The role of VFX in games is pivotal and responsible for the hype generated behind even the most popular titles. VFX and especially realistic VFX, are sought after in all mediums of entertainment from games to film, to even television in the modern day. The consumer is drawn to stunning visuals and nowhere is that more important than VFX in games.
The VFX industry is exploding, with more and more talented VFX artists entering the industry, the quality, quantity, and accessibility of VFX have never been so high. With over 2.5 billion dollars in growth expected in the VFX industry in the coming 4 years, there is no better example of how big the market is and how big it’s expected to become. As a sub-factor of the games industry itself, the combined net worth of these industries is somewhere around 260 billion dollars, and therefore VFX in games is all the more important to the economy, as games have quickly become a bigger industry than film in terms of revenue and are on track to boom as games become more accessible and visually more impressive.
The video game VFX is essentially a series of visual animations that are dynamic and represent an action or response. Some examples include the flames shooting from a flame thrower, water flowing down a river, snow falling from the sky, and so on. VFX in games is the dynamic and often fluid animation sequences used to define an element of an action or environment. VFX in games is essential to communicate to the gamer what a particular item does and how it can serve the purpose to them throughout their play session. VFX in games is also a massive draw card for titles and often they’re the first thing the consumer notices in a game trailer.
When we look at massive titles like The Last of Us Part II, we can see multiple video game VFX elements piled on top of each other to create an unrelentingly realistic and visceral world. You’ve got VFX weather systems, dynamic VFX on surfaces such as rain or snow dictating texture reactions to light, you’ve got lighting effects, muzzle flashes, and dynamic fluid reactions from attacks, all of these separate VFX elements layered together suddenly create a title that delivers unparalleled realism from a visual perspective, something that the gaming industry unanimously loves and craves in a title.
VFX artists play an essential role in video game production, as VFX in games is a way to communicate to the player an action or situation. Typically a VFX artist will communicate with developers and work within the mechanics provided to them. As an example, a VFX artist may be presented with the mechanics of a magic blast, that magic blast may have a specific range or area of effect, and it may as also be a specific colour or speed, these are all elements the VFX artists will take note of when producing their effect that will be attached to the particular mechanic to trigger on use.
VFX artists are responsible for dynamic animations that are a result of a response to a game mechanic or alternatively, an environment-based setting. Good video game VFX are a result of artists communicating with developers and coming up with WIP builds of VFX (Work in progress) and building on those elements until they find something that matches the desired effect.
When we look at what is VFX in games, there are a few categories that are high in demand and are used in most AAA titles. We can break them down into the following:
- Morphing. Consider morphing to be another word for the transition effect. Essentially morphing is taking one asset and creating an animation that transforms it into another. This can be anything from a character model turning into a monster, a robot transforming into a car, and so on. This is more common in fantasy or sci-fi settings but can be used in a huge selection of games.
- Motion Capture. This is a huge part of video game VFX and is responsible for a lot of the incredibly realistic character animations you see in modern game titles. Mocap is a technique that integrates real actor movement from a stage volume into a digital space that can then be translated into a digital space and mapped to a character asset to simulate movement. Traditionally games were keyframe animated, which would require animators to go through frame by frame and animate movement based on reference footage. The introduction of Motion Capture revolutionized how games and even films are produced, as not only does mocap deliver an incredibly realistic result, but it also provides that result faster than keyframe animation. When we consider what is VFX in games, we can almost always refer to Motion Capture as a key component. One of the best examples of this video game VFX is Keanu Reeves performing as the renowned Johnny Silverhand in CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 – this mocap performance was impeccable and brought a grounded realism to the world, even with its futuristic setting.
- CGI. This may seem obvious but Computer Generated Images are a cornerstone of the VFX industry and key to game VFX services. CGI is the process of taking the actor’s performance captured in real-life and using that as a blueprint for anything, from facial movements to full body actions, it lands somewhere between motion capture and keyframe development and is not only used in games but is used in film too.
Source: X4: Split Vendetta visualization of sparks.
Game VFX services all agree on the best software for visual effects in games and you’ll find most studios tend to use the same suites of software for the VFX part of the game development pipeline. We can break down these software suites and go into further detail about the role they play.
Whilst primarily known for its animation tools and modelling capabilities, Maya is the stock standard software for every game studio and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a studio that doesn’t have Maya present on all of their working machines. Maya is also capable of fluid dynamic animations as well as keyframe animation, making it a versatile tool that most VFX artists can utilize. If asked what is the best visual effects software, we’d likely point in Maya’s direction due to its versatile nature, especially with plugins.
A dynamic tool from Autodesk and primarily used for modelling and texturing, most VFX artists dealing with real-time elements will gravitate towards the tools in 3ds Max as they don’t require long load and render times, making it sometimes more efficient to use than Maya when we’re talking about dynamic effects.
Another Autodesk product (which there is plenty of that VFX artist use, including ShortGrid for television and Flame for compositing) MotionBuilder is used for 3D character animation and can handle motion capture as well as traditional keyframe animation.
It may seem unusual on a list of software for visual effects in games, to see software that is designed for the film however, Cinema 4D boasts a great workflow for motion graphics and design, making it a great tool for UI/UX elements.
Despite its complexity, Houdini is an incredibly robust piece of software capable of creating literally any effect you can come up with. By far the most powerful tool on this list for dynamic VFX, Houdini has one of the steepest learning curves of any software on this list and therefore VFX artists fluent in Houdini are sought-after artists that studios do their best to associate with regularly. Houdini is best known for its fluid simulations and realism.
Increasing in popularity, Blender is an accessible and free alternative to Maya and is a 3D tool that provides a user with access to all sorts of tools for animation, sculpting, rigging, you know name it and it can do it. Expect to see this software in more studios in the years to come, as each update becomes more robust in features.
From a visual design perspective, After Effects is a dynamo of a product. With the ability to create animations, and motion graphics and composite them into visuals all under one roof, as well as a powerful set of tools for keying and tracking, this software is incredibly useful for VFX artists, especially in a 2D space.
Put simply at Pingle Studio, we’ve got extensive experience in providing VFX to game production teams. Our VFX team is full of creative professionals who are ready to help create stunning visual effects that will elevate your game to the next level. Capable of working within any visual style from realistic to cel-shaded, we can work within your creative vision to deliver VFX that draws thousands of people to your game title.
At Pingle Studio we can deliver high-quality morphing, which is the transitional effect from turning one object into another. Unparalleled motion capture, not just the capture itself but the tracking too, delivering clean, crisp, and realistic animations and of course stunning CGI for characters, environments, assets, and simulations. You name it, and we can do it.
Our VFX team can provide fast delivery, quality communication, and reliable results that you’ll be happy with. VFX production can be a tricky process, but with our experienced team, you’ll be able to leave it in the hands of capable and passionate professionals.
If you’re interested in seeing our track record for assistance with game production, you can see our case studies as well as our game VFX services.
VFX in games is one of the main draw cards for gamers and ensuring that you provide your title with top-of-the-line effects can be the difference out of the gate on release between instant success or a slow-building title. VFX artists are capable professionals who communicate with your development team to ensure their effects deliver the desired results that complement your game title and work well with the mechanics involved.
VFX artists use a huge range of software to achieve your desired results and are often capable of all sorts of different tasks depending on your visual effects needs. If you need VFX for your game title but don’t have access to artists, consider contacting us at Pingle Studio today and we’ll be able to provide you with the passionate experts required to deliver stunning visual effects for your game title. Our team is more than happy to address any questions you may have about the VFX process and how we can integrate into your development team today.