Feb 2 2010

I have seen the light


It’s easy while running around doing things inside the game, playing the game, to stop seeing the game. Which is a shame, because the designers have added a great deal of visuals to the game that are just there to look good. The design of a lot of spaces is well thought out, and careful, and I am frequently amazed at how good they make things look while still keeping within the slightly “cartoony” look-and-feel they decided on five years or more ago.

A good example are the lighting effects, particularly outside. It’s a subtle thing, but have you ever noticed that the sun and the moon follow the real-life sun and moon, more or less? This can lead to spectacular sunrises and sunsets, often when you’re not expecting them. Subtle effects arise from the interplay of the color pallete and overall style of each zone.

The grass and trees in Wetlands filter the light, and throw up highlights, while the mists of Auberdine take on a pearly glow under the full moon. The dry dusty air of the Barrens ignites at sunset, while the dawn over Lakeshire is crystal clear.

Of course there may be a reason behind some of this. The zones are large, but if you stop to think about the actual measurements, they are only a few kilometres width and length. So the spacious skies do help to make them seem larger. Or maybe it’s to give you something to look at while you are making those long, long treks on foot in early parts of the game.

There are a few different themes that could be collected, and which I might collect, while travelling about the original “vanilla” content. I’ve taken it upon myself to set Belmann to get the Loremaster achievement, which does mean that I’m going everywhere again, although not all of it was seen on Belmann.

As an example, there’s a real sense in many zones of there having been previous civilisations and societies that have vanished. Quite often those traces are submerged under water or forest, or sunk in the sands. Other zones give a strong sense of pioneering development, a feel that they are wildernesses that are just being opened up for access.

Not all the fantastic lighting comes from the sun and moon. The designers are noticeably keen on candles and lamps, and on great lambent pillars of fire. Again, the treatment of the interior spaces can make for some spectacular visual effects, subtly picked up by the color pallet and thematic texturing. A good example of this is the scene on the left where Belmann has come into the Sunwell. I literally stopped moving and stared in amazement for a moment – the magnitude and scale of the space is startling. And I just realised how often these shots are looking at the back of the character. At least not all of them include the backside of a bear .

This shot of Belmann riding toward the docks at Stormwind nicely shows up how clever the technology of rendering light has become, and how clever the textures in the game are. The cobbles on the street are purely in the texture, and yet the colors and textures chosen really give the illusion of the sunset light picking off highlights – our eye is fooled by the specular glow of the sunset through the archway, and knows to expect the rounded stones to glow ad glint.

The other trick they use, of course, is lens flare. The glare filtered through clouds over Theramore still makes us automatically squint a little, as though against the real sun, and immerses us further. Of course the technology is still faulty – the render engine put some very strange artefacts in the beard and shoulders as it struggled to figure out what should be highlighted and what shouldn’t. But we’ll pretend we did not see that.

On that note, I will sign off with Giladris sitting by the fire under the rising moon, the warm light of the fire throwing up across the character, while the moon picks off the waves behind.