Showing posts with label lighting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lighting. Show all posts

Sunday, August 9, 2020

new Quake map: "Smell It In The Street"

I made another Quake map! This one is called "Smell It In The Street" and it was made for the Doom Tintin map jam, a level design jam centered around using Quake mapping community member Tintin's texture pack that samples from Doom 3 textures.

Some brief level design thoughts follow:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thick skin: complexion, realism, and labor in games

In Dublin, I visited the Lucian Freud Project at IMMA.

If you're not familiar with painters (who is these days?) Lucian Freud is often held up as one of the greatest realist painters in the 20th century. And like many other artist men of the 20th century, his work also has a lot of racist and sexist baggage to deal with.

The IMMA curators figured out a pretty clever solution here -- they basically surrounded his stuff with women artists and intersectional feminist political theory. Instead of pretending to be a "neutral" celebration of a Great Male Painter, the curators did their job, and made an argument for real interpretation and criticism in the 21st century. It felt responsible and complicated.

The main basement gallery has two monitors in the middle of the room, running constant loops of John Berger's iconic feminist media studies primer Ways of Seeing. Specifically, it's Ways of Seeing episode 2, the one about the difference between nudity and nakedness, especially within the long history of European oil paintings depicting nude/naked women.

The second half of the episode is famous: the male narrator and host (Berger) shuts up and just listens to a panel of women critique patriarchy and art through their own experience. At first it seems like they're talking about the art shown in the film 30 years ago, but in the style of the Frankfurt School, they might as well be critiquing Freud's many paintings hanging on the walls today.

If you want to read more about the various artists and works, this Quietus post by Cathy Wade is a through walkthrough of it all. In this post, I'm just going to talk about one of the paintings and how I relate its form and politics to games:

For some reason, I gravitated towards a small painting hanging in the corner, a portrait simply called "Kai".

Monday, February 11, 2019

Black and white and re(a)d all over: on SOD (1999), Half-Quake (2001), Jeux d'ombres (2007), and NaissanceE (2014)

Last week I finished playing through the entirety of NaissanceE (2014), an avant-garde walking sim / platformer game inspired by brutalist megastructure manga and filled with subtle callbacks to new media art. NaissanceE has a bit of a cult classic reputation among level designers and modders, due to its heavily reliance on abstraction, lack of concrete narrative, and punishing platformer sections.

To this day, the game still defies easy categorization and demographics. Who is this for?

The walking sim aficionado of that time (the Dear Esther remaster was in 2012, Proteus and The Stanley Parable remaster were in 2013) would've hated the platformer sections with instant-death traps, while the action jock might've been tempted to rage-quit with every coy architectural riddle and impossible-to-navigate dark room. Back in 2014, only a few critics dared to defend this design clash.

I think the work still holds up pretty well in 2019, and to understand why, we should take a brief trip back to 1999.

Friday, March 30, 2018

GDC 2018: How To Light A Level, slides and transcript

This post is aimed at beginner / intermediate designers. It's a summary of the talk I gave at the GDC 2018 Level Design Workshop with David Shaver (Naughty Dog) for the "Invisible Intuition" double-feature session.

David's slides on blockmesh / layout are here (PDF) with case studies from The Last of Us / Uncharted. You can also get my full slide deck PDF here, and my speaker notes PDF here... but I don't know when GDC will upload the talk to YouTube, sorry.

A very brief and simple history of light starts with the sun. Then let's not forget about fire, controlled burning in gas lamps, incandescent light bulbs with a filament... and these days, there’s a stronger focus on more energy-efficient fluorescent lights, and LED lighting is also becoming more common.

It’s tempting to think of this as a story about technology and progress and older light sources becoming obsolete... but the light bulb did not make the sun obsolete, and the LED does not make fire obsolete! We still use fire as a light source all the time -- in our birthday candles, in our campfires, in our romantic candle-lit dinners -- in fact, I hate those little fake flickering LED candles, because a real flame has a unique quality to it, you know?

Fire hasn’t disappeared from the world, but rather our culture around fire has changed. That is, fire used to be a common and practical tasklight in Shakespeare's time, but now it feels more like special decoration for a special occasion. As a designer, you need to sensitize yourself to how light feels and conveys these ideas, because this is how you communicate those moods to the player.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bevels in video games

Like a lot of digital artists today, I learned Photoshop in the late 90s in order to make awesome-looking fan sites and "professional" forum signature images. One of the Photoshop tricks I learned was the "Bevel" layer style, which embosses a faked thickness and depth onto a layer, as if it's popping outward toward / inward from the viewer.

When I first learned it, I felt powerful, like I could use Photoshop to "paint in 3D" and make my Starcraft fan forum avatar look even more professional. But then I realized that the bevel had a very specific look to it, and I started seeing that look everywhere. My astounding bevels quickly lost their sheen. To this day, the conventional wisdom in 2D game art is that you should just handpaint your own bevels, and it only takes a few minutes when you get good at it anyway.

Today in 2017, the bevel has arguably taken over 3D environment art, and like all the other game art gods, it demands labor from us. But unlike 2D bevels, there's no strong consensus on what the best 3D bevel techniques are, which means we're free to experiment...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 5: the rise and fall of the cult of hard shadows

This is part of a series about a critical theoretical approach to understanding video game lighting, while staying grounded in technical realities, and not focusing on a specific game engine.

