The one thing that made me excited about Aliens: Colonial Marines was its supposed lighting tech. People seem to have completely forgotten about it and either don't realize what's missing in the final game compared to the demo videos or aren't as (negatively) surprised as I am that the game's visuals ended up being so bland.
Just a look at this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lGXD...wa5BAg&index=8
So let's remember what Pitchford said and showed, shall we?
The renderer even has a name: http://www.gamespot.com/aliens-colon...eview-6318046/
The game's still powered by Unreal, but its rendering engine is a brand-new renderer that Gearbox has created. "It's exclusive to Marines," continues Pitchford. "It's a real-time dynamic lighting, dynamic shadow system. When you see the images in this game you're going to realize how alive everything is. The way the lights move in the environment -- it affects everything in real-time. Nothing is baked in."
The lighting and shadow shadow system is impressive and has to be a necessary component for the game to capture the feeling from the films. The renderer was on full-power towards the end of the demo when the marines were forced into a last stand situation. The power gets cut off, the Aliens invade, red emergency lights flicker to life, and pulse rifles start firing away at the moving shadows. It really captures the feeling of a film that has inspired other game developers for years.
And we even know who built it: http://www.destructoid.com/aliens-co...g-225194.phtml
The sundered colony made full use of the game's Red Ring engine, easily rendering creepy lighting and shadows touted as influenced by Dead Space.
When presenting Aliens: Colonial Marines to a room full of writers, one thing Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford wanted to boast about was a technique he called "deferred rendering." According to Gearbox's most charming mouth, this is the "next generation" of lighting that developers will be bigging up in the next few years.
"We have this guy, we call him The Zoner, Sean Cavanagh," Pitchford told me in a following interview. "He said, 'Dude, because of the nature of this franchise, I can rationalize the effort, time, money, and some pretty fucking hardcore brains, to build this engine now. He's never been wrong. He built the original tools for Half-Life that did all the baked-in lighting. That was all compiled with Zoner's tools. Everyone's going to do [this lighting], he wanted to do it now, and see if he could do it on these existing platforms.
"It's pretty cool. You want the most realistic lighting possible, but machines are slow and only have so much computational power, so what you do is you bake the lighting in advance. The way Gears of War looks so amazing is that most of the lighting is rendered ahead of time. It's baked onto the surfaces, which is awesome if the lighting stays in the same places and nothing moves, but when the light or something in the environment changes, it breaks it."
According to Pitchford, deferred rendering makes lighting more flexible, delivering the same kind of atmosphere as Gears of War in a way that isn't pre-packaged.
"The next generation wants to get over that trade-off by doing the lighting simulation last after all the physical objects are in place. Not only do you need to add the lighting last, it needs to be a better lighting than it was when we pre-baked it. Zoner found a way of doing it. On Xbox 360 and PS3, we get about 90% of the way there. It obviously looks a lot better when you're playing it on PC, but it turns out the consoles are powerful enough, and all the software's optimal enough because we're so late in the life cycle, to where he found a way and we're fucking doing it.
"It's pretty exciting for us. When you hear some of the big guys talk about their next generation lighting, you're going to hear about deferred rendering a lot. It's very possible that Aliens: Colonial Marines is the first commercial product to ship with deferred lighting."
I can't say I know much about the technical side of things. I know real-time lighting itself is nothing new, but I do know that, regardless of how "next-gen" the tech actually is, the lighting in Colonial Marines does look bloody fantastic. I'd say that's a score for this deferred rendering malarky, be it a marketing term or not.
Gotta love the lighting. It doesn't look like Unreal. It indeed looks like dynamic, lighting. Of course the screenshots might be downsampled from very high resolutions, and post-processed with photoshop to improve them, but overall they look nothing like the final game.
So what happened? I have some theories:
1) Console builds were lagging behind / they might have overestimated the "90% of the PC quality" lighting of the console builds.
But are they?
"Everyone's going to do [this lighting], he wanted to do it now, and see if he could do it on these existing platforms." "On Xbox 360 and PS3, we get about 90% of the way there. It obviously looks a lot better when you're playing it on PC, but it turns out the consoles are powerful enough"
This wouldn't be the first time we've heard of a similar story. For example Crytek had to eventually remove GI from the console builds of Crysis 2, when they found out "it still had visible issues/artefacts which we ran out of time to address".
About 5 of those 9 months went to shipping BL2. In that time, TimeGate managed to scrap together 85% of the campaign, but once Borderlands 2 shipped and GBX turned its attention to Pecan, it became pretty apparent that what had been made was in a pretty horrid state. Campaign didn't make much sense, the boss fights weren't implemented, PS3 was way over memory, etcetcetc.
2) As of April 2012 the lighting engine was only 45% completed
TimeGate Studios (June 2011 - April 2012)
Title: Aliens Colonial Marines (Xbox360/PS3/PC)
3) After Borderlands 2 shipped in September 2012, Gearbox went into "panic mode/scrap everything we don't have time to properly make"
Not the greatest screenshots in the world but its what I could get at the time when I left the project. The lighting engine was only 45% done for the project and it really made it hard to get good cubemaps and gi on the environments. Hopefully I can get my hands on the game soon and get better screens. For now this is all I have also on ACM a lot of the game art asset wise was outsourced to Shanghai so nothing you can do to really point fingers. Also keep in mind the game was in development for 6 years so when a lot of us polycounters joined the project the game was still filled with 6 year old assets that we had no time to fix or replace.
GBX was pretty unhappy with TG's work, and some of Campaign maps were just completely redesigned from scratch. There were some last minute feature requests, most notably female marines, and the general consensus among GBX devs was that there was no way this game was going to be good by ship. There just wasn't enough time.
Considering that SEGA was pretty close to taking legal action against GBX, asking for an extension wasn't an option, and so Pecan crash-landed through certification and shipping. Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems. This isn't because GBX didn't care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn't risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get.