Night lighting issues still present - The community solutions

Come on… It was a breakthrough compared to everything we’ve seen before. They opened a new path to explore and improve. Now it is just a game. A black canvas with backlight wholes in it. And even as a game the lighting is subpar.

So we went from “awe-inspiring” to “WTF?”

The release-light tech was very nice, if you only fly below 3000-4000 ft and haven’t really done any amount of night flying IRL to understand what’s painfully obvious and missing. Pretty much all screenshots praising the release-tech is taken at really low altitudes focusing on close features.
It was definately beautiful , but hardly realistic other than within a kilometer or two at very low altitudes.

(Lamps disappearing after 1-2 km, while IRL visible for +30 km. Ambient “sepia-glow” illuminating miles and miles of features that IRL would be pitch black)

While this is fine for many gamers, it’s simply not good enough for a simulator, especially for all of those coming from a background of real night flying, used to see lamps from highways/cities stretch into the horizon, with all unlit features being pitch black. Instead of lamps vanishing for no reason and whole fields / deserts / mountains glowing in the dark like in the release version.

The early alpha on the other hand, like in many of those pre-release screenshots, definitely had more realistic features with lights visible long distances, and no radioactive glowing terrain.

But this got severely degraded into what we now know as the release-build lighting. I can understand that this looked great for those not having enough real world experience and those who didn’t see what it really looked like during the early alphas before the downgrade.

The weird thing is, Asobo seems to have completely forgotten how to create realistic night lighting. What was done over a year ago in the alphas, with Asobo now introducing a complete lack of color variation, bad lamp textures, bad bulb scaling, a lot of horrible looking things that wasn’t present one year ago…
Did they forgot how to do it, or did the people creating early-alpha lighting move on to different projects, forcing Asobo to “re-learn” how to create realistic night lighting again? Who knows…

Here are two videos how the release version of MSFS night is simply just the daytime texture with a brown/sepia filter.
Completely different from what it looks like IRL. No matter how much you liked the release build.

Here’s the low-res light mask that’s being used to apply the terrain-glow shown in the videos above.


It’s pretty much the opposite of real life. Deserts shining in the night and roads being dark, most obvious if flying higher than 5,000 ft.

Take a look of this comparison of real life Dubai vs MSFS release-build (and present in terms of “Sepia Mask”). MSFS is pretty much the opposite of real life using this sepia illumination tech:

Here’s a comparison with a screenshot from a real video approach over LA that some user claimed was easily mistaken from the release-build, but comparing to the other versions, it’s obvious that the release-build looks the least like real life. (Engine photoshopped into on the MSFS screenshots.)

And finally a comparison of Rio in the following order:
Early Alpha
Release Build
Update 5
Current (SU3)
Again, showing the shortcomings of the release-build, and while we are better off now in terms of lamp visibility. (But still suffer from blurry/fuzzy lampbulb textures scaling badly)





Again, the release build praised by a few, is the furthest from real here, with lamps disappearing after just a kilometer or two, making the whole scene look like the city suffered from a power outage.

Feels like we’ve wasted a whole year at this, the early alpha tech was simply the most promising tech, but instead of that, Asobo downgraded it horribly with the release-build, to slowly start reverting towards realism again, but with horrible mistakes that wasn’t present one year ago in the early alpha… Did they forget how realistic lights work, or what happened?

Hope they have a good look at this post by @fclem33 , showing the potential of OSM-based light-baking, instead of illuminating the daytime texture with a enormous brown/sepia-lamp.

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Oh well, it was innovative and it had potential. Like I said, they did some tricks to recreate reality, away from the backlight holes thing. And the human brain knows when something looks real. It is instinctive, hence why I mentioned the impressionists. They created an ingenious way to do that.

It could have improved? Yes. I don’t fly high, so I can’t say about that, but what we have now is just arcade. And if they keep going in this backlight holes direction, it will always be arcade.

But people in general don’t really know about how things look and how to recreate it. The art department did a great job. Kudos to them (if you guys read the forum). Maybe it went unnoticed by the crowd and the studio stuck with the average. Unfortunately quantity speaks louder than quality for some.

Praised by a few that’s probably because not many early-alpha screen shots or video clips of city night flights shown before release, so unless we were alpha testers night flight enthusiasts, we wouldn’t know… 98-99 percent of screen shots dripped pre-release were daytime flights, so we really gotta dig to find the 2-3 night time shots… True night time shots (not dusk/dawn) is even harder to find.

