(TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide

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Offline Grrt

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(TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« on: March 08, 2017, 10:00 PM »
So a little while ago I started looking at how lighting behaves in RCT3 and how to deal with some of the shortcomings presented in that system. I also outlined some of the basic qualities of archtiectural lighting and how they pertain to a typical building installation. That thread is here for those who care to browse the terminology.

http://www.shyguysworld.com/index.php/topic,18667.msg425672.html#msg425672

I won't be restating this narrative so if you have questions regarding anything on these topics you can reference them here. I will try and be as generic and inclusive as possible so that you won't have to, but there will be circumstances where you might want to backtrack. The general gist of the thread there was that RCT3 has a garbage lighting engine and you have to trick it to do anything. With Planet Coaster lots of opportunities have opened up and I intend to explore them and this new tool we've been given.

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As you all may or may not know, I study architectural engineering at college, and in particular am within the lighting/electrical focus. This means that I essentially study everything about buildings and architecture and how things get built, but focus heavily on how to light them up. I'm also studying theatrical lighting as well so I have a bit of that area to fold in as well. This obviously transfers to RCT and PC and I kind of obsess over lighting. I find it to be equally, if not in some cases, more important than the architecture itself. Lighting can make or break a space. Good lighting can make an average building look amazing and bad lighting can make the Vatican look like a broom closet.

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Sources

I'll start by getting into the different light sources the game gives you and where they are useful. This list will hopefully grow over time as I start to analyze different things.



Boxlight - This light is very useful for small accentuation purposes. It can create very tight beams of light with an easily disguisable fixture that can be mounted within walls, beams, ceilings, etc. If you are struggling at getting something to feel important and want to add a little extra pop, these little lights work great. They have the downside of not being recolorable, which can create conflict when paired with other sources.



Arm Mount - This light creates a very wide beam spread that can be manipulated easily with rotation. This fixture is great for lighting vertical surfaces and has the benefit of actually resembling a real wall mountable fixture. This light has incredible versatility and you can tweak it to do lots of great things. They put out a lot of light for the9r size and put it all on the same general plane which makes them great for facades.



Uplight - I hate how the game names this thing because it really sucks as an uplight. It mounts at a really strange angle and a lot of the light isn't even going up, it actually goes down when you mount it on a wall. This light does a good job at washing surfaces with just general light. It creates a spot near the source and the rest of the light just goes everywhere. This is awesome when you just want to light something easily but it sucks at creating any real sort of focused beam.

It works great as a sign lighter.



Colored Event Light - This is the workhorse of lights in the game. It produces far more light than any of the other little dinky fixtures they give you anywhere else. For this reason, it is essentially the only light that is functional on larger areas. They have the downside of being rather bulky and require some extra planning to make sure they stay hidden.

They also work great as floodlights, producing overall light on facades, trees, and other important architectural elements. As you start doing lighting you'll find yourself using these everywhere. They also have the benefit of being colorable which makes them infinitely more versatile.



Path Lamps - These are for general decorative purposes on pathways. They theoretically would be all you would need to light up a pathway, but they are terrible at this and really just add some color and a point of luminous interest. Your goal should be to trick guests into thinking these are what's actually lighting the pathways, as that's typically how it works in the real world.

They enhance theme and provide a very familiar light source. Use these frequently along paths regardless of how much light they put out. They are great at filling in decorative details and people generally expect them. If your path feels empty, try adding a few more of these. Be careful to choose lamps that fit your theme.



Hanging/Mounted Lamps - These are basically the same things as the pathway lamps only they are mounted on or near a building. You can attach these to custom poles if you wish, or use them as wayfinding pieces on building facades. They again don't provide much light but are good decorative cues for guests that fill in details that they generally expect.

As I go forward I will try and make note of which of these fixtures I am primarily using to achieve the effect.

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The Lesson

So to begin, there will be a few things that I will harp on frequently as I go. I will start by emphasizing them here for easy reference.

1. Layers, layers, layers. The basis of lighting design is that you are adding many many layers of light to your buildings to create a collective effect.

You should not be lighting a whole facade with one floodlight. You use the floodlight to wash the whole facade, then you emphasize your column lines with uplights, then you emphasize a sign with a wall mounted fixture, then you add some stringlights along the cornices and windows to make them pop out. This process can go on forever and it's an iterative process of going over and over things till it's right.

A note of warning when doing your lighting, more layers = more money. Every. Single. Time. The more light fixtures you are placing the more money it will cost realistically. In the real world there's obviously tricycle level fixtures vs. Ferrari, but you don't get that choice in PC. If you want a park to look cheap, use less layers and less fixtures. Places like Disney spend millions on lighting and have 4 or 5 layers of light on one facade. A dinky fairground would probably just install some general floodlights and call it a day.

2. Emphasize the EFFECTS of light, not the fixtures. The goal of lighting is to emphasize the pre-existing architecture and space. In rare cases, the actual fixture is meant to be the centerpiece, but generally speaking, you are simply adding lights that fit an already present architectural style or theme. They are there to highlight your buildings, signage, etc. Visible fixtures often make a space feel very cluttered.

When fixtures must be visible, say for lights mounted on lampposts and things of that nature, they should try their best to mimic the architecture and theme that is already in place. Look at Disney, Frontierland poles look very different than the ones outside Space Mountain. This should be obvious, but it sometimes gets overlooked.

In cases of facade lighting and general illumination purposes where artistic looking things aren't important, the best thing is to have your light source be as invisible as possible. Floodlights should be out of sight lines, wall mounted fixtures should be as tiny as possible. The only reason to have a light source be visible is if it somehow contributes to the overall scene. Which brings me to my next point..

3. PURPOSE. Each light you add should be doing something. If you shine a spotlight at a random wall that has nothing on it you should be asking yourself, "why do I need light there?" If you cannot justify it, then remove the light. Things like signage and pathways and facades are very important to illuminate, as they contribute to the purpose of the park and give valuable information about what is there. Lighting up some random plant in the corner has questionable merit.. In the real world, there is limited money and you can't light everything.  Which brings me to my final point..

4. It's ok not to light certain areas. Infact, it's recommended. A pitfall I often see with nighttime parks is that there's a tendency to light EVERYTHING up super bright. Don't do this. You wouldn't load up your facade with 600 windows or columns, so why are you loading it up with tons of light? Light is a tool to accentuate and heighten the experience. It is meant to be nuanced and modest. Areas of contrast are usually very desirable and only make your lighting look better. A few windows on a building create a much more telling building than a thousand, and the same goes for lighting. Be selective and critical, just as you would for a building.

*Other minor caveats are certainly present and worth considering but these are the big ones and the basis of all lighting design.
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The Installation

So now it's time to move into how these things play out in a typical installation. I've built a small section of a mainstreet with pathways and landscaping. I'll begin with the facades and move downwards onto the pathways. This was how I moved forward when I built this so it seems only logical to explain it in this fashion.



Here is how the space looks in the daytime.



And here it is at night. Notice the areas your eye goes at night are the same areas that your eye wants to go during the daytime.

