Fans of Xenoblade Chronicle 3 can now learn how Monolith Soft made the game’s characters lighting, shading, and facial expressions. Japanese gaming outlet Game Makers recently released to the public the contents of a lecture detailing the process behind creating Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s two toon-style light shaders. The lecture was held at the CEDEC+KYUSHU 2022 conference on November 12, 2022, and Monolith Soft programmer Kei Tateno was in charge of it. [Thanks, Game Makers!]
Because the main theme of the game is “Life and Death,” the developers at Monolith Soft wanted to use lighting and shadows to reflect these themes in the characters facial expressions. In order to achieve this, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 uses shadows with higher contrast on characters, which results in a more distinct look when compared to previous entries.
This was accomplished with the use of a two-light shading system. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 uses point lights, which reflect effects like fire or lamps, combined with directional lights from sources like moonlight. Meanwhile, previous Xenoblade Chronicles entries use a different, more simplified method for representing light sources and shadows on characters.
Tateno offered an example of this in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, where using light normals (the orientation of a surface, and how it responds to lighting) would have created strange and uncanny looking shadows in the faces of characters. You can see examples of both main and directional lighting used in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and the indirect brightness used in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in the images below.
One of the challenges of introducing this two-light shading system lied in indoor lighting. Indoor lights often come directly from above, which can lead to faces not looking as good as they should. Additionally, the two-light system could sometimes make some facial expressions look different than intended. By making use of light normals and manually adjusting some shadows, the development team managed to overcome these challenges and make facial expressions pop-up under any type of lighting.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is readily available on the Nintendo Switch. On the February 2023 Nintendo Direct, Nintendo showed a peek at Wave 4 of the Xenoblade Chronicles 3 DLC Expansion Pass, coming out sometime before the end of 2023.