Game VFX Environmental Effects

How would the gaming world of any title look if there weren’t game VFX environmental effects?

Games closely related to nature such as The Witcher 3 or Horizon: Zero Dawn would never be so popular nowadays. So, when visual effects touch the game’s environment, the general visual experience of any game project will be changed forever

Environment Visual Effects in Games, Tornado that destroys objects

It’s easy to explain: among the most important VFX environmental effects examples are smoke, fire, water, mist, lighting, etc.

If VFX artists don’t work on this aspect of the game, will the game world have realistic and cinematic quality? The answer is obvious.

In general, the importance of game real-time FX is difficult to overstate. These effects play a significant role in diving players into virtual worlds and making the gaming experience more engaging and unforgettable.

Due to them, gamers can enjoy the game’s realism and depth, receiving even more fun and joy from the narrative and atmosphere of the game.

With every new year, game developers gain more and more access to unique modern tools and techniques. With their help, they can create increasingly realistic and complex environmental effects.

So, from simple particle systems to advanced simulations, the evolution of real-time VFX reflects the constant push for higher levels of visual fidelity in the gaming industry. But it’s time to dive into all the details of VFX production and finally understand why is it so significant for the gaming world.

Dynamic game VFX representation of a shark devouring a police car, creating game environmental effects

Role of VFX Environmental Effects in Gameplay

In every game, environmental VFX effects are different. To be as specific as possible, we’ll briefly talk about VFX in various video games and examples of VFX environmental effects in game genres.
And, we’ll start with the mechanics of Match-3 games. Obviously, in this game genre, environmental effects don’t play a central role. But subtle visual enhancements like sparkling effects or dynamic game backgrounds easily make the gameplay more engaging.

In city builders, a visual representation of the evolving city is impossible without environmental effects. While working on city-building game art, VFX artists should include weather effects, day-night cycles, and dynamic lightning to enhance the realism of the virtual city. In the real-time strategy genre, environmental effects are also very important. Dynamic weather conditions, terrain deformation, and realistic explosions affect unit visibility, movement, and combat effectiveness.

In return to other genres, the successful production of Survival games heavily relies on game VFX environmental effects because players should go through the challenges and dangers of the game world. Weather effects, day-night cycles, and realistic environmental hazards such as storms or extreme temperatures directly impact the player’s survival.

Similar to Match-3 games, environmental effects in platformers aren’t central too but they enhance the atmosphere a little bit. Dynamic lighting, particle effects for magic or power-ups, and interactive elements like moving platforms or destructible terrain boost the engagement of the platforming experience.

RTS Game VFX Environment effects, The Role Of Animation & VFX In Video Games

Game VFX environmental effects are crucial in tower defense creation because they convey the impact of towers and enemy attacks. Explosions, special abilities, and destruction effects affect a lot to the excitement and clarity of the gameplay.

In RPGs, the environmental effects are often significant for visual experience and storytelling. It doesn’t matter if is it a 2D or 3D RPG game environment, magic spells, combat effects, and interactive environmental elements always enhance the player’s connection with the game world.

Role of VFX Environmental Effects in Gameplay

Game GenreVFX Environmental Effects
Match-3Colorful particle effects, dynamic animations
City BuilderDay-night cycles, changing weather, construction animations
RTS StrategyExplosions, VFX destruction effects, weather dynamics
SurvivalDynamic weather, day-night cycles, realistic environmental hazards
PlatformersDynamic lighting, atmospheric effects, weather changes
Tower DefenseExplosive effects, animated towers, environmental interactions
RPGMagic spells, diverse atmospheric effects, dynamic lighting
Action/AdventureDynamic weather systems, realistic lighting, explosions, fire
FPSBullet impacts, smoke, realistic weapon effects
Survival HorrorCreepy lighting, fog, eerie atmospheric effects
Example of how VFX effects can change the mood of a scene
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Behind the Scenes: Game VFX(FX) Process

Every game development company works with VFX environmental effects in its unique way. For instance, our team’s VFX pipeline (which we’ll share with you in a moment) is very detailed to our client’s needs and has five big steps and a lot of small steps. 

The VFX process begins with thorough research and reference gathering. Artists study real-world phenomena, existing visual effects, and concept art to understand the desired aesthetic and functionality. Then the way to work with the game’s real-time FX is divided into 2 ways: work with Unreal Engine or Unity / work with Houdini, 3D Soft, or Embergen.