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Facades




Here I have illuminated the entire face with a single arm light. It hasn't been aimed and it is disguised from the pathway by being mounted right above the awning. The wide beam angle creates a wash up the face that brings out various textures and creates some nice shadows. It emphasizes the wall extrusion as well as the windows. The sign at the top is self illuminated so adding additional light to it is unecessary. This is how I have chosen to accentuate the architecture. There are other solutions but this one highlights what I find to be important.

There is an opportunity to light the flanking wall space, but reiterating that you shouldn't light everything, if they were illuminated it would likely draw away from the extruded space with its windows and the signage at the top. There is also nothing on this space really worth lighting. It is just wall mass. If I decided to add another layer of light I would probably put some string lights along the top. This would emphasize the top of the structure and give it a proper border.



Moving right, I found this intermediate facade to be unimportant. There is no information of importance that needs to be gathered from this facade. There is no signage, no wayfinding keys, and no interesting architectural features. I have left it dark to give contrast between the two facades which neighbor it.




On the side of the shop which was just discussed, I did however decide there was something here worth highlighting. The ivy is an interesting feature that would feel strange if totally darked. Illuminating this wall gives depth to the building and makes it more than just a 2d facade. Additionally, I have imagined that some sort of electrical box and equipment may lay here. These would likely need to be illuminated in case they needed to be reached. This effect was done with a simple boxlight buried here.

Something I wish I would have done was bury some sort of light beneath all the ivy to make this planter glow at night.




Moving right further, this signage was a must for illumination. Being different than the self illuminated sign previously, I had to mount some type of fixture here. I tried working with the arm light, but found that the wide beam spread and excessive brightness made for an unrealistic look. I moved to the basic uplight and found its tighter beam worked better. In order to combat the light which actually doesn't go up.. I rotated it up towards the sign to manipulate where the light was going. I also pushed the source as close to the wall as I could prevent too much light from leaking up the wall.

To harp again on previous points.. "what is the purpose of this light?" To which I answered, to light up the sign. Since my intent was not to light the wall, I have kept the beam very close to the wall and made sure that I am lighting the sign, and as little else as I can. I have also tried to hide the fixtures as much as I can. They are ugly and especially in the daytime they will look ugly when they aren't doing anything.




At the top of this facade I have put a clock tower type.. thing. I asked myself the same question, "what is the purpose of this light?" To me, seeing the time on a clock seems like something that is very important. As such, I have decided to place a light here that maximizes the ability to see the clock.

Now, looking back at my solution, I would have to say, the uplight maybe produces results that don't work great at that. A simple boxlight could easily be hidden up here to produce a much stronger spot onto the clock. But, if you look at the facade as a whole, you also have to ask yourself, "is the clock more important or is telling guests whats in the building more important?" Now I have told myself that the signage is much more critical than the clock. As such, I have opted to go against this initial solution and choose the softer uplight that does not distract as much from the main facade. This is, again, ok. Remember, you can't light everything. Creating contrast is essential to producing effective lighting.




Now simply lighting the signage is not nearly enough, the rest of the facade needed lighting as well. So I looked at other wall mounted fixtures and things, but they all just added clutter to the facade. There is nowhere else on the facade that a fixture can realistically be disguised. More fixtures on this wall would just look ugly. So I looked to nearby areas for help.

Luckily, I had placed a planter adjacent to the buildings that see all of these facades. It is raised slightly and a great way to hide potentially dozens of fixtures. I decided ultimately to place a colored event light here and point it towards the facade. I highly suggest that you give yourself as many free areas available as possible to hide fixtures in. You'll find it very very difficult to get enough light on your pathways and buildings as you widen your pathways more and more.



Here you can see where I've strategically hidden plenty of fixtures in a planter where they will never adversely affect what I already have in place.

**Short Color Discussion**
Now.. my next consideration here was color. A bright white light would totally wash out the facade and ruin the contrast I wanted to create with the signage lighting. My solution was to create a colored light. So here's where the colored light becomes invaluable. With the full color palette that is present in PC you get total control over brightness. You see, when you move towards black you are essentially changing what I will call 'relative power'. That is, within the same shade of a color you can make it appear darker or brighter simply by moving the slider towards or away black. Be careful to avoid full white colors if you can help it. I've discussed this in my RCT3 study a bit more fully. Pure white colors are unnatural and what we perceive as 'real white' is just an illusion presented by our shiny computer screens. :)



The top layer of colors are the brightest in a given hue, as you move up and down, you are essentially making that light less bright, and the hue will remain exactly the same. Saturation can be independently manipulated too to produce even more results. This is great for tweaking light levels when you have many fixtures present.



Illustrated another way here. Total black, at the bottom, produces no light. As you increase brightness, you have a much wider range of color values available to you. What I did with this facade was manipulate this brightness level until I got something that looked appropriate in the overall setting.




Moving over a bit more, I have envisioned that some sort of employee entrance would exist at some point along this facade. It would not be unbroken. SO, how do you illuminate these entrances without directly making them a point of interest? Well.. ask yourself what the purpose of the light is. Here, the answer is simply to put some light on the ground so employees don't hurt themselves getting in and out.

In these instances, a very small light that doesn't leak over into other areas, is probably the most desirable. So my answer was to put a small little wall mounted thing here and bring it as close as I could to hide it while still keeping the door and immediate ground in front lit up. Usually, there isn't any need to aiming these little lights as you'll find the beam spread to work pretty well for this type of general illumination.






You can see here how much of a difference the beam angle makes. To achieve the top affect, I have simply angled the boxlight into the wall. This causes the beam to tighten up a bit. In the case of this facade, I found it overwhelming to have all of the beams overlapping. To accentuate the flags, the tighter beam works. I simply asked myself, "what is the purpose of this light?" My answer was to highlight the flags, so my choice was to find the best light to highlight the length of the flags.

You will notice that when I angled the beams inward, some of the wall texture and shadowing created by the rockwork on the wall is removed. This is an important thing to note and may not be what you want. It is of course up to you which type of solution you prefer, but don't forget to compare.






A bit more obvious of a comparison here. Again, trying to hammer home the idea of intent. If you were to choose the bottom solution you would no doubt have guests wandering around wondering "of? what is so important about of? is this a cafeteria for of? What do they do here?" It would make far more sense to try and illuminate the entirety of the lettering, since that is, after all the intent of why you shined a light there, right?
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Landscaping

I'm going to start a small section on landscaping here and will hopefully expand it in the future. For the purposes of this small main street space I've not included much landscaping.

Illuminating nature in your theme parks is one of the most powerful ways you have to enhance the nighttime perception of a space. There is obviously landscaping present and visible in the daytime so why should you ignore it at night?







Perhaps the easiest and most dramatic measure for landscape lighting is to uplight trees. It is not only simple and easy, but remarkably effective. Nearly every single experience you will have with a themed environment in your lifetime will have a floodlight illuminating a tree. Without fail, designers absolutely adore using this technique because any idiot can point a light at a tree and the results are almost always positive.




All I've done here is hide a floodlight in a planter and aimed it up at the tree to try and illuminate as much of it as possible from as many angles as I can. The real benefit here is that any spill light that's not hitting the trees just goes into the sky and doesn't hit anything else. (In real life this creates about a billion code problems but who cares, it's a game. :P)
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Pathways

So when you start to look at providing illumination for pathways the narrative changes entirely. No longer are you trying to create artistic effects and such. You're putting sufficient light to see people and where they're going. You can advantageously manipulate overall light levels on pathways at entrances to guide people towards things, but this is really secondary to the prime directive of making sure people can see where they're going.

