Realistic shadows are one of the most important elements of fooling the human eye into believing that what it is seeing is "real". Games like F.E.A.R.
and Splinter Cell
use shadowing heavily for both gameplay and dramatic effect.
With Supreme Commander
we saw recently how shadowing can be used to raise realism in the RTS space. So how do the different levels of Shadow Detail in Tiberium Wars
affect graphical fidelity? Let's find out!
Starting with the lowest level, Shadows Off (below left), you can see that the game looks completely barren. Buildings look like they have just been plonked on the background like Lego blocks and units roam around as if floating above the surface. Avoid this setting if at all possible.
Moving up to Shadows Low (below right) and things have barely improved. Units gain a small disc of shadow underneath them but it is certainly a very basic solution. Buildings and terrain still lack any kind of shadowing.
Shadows Off (above left) and Shadows Low (above right) both look terrible.
Click to enlarge
Shadows Medium (above left) and Shadows Ultra (above right) add detail and realism.
Click to enlarge
Move to Medium Shadows (above left) and what a difference it makes! As you can see, units receive realistic, real-time shadowing no matter what their shape. This transforms their believability as their shape-hugging shadows flow across the landscape and each other. Buildings are also treated to the same dynamic shadows which move in tune with their highly-detailed eye candy animations.
Crank it up to Ultra Shadows (above right) and you have all of the above with the added bonus of terrain shadowing. This includes trees and buildings as well as hill, bunkers and ditches.
We would recommend Medium Shadows as an absolute minimum; any less ruins any illusion of realism. Many gamers would be happy at Medium and anyone forced to run at this level by virtue of a mid-range PC will not be disappointed. Having said that, once you play with Ultra Shadows enabled, moving back to Medium will make it obvious what is missing.