The Application of Light and Shadow in Splinter Cell: Conviction

Alen Chao, Article No Comments

Alen Chao | February 20, 2012

Warning: Contains Spoilers

Color and lighting are two devices often used in the media to convey certain messages or highlight important aspects of the story. Video games did not fully utilize these devices outside of providing relative realism to an otherwise monochromatic game. Perhaps, that is due to the lack of processing power in compiling how the game looks visually. Nowadays, they can be deployed to draw a theme in the game mechanics, and used as integral parts of the plot. Enter Splinter Cell: Conviction. This AAA stealthy action-adventure from Ubisoft is the sixth installment of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series. This game is just one example of how these devices are used to present compelling gameplay and a rich story.

Show Me The Way – Players move from one objective to the next from directions lit on the backdrops.

As with the previous series, protagonist Sam Fisher still needs to sneak around the map from one objective to the next. But this time, he’s doing it alone as he recovers from the recent loss of his daughter, Sarah. Immediately, the player can notice the change in how lighting is employed differently from the other games. When Fisher is hiding from his enemies’ view, the colorful screen changes to a simple black-and-white composition. When he is detected while sneaking, players are still able to move around. Now, however, a bright silhouette figure stands as contrast where the player has left. This signifies as the marker of the player’s last known location according to the enemies. Directions and tips for the game are shown on the wall from an unknown light source, sometimes with a loop of Fisher’s memories playing in the background in black and white. This bridge the device between the game mechanics and how the story is told.

How I Once Was – Detected players leave a white, transparent silhouette, which the enemy AI will focus towards. Note the chandelier remains in full color to allow players to interact with this object.

To compliment the action, color and lighting were also used during critical plot points. For example, at the beginning of the game, a cut scene featured a flashback of a conversation between Fisher and Sarah. The scene served as a tutorial, as well as demonstrating the theme of the story – darkness can be used as a positive tool to shield and protect you. This is a stark contrast to other games, where players depend on the consistency of brightness to maneuver through the game. This dichotomy also helps the player reach the next objective, where the player comes out of the darkness to the next part of the story.

Bedtime Story – Fisher’s flashback with his daughter Sarah. The use of lighting serves as a motif to the game mechanic and sets the mood for the whole game.

(Spoiler alert!) My favorite part of the game was the scene in which Fisher discovered that Sarah was in fact very much alive the whole time. Sarah, concurrently, was also told that her father had been killed. These actions were sanctioned by Fisher’s old boss and best friend, Lambert. However, both characters needed to be “kept in the dark” for their own safety, hammering in the overall theme of the entire game! Fisher was then overwhelmed and dazed with emotion to discover his daughter’s status, as well as his best friend’s betrayal. This is where the game really amped up the lighting trick. The player proceeds to finish out the level in sepia – not quite black-and-white, not quite fully colored; just dancing between the spectrum to reflect the balance of rage and sanity felt by Fisher at that moment. At that part of the game, Fisher has already infiltrated Third Echelon, the organization and building where he used to work for before his daughter’s supposed death. The player would then have to repel and eliminate various security forces and splinter cell agents, who are also kept in the dark and has labeled Fisher as their enemy and target. (On a side note, this plot twist added extra excitement to the game, since players controlled Fisher as a splinter cell agent in the previous games of the series – a practically untouchable warrior of the dark. Now, ironically, they are used as tools of evil that Fisher needed to defeat.)

Combined with other techniques to draw darkness as an aid rather than a hindrance (resupply crates hidden in the alleyways, Sonar Goggles to highlight units in the dark, etc.), Splinter Cell: Conviction is the perfect example of how color and lighting can weave through multiple aspects of a video game to deliver a significant impact to the overall experience.

Image Credits: Giant Bomb | Big Download

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