An Enlightened View

An Enlightened View

By Develop

August 6th 2008 at 1:47PM

In this opinion piece Chris Doran, founder of Enlighten game lighting tool creator Geomerics, aruges the case for why developers should be looking to film not just for inspiration in storytelling, but in the use of smart lighting and camera tricks, to inspire their gamesâ?¦

In the games industry, we pride ourselves on our creativity, our technology and how we combine the two to create the most compelling content of our generation. With a market worth in excess of the movie or music industries, it’s clear we’re leading the way; not just for interactive entertainment, but entertainment as a whole. We’re eclipsing opening weekend movie sales, and we’re outselling the world’s biggest albums.

With this market leadership should come a responsibility to evolve and refine our products, pushing the technology to the limit and squeezing every last ounce of power from our tools to deliver the most exciting content, bigger worlds and increasingly complex universes to explore.

We’re only now seeing the fruit of investment in new engines across all platforms, new tools to simplify content creation and the birth of procedural generation techniques designed to make development easier, faster and more cost effective. At the centre of this drive is lighting, considered as an additional aspect of development for so long. Only now are we beginning to understand the relationships between characters, story-arcs and player attachment. In preparing a scene, there is no greater dynamic than lighting to create a connection or cement a mood,  changing the players expectations and reactions to a game in  any situation, limited only by the imagination of its design.

We are, however, at a crossroads, where the line between movies and videogames is about to blur beyond comprehension, where CGI becomes in-game, and where the talent pool of both industries merge. For too long, we’ve relied on our internal talent, only occasionally bringing the best in the field of movies on-board in ‘advisory roles’ which amount to little more than asset and milestone approval. Games such as John Woo Presents Stranglehold and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy have started making the first tentative steps into uncharted creative ground, involving movie producers in the production from the beginning.

Rather than bringing these world renowned directors and producers to our industry, can we not learn from them? Take for example, The Matrix, Hero, Blade Runner and The Sixth Sense as prime examples of how lighting and  design can come together early on to create something that can be called art. The subtle green tinges of Neo’s post-modern world, the three contrasting stages of Hero, the dark, gritty atmosphere of Blade Runner and the imposing red tones in clothing that draw you into the supernatural in The Sixth Sense.

Without the erotic, yet tense camera angles and sharp black and white contrasts, would the infamous shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho be quite as terrifying? Would Sin City have been half as enjoyable without its film noir comic style? Looking at more recent movie outings, if Gotham City were a place of blue skies, would Batman: The Dark Knight have made as much of an impact? It’s clear that lighting plays a huge part in any major movie release, and these design ideas move these movies from a standard release to a work of art
As simple examples, we can follow the lead of film, lighting our shadows as a darker shade of its reflective surface, rather than a solid black shadow. We can use shadows to highlight aspects of a scene and bring them to the forefront of the player, rather than leaving the player to discern what is and isn’t important he or she you progresses into the next level or takes on the next boss battle.

With Enlighten, we’re offering a chance to evolve, pushing forward new ideas, implementing time-saving technology and enabling artists to concentrate on their art, not the limitations of their tools.

Enlighten can and will change perceptions of your products, empower your developers to create a more vibrant experience and immerse gamers in storylines and gameplay that simply hasn’t been possible before. And we’re only just scratching the surface.

Since video games have attained a quality that observers began to describe as ‘realistic’, there has also been an increasing demand for higher standards. When computer graphics had no hope of replicating reality, the pursuit of perfection - not to mention style and substance - were mere pipe dreams. Now, lifelike movement has been achieved while speech and sound rivals the very best movie scores; yet somehow you still sense there is a chasm between movie visuals and those being paraded in video games, even the contemporary ones.

Obviously one aspect that must be considered is that human models and landscapes - all manner of figures, vehicles and vistas - have been the preserve of the filmmakers’ playground since day one. And day one itself came a long way before its video game counterpart. An important part of movie development that tends to be neglected when drawing comparisons is the black and white era. The kind of lighting that Enlighten offers was one of the key stylistic tools relied upon by film directors during that phase of cinematic development. It offered many levels of separation and contrast in days before hue and colour were a factor. Principally, and most informed observers agree, this was a golden age for cinema and it forged the very best cinematic techniques, especially the use of lighting.

The Lumieres brothers, Hitchcock and Orson Welles were all lauded for their wonderfully inventive use of lighting. They were considered pioneers for the beauty and depth realised in their films and their best work was later translated into colour by others, with varying degrees of success. This is an entire catalogue of work that was missed by the video games industry; which was effectively in colour once we progressed beyond the monochrome tones of Atari, Intellivision, Spectrum and of course the green screen of Amstrad. Perhaps the importance of lighting was lost on the games industry until the graphics caught up?

Now that it has, developers see an increasing need to capture the early elegance of the film industry and replicate the stylistic qualities of more recent efforts by Ford, Scorcese, Coppola and Kubrick. Lighting has always been asset-driven alongside other facets of production, meaning various pre-production hitches for those responsible for purporting a sense of realism in the shadows and draw of their chosen environs. With Enlighten, games developers are finally on a level playing field with their counterparts in the film industry. Lighting will play out - on the fly - alongside the action and the attributes on set; just as it would on a dusky afternoon in LA with Tarantino carving out another ode to post-modern America. Just contemplating such stylistic nuances in our video games is a mouth-watering prospect indeed.