This is where my education divulges. The field of design is typically separate from the field of illuminating engineering. Illumination engineering is concerned with getting enough light on a surface and making sure its uniform. It is highly driven by codes and there's really no art there whatsoever. It's very boring and involves hundreds of calculations and charts that take forever and are the bane of my college existence. Now thankfully none of that stuff matters in PC, but the ideas are certainly important to be aware of.

1. Uniform light is key. If you were walking down the street at night you wouldn't want a single super bright light on a mile long stretch of road. This would create tons of complications not the least of which is glare. Your eyes would constantly be adapting and your pupils dilating and expanding and it'd be a disaster.

You would ideally have a million low powered fixtures creating perfectly uniform light, but that's not the case so you find the happy medium that costs the least to get the job done. To be clear, uniformity means that if you move one foot to the right or left of some location, the light you are seeing is pretty much identical. There are all sorts of metrics and limits to what can really be perceived, but for the purposes of Planet Coaster, uniformity means that everywhere on a pathway has basically the same amount and quality of light. In other words, as you build down a pathway, nothing should change and people should look identically lit no matter where they are on that path.

2. You are constantly in a battle of raising your fixture height and changing brightness. Basically, to create really good uniform light, you'd want something like the sun, that is, very high in the sky and far away to create very diffuse light that doesn't really shadow much. Low angled lights create really bad shadows on objects, but they also tend to be able to be placed much closer to the object so they don't need to be as bright. A 5 foot pole can be half as bright as a 10 foot pole, but the quality of light will also be half as good. You want your light to be pointing vertically down if you can help it, but not have to be so far away that you need it to be excessively bright.

3. The more overlap you have, the less shadows you have. The takeaway here may be more intuitive than people realize. The more light you shine on an object from different angles, the less you will see shadows or the object in darkness. One point source can only illuminate one side of an object. Add one to the other side and you illuminate both sides. Add 10 sources and you've effectively eliminated any shadows.

When you overlap the effects of lighting, you are increasing the chances that something at a given point is being illuminated by more than one point source. Ideally, there are no scenarios where a moving object is ever captured by just one beam of light.

5. Wayfinding - As important as it is to see in front of your face, there are also scenarios where seeing yourself is pretty useless. For example, if you are alone walking through a garden, you don't really need to see anything else but the garden and where that pathway is leading you. So the solution most used in these cases is lower height lighting to simply illuminate the ground. You see this everywhere. I'm sure if you went outside your house or took a walk down the street you'd probably see half a dozen houses that have little path lamps leading up to their house.

This essentially amounts to wayfinding. Being able to see the ground so you don't trip on things, and more importantly, knowing where you're supposed to be going. I will touch more on wayfinding in the future as it's super important in parks but for now I'll just consider it as ground visibility. In reality, wayfinding is all of the cues that help you get around. This includes but isn't limited to, signage lighting for shops, bathrooms, etc. Darkening areas of parks that you wish for people to circumvent. Turning off all the lights except those that move you to the park exit, say for closing time. Using a blue light to indicate an ATM or phone booth, etc.

When you're dealing with huge park layouts, keeping things from being monotonous and confusing is very important. Without proper nighttime lighting, guests can easily get lost.

5. Global Illumination - Yikes, let's just leave this one out of the discussion for now. ;D All you need to know is that global illumination affects the default lighting that strikes surfaces based on how obstruted areas are by other things. It helps to iron out problems with lighting engines since they are not doing full ray trace calculations. This is more important in the daytime when you have a very intense source, but nonetheless, it's important to be aware of this setting, especially when playing on higher graphical settings. I'd love to discuss this topic more if people are interested, but since it obviously doesn' t exist in the real world, it's merely a curiosity confined to the PC world. (Planet Coaster or personal computer I suppose, haha.)

Now when you look into Planet Coaster, they essentially give you a couple options for this type of lighting. And they both suck.



You get a few low powered lights that have a bit of variation on their color temperature or whatever to these, but if you have a pathway that's more than maybe 10 feet wide, they don't give you nearly enough light.


That's where these come into play. You will unfortunately have to use these if you want to have sufficient pathway light. Problem is, they don't have any sort of discernable theme and are very large. You have to hide them.



Now what I have come up with is basically a pole with fixtures 'mounted' to them. It's just an iron pole with as many event lights as I need. They are a bit bulky so I'd recommend thinking where you might need them when planning for your facades. If you make your pathways very wide and bare, these lights will stick out like a sore thumb, and look back at consideration 2. Your lights shouldn't be the emphasis. It could very well look ugly if it is not your intent to have them visible. Little dark corners and planters are great places to disguise these types of larger fixtures in a park. Rhythmic patterns along streets work ok but you may not want this in your park. It's good to get a feel for how many of these you'll need before you go crazy with layouts.




Now to go back to my previous point on how crap the standard lamps are. Here you see a typical person on my pathway. Half of their body is in the dark, even though they are directly facing a lamp. They are not nearly visible enough.




Adding in a pole of event lights helps to diffuse this low visibility.





Here is an overhead comparison of how the light levels differ with just a handful of event lights turned on. The above picture they are 'blacked' out, as in the color they are is set to black. This effect translates to higher visibility and less ugly shadows and unphotographable peeps. RCT3 had serious problems with this type of thing since it could only handle so much light in a given spot but with PC the doors are wide open to exploring this type of stuff.

I won't delve too much into the aiming of the fixtures, this is largely at the discretion of the individual, but you will likely find yourself re-aiming things as more peeps pour in. It is best to do these aimings with a full pathway of peeps.






Here you see another example of how this lighting plays out. The shadows reduce with added sources. The typical pathway sources that the game gives you are added alongside the event lights. The path lamps can give an interesting lighting effect for very close by objects that draws focus to entrances, but it is important to augment this with lights that create visibility. If there weren't any people you would see almost no difference in the lighting effects on the ground plane.

The last little thing I wanna touch on is accent lighting for pathways. Often times to indicate where you're going it's easier to just put light directly onto the pavement. It is very efficient considering how close the source is to the path and can look really pretty if used to create rhythm. There's a billion different ways to do things like this. You've no doubt seen bollards and low path lights to light the way.







Here's a handful of installations that do this to varying artistic degrees. All equally valid approaches to the same design.




Now what I have initially explored is just recessing the boxlights into wall surfaces. If you recess them just right you can even get the effect of optics and glare control. (Real light sources aren't just a flat piece of white luminescent material, they have reflectors etc.. Optics are one of the biggest problems in real light sources and for now, Planet Coaster has basically decided to ignore the problem entirely and make everything point sources.) The goal here is to create a rhythmic lighting pattern that is both interesting and functional. A quick Google of pathway lighting will return hundreds of creative design solutions and there is some real opportunities in the future with PC if they choose to expand their lighing capabilities.

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That is all I have for now. I plan on expanding the scope of this thread in the future to include things like floodlighting for supports and coaster structures, lighting ride structures, station lighting, landscape lighting, and others.

