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The Effects and Utilisations of Lighting Techniques in Video Games

Info: 3324 words (13 pages) Example Research Project
Published: 21st Oct 2021

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The aim of this study is to get a deep understanding of the effects a various uses of lighting techniques in games and the problems that come with them.

This study will mainly use qualitative research to gain a better understanding of the topic and quantitative research to back up my points with statistical data. Journals, books and articles will be used for qualitative research.

After researching the topic, it was found that most games use baked lighting to help the performance of their game and use lighting not just as a visual feature by as a gameplay feature to. The main themes were: effects of lighting on games, effects of light on perception and pros and cons of lighting techniques.

Findings show that lighting is used as a gameplay feature and to guide the player as well as a visual feature and static lighting is used a lot more to suppress performance problems.

Research Questions

For this study the following research questions will be answered.

-          Where are the benefits and drawbacks of lighting techniques in games?

-          How does lighting have an influence on gameplay?

-          What lighting techniques are being used in the industry?

-          How does lighting alter perception of a 3D world?

-          How can the intelligent use of lighting techniques effect the players emotional variables?

Background of Research Area

This study aims to investigate the effects of lighting techniques in games design and development to ascertain what their presence brings in a game.

Game designers underestimate the use and effectiveness of lighting in games development as Pluralsight also say “Lighting has the influential role in your world” (Pluralsight, 2014). This research further aims to reveal and provide evidence of how the use of lighting techniques creatively has a significant positive dynamic effect in games, for example, games like left for dead and portal which use lighting to guide the player.

Literature Review

How can the intelligent use of lighting techniques effect the players emotional variables?

Lighting if used intelligently can make the gaming experience much better. For example, Magy Seif El-Nasr et al, states “horror or adventure games; designers of such games often use low-key lighting (very shadowy lighting) to evoke the necessary mood” (El-Nasr, et al., 2014). Horror games is the best example of using lighting to effect players emotions and for example, this use of low-key lighting will add a much higher level of tension. On the other hand, Gornicka in his journal “Lighting at work” stated, “Most of the people gave a high score of reading comfort to WL condition”  (Gornicka, 2008). Therefore, arguing that cool lighting conditions could make the user less feel comfort.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of different lighting techniques?

Baked lighting can be much more efficient to use over real-time in a lot of games. David Larsson states in the source ‘Pre-computing lighting in games’, Why baked lighting? Quality, Performance and Lighting workflow” (Larsson, 2014). However, dynamic lighting is beneficial because it can be used to illuminate moving objects and for in-games events, as Unity technologies in their article titled ‘Choosing a lighting technique’ stated ‘it is useful for illuminating characters or movable geometry’ (Technologies, n.d.), therefore this one of the drawbacks of static lighting, however static lighting produces much more realistic results as detailed in the same article by Unity technologies ‘Choosing a lighting technique’. 

How does lighting alter perception of a 3D world?

Lighting can also affect visual perception in a 3D scene. Eric Bach details in his article titled ‘The language of Light: How Light Alters Perception’ how light position, intensity and colour can alter a person’s perception of a scene. Eric Bach states, “Moving a light source just a few feet in any direction can dramatically alter an image”, stating that just by moving a light can change the way we preserve the scene (Bach, n.d.). However, Hendrik Johannes Nieuwdorp and the other authors of the book titled ‘Ambient Intelligence’ performed a study on a group of participants in which they were asked to describe their perception of the space that they were in. The authors compiled the results into several concepts that the participants preserved during the study. They state the following about visual clarity that users experienced, ‘Are the shapes in the scene easy to identify, or does the observer have to make an effort to do so, if he or she can identify them at all?’ (Ambient Intelligence, Hendrik Johannes Nieuwdorp, 2014). Therefore, the results from this test raises the argument that lighting can also make the player struggle to perceive the scene if done badly, as in the above experiment users experience a lack of clarity.

How does lighting have an influence on gameplay?

Lighting is not just useful for visuals, but it is also used as a gameplay feature, and in the book titled ‘Cinematic game secrets for creative and producers’ Rich Newman stated “For instance in the game Elder Scrolls IV, most locations are far too dark to explore without the use of a light spell or flashlight. In the case of this game, the designers have made the lighting a gameplay element.” (Rich Newman, 2009). So, this portrays that lighting can be useful to help navigate the player and encourage more gameplay mechanics, as stated in the above quote the player had to use the light spell in order to visually see. However, this use of lighting is much heavier on performance as stated by David Larsson in his presentation at Autodesk (David Larsson, 2010).

