L4D Glow Effect

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Introduction

This article will show you how to implement the Left For Dead (L4D) entity glow effect that is used for players, zombies, and items you can grab. This effect is not a shader and does not require you to edit any rendering code. I have included a couple of tweaking options and possibility for future enhancement.

Requirements

  • Strong C++ background
  • Knowledge of general rendering process

The Breakdown

Rendering the glow effect requires three distinct steps. The first step is to draw the entity onto the engine's Stencil Buffer. The second step is to draw the entity with the color of the glow you want onto a render buffer. The third step is to blur the render buffer and draw it onto the screen while respecting the Stencil Buffer.

Buffers

Stencil Buffer: A grayscale buffer implemented by DirectX that can be written to and read from much like a mask in Photoshop. The Stencil Buffer is used in the Scratch Source SDK to read the ambient occlusion depth map and apply appropriate shading in areas. We will be using the Stencil Buffer to "cutout" the entities we want to glow so only the blurred image that extends beyond the entity will show giving the effect of a halo.

Render Target (Buffer): A Render Target is a special texture that is registered with the engine and can be written to by the renderer. We will declare two render targets (buffers). One will hold the cumulative images from the glowing entities and the other will be used to blur with.

Material vs. Texture

When dealing with the rendering engine it is important to understand the distinction between a material and a texture.

Material: A material encapsulates a particular shader and it's associated parameters. A material is what defines how the renderer should render.

Texture: A texture is pure image information. To set the texture of a material you typically use $basetexture and whenever the material is rendered that texture is used in the shader

Different Rendering Components

There are three distinct rendering components in the source engine.

  • IMatRenderContext (pRenderContext)
  • IVRenderView (render)
  • IVModelRender (modelrender)

We will be using all three of these in order to achieve the desired effect. Each one does its part to draw our world, however the details are beyond the scope of this tutorial.

The Code