I'm barely scratching the surface here, but I'm hoping to do my due dilligence here to spread my knowledge of lighting to the forums. Lighting is one of those weird things that you don't notice until you notice.. but then you notice it all the time. Especially bad lighting. It's inherent purpose isn't really to celerate itself but to celebrate the work of others so it often gets swept under the rug but I hope I can change that. :D

Apologies on having such a formal presentation approach as well.. I suppose endless college reports have conditioned me into intensely organizing and justifying every little meaningless thing.

Thanks for reading, all. If you have any questions or really anything at all you wish to contact me about please do! I will try and make myself available if I can.
« Last Edit: December 07, 2018, 06:21 PM by Grrt »

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Offline Silvarret

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2017, 01:12 AM »
Thank you, this is an amazing tutorial that was very much lacking for this game. I also love that the it accentuates how fun lighting can be - hiding spotlights strategically, bringing important elements out - lighting feels like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes and this tutorial gives a lot of pieces to play with.

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Offline matt9537

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2017, 01:27 AM »
This an incredible tutorial. There is so much to lightning that I was completely oblivious to!!
Not only is it a must read for anyone looking to improve their lightning skills in PC but there is so much general real world information here it is a must read!!
Planet Coaster Tutorials - If you're new to Planet Coaster or an experienced player you'll find something new you can learn! [Updated]
Planet Coaster Blueprint Essentials - Don't start a new project without these!


Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2017, 02:31 AM »
Amazing stuff Grrt!
I feel like this was one of the more "untouched" areas of PC, where many people are still struggling to find the balance between what looks good and what looks real. I'm sure this will help a lot of people finding that balance.
I know I will definitely use this tutorial to improve my crappy lighting!
Thanks!

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Offline shyguy

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2017, 11:04 AM »
Excellent tutorial. I can see myself coming back to this again and again.

I've linked to this thread from SGW Twitter and Facebook pages as well as the TPGS Facebook group. ;)
« Last Edit: March 09, 2017, 11:23 AM by shyguy »
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Offline andreizsmart

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2017, 11:51 AM »
Its so easy to pass over proper lighting as its one of the last and least recognized elements of any design project, but a good designer knows that good lighting is extremely important. A perfect example of bad lighting is the recently opened Bollywood Park at Dubai Parks and Resorts. They definitely need to take a look at this tutorial. Thanks for this!

« Last Edit: March 09, 2017, 12:12 PM by andreizsmart »
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Offline Grrt

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2017, 10:35 PM »
Thank you, this is an amazing tutorial that was very much lacking for this game. I also love that the it accentuates how fun lighting can be - hiding spotlights strategically, bringing important elements out - lighting feels like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes and this tutorial gives a lot of pieces to play with.

Thanks a lot! Lighting to me is such a fun game. The real fun with lighting is that someone hands you a 'completed' product and you get free reign to accentuate all the best parts. The little bad parts can be ignored and you get to highlight all the parts you love the most. The sun makes basically everything in light during the day but at night you get full creative freedom to choose what is in light and what's in darkness and it's very much a puzzle. You get to make almost an entirely new product.

This an incredible tutorial. There is so much to lightning that I was completely oblivious to!!
Not only is it a must read for anyone looking to improve their lightning skills in PC but there is so much general real world information here it is a must read!!

Thank you! Lighting is just one of those weird things where as you think about it you kinda say, yeah that makes sense that x or y is an issue. Lighting is more nuanced than any other area of design and as you delve more into it you start to see more and more little things..

It's very strange the more you read into it the more you start to see the real world fall into place. If you really think about it, the entirety of what we experience visually in this world is in some way tied to lighting. Without the sun or lights, we would see nothing! Lighting is certainly not a trivial thing and it's very fun to explore.

Amazing stuff Grrt!
I feel like this was one of the more "untouched" areas of PC, where many people are still struggling to find the balance between what looks good and what looks real. I'm sure this will help a lot of people finding that balance.
I know I will definitely use this tutorial to improve my crappy lighting!
Thanks!

Thank you! I've always found lighting to be neglected, not just in PC, but everywhere. It's something people just aren't aware of. It's kind of just assumed that the lights are going to look good but until you see bad lighting you don't realize just how crucial a piece it is to architecture. I hope my tutorial helps oyu start to see nighttime differently!

Excellent tutorial. I can see myself coming back to this again and again.

I've linked to this thread from SGW Twitter and Facebook pages as well as the TPGS Facebook group. ;)

Thanks a bunch for the mentions! I hope it is helpful and I'll try and do my best to add more and more pieces to this tutorial to be as helpful to as many areas of the game as possible.. If you ever additional questions on lighting I'm always available.

Its so easy to pass over proper lighting as its one of the last and least recognized elements of any design project, but a good designer knows that good lighting is extremely important. A perfect example of bad lighting is the recently opened Bollywood Park at Dubai Parks and Resorts. They definitely need to take a look at this tutorial. Thanks for this!



Oh, this picture pains me to my core.. :( You can see a clear effort by the architects to make something special but unfortunately somewhere in the process the money got lost. A real shame. It looks like a behind the scenes walkthrough of a movie before any lighs are turned on.

And I'm glad my tutorial is helpful! Architectural lighting can boil down to being very simple if you have the right pieces and my hope is that tutorial can provide those pieces.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2017, 10:41 PM by Grrt »

Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2017, 05:09 AM »
awesome write up. I have decorated our front yard for years and years for Halloween, and everyone always loves it...but it wasn't about the decor...it was about the lighting. I have always said that the lighting makes the scene. Very important part of any design.

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Offline Quinn

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2017, 02:58 PM »
Fantastic tutorial! I'm going to jse these tips for sure :)
« Last Edit: March 10, 2017, 03:00 PM by Quinn »
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Offline Nemmie

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2017, 06:12 PM »
Great post. Some really useful tips. I also like to "paint " with light. It's a really fun element of building, I think. You gave some really useful tips here.
I used the recessed box lights along the path trick and the trick to get the little ring around them in my Blast Point Resort entrance plaza a good while ago. I definitely be borrowing your ideas in my parks.

Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to post this.

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Offline n7

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2017, 08:08 PM »
Light is paint for night.

That's how I've always seen it and this tutorial explains that idea profoundly well.

Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2017, 10:01 PM »
This is really helpful. I can tell you put a lot of time into it. Much appreciated!

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Offline R-Furz

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2017, 03:52 PM »
Very nice tutorial, thank you very much. ;) It shows how great a game is when the tips apply to real life as well.

I have one concern, tho. It's not a problem in Planet Coater as the lights don't cast shadows, but in real life... Wouldn't this light hidden in the planter cast enormous shadows of people walking in front of it?

Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #13 on: March 22, 2017, 06:25 PM »
As you all may or may not know, I study architectural engineering at college, and in particular am within the lighting/electrical focus. This means that I essentially study everything about buildings and architecture and how things get built, but focus heavily on how to light them up. I'm also studying theatrical lighting as well so I have a bit of that area to fold in as well. This obviously transfers to RCT and PC and I kind of obsess over lighting. I find it to be equally, if not in some cases, more important than the architecture itself. Lighting can make or break a space. Good lighting can make an average building look amazing and bad lighting can make the Vatican look like a broom closet.

