Lion­head is ev­i­dently proud of its be­spoke global il­lu­mi­na­tion sys­tem, which it de­vel­oped in­ter­nally once it be­came clear that Un­real En­gine 4’s orig­i­nal setup wasn’t quite good enough for the needs of the stu­dio’s artists. “Un­real 4 has been re­ally good in terms of qual­ity and ef­fi­ciency and ma­te­rial work,” lead en­gine pro­gram­mer Ben Wood­house tells us. ”But we wanted all the light­ing in

Leg­ends to be dy­namic to give us a lot of vari­a­tion, so that we could change the time of day, and have shots with lots of lights in. So we wrote a sys­tem based on our LPV [light prop­a­ga­tion val­ues] and we’re us­ing that now. Even the bounce light­ing that comes off ob­jects is dy­namic as well.”

“It also makes it eas­ier for us to make the char­ac­ters and the world sit to­gether eas­ily,” ex­plains art direc­tor Kelvin Tuite. “So we don’t get that thing where it feels like the char­ac­ters are cut out from the world be­cause they’re us­ing a dif­fer­ent light­ing model.” The other ben­e­fit is in­creased flex­i­bil­ity: artists can sim­ply take a level and move the po­si­tion of the sun and ad­just the time of day to quickly change its look and feel, with the re­sults dis­played in real time.

It means some of the usual ten­sion be­tween tech­ni­cians and game artists is re­solved, par­tic­u­larly with Mi­crosoft hav­ing opened up to Xbox One de­vel­op­ers the GPU power for­merly re­served for Kinect and apps. “Any­thing freed up is some­thing that we’ll gob­ble up in some way or an­other!” Tuite laughs. “Ev­ery­thing an artist does chal­lenges per­for­mance. But, yeah, it’s ab­so­lutely helped.”

“There’s a lot more we can do with the Xbox GPU with physics sim­u­la­tions and that kind of thing,” Wood­house says, “so we re­ally want to push some of that.”

While other de­vel­op­ers might use the tech to pro­duce an ul­tra-de­tailed look, Tuite re­gards the phys­i­cally based ma­te­ri­als and the new global il­lu­mi­na­tion – since in­te­grated into Un­real En­gine 4 it­self – sim­ply as tools to help aug­ment the game’s il­lus­tra­tive style. “We’re not try­ing to [ren­der] ev­ery pore on ev­ery­one’s skin; that’s not what we’re go­ing for. Those fronds of grass will look like they’ve been painted down with a brush, not like they’ve been grown from frac­tals.”

And then comes the sprin­kling of magic. Light sources aren’t just re­stricted to the sun, but will also pop into and out of ex­is­tence along with the spells cast by var­i­ous he­roes. Such pow­ers of­ten have dra­matic ef­fects, but Tuite is aware that spec­ta­cle shouldn’t im­pact read­abil­ity. “We still have that chal­lenge ahead of us. Some char­ac­ters have got huge vis­ual ef­fects [at the mo­ment], which are not nec­es­sar­ily ben­e­fi­cial to the other char­ac­ters while they’re play­ing. We want the magic to feel re­ally pow­er­ful and cool but not to the ex­tent that it’s hin­der­ing you or other play­ers. Game­play is king – if any­thing is ob­scured in some way, we’ll dial it back. It’s got to look nice! But playa­bil­ity is the key.”

TOP Fa­ble Leg­ends’ lead en­gine pro­gram­mer, Ben Wood­house. ABOVE Art direc­tor Kelvin Tuite.

BE­LOW Glory is a gre­nadier of sorts, deal­ing short-tomedium range AOE dam­age by throw­ing magic ap­ples

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