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MÅRD Tech Talk, Part 3 - Colors and depth
Feb 18, 2018

A lot has happened in the development of MÅRD since the last dev post. Most recently, the overall visual look received a total overhaul to bring out the dark and gritty look I always wanted MÅRD to have. In this post I will explain how I achieved this.



Colors play an important role in the visual tone of a game. Deciding upon a certain color palette can help to blend your game world together, but also create a special atmosphere. The development of MÅRD is currently in the final polishing stages and I decided I wanted to bring a more dark and gritty feel to the overall look of the game - almost like your typical Swedish crime drama.

To achieve this, you can use a technique a lot of games use and that's color grading. This is a shading technique that uses something called LUTs (Look Up Tables), which basically is a small color palette texture that the shader reads from and then frame by frame grades the colors of the screen to match the LUT values.


As mentioned, I wanted to achieve a more dark and gritty look - almost like a Swedish crime drama. There are a few examples that comes to mind and the one I'm thinking of uses a lot of blue color grading that gives everything a blueish tint. Click the image to see how my particular LUT looks. As you can see it is dominated by blue, but also a lot of green and red. This means that these are the dominant colors that will come through in the color grading.


Colors are done and i got the right look I wanted, but I want an overall darker tone. For this I used tone mapping. This shading technique takes one set of colors and maps it to another set in an attempt to approximate and mimic the appearance of an High Dynamic Range image and can be helpful in scenarios where high dynamic range is limited. The technique is fairly cheap on performance and looks often quite good.

The Colors of my world

Depth of Field

Since the start of the development I've been using some fairly provisional image effect shaders, like for instance Depth of Field. In this overhaul I decided to replace this, since it was not very optimized and didn't give the effect I wanted. The new depth of field shader uses a much more optimized blurring technique while also looking much better. For indoor areas I have set the blur radius to quite high since it's a confined space. For outdoor open spaces, the radius is set to much lower values and the focus range to a greater value since viewing distances are much farther.



With depth of field you also have the ability to play around with a lens artifact called bokeh. This can simulate the blur in out-of-focus points of lights. Take a look at the screenshot above to see what I mean. Both of these effects together can bring your scenes to life and give the game a much prettier and more realistic style. Finally, I wrote a custom script that detects what the player is looking at, at a distance and auto-focuses on that object to "break" through the blur.


In closing...

This is just the tip of an mountain of shading techniques you can use to give your game that certain look and feel you are looking for. It's simple, it's easy and it can look really good if used properly.

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