Nice, I'm the technical director at the local high school theater but I started (and still have) a focus on lighting. As many said, you are painting just with light. The one thing that is most important to remember is know the level between noticeable and noticeable. Confused? One end of noticeable is over kill when you make something too busy. Great that you have five colors on one thing but it pulls away from the scene and it's way to much. On the other hand if you wash a color on something it doesn't pop and you have a bland scene. It's finding the balance between those two. Just enough to highlight the scene but not so much it pulls you away.

This year I ended up doing most of the lighting for the show unfortunately (trying to get the kids to do most of it). Compared to past years shows it was actually somewhat simple. We used our moving lights a lot less and went with some colors that had a punch. There were quite a few dramatic snap type changes as well. Over the run I got many complements on how much people enjoyed the lighting and complemented everything. Probably the most comments in some years. All this while keeping the lighting somewhat simple. It's not how much you have, it's what you do with it.

Sorry for going somewhat off topic just throwing my two cents out there. The lighting engine in PC is pretty powerful but still needs some tweaks.

Check out my latest projects!
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Offline EnigmaticEffigy

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2017, 12:50 AM »
Wow, this is a fantastic tutorial and a gripping read! I feel more enlightened (no pud intended :P) having read it. Looking forward to seeing what you've planned to expand on.

Also, you briefly mentioned global illumination. This topic is of especial interest to me, moreso now that consumer GPUs have finally gained enough computing power to at least begin to integrate the paradigm into games today. I'd love to read more of your perspective on this topic.

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #15 on: April 03, 2017, 03:41 AM »
Now I found time to read that whole thing. Lighting plays a very important role in my (darkride) projects and I think a lot about this topic. So to me, this article is very important and interesting to read. There are many ideas underlined with pictures how you can improve your lighting skills. Thank you for that. You wrote a well elaborated essay about that topic so I think everyone can learn and take something from it. Even the ground bascis for new players with no experience in RCT3 are mentioned as well as professional and advanced hints. Fantastic work!

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Offline R-Furz

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #16 on: September 30, 2017, 09:10 AM »

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Offline Grrt

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #17 on: October 02, 2017, 07:17 PM »
I think you're getting a bit ahead of yourself with this. ;) I'd much rather see control over beam angle and intensity. I'd say texture comes last in the list of manipulable lighting properties. Their order of importance being this.

Intensity/Brightness
Beam Angle/Distribution
Color
Direction and Movement
Texture

Would be very difficult I think to have proper gobo's in the game without control over beam angle and intensity, considering how they are usually meant to add texture to a specifically shaped or sized surface. Though I imagine implementation of such a thing would be a bit messy and unintuitive to think about from a programming standpoint.

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Offline R-Furz

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #18 on: October 03, 2017, 02:52 AM »
You mean variable intensity within a single projector, like fade-in/fade-out? Definitely needed.
Beam angle as well. Might I add focus as well or this is too much?  :-[


The thing is, gobos, custom shapes and textures are hella usefull for dark-rides and theme parks in general. It would also make a workaround for the (understandable) lack of light shadows.
NoLimits 2 has a feature where you can import an image (even with colors) and project it anywhere, and it works great.


But yeah, maybe this is too-much for programming and user-friendliness standpoint.




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Offline Mr. E

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #19 on: October 03, 2017, 08:05 AM »
In theory, I could see this being a little button in the light settings, for example you click on the light and there is a little settings icon in the window off to the side where you choose color, and when you click on it you get a popup menu with sliders for brightness and angles and image import would work like billboards.

Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #20 on: October 03, 2017, 12:23 PM »
On the topic of attributes of lights, it really depends on what you are doing. For example what I do, work in theater, here is my list:

1.) Direction
2.) Intensity
3.) Focus
4.) Color
5.) Gobo/Texture

Usually all are very achievable. The issue tends to boil down to focus. If I have to use a 1980 Altman 19° leko to see the actors faces, I will.

Again, it all comes down to what you are using the fixture for. So, in a dark ride you would definitely probably put gobo's higher. Everyone is going to have that different list. In the end it is going to come down to what the community wants or what the developers offers. I honestly don't think we ate going to see much more in this type of lighting. I personally would like to see lekos that are re-colorable and in common angles (5°, 19°, 26°, 50°) or if possibly just with an adjustable zoom.

The lighting is powerful in this game, but it needs some adjustments.

Check out my latest projects!
Ride | Custom Scenery  | Park

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Offline Grrt

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #21 on: October 03, 2017, 08:55 PM »
You mean variable intensity within a single projector, like fade-in/fade-out? Definitely needed.
Beam angle as well. Might I add focus as well or this is too much?  :-[


The thing is, gobos, custom shapes and textures are hella usefull for dark-rides and theme parks in general. It would also make a workaround for the (understandable) lack of light shadows.
NoLimits 2 has a feature where you can import an image (even with colors) and project it anywhere, and it works great.


But yeah, maybe this is too-much for programming and user-friendliness standpoint.





I mean like how you can change brightness by changing the color, but not in an intuitive way as in, a box or slider that says "Light output: 100%" where you can slide it or make it 200% or whatever. Easier than changing the color to be closer to black. And more user friendly. And beam angle can be incorporated into another slider easily as well. It could be crafted to adjust for angle so actual intensity doesn't change. Like, doubling the beam angle automatically increases intensity by a ratio, though retains the slider at the same % for simplicity.

And yes, more complex triggering choices is a necessity. We have an on/off trigger, but they had more complex functions than that in the 70's with MIDI.

Focus would only be relevant if the light sources were complex enough to have primary and secondary beam angles, which would add more complexity to the user interface. This is exactly how software like 3dsmax and maya handle things, though I can't see PC going to that level without demand.

And gobos are certainly incredibly useful, though I wonder how they'd implement them. It'd have to be a new feature since from what I can tell, the game's light sources wouldn't allow for gobos to be pasted over them as a real gobo would. They could do some shadow mapping or something creative, but I dunno.

In theory, I could see this being a little button in the light settings, for example you click on the light and there is a little settings icon in the window off to the side where you choose color, and when you click on it you get a popup menu with sliders for brightness and angles and image import would work like billboards.

Most image editors already work like this. You can either choose color by RGB, or by HSB (hue, saturation, brightness) The brightness of the source and the brightness of the color are not the same, however. Intensity of light is another property to color, though they are related, and they are both very easily alterable properties of light from a programming standpoint.

Billboards is tricky, since to work like a projector, you need to map said image onto the scene and every surface of the scene. That creates distortion and pixelation, as well as meaning that you now need to not only store a light distribution, but individually map every pixel of said light distribution and the resultant color of every pixel when projected into the scene.

Lights accomplish this fairly easily by simply creating a low resolution table of relative intensity values at certain angles and interpolating between. The ingame lights can do this with only a handful of values. A 512x512 size image would require 512x512=262144 points of data to accomplish the same thing. Not very easy on PC's engine.
On the topic of attributes of lights, it really depends on what you are doing. For example what I do, work in theater, here is my list:

1.) Direction
2.) Intensity
3.) Focus
4.) Color
5.) Gobo/Texture

Usually all are very achievable. The issue tends to boil down to focus. If I have to use a 1980 Altman 19° leko to see the actors faces, I will.

