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It’s simple to knock out a press release telling the world what you’re planning to do. Doing the actual work takes a lot longer. It’s particularly the case with technology, where there’s a definite flow between the relatively easy bits such as press releases and business loose ends, and the harder aspects of the process, such hacking through alpha and beta versions to early adopter testing, before ending up with the shiny final product.
Still, at least you get to send out another press release when the process is complete, which is exactly what UK lighting specialist Geomerics has done now that the integration of its Enlighten technology within Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 IPP.
The end results are certainly worth talking about. As a standalone solution, Enlighten is a real-time radiosity lighting engine that enables you to quickly iterate and experiment with in-game lighting, as opposed to dealing with the current time-consuming baking processes that only create static lightmaps.
Significantly, though, one of the obstacles to Enlighten’s wider adoption is that it has to be integrated within the game engine. In this way, the time spent getting it working in Unreal Engine 3 and the Unreal Editor Environment has been multiplied across the large number of studios who are using Unreal. They now gain access to Enlighten for free; at least in terms of integration time, if not financially. Indeed, toggling one flag will turn all your Unreal Engine 3 lights into Enlighten lights.
Geomeric’s CTO Julian Davies reckons the technology will provide plenty of upside. “We have people falling over themselves to use Enlighten to create static lightmaps,” he says. “Up to this point, in Unreal the standard way of creating in-game radiosity is to add a large number of backlights, which is a time-consuming process in terms of placement. Then, when it’s done, you have to bake them into the lightmap so you hit ‘bake’ and go away, make a cup of tea. With Enlighten, we provide people with the ability to edit their lighting in real-time and then bake it out in a short period of time.”
And it’s this interactivity that should be the main selling point, as the lightmaps are immediately updated as you change your lights’ positions or the surface properties of the environment.
More subtly, using Enlighten should also boost the consistency and quality of in-game lighting. Spherical harmonics obtained directly from the radiosity are used to improve character and prop lighting, better parameterisation removes distortion, while geometry that isn’t visible is removed from the lightmap to further increase performance. Geomerics also claims using it will enable a threefold increase in detail for the same memory footprint. In terms of platform usage, Enlighten runs on one of the PlayStation 3’s SPUs and on the second core of the Xbox 360.
However, as with the technology development process itself, making the most of these new capabilities is another issue that can take longer to accomplish than expected. Gaining the ability to light a game in a similar way to how a cinematographer deals with a film set isn’t a skill that comes out of a box, and it’s this which remains the long term potential of Enlighten.