What lighting techniques are being used in the industry?

Many would say real-time lighting is being used less due to performance. In the journal by Magy Seif El-Nasr and Ian horswill titled ‘Intelligent lighting for game environments’ Magy Seif and Ian horswill talk about the different lighting techniques used within games. An interesting quote that is stated within this journal is,‘Dynamic lighting is still not evident in many games’ (Magy Seif et al, 2005). This quote can be backed up in the presentation by David Larsson at Illumination Lab in which he stated that mirrors edge mainly uses static lighting (The Unique Lighting of Mirrors Edge, David Larsson, 2010). On the other hand, Daniel Potts in the article titled ‘The connection between lighting and fear in horror games’ stated that ‘games such as Slender (Parsec Studios, 2012), Alan Wake (Remedy Entertainers, 2010) and Amnesia (Frictional Games, 2010) which use a very different and effective method of illumination. These games have used light as more of a tool or weapon than just a dynamic lighting system, which enables the player to move through each level revealing the game experiences as they go’ (The connection between lighting and fear in horror games, Daniel Potts, 2013).

Dissertation Structure


Title Page





Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3



Images will be included throughout the dissertation


Dissertation Style and Intended Methods


This study will be using the Phenomelogical paradigm as, points and theories will be developed based on the analysis of secondary data and other gamers experiences and how they perceive the 3D world. Furthermore, the Center for Innovation in research and teaching backs up the use of this paradigm in an article titled ‘Strengths and Limitations of Phenomenology’ and states ‘Seeks to find the universal nature of an experience and can provide a deeper understanding’ (CIRT). However, the Phenomenological paradigm best suits this study as it can provide a deeper understanding as stated by the Center for Innovation in research and teaching which is important for this kind of technical topic that is being studied.


Journals will make up a lot of the research within this study and can be collected from sites such as, google scholar and sherlock. In addition to this, journals are a good source of research as they provide a broad view of the topic and as stated by Solent online learning, “include the latest research” and “Up to date”  (Learning, n.d.). Therefore, journals will be an important data collection method for this study.

Books with information regarding lighting are important for this study as journals do not always contain all the information that the researcher is looking for as stated by Joan Druett on his blog, ‘Most papers are a work in progress and not a complete understanding’ (Joan Druett, 2012), and therefore books are a good source of information and as a user by the name of ‘twood95’ stated ‘There are so many books in the world meaning there is much more information written down then uploaded on the internet’ (Pros and Cons of different research methods, 2012, twood95).

For this study qualitative research is key for analysing and researching journals and books to get an underlying understanding of the area, as ittana states that by using Qualitative research the materials can be evaluated with greater detail (Ittana, n.d.). However, Quantitative research is important in this study for when analysing survey results, comparing statistical results and backing up theories that is made, for example, Saul Mcleod states that Quantitative research can be very useful for backing up already constructed theories with statically information (Saul Mcleod, n.d.).

Timeline & Resource List




The most offensive use of lighting in video games, Ryan Taljonick, 2013


A lot of good examples for bad uses of dynamic and static lighting.

Lighting at work: environmental study of direct effects of lighting level and spectrum on psychophysiological variables, Gornicka, G.B, 2008


Interesting points that relate to the topic and can make for a lot of good arguments. E.g. how lighting effects alertness.

The Effects of Surroundings On Gaming Experience, by A.Imran Nordin, et al.


Would make for some good comparisons between how lighting effects the players real surrounds as well as in-game surrounds.

Colors And Emotions In Video Games, by Evi Joosten, et al.


Related to the topic regarding colour psychology and emotional response.


Video Game Lighting Effects Bring Games To Life, Kevin Ohannessian, 2015

Doesn’t really have many interesting points that is related to lightings effect on the player and the games itself.

Pre-computing Lighting In Games, David Larsson, 2014


A lot of for and against arguments for static and dynamic lighting.


Lighting Effects for Mobile Games, by Jeppe Revall Frisvad, et al.

This journal depicts lighting for mobile games and its mainly how 2D lighting is made and therefore not related to the topic.

