Luminous Revolution: Square’s New Engine

Mirroring reality's mirrors

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Hitman and (spit) Final Fantasy publisher Square Enix has been experimenting with a brand new, proprietary graphics engine, which it calls Luminous. Given Develop notes this is DirectX 11 tech, it seems more than likely it’s coming to future PC games – so let’s take a look at the thing below. The idea is it’s that much closer to photo-realism, at least in terms of environments – while I’d rather spend my games in a crazy, impossible, fantastical environment than a faithfully-recreated multistorey carpark, there’s no denying that this tech looks mighty impressive.

So, they reckon the following reality/vidyagame comparison shot shows what Luminous is capable of:

And here it is in compressed online video-based action:

Not the most thrilling footage in and of itself, but cor blimey that’s some fancy, realistic lighting there. I wouldn’t grumble about playing a Deus Ex game that looked like that. But is it really possible? I’m not a believer until I’ve seen it running on a real, contemporay PC in real time.


  1. Turin Turambar says:

    I like how in the “real time” photo they added some crates, added to truly notice that’s the videogame version.

    • diebroken says:

      StC(tm)! XD

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      Start to Crate score = 0 seconds

    • kyrieee says:

      Brilliant observation!

    • aerozol says:

      Ahahaha! So true!

    • Urthman says:

      It’s like they could hear the golf clap Old Man Murray would have given then for making a sewer parking garage 12% prettier than ever before.

      Talk about knocking id off their “faithfully render a drab environment” throne.

  2. Inigo says:

    The video would have been longer, but the cameraman tripped over the aliasing and scythed off his feet.

  3. clownst0pper says:

    Holy crab cakes batman!

  4. Echo Black says:

    Probably an engine meant for the next generation of consoles.

    • Rao Dao Zao says:

      Of course it’s for consoles, did you SEE that glacial movement rate? If he turns round too fast…

    • thegooseking says:

      Of course it’s for consoles, did you SEE that glacial movement rate? If he turns round too fast…

      That movement rate looked pretty realistic to me. You know, like the speed people actually walk. In real life. Such realism!

      Oh, and the graphics were kind of realistic too, I guess.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      @thegooseking: To hell with realism, I say. In the words of Oscar Wilde:

      I fucking hate vulgar realism in gaming. The man who could render a photorealistic spade should be compelled to use a real one. It is the only thing he is fit for.

      Or something along those lines, I’m quoting from memory here.

    • thegooseking says:

      @eclipse mattaru

      Normally, I would respond with what Keats famously had to say on the subject of realism, but I have to concede that you’re probably right.

    • The Colonel says:


    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Please RPS, can we have a comment of the week prize? Because eclipse mattaru just won in my books.

  5. Squishpoke says:

    Yes, the lighting DOES look pretty good… I like how it seems to just spill around the corner like it does in real life.

    Wait, how do we know if it’s not simply a dude walking around with a camera, just to troll us?

    • Teddy Leach says:

      It genuinely looked like a bloke walking around with a camera.

    • soldant says:

      It’s still a bit uncanny valley… if I can butcher the term to apply to an environment rather than a person. It’s pretty close, but it’s still not right. There are points where it’s just too “sharp” (like the hallway entrance on the right) to be real, it’s not really natural. That lighting though… wow, that’s really impressive if it’s really real-time.

    • The Colonel says:

      I think what it really shows is that enough attention to creating a realistic feeling gait/motion massively increases the feeling of real-life. If that had just had left-right swinging head-bob it wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as real IMHO. Obviously the engine looks good too, but its not hard to render a bland corridor with some lights in, surely?

    • Lord Byte says:

      The moment the grate at the bottom comes closer you notice the jaggies :) And due to the anti-aliasing it seems to pop into existence once the bleed into nearby pixels becomes to heavy (ie we get closer).

    • Aninhumer says:

      I wonder how hard it would be to process a real video to make it look fake? Like, edge detect and introduce artificial jaggies…

  6. stahlwerk says:

    Yes, it is possible. Mighty fancy indeed, I dig what they’re aiming for, there. Gritty realism and all, but I hope that weakman footage will remain the domain of underslept trading show floor reporters. Imagine what would happen if some weakman camcordered a weakman-style game!

  7. jeffcapeshop says:

    it’s interesting that it looks realistic as if from a video camera, rather than real life..

    • stahlwerk says:

      It’s funny how they chose to compare shots from an archetypical FPS setting, the Half-Life 1 era parking garage, which looks a lot like a computer game to begin with.

