Friday, February 3, 2012

Computer Graphics: Graphics in Games Week 4 - Lighting and Soul Calibur V

Lighting is by far, one of the most important aspects of creating a great looking game. This week in Intermediate Computer Graphics we learned more in depth, the techniques that are used to create all the lighting effects in games. Many different lighting techniques and algorithms are used in a single game in order to give the desired look and feel of the style of the game. Since lighting is such a broad topic, I will focus on pointing out the use of lighting for a particular game instead. This week I will be focusing on the newly released Soul Calibur 5 and pinpointing it’s use of lighting in the game as well as other things relating to computer graphics.
Soul Calibur 5 is the newest entry in the Soul Calibur series, released on Xbox 360 and PS3. It’s predecessor, Soul Calibur 4 was also released on these platforms and used an older engine but that still looks very good. Soul Calibur 5 improves upon every aspect of Soul Calibur 4’s engine, with more dynamic lighting, smoother animations, better looking textures and models, enhanced particle effects, etc.

Soul Calibur V in action

As a fighting game, Soul Calibur like all other fighting games strives for that 60 frames per second milestone and even with its gorgeous graphics in manages to deliver. There isn’t a moment when the action slows down no matter what effects are on the screen at a time. And I can say this is easily one of the best looking fighting games to date, and one of the major factor is its use of lighting.

Before we delve into Soul Calibur 5’s lighting and graphics, let’s quickly talk about what kind of lighting there is.

Lighting Terms

There is ambient lighting (which is the amount of available light in a scene), so it essentially means the amount of light normally in the world. For example, taking a photo without flash is only using the ambient lighting available in the room. Taking a photo with the flash is adding a non ambient light to the scene.

There is diffuse lighting which is the reflection of light from objects and scattered in various directions. Depending where the viewer is and where the light is, you will see a different amount of lighting on an object. The only reason we can see an object is because light is reflected off of it, to our eyes so we can see it. If we stand in one position then move to another position, the object may look slightly different to us since the light being reflected scatters to different positions.

Specular Lighting is the main source of shininess we see in objects. Where as diffuse lighting refers to light scattering in various directions, the specular light is more focused reflection. This gives a very strong sheen of light in an object and al the shiniest objects have the most specular lighting. An object can have both diffuse and specular lighting, which will change the shininess and lighting of the material.

And finally there is shadow mapping which is of course, the creation and mapping of shadows. Shadows have to be calculated based on the light sources in the area onto an object. It is easily one of the most important aspects of lighting as they truly define something to look 3D and realistic. Without shadows or bad shadows, an object simply won’t look right.

Soul Calibur 5 Graphics

So with that out of the way, we can finally look into the actual graphics of the game. Soul Calibur 5 boasts an impressive amount of texturing in the game. Bump maps are of course applied to give that 3D look, as can be seen with various characters armour and outfits.

Pyrrha, one of the leading characters of Soul Calibur V. A lot of effort was put into the detail of her outfit.

The best example of this is in the create a character mode, there is a slider which indicates muscle tone. Here, you can actually see it’s just the texture and bump map on a character’s skin being changed. That way they do not even have to change the size of the model and can still show muscle. However the create a character mode also allows one to change the size of their character too, from arms, legs, chest, hips, waist, and so on. They are actually changing the size of the model by doing this. So Soul calibur 5 allows you to change a character’s size in real time, and choosing different bump maps to define that character. Pretty neat in my opinion.
Comparing textures from the old game to this one, it’s easy to see that they have improved quite significantly. The amount of detail in every character’s outfit has been upgraded quite a bit from it’s predecessor, thank goodness for bump mapping.

A trailer showcases the features of Creation mode

With Soul Calibur 5’s use of lighting, things have greatly improved. In playing Soul Calibur 4, I could see that the lighting was actually too strong at times. In some cases it would shine strangely on a characters face and body, in a way that would actually make them look like a different person. In a stage with a strong sun, the amount of diffuse lighting coming off a character was extremely bright, too bright in fact. However this stage was an exception, most of the stages looked good with the lighting.

Lighting in Soul Calibur IV

I revisited a similar stage in Soul calibur 5 and was pleased to see that the amount of diffuse lighting had been reduced significantly. Characters weren’t “glowing” from the amount of lighting in the scene, they looked more natural in the scene now. In looking all over the other stages, it’s easy to tell that Soul Calibur 5 has easily improved in diffuse lighting.

Lighting on a very similar stage in Soul Calibur V.

Specular lighting was pretty good in Soul Calibur 4, many characters had the right sheen to them. But of course Soul Calibur 5 has been able to ace it again, making characters look more detailed, with the right amount of specular lighting in the weapons and armor of various characters. The combination of the right specular and diffuse lighting makes it easy to tell what kind of material you’re looking at on a character.

The character, Nightmare's apperance in Soul Calibur IV

His appearance in Soul Calibur V

But over the course of both games, the use of lighting has always been great, Soul Calibur 5 simply made it better (if it didn’t then that would be unacceptable).

As a side note, the stages you do battle in are very well textured and lit as well. They easily look twice as good as the old Soul Calibur 4 stages. The textures on the stages are much more detailed in Soul Calibur 5 and the use of lighting makes them all look quite vibrant and nice. Not only that but most of them are even more interactive, with many things happening in the background that only adds more to the immersion of being in a real environment (or even battle).

One of the stages in Soul Calibur 5

The last thing to talk about is the particle effects. Every character’s weapon leaves a trail of a specific color. You can even define what color that trail is, but it helps to see the motion of the weapons in battle. Whenever you hit an opponent, you also leave a small particle effect that acts a light source. When a character is hit, sometimes it might make an orange like spark appear in the air. This spark is clearly seen as a light source as the character is also lit up with orange as well. This makes the game look more dynamic and makes it easy to see when you’ve hit an opponent.

Besides these aesthetic sparks, the game has many other particle effects, most of them acting as light sources. A lot of them are vibrant looking energies emanating from players weapons during their “Ultimate attacks”. Others include flames that signify an unblockable attack (these attacks also cut fade out a significant portion of all other ambient light sources. This makes the scene very dark and the flame mostly lights the scene). Others include electrical particle effects, which again, light up the scene. It’s hard to imagine what the game would look like without these particle effects not acting as light sources. The game wouldn’t look quite as vibrant as it would normally look.

The "Unblockable" attack effect
You can see the background light sources are all muted

 We only have the flames coming from the attack as the main light source

And you can see the particle effects from the attack


Ezio Auditore from Assasin's Creed II, making a guest appearance

So, with great use of bump mapping and lighting to make those textures really pop and show, Soul Calibur 5 has made itself into a brilliant looking game while still running at 60 frames per second. I know that we were told that 30 frames per second is the target most games can go for, but if you can achieve 60 frames per second, it not only looks much more fluid, it also provides tighter control for in game actions. Some people might not notice it, but I know there are a lot of people that really care about 60 frames per second and that feeling of control.

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