So when the game released, the majority didn’t even fully realise the difference between pre-release and release night light.

When you see the Rio screen shots, early alpha is definitely the best! You can see randomisation of far away lights, different warmness tone etc that feels closer to real life. You don’t really see a “continuous left-right string of pearls” that’s unrealistic. You can also see window lights of buildings further out, plus draw distance of vegetation and buildings were far greater, making it looks way more realistic.

Update 5 and latest SU3 we can see left-right “string of pearls” light which looks unrealistic… Far away lights look like layers of these string of pearls… We lost that variety of warm colours that we see in early alpha. Plus we can’t see window lights on buildings in medium distance anymore (decreased LOD?), and draw distance of buildings and vegetation got decreased.

So pretty much I don’t think they can just “flip back” to early alpha night lighting without restoring the early alpha building/vegetation draw distance… It won’t look the same.

But yeah, early alpha was the best and most promising one… The rest of it they can just leave it to 3rd party scenery builders to add building types, various extra night lights etc and it’ll be done with.

If the early alpha night lights were in the release build… then in update XXX they changed it to the “release build” one, I think we can see this thread also complaining about night lighting lol…

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They are hard to find and under NDA as well. I’ve tried back in November to find some of them which are public:

Here’s another comparison of the different night tech versions we’ve seen so far…
Early Alpha
Release Build
Update 5
Update 7 - World Update US (November 2020, nothing significant have been done after this)
Once again you can see the highly unrealistic “Power outage look” of the release build with lamps disappearing at extremely short distance.
& why the early alpha was superior imho, with higher lamp amounts, “glow” around clusters of bright lamps, and more saturation.
Release and current lamps look like overexposed photos, with little to none color retained around the core, with very little color variation as well. The whole night scene feels dull brown compared to reality.

Here’s another location I’ve been using to compare night tech of different versions.
Currently lamps are visible at a greater distance, but still degraded from early alpha in terms of visibility of lamps (smaller lamps visible much longer), and with the new “feature” floating lamps at medium/long distance highways, where lamps are floating +100ft higher than they should, until getting closer where they fade away and the “regular” lamps fade into visibility. (More on this in separate post).
(Note that the early alpha generated too many lights on rural roads that IRL wouldn’t have any lamps. But this can be solved in a multitude of ways proposed by the community in the various threads regarding that problem.)



One of the biggest problems with the release build up until now, are the blurry oversized lamp texture… Instead of being small sharp light sources at greater distances, we have huge fuzzy orbs that fade in transparency while still being huge at a distance. It’s almost like the devs have used telephoto night photos as reference with severe “out of focus” lamps in the background as reverence. Just look at this crop, IRL lights would be sharp small lights with fading size & brightness, not big fuzzy orbs with fading transparency and constant size:

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While there currently are issues with the bulb size and clarity, to me early alpha looks like a photograph and the current lights look more like what your eyes would see.

In what way do you mean…?
Eyes would see lamps as sharp point light sources with color to the core, not pale extended fuzzy semitransparent sphere-like surfaces like we currently have
(and which is how they look in an out of focus photo)
And currently we see a downgraded/reduced number of lamps, both compared to real life and early alpha.

(But we’re definitely better off now than the release version, but there’s still quite a few things that needs fixing to reach the full potential)

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I specifically mentioned that as an issue.

Yes and I wonder specifically in what way you mean?
Besides the stuff making it look more like a photograph and less than what eyes see…

I’m talking about the exposure and the dynamic range, which are, you know, some of the biggest differences between what we see and what a camera can see.

Totally agreed on that’s the biggest differences between camera & eye.
I’m curious in what way you meant current builds has better exposure and dynamic range?
Not saying you’re wrong in any way.

I’m under the opinion that there are a higher number of realistic items/features in early alphas than in any other build, based on quite a bunch of hours of real world night flying (and Über-nerd when it comes to night photography & point light sources)
Early alpha was far from perfect/finished, but in total the best we had so far imho, compared to real life scenes.

I wish we built upon what was closest to real life, instead of several u-turns and starting further from reality than before & reinventing the wheel…

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I looks like it, at least to me. It’s most apparent in the light cast by streetlights. In the pre release, the area under street lights is very bright, whilst now it’s not as bright. If the light is the same, that would mean more dynamic range. And of course the sim doesn’t have more dynamic range, it’s just that the light is dimmer now, but it creates an effect of more dynamic range.

