4 Hugues Ross - Blog: Capstone Update 12: Lighting Up
Hugues Ross

2/5/16

Capstone Update 12: Lighting Up

This week, I made the first pass of a very important feature in The Last Light: Light Detection.

One of the central themes in The Last Light is the fear of darkness. Darkness is not only supposed to be scary, but dangerous as well. In darkness, the monster becomes more aggressive and staying outside of the light for long enough will result in an immediate game over.

Of course, to make all of this happen we need to know if the player is standing in darkness or not, and that's where light detection comes into play. Last semester, the team faked this by surrounding segments of the game world with giant "light volumes" that could be turned on and off. While this does solve the problem, it's a pain for the designers. Not only do they need to put these things in place, they then need to hook them all up to the power system along with the lights in each room. They also add more cruft to sift through when searching a level for a particular asset or area. For this reason, I was tasked with finding a solution that relied on the actual lights in the scene.

Ultimately, I came across a solution in the UE4 forums. (Here, for the interested) I'm still not sure about it, but it seems to work well. The general method is this:
  1. Iterate every light in the scene
    1. If a light is off, it doesn't affect the player, or there's no "line of sight" to the player, ignore it.
    2. Otherwise, determine how strongly it's lighting the player up and add the result to a counter
  2. If the counter is above a certain threshold, the player is safe. Otherwise, the player is considered to be "in darkness".
My main worry about this method is about performance. Every tick, I need to check every light that's loaded in the level. No matter how fast this is, this still comes with overhead. Furthermore, the shadow monsters will also need to know their light level. It's entirely possible that these checks will negatively affect performance in a big way once multiple actors are involved.

My current hope is that this won't be an issue. If it does, then I'll probably see if I can either cache some information or cheat on distant AIs. For the moment, however, I have a more pressing issue to resolve with this system. When I first made the implementation last week, I was mostly aiming to create a quick proof of concept. As a result, detection is currently very glitchy.

This mostly comes down to the way I'm determining light levels. For the sake of getting the feature to a kind-of working state, I simply divided the brightness of affecting lights by the distance. This doesn't really reflect the way that unreal's lights actually fall off, and as a result you can survive in some very dark areas while sometimes dying well within a light. Clearly, I need a new algorithm for properly determining falloff. Fixing this is going to be my first goal for the weekend, and my first guess for this fix is getting the light's radius value involved. I don't know for sure that this will be enough, but if it's not I can take a look at the UE4 code to see how they determine light falloff.

After that, I'll hopefully start tackling the shadow monsters! Yes, that's right. I'm back for another round of AI programming. Stay tuned.
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