The lightbulb above your head needs lighting

The development of lights in video games and the potential for lighting has increased as games get larger. However, this was not always the case. As hardware has gotten better, lighting has seen a bigger push in development. Principles about how lights are incorporated into a game are different to other mediums such as movie/tv production. The potential of players being able to interact with lights can drastically affect how a scene or a game changes. Every single movement of a character’s position inside of the game influences how the light reflects in the scene.

In the developmental stages for lighting, it is important to consider the structure of how the lighting influences the scene. Major benefits of early development can include direct influence on how a scene may tell a story or drastically alter how the player should feel when interacting with other character in the scene. Correct lighting will allow character assets to be shown off in full detail.

Decisions on how lighting affects the scene and how the scene will look is another aspect to be considered early in the production stage. For example, to make lighting look as realistic as possible the use of real time lighting is expensive but allows for more visually accurate shadowing. If looking into shader effect with lighting, baking the lighting into the scene and allowing the shader aftereffects work in the baked light settings is a good choice. A good example of a shader taking over the lighting is Borderlands (2009) where the cell shader graphics is one of the staples of the entire series.

Popular lighting ideas also include being able to guide a player. A game like Dark Souls (2011) has items or objects in the game that do this, while not directly telling the player how or where to go. It never influences the player. Being creative with light sources as a story telling method is now a realistic goal developers can attain and plan, as opposed to a stretch goal that may not be included.


FromSoftware 2011, Dark Souls, video game, xbox 360, Bandai Namco Games.

Gearbox Software 2009, Borderlands, video game, xbox 360, 2K Games.

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