Lighting has always been important in gaming. Lighting can be all it takes to take a game from looking OK to looking amazing. That’s not to say lighting a game is easy; it takes skill and lots of programming knowledge. There is a way, however, for developers who aren’t so programming-savvy to create beautifully lit environments relatively easy; Enlighten. Created by Geomerics and parent company ARM, Enlighten is a dynamic lighting system built to enable the best computer graphics experiences. After witnessing the results on a high-end PC and a mobile phone, I have to admit that I am in awe.
Even if you haven’t heard of Enlighten, there’s a good chance you might have played a game using the technology. Battlefield 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Lords of the Fallen and the Mirror’s Edge reboot are just some of the games that make use of the technology. I witnessed two demos of what Enlighten is capable of and the results were impressive.
The first demo was shown running on a high-end PC. Taking place in a subway, the demo showcased fully dynamic lighting and how it can revolutionize gameplay. Enlighten gives designers the ability to update a material’s properties. A developer walked me through what that meant. He destroyed a ceiling light and I watched as the lighting changed as it rolled around the floor. In a separate room, I witnessed him changing the color of the lights in-game, and seeing how it changed the room. In the past, developers and designers would have to re-bake the scene to get the same effect.
However, the most exciting gameplay revolution is destruction. Enlighten allows designers to create areas filled with destruction, all while maintaining consistent, high-quality lighting. For example, I was shown green frosted glass, bathed in light from behind. The developer shattered the glass, revealing the bright light behind it. The change was instantaneous and impressive to watch.
ARM is also behind Forge, a lighting editor and pipeline tool that provides real-time feedback on changes artists make to a level. The editor ships with a fully integrated 3DS Max and Maya viewport, allowing artists to preview the results of their hard work without leaving Max or Maya. In the short demo, a developer showed the level he created in 3DS Max and the same level in Forge. In Forge, the developer was able to add textures and light sources. If he didn’t like the way an object was positioned, he would go to 3DS Max and change it, and that change would be reflected immediately in Forge. Once happy with the results, the level could then be ported into Unreal 4 or Unity 5. Forge could become crucial to game development, saving artist’s precious time.
Finally, I was shown a demo created in Unity 5 for mobile devices. Taking place in a frozen cave, the demo showcased dynamic lighting and real-time reflections. The snow tiger’s eyes would glow red as you approached him, the sun and statues reflect off the ice with stunning clarity and crystals give off an eerie glow. Many of these features aren’t new to anyone who has played a game on PS3, Xbox 360, or PC, but seeing them for the first time on mobile devices is astonishing. It is important to note that this was merely a tech demo. Whether a game will ever be able to re-create this level of high-fidelity lighting is unclear.
Enlighten has been meticulously tested and optimized for all major platforms, including PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac OS X, Wii U, PS Vita, iOS and Android. Expect to see a lot more games use Enlighten; the software is fully integrated for Unreal Engine 3 and 4 and is the lighting technology behind Unity 5.