How many gamers does it take to change a lightbulb?

My blog’s been light lately, as I’ve been going through one of my phases where I’m not active very much on the Internet, either Mobygames or elsewhere.

Anyway, I’ve been brainwashed lately by a flurry of television ads talking about the virtues of more-efficient light bulbs (and it’s about time too). Seems like every power company wants me to get into the act of using CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) light bulbs to lower my energy usage. Okay, alright… it seems like a worthy cause. So I’ve changed my bulbs and today I’ve been running around my parents’ house changing different bulbs and trying different combinations of wattages to try to measure the lighting effects. My father’s placement of what bulbs he uses when is somewhat haphazard. There will be a 60w in one socket tucked into a corner and a 40w in an area where more light is preferred. What does any of this have to do with videogames? Well… it got me thinking. I probably know more about lighting than my father does? Why? Because I’ve played games…

Everyone knows that in the modern world of whizz-bang 3D eyecandy, a lot of factors go into making the graphics look good. Polygons count and models and texture.. etc. Among these we’ve also seen a lot of new code come into being to handle the proper distribution of light across surfaces, including intensity, coloring and hue. I first played with light back with some early FPS games. Doom and Dark Forces were the first games I remember that tried to represent lighting and shadows in the 3D landscape. Back then lighting was relatively simply, being a set “value” across a series of sells, with the occasional object that was “light” but didn’t actually distribute it across the world. The next big thing I remember personally was Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, as it introduced “colored lighting” (I also had to buy a new video card in order to see it). This probably wasn’t the first application of it in a game, but it was the first experience I had with it… and suddenly all kinds of atmospheres were represented, just by changing the lighting color of the area. With Thief: The Dark Project, it wasn’t about light so much as about shadows, as the player searches out patches of darkness generated by light sources, and quickly gets a basic idea of where to hide… Fast forward a little bit to Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and The Sims. Morrowind is a modder’s wonderful dream (and Oblivion is just as good), as so much of the game can be manipulated. This includes lighting. And I remember being impressed as I was building my character a house (the most common “1st mod” btw) and moved lanterns and torches to change the impact of the lighting in the area… The same thing occurred for the Sims, when light fixtures, basically “a glowing piece of furniture“, provide different levels of light to the nearby areas (and increase the happiness levels of everyone bathed in the light).

So my point is… I didn’t set out to learn about lighting, I certainly don’t find it any more interesting than any other piece of the world, but I can probably know how to make certain sections of my house brighter better than either one of my parents do… because of the application of this in game environments.

Then again, this isn’t exactly rocket science… so maybe this is already second-nature to a lot of people and fairly unimportant. So, while I’m gushing over this accomplishment, the readers of this blog might be laughing at me and wondering when I’m going to be able to master shapes and numbers 🙂 Tomorrow’s topic might be “Everything I learned about gravity, came from Lunar Lander“.

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