The real and the obscure: a look at Child of Light's game worlds

A speculative analysis of Child of Light's Art Direction through an exploration of the game's stunning take on the conscious and subconscious.

It seems only natural that the first blog post I write on the subject of visually interesting games, is the game that brought my interest back into games design. I came home after class one day in early 2014, and found one of my flatmates playing Child of Light in the living room.

At that point in my life I was spending the final year of my Bachelor researching Art Direction for 2D animation, something I was fully intending to pursue further in life. I sat down to watch my friend play Child of Light. I could not take my eyes off of it. In short, this was the game that eventually led me to pursue a career in games design.

Child of Light (2014, Ubisoft Montreal). I recommend having a glance at the game's website.

Note: Throughout this short analysis I will be touching on three "realities":

  • The dream world, referring to Child of Light's main world in which Aurora finds herself unable to awaken back to her reality.
  • The real world, referring to Aurora's reality in her awaken state.
  • Reality, referring to our reality.

With all that sorted, let's get started!

Child of Light presents a beautiful gameworld inspired by early 1900's illustrators, such as John Bauer, Arthur Rackman and Edmund Dulac. These artists told fantastic stories of myths and fairy tales through the use of watercolours. Child of Light's Art Direction embraces the fantastic and somewhat uncontrollable aspect watercolours can convey, and applies it as a visual metaphor to bring the player into a dreamscape.

In Child of Light, you play as Aurora, a child who finds herself caught in a dream, unable to awaken. The dream world's physics imitate those of the underwater world, stating a clear separation between Aurora's dream and the real world. All elements of this world seem to be floating, as if presenting the obscurity of a dream, or an illusion.

Speculative moodboard composed of possible references.

Speculative moodboard composed of possible sources of inspiration for the game's Art Direction.


If we make the assumption that reality offers a high level of detail, we could define it as sharp. In the same manner, dreams which offer a lower level of detail, could be defined as soft. The dream world in Child of Light is presented through soft colours and organic lines, which help immerse the player into a dream-like state.


Likewise, Child of Light's real world is presented through a more geometric style based on stained glass window designs, supporting the idea of a sharp reality. The contour of this world is clear, and colours well defined. The use of colours in the real world intrigues me. The elegant transition of hues in Child of Light's dream world seem to reflect reality better than the clearly defined colours in the real world. However, the clarity and separation of colours in the real world create a better representation of realism as opposed to dreams, because it clearly defines what is what.


Soft hues of green rule the colour palette through the majority of levels, and could quickly have presented a confusing sense of reality, if not for the supporting shades of blue, which add a softness to the world. Blue, as we know, is not commonly found in nature (more on that here). We perceive blue through light, for example in water, but we cannot extract the colour blue from water (more on that here). Because of this, blue adds surrealism to natural elements, thus supporting the concept of a dream.

Colour contrasts are used to perfection in regards to leading the eye. Aurora's character is presented through vibrant warm colours, making her clearly visible within the mostly cold and mildly desaturated background environments. Elements of importance are also presented in warmer colours, and there is an interesting difference between the sharp colours of Aurora (a character of the real world) and the soft colours of elements belonging to the dream world.

Gathered screenshots for colour analysis, Child of Light.

Screenshots composed for colour analysis.

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