Emissive Bioluminescence: Making a glow in the dark game

Unity render of the flare fish

3D artist Scott AKA “The Derb” tackles emissive bioluminescence

The world of bioluminescence is an odd and strange place, and we like strange things. In developing the game Debris, we’ve designed creatures to react to the player’s actions with bioluminescence. So if you see something glowing, you may be in terrible danger. Using Unity, we can build emissive bioluminescence similar to the amazing effects found in the real world.

Bizarre creatures beyond your wildest imagination

The BBC2 has an awesome documentary narrated by David Attenborough (we watch everything this guy does) about glowing creatures, it’s a great reference for bioluminescence. Check it out here. In our game design document, the to-be-named flare-eater is a stealthy attacker. Always on the lookout for light, it will ambush anything that flickers in the cold dark abyss.

3D modelling reference

So with these ideas in mind, Scott decided on a cross between a deep sea viperfish and a freshwater sturgeon. The viperfish for its amazing mouth and large snakelike jaw, and the sturgeon for its boney plates and sleek lines.

Mysterious Creatures transformed into 3D models

After four days of heavy metal music and intensive mouse clicks, the model emerged. Filleting the fish to unwrap the UVs took a solid day and rigging took another two.

Debris Game 3D model flare fish

Building the Emissive Bioluminescence shader

Since this voracious creature’s habitat is in frigid waters, we wanted an iridescent look and feel on the skin, kind of like carnival glass or smoky ice.

Emissive Bioluminescence skin reference

Here are the final filleted fish skins (or textured maps): spec/metallic, roughness/glossiness, emission, ambient occlusion, albedo, and finally the normal.

Emissive Bioluminescence texture maps

The final result, what a cutie!

Emissive Bioluminescence flare fish

Take a good look now, because all you’ll see in-game is this:

Emissive Bioluminescence fish bit

A more detailed explanation of emissive shaders in Unity can be found here: Unity 5.5 emission

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