    • The Colonel says:

      The way those photos have been taken [see Edge article], they don’t look like the real-world any more than the CGI version. Apart from that the real-world has anti-aliasing and higher resolution that 1280×960. If it can top the real world for AI and animation then fair enough though.

  8. Anthile says:

    Mother of god.

  9. Voxel_Music_Man says:

    Hope it’s not just baked radiosity lighting or something silly like that.

    Here’s hoping that this is actually real-time radiosity?


    Oh, I just say this on the youtube info:
    “Tech Demo of the new Luminous Engine by Square Enix. Will be released on Xbox 360, PC, PS3 and PSVita.”

    It’s it’s working on that old hardware, it can’t be fully real-time radiosity. I think it’s baked. :(

    Good area lighting and ambient occlusion *might* get a similar effect … ?

    • stahlwerk says:

      There’s no indication of either. Purely from the name, I’m suspecting a Lumigraph related technology, maybe combined with real-time light source-sorcery, like CryEngine’s Light propagation volumes.

    • Voxel_Music_Man says:

      Sorry, I’m in the southern hemisphere so It’s very late at night and I only read through some of the paper. :D

      It’s all horribly academic and my brain is mush – does this work by taking a finite amount of images of the environment + their positions/orientations in space and interpolate them in a ‘smart’ way using basic approximate geometry or something?

      It sounds like it’s pretty but results in very static environments …

      Forgive me if I’m wrong!

    • othello says:

      It’s most likely precomputed. Radiosity solutions in real time are not feasible. It’s also not likely to be Lumigraph, since that requires a ridiculous amount of pre-processing and memory use without taking advantage of modern hardware (that paper is from 1996 btw).

    • Voxel_Music_Man says:

      Yeah, whatever it is I seriously doubt that that the lighting is calculated real time if it’s on the xbox, etc.
      If this tech just results in very pretty but very very static environs, then it’s not much better than that infinite detail voxel engine that everyone was going on about a while back.

      I would like to be pleasantly surprised, though! :)

      The tech described in that paper reminds me of a more advanced version of what google uses to interpolate between google street view images …

      Anyway, trading away destructibility and interaction for graphics seems like a bad idea to me. Look at the opposite extreme of trading graphics for destructibility and interaction – minecraft.

    • skurmedel says:

      It looks like baked lighting to me… There is no dynamic lights or anything to suggest otherwise.

  10. Fox89 says:

    They’re using this system, or some non-DX-11 variant of it, in FF Versus XIII. Squenix say the results are really impressive but then again…they would wouldn’t they? Still, I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do on the current console generation. And hope they license it to some PC only developer so we can see what the engine can really do in all it’s DX11 glory.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    The question is: Will it also look as good when not rendering a carpark?

    Also: Hey! There were Final Fantasy games on the PC! Maybe there will be again, some time in the future. :)

    • thegooseking says:

      The last Final Fantasy game (if it counts, being an MMO) was on PC.

      Also rubbish, by all accounts, but it was on PC.

    • Milky1985 says:

      They release the last remnant on PC, the PC version had extra stuff, a bunch of design fixes and good pc configuration options.

      So they can occassionlly do good stuff with jrpgs for pc (that and last remnant was and still is an awesome game)

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      “The last Final Fantasy game (if it counts, being an MMO) was on PC.”

      Heh. Yeah, you’re right. For some reason, I tend to forget the MMO-FFs.

    • Kaira- says:

      When thegooseking said that the last Final Fantasy game on PC was rubbish, I was like “but… FFXI was actually a decent MMO!”

      And then it hit me. Ohh.

  12. Burning Man says:

    Please show me an environment with… oh I don’t know… SOMETHING.

    Blank white walls, patterned floors, rectangular shapes… you could have done this with the Portal 2 engine and I wouldn’t know the difference. The lighting looks fantastic but it ends there.

    I would like Luminous to render a Bulletstorm level before attempting to make further conversation.

    • Donjo says:

      Yeah, I think if something similar was made in other modern engines and had a shaky cam effect I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference… it’s not that impressive!

      Edit to reply to the comment below: Exactly, I don’t want to walk through a another carpark!

    • LionsPhil says:

      Since everything is so static, you could have done this is in the Half-Life 1 engine if you had suitably high-res textures.

      (High-res textures optional when demoing via tiny screenshots and low-res YouTube video.)

    • Merlkir says:

      Such plain environments are used exactly for the purpose of showing off the lighting technique/realism. (it’s easier to spot and judge than in complex environments)

    • nrvsNRG says:

      @Burning Man
      I was thinking the same but didnt want to say anything coz of all the whoops and wow’s.
      even if it was just a little bit more adventurous, like maybe office space (another fps favorite), i would of been more impressed.

