasting Light horror Game Mod for Doom. Literally, the only light source at any given time is your lantern, and juggling it is a core gameplay mechanic. Stay in the dark too long and the Screecher will kill you, but shine a light on the photophobic Creeper for more than a split-second and it'll destroy you; also, a full lantern runs dry in minutes, so hunting for oil cans is a priority.
  • In the Ju On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator shovelware game, there are absolutely no lights outside of your Ten-Second Flashlight. If it goes out from lack of battery power, you die.
  • Slender takes place in a forest at night. While the game does give you a somewhat effective flashlight, using it too much will cause the batteries to run out. But believe it or not, visibility can get even worse from there - the more pages you collect, the more Ominous Fog, and the more Ominous Fog means more encounters from Slender Man. An official mod was released to play the game during the daytime, but it makes little difference: the game's still just as scary.
  • LIT (2009) revolves around navigating through a school that's been taken over by monsters and darkness; setting even one foot into the dark results in getting killed by the monsters within, so the player must activate various light sources in the room to forge a path from entry to exit.
  • Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem relies on low visibility to build tension. Every area has an explanation for being so dark, but this falls apart in the year 2000 in Hub Level house with its working electrical lights. The player has the option of altering the game's brightness to increase visibility, at the expense of the intended atmosphere.

    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 in front of their 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 without a Game Mod). You can also zig-zag the trope by drinking a Potion of Night Vision, which makes everything bright as if the sun was up, but has zero effect on monster spawn rates.


Non-videogame examples:

  • 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 sector lighting (no darkness and shadows, everything is fullbright), which was like having a permanent Light Amplification Goggles powerup — which was removed from the GBA edition for being redundant.
  • 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, vital scenery objects were swallowed by darkness.
  • 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. Older models were set to much darker factory defaults to avoid premature burnout, which meant the screen could appear very dark until you fiddled with the settings. Since the advent of longer-lasting LED backlights, however, manufacturers have been much less cautious about these settings. Most TV's you buy now are in what graphics professionals refer to as "torch mode", with brightness, contrast, and saturation values cranked up to near maximum.

    Live action television 

    Web animation 
  • 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.