At GDC, Geomerics, a company owned by ARM, demonstrated the new Enlighten 3 lighting solution. Enlighten 3 offers a unique method of implementing advanced dynamic lighting inside of digital content, which not only improves the image visually as compared to the older Enlighten technology, but also offers significant performance gains.
"Lighting is the most critical element in producing computer graphics that reflect the realism of the natural world," said Masaki Kawase, lead software engineer, YEBIS, Silicon Studio. "Post processing is an integral part of this. With the inclusion of YEBIS 3 Post Processing Effects Middleware is Forge, artists will more easily be able to realize their creative vision."
By using Enlighten, game developers can create realistic light effects. Although this isn't entirely new, many games today still feature ambient lighting, seemingly coming from no source; or if a source is shown, the light often does not actually emit from it.
This technology gives developers a greater amount of control over the direction, angle, and lighting level as a result. Light can be focused in any given direction, and developers can make very drastic contrasts between light and dark scenes.
In addition to the light emitting from a source, reflections were a heavy focus for Enlighten 3. Light reflects off of objects in a way that looks very realistic. Surfaces that are reflective also change color to look realistic. Note the light coming off of the seats in the picture below. The light is not colored, but it reflects colored light.
Enlighten has also released a program called Forge that is used to simplify implementing these lighting effects into games. Content is created using Unity 5 and then imported into Forge to add advanced features. In addition to the lighting effects that can be customized, a post processing technology called YEBIS 3 is included to improve visual quality.
Forge and Enlighten 3 is fully compatible with Unreal Engine 3 and 4 but has the potential to expand into other platforms later.
Although Enlighten is an ARM company, the technology is not limited to just ARM- and Android-based devices. Forge offers resolution scaling for lighting effects to easily adjust for different platforms. Currently, the technology is for use on Playstation, Xbox, Android and PC environments.
This technology offers greatly improved performance on end devices. Older lighting techniques such as Bloom and HDR have been around for a decade now. Since then, little improvement has been done in lighting. According to Chris Doran, founder and CEO of Geomerics, memory usage is significantly reduced by 20-30 percent compared to these older methods. Likely, with less data in memory, this positively effects the bandwidth demands of the device.
For Android users, there are greater performance enhancements. In most Android environments, games are bottlenecked by the GPU. Although most lighting effects are GPU intensive, Enlighten is capable of running fully on a CPU. This will help spread the work load for games out across the available hardware and achieve greater performance.
Doran also told us that they have plans to allow for SoCs utilizing ARM's big.LITTLE technology design to run the software on the less powerful cores, maintaining the more powerful cores for other use.
The process for the Enlighten 3 technologies can also be run on GPUs for environments containing a faster GPU and weaker CPU. Current generation consoles all feature faster and higher performance GPUs, but less powerful, energy-efficient CPUs. In these environments, running Enlighten 3 on the CPU would decrease performance, so the company developed the technology to be customizable, so developers can choose which hardware will run the software.