Technology was one of the major focus points of the programming team during the transition from Origins to Dragon Age II. After the art team presented us their vision for a rebooted art style, we spent a lot of time with them identifying the technology improvements that would best bring that art style forward.
In this post we’ll examine some of the base technology improvements to the engine. These improvements will be enjoyed by everyone who plays the game, regardless of whether they choose to play on PC with a DirectX 9 video card, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. On a subsequent post we’ll examine more advanced DirectX 11 technology that will be exclusive to higher end PCs.
Lighting is a crucial element for the visual appearance of any game. Regardless of how detailed and unique the base art is, a poor lighting system that fails to bring out that detail will make the game look worse overall. With this in mind we spent most of our research effort into new lighting techniques and tried to identify the one that best fits the levels we needed to create for Dragon Age II.
The lighting system we ended up with is based on an offline global illumination renderer that creates higher quality lightmaps than before. Global illumination means that light bounces in the scene are considered for the overall lighting. This simulates how lighting works in the real world.
Cave levels are a great fit for our new lighting system. Light beams coming in from cracks in the ceilings scatter light around the level for a more clean and realistic lighting overall, compared to our old lighting engine.
Lighting is also a great tool to convey emotion. From the smoke filled alleys of Lowtown to the highly contrasted lighting in Darktown or the Chantry – whenever I play the game I find myself unconsciously pausing to look around in the level and how lighting interacts with each scene.