Color Coded Loot Rarity in Video Games: History of Gray to Gold

From humble gray to coveted gold, the history of color coded loot rarity is a fascinating evolution of gaming! But where did it start?

color coded loot rarity

Loot rarity—players around the world have unconsciously observed these color-coded systems in their favorite video games. Although often overlooked, they are a very subtle mechanic that actually impacts popularized video games to a large extent. Think about your favorite RPGs or MMOs. Do they have a color-coded loot rarity system?

When you reach end game content, what do you do? Ignore all common whites, never pick up uncommon greens, seldom pick up an epic blue/purple, and always sweep up legendary yellow/oranges? I bet you filter the colors without thinking, like driving to work and back home without a single thought. That’s how sneaky these systems can be! But it’s definitely not a bad thing.

What is the First Game Known for the Color Coded Loot Rarity System?

Hardcore RPG players will be familiar with Diablo (released 1996) and World of Warcraft (released 2004). Both games were developed by Blizzard Entertainment and still hold dominant influences on the implementation of loot rarity systems in current and next-gen games. But what is the first known color-coded system that we know of (so far)?

Well, Game Informer hosts a GI Show on Youtube. In the GI Show 2 around May 2019, the Game Informer reporter, Ben Hansen, interviewed David Brevik, the creator of Diablo. Ben asked David about loot rarity and the colors associated with them. How did David answer? As it turns out, the 1990’s Tolkien text-based roguelike game, Angband, was the leading inspiration!

Ben Hansen and David Brevik Angband Interview

Ben Hansen

“What about loot rarity colors? Did you guys take that chart from anywhere, or was that invented in Diablo?”

GI Show. Ben Hansen. Game Informer. Youtube

David Brevik

“That came from a game called Angband… Back in college, I played a lot of roguelike games—including Rogue, which is where the term roguelike comes from. There were kind of different versions of this and there was a Tolkien-themed one, that you know, that was like had hobbits and elves and dwarves and things like that. They had a version called Moria, and then there was somebody else [that] made a version of it called uMoria, and then that changed into this game called Angband

Anyway, so Angband was a game I played like literally thousands of hours of and is really the kind of the game that Diablo was based on. I wanted to take Angband, that original game, and like make a modern version of it.

GI Show. David Brevik.
Angband ASCII TheUberHunter
Screenshot Clipped from YouTuber Vid by TheUberhunter

“It was an ASCII game. You were the ‘@’ symbol, and you were attacking the letter ‘K.’ The floors were periods and the walls were hashtags… That was what the game looked like. It was just all letters. 

But there were different random items that you could get in the game and they had different colors. If you found a rare one, the text wasn’t just gray, it was blue text, and that meant that it was like magic. So there were some color variations to the text—yes, we had color text back then—this new-fangled color text stuff... So the idea came from that, but then we kind of expanded on it, but originally the idea came from Angband.”   

GI Show. David Brevik.
  • God of War
  • Outriders
  • Borderlands 3
  • Hades
  • Path of Exiles
  • Destiny 2
  • Overwatch
  • Call of Duty: Warzone
  • Battlefront II
  • Fortnite
  • Apex Legends

Color Coded Loot Rarity is a Gift

Looting a yellow/orange weapon is now as natural as shooting a gun with the right trigger on a controller. At some point, you’ll have all the legendary items and still loot every legendary drop because you just can’t help yourself! I could love an amazing epic Overwatch cosmetic skin for Pharah, but you know I’ll equip the legendary one as soon as the loot Gods grant it. It really doesn’t matter if the legendary skin doesn’t look as good as the epic skin—I have bragging rights!

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