General Tips and Help

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How you light your Age can have a big impact on how it looks and feels. Having a bright, sunny Age can make the place feel warm and inviting. Having a very dark looking Age can make it feel very cold and dangerous.

There is also the question of "Quality". I'm not talking about "Cyan Quality". That is a term that I absolutely loath. People tried to use those words and have them mean "High Quality". In fact neither you nor I will EVER be able to make a "Cyan Quality" Age. This is simply because neither you nor I work for Cyan!

However, you and I can make a "High Quality" Age that looks better than any Age Cyan ever made.

So it's much better to use the words "Low", "Medium", and "High" in front of Quality. Not the word "Cyan"

Not using lights in your Age well can result in a "Low" quality Age. You want your Age to feel as real as possible.

While I can't claim I make the best Ages out there, I have come to understand how to use lighting over the years. This tutorial will try and give you some tips and rules about lighting.

The Light Was In My Eyes.....

There are 2 types of lights that you will normally concern yourself with:

Max Standard and Plasma Standard.

Here are a few things that you MUST keep in mind when using these lights:

Plasma Standard:

  • 1) Is also known as a "Run Time" Light, or RT Light.
  • 2) Is exported and in your Age.
  • 3) Lights up the Avatar dramatically in Game, and can also light up objects subtlely in your scene.
  • 4) Can be animated (movement, color, intensity).
  • 5) Can be turned off and on.
  • 6) Will light up animated objects.

Max Standard:

  • 1) Is also known as a Max Light.
  • 2) Is NOT normally exported with your Age.
  • 3) Lights up the objects in your Age dramatically.
  • 4) Does NOT light up your avatar at all.
  • 5) Will not light up your animated objects.

As you can see, both types of lights are different in many ways. How you use them to light your Age will depend on what it is you are trying to do, and how you want to go about it.

Let's talk about lighting up the Age now, shall we?

Textures and Materials Method

One way to light up your Age is to not actually use any lights at all!

When you make your objects, be it the land, the sky, the buildings, or Snoopy's Dog House, we normally apply a material to these objects because they are visible objects that will be seen by the player. How these objects look depend greatly upon the quality of the texture you give them, but also how bright or dark they are. It is possible to make a objects material "Emissive" meaning that in Game, they are not actually being lit up by any lights at all, but depend on their brightness from their own materials. You can control how bright and what color it looks like with it's materials.

This means that I could create a whole world, and not put one light in it, but instead have every object that's visible be "Emissive" and when I link in, I will see everything.


There are several drawbacks to doing this:

  • 1) The avatar will not be lit up and will look pitch black.
  • 2) The avatar will not cast any shadows.
  • 3) None of the visible objects will cast any shadows (unless you applied a texture to make it LOOK like it has one).
  • 4) Your Age will not look very realistic at all and will be considered very "Low" quality.

However, do not write off using Emissive on objects just yet! There will be times when you actually WANT an object to be that way:

Skies: Your Skybox or Dome will normally be Emissive with it's materials. You do not normally light up your Sky with lights. So this is a very good case in which you would use Emissive.

Light Objects: Objects that are representing your light source, such as light bulbs, fire marbles, fire, Rudolf's Nose, whatever it may be, you would normally use Emissive on that material to make it either bright, or at least as though it's illuminated. It's very hard to use an actual light to light just it up and have it look like it's casting light. Shadows don't normally apply to your light object. The lamp base may cast a shadow, but the light bulb itself will not if it's on.

So keep in mind: sometimes it's better to light up your Age with the material than with an actual light!

Plasma Run Time Lights (Plasma Standard):

Normally the rule of thumb is:

"Only use Run Time Lights to light up the avatar, not your objects."

While it's a good rule, it does not HAVE to be that way. The reason that people say that is:

  • 1) Run Time or Plasma Standard lights will dramatically light up and affect the avatar, but are very subtle on how they light up objects.
  • 2) Run Time or Plasma Standard lights can be a "Resource Hog" and using too many can cause "lag" in your Age.
  • 3) You can only have 8 Run Time or Plasma Standard light lighting up any object or the avatar at one time. If you have more than 8, the game engine will pick and only use the 8 brightest ones.

You can use just Run Time lights to light up an Age if you so desire. That is how I did my Age of Neolbah at first. It had only Run Time or Plasma Standard lights (later, when I added the elevator and basement, I used some Max Lights down there for a specific effect).

However, it was VERY hard to do it that way! The hardest thing was getting the balance I needed to light up both the objects and the avatar correctly. If I were to build Neolbah all over again, I would not do it that way, but instead would use a combination of both Plasma and Max lights.

Max Standard Lights

The nifty thing about using Max Standard lights is:

You can use as many of them as you want in your Age and it will NOT affect the performance of the Age at all in game!

When you use the Max lights, you don't even have to assign a Plasma Component to it (like PageInfo) because it will not be exported with your Age, and the Plasma Plugin will ignore the lights themselves. BUT! It WILL export the effect that it has on objects!

Let's say you'd like to have a "spotlight spalsh" on your walls and / or floor. You can use a Max Standard spotlight,and set it up to get the desired affect that you want. When you export and link in, you see it on the wall / floor. BUT, the light itself is not there! This is what I used in Neolbah when you go down the elevator and walk through the maintenance area.

So because of this, you can put in all the Max Standard lights you want and get the desired effect that you'd like on many of your objects and areas.

Just remember that the Max Standard lights will NOT light up the avatar. If you need the Avatar lit up too, you'll have to use a Plasma Standard light.

Shadows, Lightmaps, Projection Lights, Light Regions and Light Groups

All of the things in this title are important. You can achieve some very good and realistic effects using them.

Light Regions: This is actually a "Soft Volume" that you use to "contain" light. For example: You have a very sunny Age lit up with a good sun. But you also have something like a house or a cave that the player will enter. The "sun" light will still light up the avatar like they are outside (and your animated objects you may have also inside). You can use a Light Region to keep the sunlight out of your house / cave. By the same token, let's say it's night time out in your Age, but you have a very well lit house or something like that. You don't want any of that light lighting up your avatar outside. You can contain the lighting in the house using Light Regions.

Light Groups: You can use Light Groups to specify what light and what objects that light affects using this.

Shadows: With Plasma Standard lights, you can specify if it is a "Shadow Light". This means it will make the avatar cast a shadow that it lights up (note: a player MUST have "Shadows Enabled" on in order for them to see the shadows). You can also use "Shadow Caster" on objects. This will cause an object to cast a shadow.

Light Maps: Light maps are used to "bake" a texture on to certain objects. This is most useful if you want to make some "static" shadows or light splashes in certain areas in your Age. Using this method can produce some very outstanding results, but should be reserved for inside areas, and it can make your texture prp file very large.

Projection Lights: Projection Lights are an outstanding way to have a complex object (like a tree) cast a near perfect shadow on the ground and or other surfaces.

All of these mentioned right above will be talked about in more detailed tutorials so that I can show you how to use them.

Return To: 3DS Max Plugin Tutorials

Copyright (C) 2011 Andy Legate.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".