    • Wulf says:


      It’s kind of funny and silly to the point where it verges on the ridiculous when someone says that. It reminds me of the old “This game looks so bad, it could be Quake!” style mantras. Except the problem is is that people actually don’t realise how limited older engines were, and this includes Half-Life. Really, HL was too low-poly to actually properly portray the environments they used in this video.

      It’s sparse, yes. But paying attention it probably would have required the Source engine to achieve similar effects. It wouldn’t take a brand new engine to recreate this demo, but just throwing Half-Life 1 out there is kind of silly. Really, go back and play some games using the Half-Life 1 engine with higher resolution textures and you’ll see what I mean. It could never throw about the amount of polygons needed to represent this particular environment.

      The mirror in the shot the article uses even would be a hexagon.

    • The Colonel says:

      Wulf I think you need to improve your detection of throwaway/glib/non-serious remarks, in the nicest possible way. That clearly wasn’t supposed to be taken completely literally.

    • skalpadda says:

      I immediately thought “Source” when I saw this. I always thought Valve were among the few companies to do realism right, especially lighting feels very natural and everything not being covered in super-shiny shaders.

  13. clownst0pper says:

    Are we really wanting to get to the stage where development teams have to hire a staff member just to produce a photorealistic texture of a nail, or a pebble?

    Give me games with heart and soul, that are visually exciting. I spend enough time in the real world, thank you.

    • Chalky says:

      link to

      The combination of a photo realistic engine and procedural environment generation has the potential to generate far larger and more complex worlds than a hand painted game ever could.

    • Saldek says:

      Actually, hearts are quite difficult to render realistically. Almost in a different league to nails, pebbles and concrete. Souls? I wouldn’t even know where to start …

    • Josh W says:

      I know from recent experience that souls just look like misty white particle effects, we should be fine on that front already.

  14. Joyo says:

    *Finally* all of those grey industrial compounds and brown-grey wastelands will have the perfect verisimilitude that I have come to demand from my PC gaming experience.

  15. The Sombrero Kid says:

    This is not impressive. They are rendering plain environments to trick you into thinking it’s better than it is, these renders were possible with the deus ex engine & if they’re implementing more advanced lighting like GI they aren’t showing it off & it’s almost completely undetectable, there’s nothing interesting about these images.

  16. abigbat says:

    saw this the other day, it’s stunning.

  17. coldvvvave says:

    Luminous Path? Why not Red Arrow?

    What a shame.

  18. Bodylotion says:

    Looks too realistic yet i think wouldn’t be surprised if this was indeed some guy walking around with a camera. but even if it’s real u cant go from Deus Ex graphics to that lol.

  19. 2late2die says:

    Looks mighty impressive. This kind of stuff really gets my wondering about the whole idea of true photo-realism in games, more precisely about how it would work with stylized or fantastical environments. I mean sometimes games go for a stylized look for artistic reasons, and of course it also helps in terms of performance, but what happens if you create an “unrealistic” art style inside a photo realistic engine?

    Just as an example, let’s say something like Space Marine – it could very well have very realistic and “gritty” environments while also obviously having the stylized humans, orks and other critters. So would something like that simply kill any photo realism and it will end up looking like a higher detail version of current space marine? Or would it look simply odd and incompatible, like a cartoon overlayed over a photo? Or maybe, and this is what I’m hoping for, it will look like something from a Guillermo del Toro movie, Pan’s Labyrinth for example – now that would be freaking awesome.

    • Thants says:

      Mirror’s Edge is a good example of a stylized but realistic looking game.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Brink also, I’d say. It’s cartoonish heads with realistic skin are an interesting effect.

  20. ShadowBlade says:

    I thought Source engine when first seeing that.

    You can do this in current UDK builds as well (without DX11). It’s not very impressive. Perhaps if they’d built a less bland environment..

  21. Thants says:

    What is the point of demoing a new engine with tiny pictures and a 480p video? Why would anyone take screenshots that small?

    • Josh W says:

      Probably because the colour pallet and lighting propegation is the thing they put all the time into.

  22. Moni says:

    There’s a few more details over here:

    link to

    Lots of interesting stuff, some workflow improvements, real-time editing, fluid dynamics, cloth physics, procedural animation.

  23. Very Real Talker says:

    video games engines should be depicting impossible worlds, not non descript boring real life locations. What a shitty demo, no one should care about how realistically that kind of place is rendered in a videogame….

    I’ll take a fantasy location with wow graphics (I never played wow, just an example) over that boring photorealistic shit any day of the week.

