Mixed Shadowing Arts

Apparently, Mixed Martial Arts is huge at the moment, surpassing even the boxing according to some, and yes, the premise sounds great in the paper. In reality, though, matches often reduce to the lowest common denominator, and the fighters end up spending most of the time wrestling each other out against the cage, huffing and puffing. Interestingly, fever rules tend to lead to less interesting results, just like in arts in general.

So, Mixed Martial Arts as a sport is one of those cases that work better in a simulated form where there is some actual combating taking place.

However, what really makes these types of games interesting are the ultra challenging and unforgiving lighting conditions where there are supposedly hundreds of distinct lights illuminating the arena from almost every conceivable direction. And that’s a pickle.

EA Sports MMA’s offering as a solution for this classic problem can be described as peculiar, to say the least. The thing is, the opacity of the shadows in ES MMA depends on the distance they are in from the shadow-casting object, in the spirit of area shadows, but not quite. This applies to a certain height (around the knee) beyond which the gradient shadow is completely replaced with evenly blurred one. Notice the obvious threshold separating the two different types of shadows.

The shadows in ES MMA noticeably work best when the fighters are standing up, and conversely get really unnatural and weird when the action gets down on the mat, which is more apparent in motion. On a side note, the logic of how the shadow effect is rendered actually resembles a lot how z-buffer behaves.

Interestingly, prior released UFC Undisputed 2010 has a totally different approach to the same issue that is basically the scattered shadows. UFC combines couple of extra shadow maps per fighter with simple but effective ambient occlusion –effect that kicks in when ever something approaches the floor. UFC’s solution for shadows works like a charm and is far more consistent (and realistic) than the one ES MMA throws at you. A beautiful solution is beautiful.

It’s always intriguing to compare two different approaches to a given problem. ES MMA’s offering is a bit mix and match, and downright bizarre, while UFC pulls off the shadowing with flying colors, given the limitations of the current-gen console hardware. Perhaps the developer of ES MMA EA Tiburon didn’t have for some reason a decent ambient occlusion algorithm at their disposal, and thus ended up doing something rushed and unintuitive.

Either way, both games are great, at least so I have heard.