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Retained Mode: Lighting
By: Jack Hoxley
Written: May 2000

Download: Rm
_lights.Zip (229kb)

Lighting is one of the most crucial parts of a 3D scene; and if used effectively can result in incredibly real or incredibly dramatic looking scenes. Although you've already come across lighting (If you're following the tutorials in order), this feature will explain in depth what lighting is available and how to use it.

First off, read through these descriptions of the lighting types available. You'll need to have a reasonable idea of what these are when it comes to choosing what sort of lighting you want to use.

Ambient lighting affects every part of the scene and doesn't cast shadows. It gives the overall scene a colour or brightness. If you had a light-red ambient light in your scene everything would appear a slight tint of red. Ambient lights don't have positions, or orientations as they would have no effect. Multiple ambient lights will combine their colours; ie, if you had a light red and a mid blue ambient light the overall colour would be a magenta-purple.

A spotlight emits a cone of light that is more intense in the middle (the Umbra) and less intense on the outside (the Penumbra). These lights will cast shadows and their positions and orientations are important.

A point light is more processor hungry and therefore should only be used when necessary. A point light emits light equally in every direction from it's position; because of this it results in a much better quality image.

A directional light source is often used to simulate lights that are a very long way away from the scene; such as the sun or stars. A directional lightsource, like an ambient one, illuminates all objects with an equal intensity.

A parallel point light isn't as processor hungry as the normal point light, instead is about as processor hungry as a directional light source. A parallel light illuminates all faces of visual objects that are parallel to itself.

Now you know roughly what each light source is and what it does you can move onto the next step. This is another list of things that you need to bare in mind when using lighting:

Lighting changes textures; this should be fairly obvious though. If you're using textures and/or materials you should bare in mind that the lights will change the colour; especially bare this in mind when things dont appear quite as they should - too dark, wrong colour etc...

Lighting requires thought. Using few effectively is much better than using lots ineffectively. If you are making a game lighting can make or break your level design. Before coding the lights into your program decide what you want it to look like - a bright summers day? or a dark gloomy urban alleyway? For the scene to be recognisable you will need to get the lighting correct for what the scene represents.

The more polygons in a scene the more detailed the lighting will be. Direct3D lights each polygon individually, so the more of them there are, the more detailed the lighting will be. In the example provided with this tutorial the main box has 100's of polygons in it - this makes for amazing lighting; the original model had 11 and it didn't look half as good - trust me.

It is much easier for you to learn lighting from looking at the code itself; so download the sample program from the top of the page or from the downloads page.

DirectX 4 VB 2000 Jack Hoxley. All rights reserved.
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