  24. Jorum says:

    This looks very impressive, but the big problem will be that we are currently far way from being able to to real-time render a character model that realistically. Humans are just too good at noticing when a face or human movement is even a little bit “off”.
    Photorealistic backgrounds with non photo-realistic people could be very jarring I think.

    EDIT – Also as people are pointing out, artistic creativity is much more important that photo-realism.
    I’ll gladly forswear any graphical improvements for more visuals like Morrowind, Zeno Clash, Rapture, Mirrors Edge, Prey
    (or the hyperbolic gothic granduer of Space Marine, but that’s probably because I’m a WH fan).

  25. arienette says:

    But there’s no bloom! How will I know it’s a video game without needing to wear sunglasses when I play.

  26. hadrianw says:

    Looks good, but:
    1. We see here only generic car park
    2. Lights are static – no changes in lighting
    But if it’s also something like quick way of 3d scanning it would be very useful.

  27. eclipse mattaru says:

    Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Hitman and (spit) Final Fantasy publisher

    I love you.

    I’d rather spend my games in a crazy, impossible, fantastical environment than a faithfully-recreated multistorey carpark

    I love you even more.

    Like I keep saying all the time, gaming needs more artists and less technicians. Motherfuck photorealism, I still take Psychonauts’ blocky, blurry but beautifully imaginative graphics over any of this.

    • thegooseking says:

      Well… photorealism is an artistic movement. I agree with you on the point that realism is overemphasised in games, and that sometimes more expression and less representation is needed, but I don’t think it’s very fair to dismiss the people responsible for the realism as somehow “not artists”.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      I’ll admit that arguing artistic merit was a misstep, if nothing else because “art” is probably the most elastic term in any language ever.

      My point stands, though: Photorealistic =/= Believable. And I’ll take a believable cartoon drawn with 4 lines and a handful of flat colors (my favorite example to cite in these cases is Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, from 1951) over the uncanny valley abominations that we always get with even the top notchest of the top notchest photorealistic engines.

  28. MadTinkerer says:

    “(spit) Final Fantasy”

    HOLD IT. I can’t be the only one here who’s a fan of FF7PC!?! You guys do realize that VII, VIII and XI are/were available on the PC? And I’ve heard XI is good. (XIV does not exist. Any rumors you’ve heard to the contrary are false.) VIII was okay.

    • Aspongeinmauve says:

      I’m with you. I would love to see non-MMO FFs back on PC.

    • InternetBatman says:

      FF7 on PC was such a bad port that it was impossible to finish for most without a fan-made patch. It was a good game, but I had better luck with the PS1 rom than the PC version.

    • thegooseking says:

      I think the FF7 PC port was made for an operating system (Win95), and not a class of operating systems (Windows). How they managed that, I don’t know. It worked on XP after fiddling with it for a bit (and installing that 3rd party patch) and I haven’t been able to get it to run at all on Windows 7.

      The FF8 port was better; the only problem with that was that the game’s hardware acceleration requires your GPU knowing what 8-bit palettised textures are, which graphics cards haven’t implemented for a long time, so you have to use software rendering. I haven’t tried it on Windows 7 yet, though. (The PC port of FF8 also came with a port of the PocketStation chocobo game that PlayStation owners over here had to do without.)

    • Bluris says:

      While I’m am indeed a fan of the Final Fantasy games, I don’t mind if others are not. But I am rather offended by the spit – I am going to sound too old, but that isn’t very professional or humorous, in fact it is juvenile and not really a direction I would enjoy the site to go in.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      @Bluris: You may have the wrong website, my good sir. This is the one that made the whole movement to rescue Old Man Murray from the evil clutches of internet oblivion, so there.

  29. Derppy says:

    It’s impressive, but the geometry is extremely simple and I’m 99.9% sure the lightmaps are baked. I wouldn’t talk about photorealistic graphics in video games for at least another 10 years.

    Would need some sort of breakthrough in computation power to get even close to how realistic stuff we can currently render when speed isn’t an issue. For example: link to (browse the gallery)

    Wild guess that rendering any of those images takes at least an hour even from a very powerful machine (I’m not an expert so might be hours from huge rendering farm, point being it takes a lot of time and power). Now squeeze the one hour to 0,016 seconds and you have real-time rendering at 60 FPS.

    Then make everything dynamic and put it in the scale of open-world video games. Not happening any time soon.

    • Jimmy says:

      Give it another five years and we can offsite the computation to a server farm and connect through broadband (in locations with advanced broadband infrastructure like S. Korea). Running that level of quality at home is probably less efficient energy-wise and the hardware prohibitively expensive).

