Skip to main content

Real VS Fake: lighting.

In a video game, what is real?

This is, strangely, a question that infects many discussions about making games, much more so that those about playing games.

Well, some things can be modeled somewhat realistically; ray tracing, shadow casting, physics, real time reflections, on the fly destructible or deformable terrain, goal orientated action planning AI... These are all "realistic" approaches" to making games, or you might say simulation based approaches. Other times people use tricks; pre-baked lighting, animated pseudo-physics, on-rails movement, scripted AI, matcap reflections... These are all cheats, to save development time and processing power. They don't simulate real word physics or behavior but simply try to mimic the results.

Players of games are rarely concerned with with such things. Everyone who plays a game knows deep down that it is not real, and they don't expect it to behave realistically. Sometimes they get annoyed with games which show bad faith, enemies which respawn inside a locked room. Guns with infinite bullets. Cars which don't dent or scratch when you crash them at 200MPH. Who wouldn't get annoyed? We've got used to better.

But in other cases things such as shadow casting lights... If you've played Diablo 3, a AAA modern game, you might not have noticed that there's only one shadow casting light in the scene, and that shines from above the player. None of the other lights cast shadows. How does no one notice that? Someone asked me today; "Why don't you make your lighting system better, more like Diablo 3?"

Actually right now my lighting system is much more sophisticated than Diablo 3. I have multiple shadowcasting lights in the scene, casting "soft" shadows, unlike the hard edges shadows of Diablo. But I wonder if I'm wasting my efforts there.

Look at the picture above.
It seems like there is a sword on the floor, glowing with light. Actually, the sword isn't glowing. It's just a simple plane with a texture that has additive type transparency. A trick that predates real time shadows, you can see it used frequently in games from the last century! If you move close you'll see that it doesn't illuminate the player, it doesn't cast shadows...

Diablo 3 is packed with tricks like that. simple 2d shaders, particle effects etc... But the basic lighting is very simple indeed. When people praise the lighting, they are really praising the fake effects, not the lighting setup itself.

So maybe I should just focus on adding more cheesy visual effects and shaders instead of trying to simulate real torchlight. In the end, who's going to notice it but me? If the game has a single unidirectional shadow lamp, no one is going to notice, and the result will be much faster on low end computers.


  1. Very simple comment from my distant past:
    "It is irrelevant how you do it, just as long as it looks right to you"
    So take whatever shortcuts, do whatever you need, and cut every corner to get it right :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Vinland 1936

What have I been up to this month?

Well you can see it in a couple of development blog videos, here, here and here.

Vinland 1936 is a game I've been working on (on and off) for about 3 years. It is somewhat based on the old Nirval interactive game, Blitzkrieg;

I hope you've played it since it is one of the best games ever!!! (IMHO)
Blitzkrieg was a real time tactics game. You didn't build a base, or spawn units. It wasn't about rushing the enemy. You got a small number of troops and vehicles that could be replenished or repaired if you had access to a supply base and the right supply trucks, but couldn't be replaced if lost. Once your vehicles were destroyed and your infantry killed you were finished. You couldn't just churn out some more from your factory and have another go at rushing the enemy guns. This made you invest a lot in each of your units. They really mattered.

It was also procedurally generated. Each mission (except for the historical missions) was…

Telling a story; Creating a Compelling Narrative.

Telling a story; Creating a Compelling Narrative. In this blog I will talk about my own recent brush with story telling and go on to talk about how tools from creative wring can help you to better author the narrative in your games, whether they have a traditional linear narrative or a procedurally generated interactive narrative.

Narrative and structure in traditional fiction  last week I started writing a story set in the world I'm developing for my game Vinland: 1936.

I hope the story will help me to flesh out my game world and develop my own expanded universe which will be a good place to set my games in the future.

After about a week of work, on and off I've progressed the story to outline stage. For each character thread I have half a dozen chapters which plot a course through the events of the story. Each thread is told from the perspective of a different character.

Actually I started writing as soon as I had my outline, but I've since gone back and deleted what …

Back to Vinland.

I'm going back to my real time tactics project, Vinland 1936.
While working on the other project I overcame the problems which were stopping me from saving/loading the game and also cleaned up the base code a lot.

After a few weeks I'm getting near the the state I was in before.

Infantry are back to their previous state, and vehicles are running OK.
This time I'm going to push ahead with mocking up the combat system though before I work any more on the vehicle builder or graphical aspects of the game.