Dynamic lighting games

Written by kevin walker
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Dynamic lighting games
Bioshock used dynamic lighting to help create its eerie visual style. (Getty Images)

Dynamic lighting is a technique that simulates realistic lighting in a game world in real time, rather than depending on an artist to draw lighting effects into the game world at design time. This allows the lighting of the game world to respond to real changes in environment, such as allowing creatures and objects to cast shadows. It can be used, like lighting in a movie, to set the atmosphere of a game environment. Many games make use of dynamic lighting techniques. Be warned, however: dynamic lightning is computationally expensive, and many such games require a powerful computer to see all it has to offer.

Doom 3

Doom 3 was released by id Software in 2004, but it's use of dynamic lighting is still one of the most impressive so far in delivering a powerful and spooky atmosphere. The game stars a marine who is on a Mars space station when a scientific experiment goes wrong and opens up a portal to Hell. Monsters large and small come streaming through, and the player must fight them off and send them back where they came from.


Far more recent than Doom 3 is Bioshock, released in 2007. The player's aircraft crash lands in the ocean and he descends into a secret underwater society. The society was designed by an eccentric billionaire to be an individualist and capitalist paradise similar to the one described in the novel Atlas Shrugged. However, unscrupulous scientific research has turned the society into a violent and collapsing wasteland filled with lunatics who have been destroyed by their addiction to a powerful drug that grants them super powers, but destroys their minds. To survive, the player has little choice but to take the drug, too much of which will destroy him as well. The game uses dynamic lighting to add atmosphere to the often frightening world, as many parts of the game are dramatically lit to cast forbidding shadows of what is to come around the next corner.


In Crysis, another game released in 2007, you play an American commando wearing a nanotech super suit who has been airdropped to investigate strange events in North Korea. Your suit allows you to turn invisible, gain super strength, and even protects you from enemy bullets. As you explore the game world, you discover that there are far worse things than North Korean soldiers lurking about. Aliens have come to Earth, and you'll need all the guns you can lay your hands on to fend them off. You will also need a very powerful computer to enjoy the game's full potential. With all settings at their maximum, Crysis recreates the mountainous and heavily forested terrain of North Korea. Rays of sunlight will poke through the tree tops and illuminate morning mists and fogs in environments that look like they could have come from a 3D Pixar movie.

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