A revolution in lighting video games

Credit: Geomerics

Research in geometric algebra led to spin-out Geomerics, acquisition by chip-design giant ARM, and a prize-winning and revolutionary lighting technology now used worldwide in video games.

Geometric algebra is a mathematical framework that brings together several independent mathematical frameworks such as linear algebra, vector calculus and differential geometry. It provides a unified mathematical language for the neat description of physical systems. Although the main focus of the team’s research was fundamental theoretical physics, the methods they developed proved more widely applicable and could be exploited in the fields of computer graphics and computer vision.

The research led to the breakthrough product ‘Enlighten’ in 2007, which computes photo-realistic lighting in real-time on games consoles. This was viewed as a difficult problem because in the real world light bounces many times on its journey from source to eye and those interactions need to be captured for a complete physical model.

In December 2013, Arm acquired Geomerics for £13.4 million. Geomerics’ prize winning and revolutionary lighting technology is now integrated into Unreal, Frostbite and Unity game engines as “the most advanced lighting system the games industry knows”, reaching >1.5 million games creators with >2 billion end-users globally.

The technology is used by major games publishers to remake the iconic 90s game Final Fantasy VII, delivering stunning graphics at unrivalled quality per man-hour, and to upgrade some of the biggest blockbuster franchises in gaming history (including FIFA, which alone has 45 million players generating revenue of more than $1.2 billion annually).

It has also underpinned the production of the ground-breaking, BAFTA-award-winning game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Developed by Cambridge-based Independent Games developer Ninja Theory in collaboration with clinicians/patients, the game has profoundly changed players’ lives.

“Jaw dropping lighting effects… The lighting is arguably the best we’ve ever seen in a video game… and this is all possible thanks to Geomerics’ Enlighten engine.”

– GamingBolt review of Battlefield 4 by Yadu Kiran