Shadows and what I hope to see in the future

sickboysickboy Members, Constellation Join Date: 2003-09-13 Member: 20804Posts: 231 Advanced user
I really like the visuals of Subnautica so far, but as I've mentioned elsewhere the shadows are really killing the feel (for me at least) and in a game where cave diving and the unknown has potential to be one of the greatest aspects, there's potential to be mind-blowing. I realize that Unity 4.x is pretty limited with lighting, but my brother teaches at IU with a focus on his students using Unity and when I mentioned the shadow issue (and the light from waves on the backs of larger creatures, though that's unrelated to this post) he seemed to think there were some pretty simple fixes already available from his own experiences (I can get the details is you want... he's the youngest after all, so... yeah.. he's my brainy little slave :D... don't tell him he's smarter than me though, that's our secret).

The shadow issue I'm speaking of is primarily in caves. Not those that are deep down (though those are impacted as well at times), but the overhangs and near-surface holes scattered through the ocean floor.

I made a super quick example of the current system (on the left) and what I hope to see it as roughly (on the right):


Yes, that photoshopping is awful and in certain examples doesn't properly make my point, but hopefully the idea makes sense.

The main issues are:

- Shadows aren't even close to as dark as they should be when it comes to caves, holes, or close-to-the-ground overhangs. The larger 'bridges' of rock are fine currently, as the shadow would indeed be diluted to a certain extent. They wouldn't suffer from darker shadows either, but that's more of a nitpicky thing.

- When an overhang is close to the ground or a tunnel near the surface is deep or goes around a corner, darkness should be pretty much absolute aside from bio-luminescence and a minimal amount of light reflection from sand. Absolute darkness is, for whatever reason, something game devs constantly avoid even if it would ultimately sell the universe they've created.

- Games that have flashlights but the scenery is still visible even in the darkest areas make the flashlight a pointless accessory. Yes, one could argue that the player needs to see where they are going and it's frustrating to be in total darkness if you didn't bring proper supplies, but isn't that the point of light-emitting tools and limited battery life? Plenty of games that mess up the absoluteness of darkness can be played just fine (albeit slightly inconveniently) without a torch of any kind, completely defeating the purpose and ruining the immersion, experience, and challenge. Consider this: if Amnesia (and the phenomenal Penumbra series that was a precursor) didn't have proper darkness, then who would be scared or bother caring about matches, torches, and lamp oil levels? Granted I know Subnautica isn't a horror game (and Amnesia 'solved' that problem with a sanity meter to force lighting even if the player could technically see), but atmosphere and immersion even in a peaceful fantasy world is immensely important these days, especially with a game like this that has so much potential. This isn't the Atari or fog/crappylighting/etc.-limited N64/PS1 generation, after all.

- The trigger-based system of darkening a cave is very immersion breaking, as it's one extreme to another with one step in either direction. It also darkens areas that *shouldn't* be dark (like the outside of a cave, where light is abundant and should be seen from inside).

- Nighttime (not in my crappy photoshopped example) should be pretty much pitch-black. Anyone that's been to the beach at night knows it looks like a gigantic sea of black ink, and being under the water is an exercise in controlling panic attacks. While the moonlight can indeed light up far more than we think, night should be very difficult to see in.

@reh had a great example of current caves that nail the feel here:

I just think that level of darkness should really be in any cave that isn't just a 2 foot hole in the ground. Shadows get dark real quick... playing with various sized cardboard boxes positioned at different angles will show you that in a heartbeat.

I hope my reasoning and examples make my idea clear. If not, let me know and I'll try to reword it. I just feel like this is an incredibly important aspect of the game, and while graphics certainly aren't *the* most important part of a game, one like Subnautica improves exponentially with all the eye-candy it can get. You guys have nailed really amazing creatures, fauna, and a wonderful ocean environment... shadows are really the only major issue preventing it from going one major step forward, in my opinion at least (a distant second being the lighting on larger creatures' backs... just sayin! :P)

By the way, the lighting in NS2 and Spark engine are easily *the* sexiest lighting I have ever seen. I realize that doesn't apply to Subnautica at all, but the atmosphere and darkness in areas of NS2 maps are absolutely sublime and something I hope will reiterate what I mean by the whole "darkness = awesome" jibberjab I have going.

I just want Subnautica to be the best thing ever. I'm not writing this to be an entitled douche with "OMG maek this gaem teh bestzorz for me and me alone" in mind (I've already paid for it as-is, with no expectations of what it will become)... rather, it's from someone that really wants UWE to succeed, and Subnautica to blow the tits off of anyone experiencing it. You all clearly have the skills to pay the bills, I just want to be that annoying little demigod on your shoulder saying "pssst... *while chomping on an annoyingly vocal cricket in a tophat* what's my *munch munch* job again *belch*? I mean wait! Let's do XYZ and really show these folks our chops!".
Post edited by sickboy on


  • Squeal_Like_A_PigSqueal_Like_A_Pig Janitor Members, Super Administrators, NS1 Playtester, NS2 Developer, Reinforced - Supporter, WC 2013 - Silver, Subnautica Developer Join Date: 2002-01-25 Member: 66Posts: 2,816 admin
    Yup, we are very much aware about the lack of darkness in caves. We have some ideas for how we would like to address it in the future, but it will take a good chunk of programming time, and at the moment we don't have much of that to spare. So, in the meantime we will be using an approach which uses atmospheric volumes placed by the level designers which allows them to darken an area, such as a cave. While there are some downsides to this approach, it still gets us most of the way there, and we can have the majority of our caves at the level of darkness in the cave you referenced or darker.

