How to achieve some wicked awesome lighting effects! Full explanation + walkthrough lighting design.

Alright Facepunch.

It’s back to school season, so I’m here to teach you a lesson for the semester.

I’ve written this in such a way that it’s somewhat unfriendly to beginners.
I never had beginners in mind for this entire thread.

It will highlight basic lighting at most, after that, I HIGHLY encourage that you oddball and experiment the fuck out of your lighting like I do shortly after the explanation on setting up basic lighting.

In this thread, I’m going to show you what it takes to go from this:


Lets see what it takes to make some pretty damn decent lighting.

This will be part of a wicked menu background, like the Asylum map.
It isn’t playable :frowning:

I’ll be walking you through basic to advanced lighting as I do it.

You’ve seen my work, the shanty town, few odd videos here and there, run down insane asylum and more recently the archway cellar thing a few pages back.

The Shanty Town.

The Insane Asylum.


Insane Asylum Menu Background


I’m starting a rather new project and I’m currently in stage one of lighting it up.

I want to walk you guys through my lighting routine, showing everyone how I achieve my effects.

I do hope you learn something from this, post results of your work with my guidelines.


I consider this to be one of the more basic lighting schemes out there. Only one low powered radial light with two spotlights setting the atmosphere. Every lightmap is defaulted at 16, there are only 4 lights in use, and there is little to no detail within the atmosphere. (ie; dustmotes, sound effects, glow effects, etc)

I’ll walk you through how I’ve achieved the ambient effect with the spotlights.

every light has been tweaked to give it a certain look.

The spotlights have been set to cast like a radial light, covering a very large area with a very soft light while still maintaining it’s directionality.

What this effect gives us is a very soft and wide lighting effect.

I copied the light and changed it’s colour to a pinkish to mimic a very light warm red, I then put this light behind the camera to let the viewer imagine what’s making it.

I consider this visual aided imagination, it’s mostly used to create a soft background light that doesn’t take away from the main focus.

The red and blue lights combined are considered to be complimentary colours, and so create a soothing pallet for the eyes.

Doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

This creates a very nice backdrop but there’s nothing to focus on, therefore the lighting is boring.

Adding a dim radial light near the center of the image where the focus is changes the feel of the room and gives the viewer something to look at.

Normally the area that’s of focus is much more detailed than the rest of the map.

This is what the radial light looks like without the ambient lighting backing it up when rendered.


Now that’s very lack luster and the light itself is boring. It’s too dark and the radial light alone won’t be anywhere near good enough for this project. What we need is ambience! Something to direct the player’s focus.

Combining the two spotlights with the radial will make give the area an illusion of darkness while directing focus. The reason why I always change lights of focus to an orange or red is to give the light the feeling of warmth and comfort. Ambient lights are usually cool blue or purple; for more subtle feelings like uneasiness, fear or unsettling. Orange, Red, and Cyan fall go very very well together, and the light combination will give the entire scene a very sharp point of focus.

In it’s rough draft, the current project stands as is:


What we need to do now is sharpen that middle light so it’s at the right brightness and colour.

What I’ve done is widen the outer radius and narrowed the inner radius,

Then I boosted the brightness by a small amount and tweaked the light so it would appear a more yellowish than an orange-ish, and changed it’s appearance so it would flicker ever slightly.

I know it looks like I barely changed anything at all.
Despite the small numbers, it’ll be more than worth your time to tweak the lights every so slightly.

What this will do will sharpen that center focus. It will brighten the immediate area and cast long dark shadows.


No, that doesn’t look as good as it should, but this is about experimenting! What looks good and what doesn’t look as good.
That light should be a more rich orange than yellow.

I won’t be giving exact property values of my lights, as for most everything I do, it’s oddballing and I highly encourage you do the same to make things feel more ‘natural’.

I’ve briefly explained how I shape my lights, now I’m going to use the same explanation to shape the rest of my lights.

I’ve decided to go with a dual lighting trick.

The spotlight will cast a soft wide angular light while the radial will serve as the radiosity light.

This creates a very crisp focal point and makes the light a little more realistic.


Now what we need to work on is tweaking the general ambience, the blue is too blue and the red light is to light.
Time to bring the red more into view and soften up that blue.

The lights themselves haven’t been changed much.
All I did was make the blue a bit more blue and dropped the brightness a notch, darkened the pink colour and brought the red light brightness up a notch.


I think it’s coming along well.
That red might be too red but I’ll leave it for now.

Next up we sharpen the shadows and further define the light that’s there.


I’ve sharpened most all of the lightmaps, the lightmaps around the center light are between the power of 2 and 6
The ambient lightmaps are well blow 16

I’ve also added a light above the tiles to open up more aesthetics. It’s directional, orange and flickers to simulate fire, thus creating a bit more atmosphere for the scene.

That center light might be too bright, so I’m going to make it dimmer and change up the background a bit.

Alright, I’ve tweaked the lighting combo and I am now very satisfied with that center light


The hole in the wall now has it’s own fire-like light, the window lights to the right are a bit brighter and the shadows are again sharper.
still working on making that model work properly, that info_lighting doesn’t seem to be working properly.

In hindsight, I’m going to make that blue light dimmer.


That blue light is a bit softer and the tiles are all fucked up.

I’m completely satisfied with my lighting scheme!

But that’s not all! There’s so much more. Now we get to work on ambience and atmosphere.

[editline]24th August 2012[/editline]

Looking pretty damn good so far, lets see what else we can squeeze out of it.

Alright, now that our lighting scheme is all down compact and ready to go, what we have to work on now is making the world feel less dead and more ‘alive’

You guys are in for a treat.

I’ve added a few func_dustmotes and a single but small func_dustcloud.
The effect is very hard to work with but the overall appeal is stunning.


I’ve tweaked the fuck out of both the dustmotes and dustclouds to my liking.
The dustcloud ent is separated into two blocks that overlap eachother in the middle.
One block has the colour of the orange light to and the other block has the colour of the blue light.
This simulates a fake volumetric lighting in particles.

I know it’s subtle, but it’s in the detail that counts.

Almost there!

All that’s next is sound, and with sound…
you know what that means…



This is the final product.
In all it’s glory, and you all watched it from start to finish.

This took me 10 hours to complete, all within the wee hours of the morning so when you guys are awake and up during the day, this will be here to help you.

PM me for the SDK and I might give it to you to poke around.
Don’t use it outside of my permission.

Very nice mapping there sir.
If you do not mind I’m more than likely going to bookmark and archive this for Personal use.

It just so happens this magical thread enters my life at the exact same time I was looking for some lighting pointers.

great idea with the ambient lights, i never really woulda thought of that!

Just in extension to this, last week i released a document about lighting stuff too.

You can check it out here:

the way you have the spot light if you use “-staticproppolys” in vrad it will block the spotlight. but if you never are gonna use it, it works fine like that.

That was a pretty interesting read. I never bothered to try setting the outer angle to 90 degrees or anything like that. I noticed one thing as I was reading along, you never mentioned sprites or anything. Although it doesn’t actually emit light, it can give a good touch to the light source prop in my opinion.

Should I write an extremely detailed analysis on lighting?

I’ll start a new project from scratch, walk through everything I do, write it beginner friendly, add pictures and post it here on Facepunch.

I hate to sound cocky, but i have all-ready done that. No need.
Besides it did not become much use anyway, most people here know most of the stuff they need to know about lighting.

This is also very helpful to increase ambient light in your scene without creating many fake light like you did.