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By Shamus
on Friday Feb 22, 2008
Filed under:
Game Design


Here is a YouTube video for Enlighten, an SDK that game developers can use to add indirect shadowing and radiosity to a scene.

Radiosity is where it takes into account the fact that light bounces off of things. Your closet isn’t pitch black just because no lights are on in there. Light is bouncing off the walls in the room outside, and being reflected into the closet so you can still see the boxes of Christmas decorations and your dusty golf clubs. Also, radiosity lighting takes into account the color of the walls. If you shine a white light on a red wall, stuff nearby is going to look a little pink. The light coming off the wall is going to be red, and it’s going to illuminate stuff in red.

I guess I should get this out of the way: Yes, this is very impressive. It’s wonderful what technology can do. Just ten years ago effects like this were so insanely expensive in terms of processing cycles that you usually didn’t even want to use it for pre-rendered stuff. Now we can do it in realtime. The effects demonstrated are an amazing accomplishment, a blend of artistry and mathematical prowess.

But so what? Aside from saying, “gosh, look at this cool rendering stunt they can do”, why should I care? Is it nice? I guess so. Even under the idealized demo conditions the effect is so subtle I probably wouldn’t notice it if I wasn’t looking for it. Is it worth running out and buying a new graphics card? Nah. Is it worth the increased expense of development, because of the cost of the SDK and the work required from artists in order to take advantage of it? Of course not.

Yes, I’m on another one of my luddite rants. Note that I don’t have anything against pretty graphics, but I do have a problem with graphics at the expense of the game itself. As the race for better graphics goes on, developers are finding themselves making games that cost twice as much to develop, run on half as many computers, and look 8% better. We passed the point of diminishing returns with this stuff years ago, but PC developers, publishers, and reviewers can’t seem to stop the mad pursuit of the Shiny New Pixel. When a reviewer feels the need to ding STALKER because it only looks as awesome as last year’s games, the review system has graduated from mild eccentricity to full-on bat-shite crazy.

Longtime PC developer Cliff Bleszinski says that “PC Games are in disarray”. Epic Games, who began life on the PC platform, now see their PC efforts as “secondary”, and therefore (I assume) see themselves as primarily console developers. I doubt the thought has entered Bleszinski’s considerably intelligent head that maybe some of the blame for this goes at the feet of places like Epic. I had many, many gripes with the Unreal Tournament 2k series and with Unreal 2. I had long lists of things that put me off of both games. Nowhere on any of those lists was, “the graphics should be better.” Put the pixel shaders down and go make me a game I want to play, man.

I guess at some point enough PC developers will go under or get bought up and converted into console game developers. Once the herd is sufficiently thinned, the remaining ones might act on survival instinct and start looking for ways to stay in business, graphics be damned. There are more PCs in the world than all three of the major consoles combined. The PC has a few technological and interface advantages that can still set it apart. I’m convinced that the PC market doesn’t need to “die”, and it doesn’t need to be in “disarray”. It just needs developers that learn, or remember, how to make fun games.

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