    • Derppy says:


      But the computation farm would have to be very close to you, at least if you plan on playing any games where you have direct control of the camera. Playing FPS games with even minor input lag is pretty awkward and even if we get 1GB/s connections, latency is still involved.

      Works perfect for games where the response to your actions doesn’t need to be instant (e.g. something like Heroes of Might & Magic). Cursor could be handled client-side and rendered area could be slightly larger than you screen, so it could be streamed in as you scroll the map.

      Besides, how would a business model that offers such huge amount of computational power to players work? Renting a computation farm to run your game would be extremely expensive.

      I bet the progression in game graphics is slowing down and keeps slowing down until there’s some breakthrough in technology that allows us to get rid of many hardware limitations. Doesn’t quantum processing have potential for like 10 000 increase in computation speeds?

      All this is of course just my speculation based on pretty much nothing :)

  30. Aspongeinmauve says:

    I like Final Fantasy…

  31. The Colonel says:

    link to!

    If DX11 can do this shit then it’s a great great pity that we’re unlikely to get any proper DX11 games for years. When is the XBOX 460 due out?

  32. buzzmong says:

    I reckon that’s all a big troll, and it’s just a shakey cam video with some post processing.

  33. Navagon says:

    I’ll reserve judgement for when I see it doing something actually interesting. Let’s see how it handles characters, environmental destruction and expansive areas. Then I’ll be interested.

  34. TheTourist314 says:

    Anyone notice that this setting is precisely chosen for it’s extraordinarily low Poly-count? Any lower and it’d be “My First Half-Life Map” in Hammer.

  35. magnus says:

    ‘(spit)’ indeed, I’m with you there.

  36. Lev Astov says:

    That’s really promising, but do mirrors work?

    That one in the screenshots doesn’t appear to, and none of their recent games had any real reflections, as I recall. What’s wrong, Square Enix? Got a bunch of vampires working for you?

  37. says:

    Wake me up when we see player models. I’m skeptical about them not breaking the illusion of photo realism.

  38. Hoaxfish says:

    So, is it another cop-out like the “infinite detail” video… “looks how amazing it is… it doesn’t do animation though”

  39. TooNu says:

    FFVII and FFVII are great games. Hold your spitting for lesser, more recent titles please.

  40. !Chow says:

    *wishes for a Silent Hill on this engine*

  41. vodkarn says:

    I have to say that I’d prefer interesting, obviously ‘fake’ but well crafted games to ‘realistic’ looking ones. I like when artists have the ability to shine (IE. Guildwars 2’s fantastic art.)

  42. Muzman says:

    As far as the video goes, can’t you do this already on some engines? If you really know what you’re doing that is.
    That’s the trouble with these things. You can’t tell what exactly it’s doing or not doing just by looking at it. Similar to how when Max Payne came out everyone was blown away by the graphics. But in truth the engine wasn’t all that flash. The team photosourced the begeezus out of New York itself and implimented and lit really well instead.

  43. Spliter says:

    While this does look quite pretty, tech-wise, this has to be the most depressing tech demo ever.

  44. Sinex says:

    “Cor blimey”? Brit-speak is so *weird*, man.

    • Jorum says:

      It’s a corruption/diminuation (whatever you call it) of the original (and old) phrase “God blind me”

  45. DickSocrates says:

    Quite a leap from Deus Ex which is one of the least impressive looking end-of-gen games. Prepare to have the illusion shattered when some decidedly weird looking human walks on. I wonder how that will look actually, completely photorealistic backgrounds with clearly not real humans.

  46. DigitalSignalX says:

    I’m all for any new technology that lets developers spend ever increasing amounts of time and money on visual assets instead directing that creativity toward narrative and new gameplay elements.

  47. LostViking says:

    Yes yes, nice lighting and all, but is that real raytraced reflections in that mirror?
    I have been waiting for that to appear in games for a long time!

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      This! Not long ago I was playing the first Deus Ex and it dawned on me: How long has it been since a first-person game hasn’t had an actually reflective mirror? What ever happened with them? Aren’t we supposed ot be in THE FUTURE by now? When did we forget how to do that?

      The worst thing is, every time I bring up this subject, no one seems to take it seriously or even care much! WHAT IS GOING ON AND WHO’S BEHIND ALL THIS?

  48. BurningPet says:

    i really hoped designers learned something from the modernists. looks like they havent.

  49. Spindrift says:

    I’m so glad that advances in rendering technology have afforded us such nauseatingly realistic head-bobbing action. It’s like I’m really there, and really drunk!