Early on in development we established that, due to performance constraints, we couldn’t use dynamic shadows. At the the time, this meant there was no way that we’d be able to have the player’s hands cast shadows. This was a shame given that most people subconsciously use these shadow cues in the real world to help tell how close they are to touching something. Recently, I decided to take the challenge upon myself to figure out a way to get something in the game that approximated the effect without the need for dynamic shadows.
I began by researching shadowing approximation techniques online, specifically those geared toward mobile and VR development as they tend to be performance focused. I arrived at the general idea that implementing some kind of circular darkening affect on the material-side would be a good workaround. Utilizing a built-in material editor function that was made to approximate sphere-based ambient occlusion, I was able to get a desirable faux hand shadow effect on any material I desire.
Currently only in use on holds and enemy grab handles, the circular hand shadow effect complements the intuitive climbing controls to give the player that much more information while they’re maneuvering. I’m pretty satisfied with how it turned out overall, it’s not as realistic as dynamic shadows, but I think it’s a really useful performant alternative. Though the entire impetus was to round out the climbing-on-holds experience, I’m also considering adding the effect to other things within the game in the future.
-Kolel, Art Director