When our VFX artists choose Unreal Engine or Unity to create the VFX, they work on particle systems, shaders, and scripts to simulate various environmental effects such as fire, smoke, water, and lighting. Once the VFX are created, they undergo optimization to ensure they run smoothly within the game. This includes optimizing performance without compromising visual quality, including factors like frame rate, and resource usage. After that, artists ensure VFX assets are compatible with the game engine and integrate them into the game environment.

Game VFX (FX) Process, The Art of VFX in video games

If our artists choose the second way to work with environmental VFX effects, they usually have one more step between concept art creation, working with Houdini, 3D software (like Autodesk Maya or Blender), or Embergen, and export/delivery. This step is composing.

After creating the base elements in 3D software, artists move to compositing software such as Nuke or After Effects. Here, they combine different layers of VFX, adjust colors, add lighting effects, and refine the overall look of the effects. Only after this step, they export the final VFX assets in formats compatible with the game engine and integrate VFX assets into the game’s visuals and mechanics. 

This attentive detailed approach helps us to achieve better results. For instance:

Advances in hardware and game engines allow our team for real-time simulation of complex environmental effects, offering players a more dynamic and responsive gaming experience.

We can’t forget about the collaborative aspect. VFX artists always work closely with game designers, level designers, and developers to ensure that environmental effects perfectly complement the game design and narrative.

The Key Components of Environment Visual Effects in Games

  • 1

    Particle systems

    Small, dynamic entities that simulate effects like smoke, fire, sparks, or rain.

  • 2

    Lighting effects

    Realistic lighting, including dynamic shadows, reflections, and ambient occlusion, that creates depth in the environment.

  • 3

    Weather simulation

    Dynamic weather systems, such as rain, snow, or fog, that add variety and challenge.

  • 4

    Fluid dynamics

    Simulation of liquids, like water or lava, that creates realistic and dynamic environmental elements with fluid movement.

  • 5

    Dynamic day-night cycles

    Changing lighting conditions and atmospheric effects based on in-game time.

  • 6

    Atmospheric effects.

    Techniques like volumetric fog, depth of field, and lens flares that simulate atmospheric conditions.

Video Game VFX Environmental Effects Examples

Imagine: you open your eyes and see around the extraordinary lab with devices you’ve never seen before.

There is a beautiful landscape behind the window: clear blue sky and huge powerful mountains. “Maybe, this lab is abandoned?” – thought slipped in your head. But because of working machines, there are clouds of smoke everywhere so you understand: there is someone here. And you were right: just in a moment, you see a strange pixel creature with a happy smile on his face. Maybe, he did something bad, for instance, blew someone up

As we can see, here VFX for fire and smoke effects is used to create a feeling of the live image at first and to demonstrate the craziness of the narrative at second. In other cases, these effects may be used for scenarios involving huge explosions, magical spells, or environmental hazards. But here it’s a little bit more harmless but with elements of mad behavior.

Can you feel the atmosphere of age-old Scandinavian settlements like in the God of War series or The Witcher 3 while watching this video? This is the power of creating terrain and landscapes in VFX. Hands of our VFX artists can make all the usual details such as rocks, trees, and buildings, unique and adapted to the game’s plot.

This result can also be reached due to custom Unity game development as this game engine provides a huge variety of different objects with any art style for any game in their asset store.

But VFX for weather patterns and atmospheric effects is very significant too. If we see a bright sun with a clear sky and small white clouds, we feel calm and we don’t think something bad will happen in the game. But if the sky is grey with big storm clouds, we will be cautious as something dangerous can happen to the main character. In this video, we see the same effect.

As the sky is dark, we assume the video showcases the midst of a battle or threat that gets close to the village. As a result, weather effects in VFX gave us a correct hint: there is a real battle in the settlement.

While watching the video and looking at a huge modern city like New York we feel there will be something happening. The helicopter which is going to fly somewhere only stirs our interest in the narrative of the game. And this is the superpower of VFX for architectural visualization and environmental design.

With its help, we can understand the narrative even without words and additional comments. For instance, in this video, we don’t need additional explanation: from the game backgrounds and objects design, we understand, what we should do and how we should do it.

Turning to creating weather effects in VFX, look at this dark and mysterious atmosphere around ships. Fog envelops huge Viking frigates with hundreds of people on the board. They are focused on their job, creating a silent anxious atmosphere of the approaching storm and disaster. Also, VFX for water and fluid simulations adds extra concern and mystique to the overall atmosphere of the video.