Again, it all comes down to what you are using the fixture for. So, in a dark ride you would definitely probably put gobo's higher. Everyone is going to have that different list. In the end it is going to come down to what the community wants or what the developers offers. I honestly don't think we ate going to see much more in this type of lighting. I personally would like to see lekos that are re-colorable and in common angles (5°, 19°, 26°, 50°) or if possibly just with an adjustable zoom.

The lighting is powerful in this game, but it needs some adjustments.

Yes, the order of importance from a design perspective certainly changes, though I view my list more as lower order to higher order. Without your lights properly aimed and of a suitable intensity, the color and texture is meaningless. And when I say movement and direction, I mean literal dynamic movement of light, not direction it's pointing. :)

And yeah, we need SOMETHING. Lights are incredibly easy to program. If we ever get OVL digging capabilities, they probably have a set value for beam angle in them somewhere. Lights simply interpolate values, hopefully the programmers included some sort of property in there.

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Offline R-Furz

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #22 on: October 04, 2017, 06:34 AM »
That's a really interesting discussion. :)


About focus, I was only thinking of the sharpness of the projected beam (a circle currently).


For gobos, as I said NoLimits can do that. I don't know how but I just see it's somehow possible.
You can project any image, and it moves in real-time too:



Either on a flat surface.



... or even on multiple surfaces, with shadows and distortions.


I have no doubts this would be an intensive feature, but I mean, we have the possibility to put HD movies on bilboards... It's the same deal, it's on us to be careful with them.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2017, 06:38 AM by R-Furz »

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster - PT II - MAIN STREET LIGHTING
« Reply #23 on: December 07, 2018, 11:15 PM »
Well, I didn't want to do this whole thing over again, but I suppose I ought to.

--------------------------------EDIT:-----------------------------------

I'll now lay out how the lighting engine in Planet Coaster functions, which will become important in exploiting it.

So there's a lot of fuss about the new NVIDIA 'real time ray tracing' graphics cards. Why are these so cool? Well, typically a game will 'rasterize' your scene, meaning that all your lighting is fixed. Real time ray tracing allows you to bounce light rays all around the scene in realtime, creating a much more realistic scene.

In the case of Planet Coaster, light rays don't bounce. The light created by the light fixtures instead goes through this sequence:

1. Light flux leaves the object in the distribution set by said object.



Here's a simple diagram of what distribution is. A spotlight obviously looks much different than a sphere of light.

2. Flux travels through the scene until it strikes an object.
3. Light strikes the object. This leaves a faux light pattern on the object. The game says 'draw light here, and decay off'. This light is baked on to the object. It is simply the multiplying of a light map onto the color map of the object. If you've messed with the TMT this should make sense.
4. Object casts a shadow based on its angle compared to the light. This gets stored in the shadow map.
5. Light continues through the object, unencumbered by any previous objects it strikes. This becomes pretty important later. The game cannot occlude and stop light.

This sequence is pretty easy to observe in the game.



You see the light miraculously travel through walls to other walls behind it, while no light bounces onto the rear wall where it should go. In reality, light would continue to bounce back and forth between these two walls for as long as it could until the light fully decays to zero. Generally about 99% of the light is gone by the third bounce. In the game, there is no bounce light, and the light simply travels onward till it decays to zero. This is also set by the light distribution.

That creates some tricky things that you have to maneuver around in the game.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So in today's lesson, I'm gonna look exclusively at what could be lumped as 'main street' lighting. For now, this encompasses the exterior elements of the facades and pathways. (I haven't done any interiors on my main street. If you have any files with interiors that you would like dissected and analyzed and modified, I'd be more than happy to take them!)

So I'll start by laying some ground rules for how main street lighting is supposed to 'feel' and what elements are important. Most of my references are from Disney because they happen to be the best examples by a longshot.

Keys to main street lighting:
1. Lots and lots of light. Main streets are well.. the main street of your park. This means they are supposed to be lively, active, and inviting. Your lighting has to reflect this. That means pumping as much light as you can to highlight as much as you can. There's very little on the main streets that fade into the background. Your choices here are 'bright' and 'very bright' for the most part. There's not much subtlety to be had on a main street. It's a cacophony.

2. High visibility of people! This pairs with step 1 pretty well. The main street is also the most crowded area of your park, simply by nature, and so visibility is super super important. Guests need to be able to see the faces of others so they can avoid bumping into each other, but also so they can read facial expressions to some extent.

Think of all the times you've crossed paths with a stranger and you both weave to avoid each other.. but weave to the same side. Awkward. Seeing faces can help prevent that.

It's fairly easy to light up your facades sufficiently, but if your pathways don't get enough light, it's all out of whack and doesn't quite feel right. The main obstacle here is that in Planet Coaster, light doesn't bounce. So if you aim a light at a wall, it doesn't bounce back the other direction.

Here are two examples in Planet Coaster of good and bad visibility of people.



Here is a good example. You can see all the facial features of these people. There are no gross shadows across them. They feel 'normal'.



Now here is your 'Squidward' of park lighting.. In the dark. Undetectable. Doesn't match the light levels of the surrounding area. Just feels like someone put a black hole over the area and sucked out all the life. Even the daughter is unhappy about it. Don't be a Squidward.



I'll refer back to this later when looking at techniques.

3. Make people want the weenie. 'Weenie' of course being a term Walt used to describe a key point, such as a castle, that you want to draw guests to. In the daytime, you have to draw guests to your weenie with architecture and massing. At night you get many other tools. These may include:

    1. Color. This is the easiest way to draw guests in. A blue color stands out against a red one.
    2. Intensity. Stuff that's brighter attracts guests more readily than a dark corner.
    3. Size. As with daytime, at night, the surface area of your weenie is still important. Lighting up a bigger weenie makes it far more appealing than a dinky little one (sorry fellas). Take note of this in your story. You may want a subtle weenie. You may want a garish gigantic castle. But the lighting will need to fall into place with that. Disneyland's castle and Walt Disney World's castle are very different. But the lighting doesn't try to turn one into the other. Cinderella's castle makes no attempts to be subtle and Sleeping Beauty's makes no attempt to be a spectacle, and that's ok. Think the story you want to tell.

4. Very congruent color temperature. Typically, your main street is nothing more than one giant show building on either side with a bunch of fake facades breaking that up with no space between the buildings. You have one vanishing point and it's one big cluttered scene. You don't have a lot of freedom to break up that vanishing point with color changes.

See Disney World here. Every building on the main street serves merely as a means to move the eye towards the castle. Any break up of this pattern would kill this movement and destroy the scene.



Now I'll make one small change, simply changing the color of the light affecting one small facade on the right, without making any alterations to the actual lighting design:



By just making this one building a little more blue, it suddenly competes with the castle. Due to the perspective of the street, it takes up almost the exact same field of view as the castle. This totally alters your story, as you've made this shop, in this case a crystal store, equally as important as the castle. Does this make sense? Certainly not in the case of Disney World, and probably not in your park either. Be mindful of this when you start to light your street.

These points of color are equally valid even when you aren't in a traditional environment. Say, you're in Tomorrowland. Lets take a look there instead:



While they've used tons of color, on any individual level, the color is fairly congruent.