Last time (part 4), we ended with the idea that video game lighting is a carefully assembled pile of hacks / effects that hopefully seems like a unified phenomenon of light. It might seem annoying to fuss over many details all the time, but this bespoke workflow exists because we need so much control to make sure the lighting calculations doesn't slow our game's framerate.

One of the most "expensive" (computer-intensive) parts of 3D video games is rendering shadows. To calculate a shadow in a video game, we must test-fire many light rays out from the light source. If these rays hit anything (see diagram above) then that means the light casts shadows past that object. To give you an idea of how much we sacrifice to shadows, Crytek said in a 2013 SIGGRAPH talk that they offer ~20% of their frame budget (5-7 FPS out of 30 FPS) to the shadows. (20% of their entire game! just for shadows!)

Since shadows are so expensive to do, it's impressive when we manage to do it anyway. But that also means we want shadows to pull their weight and help sell the game, to justify the work we put into them. We worship shadows while praying for something in return.

The cult of hard shadows began on February 21, 2001, at the Macworld conference in Tokyo:

Monday, March 28, 2016

"Let's Get Lit: How to Light Your Game Like a Strip Club" @ 6 PM, April 30 at IndieCade East 2016, New York City

I'll be speaking at IndieCade East this year about video game lighting -- but to spice it up, I'm also going to talk about hunky dudes taking their clothes off in the seminal beefcake stripper movie Magic Mike (2012). The director, Steven Soderbergh, intentionally went for naturalistic "bad lighting" reminiscent of a strip club. Look at the shot above -- most of the men are in shadow! That's actually a pretty radical aesthetic for something that's supposedly a few steps away from commercial pornography. Plus, lighting can often be a bit of a dry topic, so I felt it was important to pair it with some sweaty studs to help the medicine go down. It'll be fun for the whole family.

IndieCade East 2016 runs April 29 - May 1 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, and thank god it's no longer in the dead of winter.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 4: how to light a game world in a game engine

This is part of a series on how I approach game lighting, from a more general and conceptual perspective. I build most of my examples in Unity, but this is meant to be generally applicable to any 3D game engine, most of which have similar lighting tools.

We started by thinking about light from a cultural and conceptual lens in part one. In part two, we treated light more instrumentally in terms of level design and readability. Then in part three, we surveyed the three-point lighting method for use in games. But none of this theory matters if we can't actually achieve it within the semi-hard constraints of computer graphics.

Lighting is traditionally one of the slower or "expensive" things to calculate and render in a game engine. Consider the science of visible light: countless photons at different wavelengths bouncing around at unimaginable speeds that somehow enter your eye. To do any of this at a reasonable framerate, game engines must strategically simplify light calculations in specific ways, and then hope players don't notice the inconsistencies. It is "fridge logic" -- we want the player to nod along, as long as it "looks right."

Okay, so how do 3D game engines generally do lighting?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 3: the heresy of three-point lighting

This is part of a series on how I approach game lighting. Part 1 was about light fixtures, and part 2 is about light as a formal material.

In part one, we began by thinking about light culturally -- light has meant different things to different people across history, and you must consider that meaning when lighting your spaces. But in part two, we observed that much of our everyday relationship to light is more immediate and less intellectualized, that we often use light to help us do things. Theoretical frameworks about light help us articulate what we think the light is doing.

One of the most common theoretical frameworks for lighting is the three-point lighting system, used mainly in photography and film. As I argued in part 2, one of light's most important jobs is to allow you to read the surface or topology of an object. The three point system helps us formalize light source in terms of how to "read" an object. (I also argue that it has some serious weaknesses for 3D video games, but we'll get to that in a minute.)

It's called "three point" because there's at least three light sources involved:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 2: a formal approach to light design, and light as depth

Here's how I generally, theoretically, approach lighting in my games and game worlds. Part 2 is about light and function, mostly for level design.

In part 1, I talked about how different light sources have different connotations to the viewer, and these meanings are culturally constructed. In New York City today, an antique Edison bulb connotes trendy bourgeois expense, but 50 years ago it might've been merely eccentric, and 150 years ago it would've been a thrilling phenomenological novelty.

But people rarely intellectualize lighting this way, in, like, your own bedroom. In your daily middle class Western life you don't usually agonize over the existential quandaries of electricity, you just flip the light switch without looking. When in familiar places, we experience light as a resource or tool and take it for granted. So much of our everyday relationship with light concerns its functionality and what it enables us to do.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lighting design theory for 3D games, part 1: light sources and fixtures

Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco, California)
Here's how I generally, theoretically, approach lighting in my games and game worlds. Part 1 is about the general concept of lighting design.

Mood is the most important end result of your lighting. The "functional school" of game lighting, which maintains that lighting exists primarily to make a space readable so that the player can navigate it and shoot people -- can be useful in my eyes but only so far as that gameplay is tactical violence, and when that violence can support evoking a mood. The rest of the time, some designers often seem content to light their spaces like a furniture catalog, or even leave it as a total after-thought. Lights can do more than show-off your normal maps and show where to walk to trigger the next cutscene, okay?

So let's begin: lighting design is a discipline that has existed since the beginning of sunlight.