Study: Night

Still from "Le voyage dans la Lune", 1902

Still from “Le voyage dans la Lune”, 1902

Night in itself is not the opposite of day. After sunset, places which are familiar for us, seem to be significantly altered, without juicy colors — they look like lifeless areas. Everything there changes into unreal, magic, entirely different world.

Good exaple of solid crafted by light / shadow.

Everyone, who starts learning how to paint and at least — has sufficient knowledge to manage to decide which end of brush is used to be hold and which to paint — focuses on recognising and capturing planes and divisions. Every artist finds floodlit plane of object, then finds another which is in shadow and confronts them. This is the simple way to create impression of solid, how characteristic for time of the day is pretty obvious for us, usual.

Let’s consider exemplary photography and try to analyse it. How we perceive space?
(By using phrase ‘perceive space’ I mean, from which elements scenery is built, when we look at it primitively and sensually.)

Base photo from:

Perception of space — Day
1. Seperation of land and sky by horizon line (When we consider only light reflecting objects, not emitting ones. Sky is always brighter than earth)
2. Shapes are based on light and shadow (chiaroscuro)
3. Details

It’s obvious, very large simplification but it comes from the desire to show problem in clear way.

With projection of day, games don’t have any problem — there is whole bunch of games where day looks like it supposed to. Problem appears when day turns into a night and we lose contact with our main source of light (sun). In this case situation starts to complicate and most of games clearly can’t deal with capturing its atmosphere after sunset.

In many titles the night is based on:

  • decreasing brightness and contrast just to make it dark,
  • Using post-process to make blue tint on everything,
  • Additionally the moon is new sun, which beats the eye with directional light, what is miserable.

It’s weak and amateur approach to the topic. To confirm my thesis – simple experiment with changing night to day in PS.

It’s impossible to obtain same result on base of photography taken during the night!

In my opinion way of building space in night, in video games, should be based on different assumptions. When juxtapose them with assumption of time of the day, it would look like below:

Based of photo from:

Perception of space in games — main assumptions
Day Night
1. Sky / Earth 1. Sky / Earth
2. Light / Shadow – characteristic for day 2. Object / Background – Characteristic for night
3. Details 3. Details

1. Equally important element of building space in the night is relation earth/sky.
Despite fact, that for some of you, it will seem to be not that obvious, during the night as well as during the day — sky is brighter than earth. (When we consider only light reflecting objects, not emitting ones. Sky is always brighter than earth)

2. However relation object / background is main factor what distinguishes night from day. Interpretation of light and shadow during the night — in situation when we don’t have sharp, dominant source of light — is less important. Definitely stronger influence on us has background confrontation with object in front of it, simplifying, silhouette (e.g. tree) on a brighter background (e.g. sky). This simple juxtaposition of two planes let us define clearly and specifically what is the object, without engaging in light / shadow solid or small details.

Look on this great examples!  See the difference between objects (like trees, fence) and misty background:

Everything can be a background: firmly fuzzy lantern lamp, mist, reflector, gradient etc…

It’s about impression of lack of moulding replaced with sharp contrast of dark shapes on brighter, soft background.

3. The last layer that matters for building proper impression is area, which we see during the night in radius of 2-4 meters around us. This area consists of more details, but isn’t that sharp and specific like in daylight. Visible are rather outlines, fragments and little clearances than details and textures.

What are additional benefits coming out from these assumptions?

One of them is possibility of larger correction using curves, white balance and gamma etc…
Depending of willing, we can brighten or darken frame, without distortion of impression that there is night.

Another benefit is allowing to use greater colour palette different than… Navy (blue).
It’s breaking away from the well-known schema and stereotypical way of thinking.
“Hey Bob, I want to see this level at night, so you have to increase contrast, decrease brightness. Moreover add some blue tint, but you know at least as much as smurfs have.”

Images from Google image

There is no color limitation for night-time.

Above-mentioned changes in graphic night representation force different approach to issues of level and gameplay designing. Other way of perceiving would guarantee additional challenge for player in nighttime, what could provide new level of quality. It’s the one of cases, when visual part of game changes gameplay a little bit.

I would love to experience games that provide not only vivid dawns and sunsets or views decorated with sharp afternoon sun. I’d like to see night with its atmosphere, the entire visual effect. I want to feel disturbed and confused in polygonal moonlight

Examples of games with well-designed night:

GTA 5 screenshot

I was delighted when I saw night in this GTA for the first time. Probable there won’t be game for long which can beat Rockstar if we’re talking about atmosphere, weather and day cycle. You don’t need to look at clock in this game, it’s enough to look around and immediately you’re able to recognise the hour just by environment. Also it’s great compromise between impression and gameplay requirements.

Alan Wake

Alan Wake – Despite of strong directional light, whole game keeps desired character.



Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

Limbo – It’s not night, but we can see here great silhouette example

Limbo – It’s not night, but we can see here great silhouette example

Text was created as a result of collecting notes and loose thoughts but my final try aimed at affirmation in my convictions was creating Double cycle since noon