The demo for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has been out a week and, beyond sharing piano covers, now players are arguing about yellow paint.
It’s a familiar trope in many video games: essentially, developers indicate the correct path by adding bright yellow paint to scalable ledges and ladders.
It’s also a debate that has raged for years. When the Resident Evil 4 remake demo was released, players complained about yellow paint being used on breakable objects. Now the discourse has erupted again.
There are strong views on both sides. On the one hand, many advocate for clear signposting to help players find the critical path.
Plenty of game developers have shared stories of how game design needs to steer players. Designer Dave Lockman recalled a game he exhibited at PAX which confused players, despite them only needing to jump using a giant button.
Gearbox narrative designer Sam Winkler pointed out “people want to be handled, but they don’t want to know they are being handled”.
The use of yellow paint can also aid players with low vision. As accessibility advocate Steve Saylor shared: “While the yellow paint on climbable ledges wasn’t designed with disabled players in mind, it has helped people with low vision or who are cognitively disabled to see at a higher contrast and recognise where they should go.” He also admits it’s not the only solution.
On the other hand, there are plenty of people against such an obvious – perhaps garish – use of colour.
Artist Freya Holmer, for instance, shared a thread on visual contrast and how to reduce visual noise. Developer Rittzler, meanwhile, suggests exploration is too often relegated to “texture” instead of being a primary system.
Others have pointed to examples of clear signposting without the need for yellow paint. Developer Joe Wintergreen shared a long thread of examples, including the use of shadow to assist with platforming in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
So how does this relate to Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth? The demo focuses on the Nibelheim flashback that includes some short climbing sections highlighted in yellow paint. This isn’t the go-anywhere vibe of Breath of the Wild, nor is it the patronising sprawl of yellow in the Horizon games. It’s just a couple of climbing spots.
And while the Final Fantasy series has often provided big worlds to explore, the focus is usually on narrative and guiding the player towards the next story beat. Is a bit of yellow paint necessarily that bad?
Let’s also not forget the big giant finger in the original Final Fantasy 7 that points to the player character, though admittedly this was the first game in the series to use pre-rendered backgrounds (and it was optional).
Perhaps we should all just calm down and share some memes. The Stanley Parable, for instance, has an even more obvious example of yellow paint.
Plus there are plenty of real life yellow paint examples too.
If you’re yet to play the Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth demo, it’s available now ahead of the game’s full release on 29th February.