As soon as we started working on the video, we understood that we were in a magical world because of the fantastical and otherworldly environments that the client had given us for VFX. Huge trees with twisted branches, colognes with mysterious symbols, rocks with strange forms, and, of course, the main hero, a woman with magic: all of these are perfect examples of real-time VFX. 

We can’t miss how perfectly fire and smoke effects VFX were integrated into this game. Usually, this kind of effect is used to show the danger of the situation or the magical context. Here, we see a combination of both of the situations which makes the title even more interesting.

We’ve already mentioned that VFX can be used to tell players a story without using words or additional comments. This is the perfect case: due to environmental storytelling VFX, we don’t need any voice acting. In the gaming world, this is a very powerful instrument. Some people don’t have the opportunity to listen to voices or they can’t hear. So, environmental storytelling is a lifesaver in this case.

And of course, fantasy and otherworldly environments VFX also play an important role in this game. As the game has a fantastical context, the environment should be filled with these kinds of objects and narratives.

Challenges in Environmental FX

  1. Performance optimization.

    Environmental FX, with its dynamic nature, can put a strain on system resources. However, this problem can be solved by implementing efficient algorithms, LOD systems, and culling techniques to optimize resource usage.

  2. Realism vs. Resource constraints.

    Balancing realistic environmental effects with limited resources is challenging, especially on less powerful platforms. Utilizing techniques like impostors, simplified geometry, and texture atlases maintains visual fidelity without compromising performance on less capable platforms.

  3. Cross-platform compatibility.

    Environmental FX may behave differently on various gaming platforms due to differences in hardware capabilities. However, by developing scalable FX systems that can adapt to different platform specifications, the situation can be much better. We also recommend implementing platform-specific optimization techniques and conducting thorough testing across a range of devices to ensure consistent performance and visual quality.

  4. Integration with game design.

    Integrating environmental FX seamlessly with the game design and narrative often requires a lot of challenging work. Game companies can foster close collaboration between VFX artists, level designers, and game developers.
VFX Destruction in Virtual Reality (VR)
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VFX Destruction in Virtual Reality (VR)

Have you ever experienced a nuclear explosion simulation in VR? Believe us, it’s an unforgettable thing!
VFX artists are going crazy when the talk is about VFX destruction in VR. But even if there are a lot of things to do, game developers should still control a lot of things.

For instance, in the video dynamic lighting effects realistically illuminate the city during destruction. Real-time shadows and lighting changes enhance the visual fidelity and immerse us in the aftermath of the destruction. All the objects behave realistically in terms of size and perspective. So, while working on any VFX destruction effects, it’s important to remember about careful balance between realism, interactivity, and performance optimization.

However, if you want to overcome platform limitations and reach a broader audience, use VR porting services. We can easily make your game stand out on any platform, especially VR ;)

What the Industry Experts Think

Nowadays, experts have highlighted the rapid advancements in technology, such as real-time rendering, machine learning, and virtual production tools, as transformative forces in the VFX industry. These technologies enable more efficient workflows and open up new creative possibilities.

Luck is when skill meets opportunity.  And now is the best time to meet new opportunities by using all the improvements in real-time VFX.

While technology has advanced, experts have also discussed the ongoing challenges of achieving realism in VFX without sacrificing creativity. Striking the right balance between technical precision and artistic expression remains a key consideration.

Henning Sanden and Morten Jaeger, popular VFX artists, share similar thoughts. 

Also, Experts often discuss the importance of education and talent development in the VFX industry. With the fast pace of technological change, ongoing training is important for professionals to stay updated and adapt to new tools and techniques.

Snowing environment VFX in UE4, Game VFX Environment effects

Conclusion

In the dynamic landscape of gaming, the influence of game visual effects on environmental elements cannot be overstated. Nowadays, game VFX environmental effects aren’t simple embellishments anymore. They become integral storytellers and gameplay modifiers.

As technology advances, the evolution of VFX continues to reshape the gaming landscape. Real-time simulations, machine learning-driven effects, and the integration of VR/AR technologies promise an even more unbelievable future. 

So, in this ever-evolving gaming world, let environmental effects be the catalyst for unparalleled storytelling, memorable experiences, and a gaming future where the lines between reality and imagination continue to blur.