    This method does require a good chunk of time for the level designers to go in and darken all of the caves that are currently in the game, but that is their current highest priority task , and is in the progress of being worked on. So, expect to see a lot more darkness in caves (as well as some other new and dangerous things that you'll need to watch out for) in the next few weeks. The lighting at night is also something which the the LDs will be working on, as well.

    Your other concern, about the lack of lighting on the backs of creatures (caustics) is currently being looked into. There are actually some caustic FX on creatures, but at the moment it is way too subtle, so it is not really noticeable. We started looking into that earlier this week, and hopefully will be able to improve that effect on both creatures and the player view model, soon.
  • sickboysickboy Members, Constellation Join Date: 2003-09-13 Member: 20804Posts: 231 Advanced user
    edited November 2014
    Very glad to hear Shadow Issue 2000: The Shadow-ening is on your radar. My brother had mentioned weird ways to work with ambient occlusion to achieve the desired shadowing effects in caves since Unity 4.x is a pain in the butt lighting-wise, though my experience with AO is more individual model related so I was pretty baffled. I meant to ask him what magic he speaks of that could make AO something more world-impacting, buuut he had to take off for a custom Battlestar Galactica PNP RPG (and who can blame him?!) during his visit for the holidays. If that tickles your fancy (AO, not BG :P) as a way to address the Unity 4.x limitations, let me know and I'll get a more detailed explanation of his witchery.

    And caustics! THAT was the term he used that I totally flubbed because I have the memory of a goldfish and education of a drop-out hamster these days. He had a student that maximized the effect via faking it with rotating textures based on depth of creatures in their ocean, but I always figured there was some kind of way to fake dynamic lighting that was resource and calculation-friendly. Like I mentioned in my other thread(s), the lighting of that kind of thing is absolutely mind-boggling and can sell the realism even if nothing else is around (the Denver Natural History Museum, and in particular the manatee display... seriously, NO SERIOUSLY.. check it out). Once used, the larger creatures will be so much more 'real' that you may end up in a fit of existential crisis... a terrifying yet glorious place to be when gasopods fart cloud you out of existence....... assuming your mind doesn't just melt. In emergency, break out the vodka. All hail forgetting whatever it was we were supposed to forget. Sandwiches? Sandwiches.

    Overall, very happy to know this is all on the docket. Wasn't sure it was, even with my addiction to the SN Trello, but wanted to make sure it was a vocalized desire at least. Far too often these kinds of issues fall through the cracks because those of us silent are, well, silent. Back to my hole! <3 UWE
  • SteveRockSteveRock Members, NS2 Developer, Subnautica Developer Join Date: 2012-10-01 Member: 161215Posts: 486 Advanced user
    there is some art tweaking needed to get caustics showing up better. that is technically working.

    If your brother knows of a simple way to deal with cave lighting, unity or otherwise, he can have my job :) long term we want to move towards the minecraft method, but it's lower priority right now.
  • rehreh Members Join Date: 2011-12-11 Member: 137450Posts: 84
    Regarding the light entering caves. I took two screenshots of a cave entrance from inside, when the lights dimmed down. One with seamoth parked just outside and pointing its lights into the cave, and one without. It bears some similarity to your second mockup, of course the floodlights on seamoth are strong and harsh compared to what it would look like with natural light. The opening of the entrance is still dark, but I've noticed there are a few objects in the game that don't obey the fog setting, like gasopods or the fluffy part on kelps, fog doesn't seem to obscure them to the same extent as other things. Wouldn't it be possible to somehow employ this feature/bug?

    normal view from inside of the cave

    view with seamoth just outside
  • Squeal_Like_A_PigSqueal_Like_A_Pig Janitor Members, Super Administrators, NS1 Playtester, NS2 Developer, Reinforced - Supporter, WC 2013 - Silver, Subnautica Developer Join Date: 2002-01-25 Member: 66Posts: 2,816 admin
    Yup, that is a known issue. Basically, the marmoset shader we are using on creatures allows you to specify a skybox, which gives them a much nicer look, picking up some of the colors and lighting from it. The problem is, we are using a daytime skybox, and at night or in dark areas that clearly becomes an issue., with creatures and plants that are using it looking overly bright. We are currently working on the ability to swap out the daytime skybox in the shaders for a night time version, and that would happen both in caves and at night.
  • rehreh Members Join Date: 2011-12-11 Member: 137450Posts: 84
    I've tried again to recreate sickboy's mockups in the game and this is what I came up with.

    normal screenshot from inside a cave looking at the entrance

    the same position but with seamoth parked outside and fog start setting at 130

    It's quite possible that I'm being dumb and missing a point, but doesn't it mean that it's perfectly possible to do what sickboy suggests about darkness in caves, and without a copious amounts of coding?
  • SteveRockSteveRock Members, NS2 Developer, Subnautica Developer Join Date: 2012-10-01 Member: 161215Posts: 486 Advanced user
    So you're suggesting the artists place a light at every cave entrance that only turns on when everything darkens? That could be a neat look, but it'd only light the immediate entrance (so looking out of the cave, off into the distance, would still be dark), and it is more manual work. But hey, if the artists wanna do it, I'm all for it!
  • rehreh Members Join Date: 2011-12-11 Member: 137450Posts: 84
  • dottedfishdottedfish GermanyMembers Join Date: 2014-11-22 Member: 199755Posts: 92 Advanced user
    It's a neat idea! And it would affect the experience a lot. If it's not too much work I'd definately say please do try it.

    One remark though: it'd have to "sync" with daytime / weather / depth. Otherwise it'd be odd to swim out of a cave with a lit entrance, noticing it's night.
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