Spent the day on smaller tweaks to get the Escape Demo level further along to ensure the best bits remain and the worst bits improved. It's looking much nicer now, plays faster and hopefully a few extra functions can be added before we're ready for the public beta release.
Also wanted to repeat something that was posted in the comments, and also to clarify that all the shots from the last few weeks have been on LOWEST settings only. That means no normal maps, no specular, no real-time shadows for entities and none of the extra finesse that can be spent with a high end shader. My goal was to get it playing fast and looking good at the lowest settings, and then I can re-introduce the higher end features as I move up the food chain. This way the visuals will remain consistent and use the same light balancing no matter which shader technique you choose.
Right now I am finishing off the integratable prototype for the new explosion system that is finally going in to replace the one we are currently using. The current explosion is a bit 'epic' right now, and probably needs scaling down but I can go that once it's in game and I can get a sense of scale. The new explosion is pretty cool though with two fire decals, two smoke decals and two debris effects based on physics particulates. Looks good in the lab so should look great in game, with the only obstacle being the reduction in what we call the intersection issue (a flat camera facing plane cutting into another surface at an angle and creating a strong line contrasting the explosion decal and the scene).
I have also freed up and de-prioritized some task items to preserve the original functionality list I had a week ago, which include enemies inside buildings, material system and cleaning up the entity property fields so they are 100% relevant to the engine (a long time coming). As much as performance and visuals was challenging and fun, it's nice to do other things now and again, as a change is as good as a rest!