-Green-
-Blue-
-Purple-
-Red-
 With some splashes of yellow here and there. But you can clearly still detect the vanishing point and nothing competes in the scene. This is ideal.

4. Create points of focus beyond your weenie. So I had said earlier that tons of light is very important, and it is, another important thing to remember on main streets is that you still want to draw attention to all those shops with all the expensive merchandise you no doubt have stocking those shelves. Or the $20 margaritas and $10 appetizers.

So where do you highlight? The big ones are probably these three:

        1. Entrances. Mainly doorways. These need to be brighter than the rest of the area. Guests will naturally flock to brighter areas. They are like a swarm of moths.
        2. Window displays. This is where you show off the fancy merch. Again, people are like moths. See the Christmas Story for proof:



And all they had in there were some measly Raggedy Ann dolls and a model train!

        3. Signage. This one is underrated but very critical. Nobody will go near your shop if they don't know what it even is. You do have to be a bit careful on signage, depending on your story. Too much and you clutter your scene into chaos. This may be your story, it may not be. But signage is the determining factor. See Nashville:





Now see Wisconsin. Pretty big difference. One is actually a place you want to spend time being in. The other is a depressing and cold wasteland. Unless you're building a Six Flags park, I can't imagine the second is your goal.

        4. Stuff you will run into. This is a duh obvious one that can be forgotten, but if you have jutting out corners and steps that are in pitch black, you're gonna have a bad time. Kids with black eyes.. wheelchairs littering the pavement. Not great.

**photo redacted**

(When I add an interior section, there becomes many other critical areas, mainly your POS {point of sale, the registers usually} and the shelves. In restaurants it becomes a WHOLE other arena that requires a whole new set of criteria)

5. Uniformity of light. This is something I've touched on plenty in the earlier tutorials, but to reiterate it here I'll be concise.

Uniformity is good.. until it isn't. You want light that is congruent across your scene, but to completely eliminate contrast makes your scene a bore. I will touch more on this later in the tutorial.



-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ok, so now that I've laid out how lighting works in the game, I'll start digging into how I implement these qualitative criteria into (pseudo) reality.

First, I'll start with the general area lighting. This means the pathways that guests traverse, and does not include any vertical surfaces like the facades. Only the horizontal ones like pathways, and guests, which aren't really in either category.

I'll start with a true overview. How much light should you have? Well, I have about this much:



How does that compare to more standard areas of my park? Well, it differs by a ton. Here is another land in this same park from overhead.



As you can tell, the difference here is substantial. Why is that? Well, the main reason goes right back to point #1. Lots and lots of light.

It's simply an inevitability that to meet all the criteria I have set forth, you need to make your main street really really bright. No other lands besides your entrance street have such intense criteria.

Now, this is very hard to prove from aerials, but this photo shows something similar at Disneyland.



The main street is very clearly traceable from just the lighting. And is far higher in light levels than any of the surrounding areas. None of which can be as clearly seen from the air.



Contrast on the ground plane starts to become a serious issue even at this very simple level. I said that you want uniformity, but if you have tons of uniformity, you kill all your contrast. So how can you possible have both??

Well the answer starts and ends with one thing. Spacing.

Spacing is basically just how far apart you place lights. Closer spacing means more light and also more uniformity. Ideally you want to use as few lights as possible to achieve a uniformity that works. This would in the real world mean less money to spend on lights, as well as less clutter from poles all over the place, something that can really kill a screenshot.

Example:



This intersection with about a million too many light poles. Don't do this.

Since you cannot increase the output of a fixture in the game, only decrease it, you have to get a little clever. Luckily it's pretty easy. I'll first detail how I've done it in this application, and then another application that is valid in less cramped areas.



If you look onto my main street, you'll see I have many many street poles all over. They are spaced fairly realistically in a way that doesn't clutter everything up.

This is how most lighting is accomplished in reality at theme parks. This is because lighting actually bounces around in real life. In Planet Coaster, light does not bounce. So you have to fake the impression of light bouncing through other methods.

Method 1: Hidden event lights

So what I discovered on a main street is that the street is almost always too wide to guarantee good shadowing for the peeps walking down the middle of the street, no matter how optimally you placed poles. How to stop this? Pretty easy. Just hide a bunch of event lights in your buildings.



Yep. That's it. Aim as many as you need towards the paths to make your peeps visible. One caveat is that this really can kill your game performance if you do it too much. So aim for thinner main streets and you'll have to use this less often.

Why does this work? Well, in reality, a main street is a very diffuse, very 'bouncy' environment where light is bouncing everywhere. This means less shadows. So these event lights do nothing more than emulate that bouncing of light around the scene that is otherwise vanishing. I use this type of exploit very very frequently in my lighting. It can replicate glow from windows, string lights, and on and on..

This is my preferred method. But you don't always have a place to hide a light that makes sense. If you are in an open pathway where there is no realistic way that light bouncing would happen, you have to somehow increase the intensity of your existing poles without killing your color.

That's also pretty easy, luckily.

Method 2: Poles only.



This is pretty easy. Just take your light and duplicate it and place it down in the same spot. This is one light.



Here's about 10 poles all in the same place. The more you place, the more filled out the sphere around the light becomes. Eventually you'd probably see a near perfect circle, but you end up with diminishing returns at a point, but it's great to help get that little extra brightness you need without changing the color of your light or finding some weird place to add another light. Just add one back in the same place.

This can become a performance drag that many probably want to avoid, but in most areas of the parks, you don't need to spam lights all that much. Usually one or two in one place will get the trick done. Main streets are again, just very rigorous to light and you need quite a bit of light.

--------------------------------------------------EDIT---------------------------------------
Method 3: Lights under the paths

Another common technique I hear people using a lot is burying lights in the pathways to light the guests. I'll describe here why that isn't always such a great technique.



Here I've placed a number of boxlights under the pathway. What you end up seeing is all the shadows are on the tops of the people, and not under their faces. They look creepy. This isn't the type of lighting you want. What you ideally want are shadows to come from overhead. This is what feels most natural.



Also, if you use the area light, you get this clearly visible pattern of light on the top of your path, totally blowing the illusion and giving away that you've just hid a bunch of lights under the path.



Aim for rows 1 and 2 of this diagram, avoid the bottom rows if you can.

Now of course, if you look back to how the lighting functions, there is no light bouncing off the ground, even though this would be happening in reality. So you COULD put a few lights under there to add in some more diffusion, but you have to be careful that your shadows on the people don't look really gross.

Method 4: Tall poles

Another fairly simple method is to hide big tall poles with the event light on them in planters and other nooks around your park. I don't generally love this method cause the poles usually are ugly and intrusive. But you can get away with them in certain areas where you aren't able to hide lights properly elsewhere.



Method 5: Lights in trees

This also has limited use, but can be helpful in a pinch. When your spacing isn't quite right for another street pole, and a big telephone pole is too intrusive, you may be able to get away with hiding some lights in the branches. Since the game doesn't block light, you can easily stash them without getting any light block from the tree itself.



Also visible in this picture is my technique for lighting up trees. Just recess lights a few feet from your trunk and point them up.