Cinematic Game Secrets, by Rich Newman, 2008


Very useful book about lighting as a gameplay element and how lighting is essential to game cinematics.

The Language of Light: How Light Alters Perception, byEric Bach


Very good details about how lighting effects perception

Ambient Intelligence by Hendrik Johannes Nieuwdorp, 2014


Information about lighting techniques in games as well as the use of colour


Color in games: An in-depth look at one of game designs most useful tools, by Herman Tulleken, 2015

Not really related that much to the topic.


Date of completion

Resources Needed

Research study proposal deadline

15th November

-          Word

-          Google

-          Google Scholar

-          Sherlock

Intro and benefits of using dynamic and static lighting in games

28th November

-          Word

-          2 to 3 Journals or books

-          Google Scholar or Sherlock

How does lighting have an influence on gameplay?

10th December

-          3 Journals or books

-          Word

-          Google Scholar or Sherlock

How does lighting alter perception of a 3D world?

23rd December

-          3 to 4 Journals or books


-          Word

-          Online articles


How can the intelligent use of lighting techniques effect the players emotional variables?

5st January

-          Word

-          2 – 3 Journals or books

-          Google Scholar or Sherlock



Key words


Google #1

(“lighting in games”)


Google Scholar #1

(“colour in video games”, “effects of colour”)


Google Scholar #2

(“how lighting effect perception” AND “visual perception in video games”)


Google Scholar #3

(“effects of lighting on performance”)


Google #2

(“effects of lighting in games” AND “colour and light”)


Sherlock #1

(“effects of lighting on player in games” AND “how lighting effects the player”)



  • Simplypsychology.org. (2018). Qualitative vs Quantitative Research | Simply Psychology. [online] Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/qualitative-quantitative.html [Accessed 8 Nov. 2018].
  • Joosten, E., van Lankveld, G. and Spronck, P. (2010). Color And Emotions In Video Games, 1(1), pp.2, 4.
  • Larsson, D. (2014). Pre-computing Lighting in Games.
  • Pluralsight.com. (2018). Light Up Your World: How Lighting Makes All the Difference for Games. [online] Available at: https://www.pluralsight.com/blog/film-games/understanding-the-importance-of-lighting-for-games [Accessed 8 Nov. 2018].
  • Seif El-Nasr, M. (2005). Intelligent Lighting for Game Environments, 1(2), p.20.
  • Ambient Intelligence. (2014). 1st ed. Springer.
  • Anon, (2013). The connection between Lighting and Fear Factor in Horror Games, 1(1).
  • Answers.unity.com. (2013). What is baking lights in Unity3d, and what are the benefits? – Unity Answers. [online] Available at: https://answers.unity.com/questions/402504/what-is-baking-lights-in-unity3d-and-what-are-the.html [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
  • Apiar.org.au. (2018). Top 10 Benefits of Using Academic Journals Online for Scholarly Research | APIAR – Blog. [online] Available at: https://apiar.org.au/blog/top-10-benefits-of-using-academic-journals-online-for-scholarly-research/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
  • Bach, E. (2018). The Language of Light: How Light Alters Perception | A. Bright Idea. [online] A. Bright Idea. Available at: https://www.abrightideaonline.com/buzz/telling-stories-lighting [Accessed 10 Nov. 2018].
  • Bishop Games. (2018). The Importance of Colors in Game Design – Bishop Games. [online] Available at: https://bishopgames.com/importance-colors-game-design/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
  • Cirt.gcu.edu. (2018). Strengths & Limitations of Phenomenology – Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching. [online] Available at: https://cirt.gcu.edu/research/developmentresources/research_ready/phenomenology/strengths_limits [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
  • Doomworld. (2018). What’s the deal with new video games and lack of color?. [online] Available at: https://www.doomworld.com/forum/topic/94819-whats-the-deal-with-new-video-games-and-lack-of-color/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
  • Druett, J. (2018). Pros and cons of academic journals. [online] Joan-druett.blogspot.com. Available at: http://joan-druett.blogspot.com/2012/04/pros-and-cons-of-academic-journals.html [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
  • twood95. (2018). Pros and Cons of different research methods. [online] Available at: https://twood95.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/pros-and-cons-of-different-research-methods/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].

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