Well, it’s all pretty subjective. If i had to choose one, i’d probably choose pre release too.

@Grinde81 thank you once more for sharing these great comparison shots.

I’m really wondering whether Asobo developers are really testing VR at night with a G2. What I mean is that if they are trying with a Vive, or an old “low res” HMD, sure they’ll blame the HMD panels. But using an Index, a G2, or a Q2, there is no way during QA testing, because lights are creating so much a soup of fuzzy blobs, no one can feel the urge to remove the headset and wear glasses.

Otherwise, maybe there is another explanation: if someone is young and has never had the experience of having bad vision to the point of needing corrections, maybe they can’t relate the bad visual experience to what you see when you need glasses and they find this normal. But this would be IMHO not showing much of common sense and therefore shouldn’t be the case.

Nevertheless, it seems to me, like I’ve written somewhere in this topic, they are using the semi transparent gradual halo as a mean to reduce the perceived light bulb size. In lowering drawn light intensity, this is lowering halo size (more pixels discarded at the periphery) and this is reducing perceived light size.

To me this is plain wrong, because no matter the size, light bulbs are always fuzzy and no matter the intensity, the core won’t change below a minimum size which is the size of the opaque disk in the middle.

Instead, I believe a better approach is to effectively reduce light bulb size by distance, and when closer to a certain distance let appearing some more of the halo around to emulate the perceived intensity diffracting/hallowing around because of the moist in the atmosphere (I don’t have the proper English words to describe this).

The former method (actual) is simpler to code in the pixel shader because you’re just varying an alpha blending value per light. The latter might be slightly more complex because you’re varying both size (always) and alpha (up close) but I doubt it is that much complex in practice anyhow, especially given XP11 is doing this and displaying thousands of lights, including every single star in the sky, and every single moving car head and tail lights, at 60fps in 4K…

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Excellent points, hadn’t thought about it that much myself, but paying attention to that now while comparing the photos, I definately agree. the “lightsplash” under the early alpha shots are indeed too localized and too bright (in my taste), while streetlights usually have a wider “throw” and being slightly dimmer.

That’s exactly what you would see in a photo that is exposed for the sky and the plane: overexposed streetlights. Now some may prefer this look, because people will mostly use reference photos to determine if the lighting looks realistic. But i agree that the goal here should be replicating what we see with the naked eye.

I think they use the blurred, fuzzy, and fading light orbs in the distance to try simulating the effect of city’s warm glow in the distance.

IRL the warm glow are due to atmospheric effect, lights covered behind buildings, and reflected lights from building surfaces etc… But in game, no vegetation / building after a certain distance, so they use the blurred / fuzzy lights to create a similar effect.

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That might very well be the case, I can’t come up with any good guess for the bloated blob-lights other than watching too many out of focus night-cityscape photos.
The game does support volumetric light, so I don’t really understand why this isn’t used more for “city glow”, right now it’s mostly visible with ridiculously high aerosol settings.

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Yeah there are lots of things that we don’t understand why they’ve decided to go that way…
From early alpha night lights turned to become sepia at release… then update 5 which all lights becoming monotone and too bright, and they’ve toned it down a bit with the USA update plus some randomisation of light placements.

If devs want to remove sepia (baked texture) as per the Q&A, then why introduced sepia at the first place? Not only sepia, but a weird version of it as shown on several screen shots above!

Also, you can see the jarring difference between early alpha night lights to our current night lights, is the long distance lights quality! Early alpha is way more realistic! The lights jumbled together, randomised, several tones of light warmness, no bloated blurry lights, no “string of pearls” effect etc…
I want to see what they come up with in SU6 to address “long distance light fix” now the community is more aware of what was in early alpha. They better not disappoint!

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The overexposed effect of the highways in the release is just a small detail in a much larger picture. Even questionable if they would tweak it, because from what I see, the overexposed effect was localized in some roads, meaning that it wasn’t intentional and would require just some tweaking. And please don’t bring high altitude prints because I never flew the big birds. I’m saying from the GA point of view.

The overall effect was much more realistic from a general aviation point of view than what we have now, with just light dots all over in a TRON grid. Now if the widebodies people messed the lighting just because cities were not like they are used to see from high above, that is messed up as well. Because now we have neither of them.

Low flying at the release was tenfold better than now and it was the right direction. They could have tweaked it, not gone to a whole different approach. Because now we would never get it back. It is always going to be a black canvas with some light dots in it - just like in X-Plane and all the old sims that came before that.

Anyways,