Not such a new practice these days is baking. No not cakes, it's the term used by 3d guys to speed up renders. The method is to have the app create really cool lighting and shadow effects which can be rendered out as texture maps with the effect baked in. I've done some tests with a simple version of this. Say you want some shading where a floor meets the wall. You can paint a texture map which looks like a very fuzzy black line with a suitable alpha or matte channel. Then place on a billboard and put wherever you want shadowing. The same goes for lighting efects on a wall. Like sunlight from outside. Right click textures, then right click edit, gets you into the (colour texture blend options) controls. Enjoy.
Oh BTW I'm moving cities/jobs (film at last!) so my blog enteries may be a little light in the next 2 months.