In this case they are angled back a bit into the main path. This prevents 'spillover' onto the adjacent building, which would have ruined my lighting on that facade.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Facade Lighting:

Now onto the facades. My techniques here are generally pretty simple, but some can of course be performance intensive.

My two workhorses for facades are these:



They are low profile and have the most realistic lighting distributions. Also critically, you can change their color.



So here is my building. At a glance, you don't see any light sources. You see the area light poles, and a few wall sconces, yet all of the lights making the building 'glow' are hidden. In reality, the string lights on the building would be very bright bulbs that would illuminate most of the facades. There is so much light bouncing around on a main street that your buildings generally have lots of glow.



If I choose my lights, you can see I have a crapload of them hidden all over the place. This is madness for most parks and you could get away with far less, but this is my extreme example that gave me the light I needed.



To highlight the walls, boxlights are angled in. What is important here is that you don't put lights on your windows. From a realism standpoint, nobody is going to be shining lights into a room from the outside on purpose. The lights on the outside are meant to illuminate the walls, not the windows.

Above are some arm lights which illuminate the cornice. I managed to get them to blend in pretty well with the windows so that they don't appear to be lights. They just appear to be a part of the window frame.



I did similar spamming of armlights on the corner, where I wanted a bit more light. Back to earlier, remember that I said you have to draw focus to certain areas? Well corner buildings are certainly important, and adding brightness here makes them an anchor point in the scene.





Under the doorways, the classic boxlights are underneath. This is again overkill. Most parks you could get away with one or two. My main street is really bright, so to make much brighter areas than an already bright scene requires spamming tons and tons of lights.



Across the way, I've done similar techniques.



I tried my best to have the lights integrate with the architecture so that they feel fairly invisible. You can also see a stronger representation of what not illuminating the windows looks like.



A separate building here. Since the string lights in the game do not give off actual light, and are just bright texture, to realistically mimic the real lighting affects of them, you can also use armlights. This is an 'expensive' technique and why I generally avoid using too many string lights.



I have a little splash of color on my elephants, but not so much to overwhelm the scene.

Marquees and Overhangs:



Marquees may be another thing you have on your main street. They are simple to light and give you a nice shelf to place facade lighting.



On the underside I have many 'string' lights to represent the typical bulbs.



Recessed in the marquee are a series of area lights. This mimics the light from the bulbs.



You also get a nice shelf for the studio lights to illuminate your facade. They can create a very 'flat' looking facade, but also will save you a few lights.



For a more basic canopy, you don't need to have two full layers and can get away with either the boxlights or area lights, depending on your preference. In this case, I liked the boxlights better.

Sconces:



Sconces are of course a very very common light source. Were I designing a real street, I would use them extremely heavily. However, there are very very few decent sconces in the game. Most have no ability to change their color, thus rendering them almost useless.

Here are the few sconces I will use the most:



These ones have fairly inoffensive and traditional colors. The Munsters ones are a bit more blue, and the spooky ones a bit more yellow. The rest in the game are super super yellow and gross and I avoid them like the plague.

The other downside to these sconces is that they are just big blobs of light that can overwhelm the scene if you overuse them. For that reason, I tend to use the more controlled methods above on my facades.

Illuminated Windows:

These can be quite useful, but only when the theme of the window matches the theme of your building. The only lit windows are from the spooky pack and are thus very rugged. They do retain the color and texture of the window which makes them useful.



You can get around this by recessing the illuminated color panels into your windows when you don't have the option of using an illuminated window. This becomes very tricky and tedious, and also forces you to plaster over the window texture, costing you some depth, especially during the day. The TV screens can work here too, but again, it just becomes really tricky and tedious to map it all correctly. Not really worth it unless you REALLY need a window to look illuminated.

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So what I'll do now is start the lighting of a structure from near start to finish.



Here is the building with no lighting. I opted for one illuminated window in the center tower.



Now, I place an armlight to illuminate the tower further and supplement the glow of the window. This makes it feel a little less painted on and illuminates some of the structure that would realistically be illuminated by the window glow.



Next, I added some more armlights onto the roof. They are made to mimic 'snow-guards' which prevent snow from falling several stories off of roofs and crushing people. My park is based in the northeast, so this is within my story.



Next I add in my sconces. They give some glow to the facade elements. I opted for these over the pricier armlight techniques as I managed to get these to work well, and I really didn't have anywhere better to hide more lights without aiming them directly onto windows.



And finally, I add the large area lights under my canopy. This makes the building inviting, and gives enough light on the pathway for guest visibility.

I could have added a few more layers to the upper structure, but for whatever reason, I stop here. I like how the light tapers off as you move up the structure. It gives it a sense of size.

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So that's all I have for now. I'm not sure when the next installment will come. If you have more ideas for things to add, please let me know and I'll try to touch on it.
« Last Edit: December 09, 2018, 12:38 PM by Grrt »

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Offline Bullethead

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #24 on: December 08, 2018, 09:31 AM »
Yay, more great info from Grrt!

I tend to bury the area lights just below the ground along paths rather than spamming lightpoles.  You obviously don't think that's the best plan so I was wondering what it's problems are :)
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Offline Grrt

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #25 on: December 08, 2018, 10:03 AM »
Yay, more great info from Grrt!

I tend to bury the area lights just below the ground along paths rather than spamming lightpoles.  You obviously don't think that's the best plan so I was wondering what it's problems are :)

That's a good point. I definitely don't recommend doing it that way primarily, haha. I'll add a section about this technique and why to avoid it. The basis is that you don't create a physically accurate environment. Cause light doesn't come up from the ground as much as it comes off of the walls. A standard scene has about 80% reflective ceilings, 50%-60% reflective walls, and only 10%-30% reflective floors, with the lower end of that being more typical in exteriors, especially when you use darker pavements.

 If you use a lighter path color, I suppose you could mimic this a bit, but use it exclusively and you get unnatural shadows on your people.



You ideally want something more like rows 1 and 2 in a main street, cause rows 3,4, and 5 feels really unnatural in a park setting, especially on a main street. Place lights in the ground and you tend to get that.

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #26 on: December 08, 2018, 10:31 AM »
Well, if you're going for creepy, it's OK :)

I was thinking a dim light from below was trying to fake brighter light reflecting from above.  There's more light above than below.
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Offline Grrt

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #27 on: December 08, 2018, 11:52 AM »
Well, if you're going for creepy, it's OK :)

I was thinking a dim light from below was trying to fake brighter light reflecting from above.  There's more light above than below.

Yeah, that's basically what's happening. But people tend to place more light below, or use that method to eliminate placing poles and it doesn't always look right and you can tell instantly that they've just hidden a bunch of lights under the path. Especially cause you can see the outline of the light distribution on the topside of the pathways.

EDIT:

I've now went in and added quite a bit more info and photos to the previous post.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2018, 01:13 PM by Grrt »

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #28 on: December 08, 2018, 03:07 PM »
Wow, that's a lot to digest!  Thanks!
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Offline shyguy

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Re: (TUT) - Lighting In Planet Coaster, A Field Guide
« Reply #29 on: December 08, 2018, 04:30 PM »
Excellent tutorial.

I find myself sinking area lights below the paths all the time, because it's easy and usually looks "good enough." But I'm definitely going to use some of these methods in future builds.
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