Saturday, March 6, 2010

From dusk till dawn

Everyone has his memories. Christmas, first girlfriend, being drunk and puking pizza's over a car for the first time. Happy joy joy. As for game memoires, Zelda: Occarina of Time (N64) was one of those milestones. It's not my favourite of all Zelda's, but it sure brought loads of beautiness at that time. Asides from the usual Zelda magic and the fact it was the first 3D release, being able to walk free in a "big" open world was epic. This is what 3D was supposed to be. Not only freedom on the XYZ axis, but also freedom in the things you do. This was one of the first games that didn't push you through. You could take a break and enjoy the sight at the Lon Lon Farm with a bottle of milk.

One of the effects that made my mouth fall open was the day / night cycle. Those days I didn't had internet articles spoiling all game details before even buying it, so it was a big surprise when the sun suddenly arised after my first night stroll on the Hyrule fields. I didn't believe my eyes... Did this game had a realtime clock? Yes, and not only that, the environment was dynamic. It could also start raining or thunderstorming at a random moment. People would go in and lights inside houses went on at night. I spent lots of time just visiting the villages at different settings to check how it would look and feel.

Damn, I really whish I could experience such a "Wow!" feeling again. These days games do not really surprise anymore. Not even the almost photorealistic sunrises at the beach in Crysis. Been there, done that. I'd like to see it again in Virtual Reality maybe, but I guess that still takes a while.

Yet, day/night cycles or dynamic weather aren't used that much. Of course, GTA and Zelda have them. The Sims a little bit, although somewhat poorly done (buy expansion pack #1234). Crysis can do it, but does not have the clock running by default. There are two reasons I can think of why not doing it. A:) Not needed / desired. If you want a night mission, it shouldn't go daytime after 5 minutes. B:) Technically not possible... due static ambient lighting / lightMaps. Graphics fine-tuned on a single setting.

Like discussed in an earlier post, having dynamic light is not so easy. Outdoor area's such as the Crysis jungles or GTA cities have somewhat predictable lighting(sun, duh). Indoor scenes on the other hand often have a more complex setting that is difficult to compute. Rendering the sky and clouds is difficult enough already, but doing the lighting properly might be even more of a challenge. Still, I think a day / night cycle can add value in my game. In fact, you're looking at it on these shots. There are no clouds yet, but the sky changes, stars fade in, overall contrast/brightness is adjusted, fog changes and a light-scatter effect is applied on the sun. Too bad the view outside is dull with those 2 ugly buildings. But imagine what you can do with forests or a city skyline...

It's not only about the visuals though. Watching the clock will be an important aspect in this game... And since 90% of the horror games/movies are always at night, this might give some variation. One of the reasons that makes me curious about Alan Wake. And the only somewhat scary scenes of Resident Evil 4 were at daytime, just because it gave an eerie surrueal feeling. In other words, this game won't be dark with thunders on the background all the time.

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