Light is a path
Often the primary route through a map is highlighted with arrow signs, architectural shapes and item/encounter placement. Another possible type of pathing is the placement of lights, because most players will automatically be drawn to light and avoid darkness.
To create a path of light place strong light source next to all architectural exits, highlight the most obvious route through an area and try using light styles (flashing or blinking) to focus the player's attention. The lit path does not need to be the most direct route, much like road signs in cities are not always the fastest route the same can be said for paths of light!
Keep creating contrast
A map with uniform light levels is a badly lit map! Just like architectural details create better location visuals, the same can be said for contrasting light. The intensity of light is a way of drawing attention, moving the player towards a point of interest. A map full of flat uniform lighting has no sense of direction; it might as well be a maze!
To create contrasting lights start with darkness and gradually add light sources with a high intensity value and a long attenuation to reduce the harsh light boundaries. Once the light sources have been setup then add ambient fill lights either to smooth the shadow gradients or if darkness is a prominent game mechanic keep the ambient fill lights near the light sources instead.
Shadows are dramatic
When films were black and white cinematographer understood the value of shadows and realized that architecture was a canvas, a surface to splash silhouettes upon to suit the mood of the film. Shadows are more than just blobs of grey thrown in the corners. Shadows can accent architecture, create tension and enhance the atmosphere.
When placing light sources always consider nearby architecture and look for the possibility of a dramatic shadow. A way to distort a row of bars across a wall, project a silhouette of a cage upon a ceiling or frame the outline of building across the sky. Dramatic shadows are impressive, memorable and bring an ordinary flat surface to life.
Colour is emotional
The colours we see around us in nature often invoke emotional responses and coloured light is no different. From a blue cloudless (cold) night sky to a yellow bright (hot) midday sun, the colour of a scene can help to build an emotional narrative.
Coloured lighting come with player preconceptions and strong reactions to certain colours that often create an emotional response like blue/grey for coldness and yellow/red for warmth. For example a giant two storey wood/stone banquet hall could have warm fires (yellow) at ground level and be cold (blue) lights close to the ceilings and around the first floor balconies.
Always break symmetry
Lights are probably the worst offenders for symmetrical placement because the lighting is often the final phase to the level design process. Easily copied and pasted around, many designers will ignore what should be highlighted and simply duplicate the lights around and sometimes even match symmetrical architecture at the same time.
The problem with symmetrical light placement is it creates a uniform light level which is visually dull and to make matters worse the layout of the shadows are mirrored as well! A quick and easy solution to this problem is to switch off some of the light sources and vary some of the light intensities. This will break the uniformity of light/shadow and create the illusion of a location which has aged over time because of missing light sources.
*Note: This article is published in accordance with Creative Commons Guidelines
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