Real-time VFX in games has multiple purposes. High-quality real-time VFX is indispensable for any modern gaming experience, from enhancing immersion to communicating game mechanics and world information to players. One area in which real-time VFX is of critical importance is eliciting emotional responses from players.

Though emotion is derived from many sources in games, such as its writing, animations, voice acting, and music, real-time VFX can be considered the secret ingredient that binds it all together. Real-time VFX enhances the overall gaming experience by emphasizing its emotional aspects to further engage players.

Building Tension

One of the most effective ways of eliciting emotion through real-time VFX is using it to build tension and fear in horror games. Horror games are known for delivering scares and highly-affecting visuals, perhaps more so than any other genre. Though it takes superb design and execution to create genuinely frightening horror experiences, using real-time VFX can be a significant help.

Simple effects can have a potent impact when used well in horror games. The fog of Silent Hill is a perfect example of using a straightforward technique to build tension for players. The fog appears to be endless and masks the game with an unknowable layer, giving players the scope to imagine the horrifying enemies it contains.

The use of light in the horror-inspired Alan Wake is indicative of danger. The game’s enemies are weak to light, and with every failing power generator and bursting lightbulb, players inherently understand they’re more vulnerable and exposed to danger in the dark.

Adrenaline Rush Action

Using real-time VFX is also critical to developing a sense of excitement and exhilaration. The intensity of first-person shooter games like Halo and Call of Duty is formidable, and the use of real-time VFX is integral to it. Fast character movement and facing down hordes of enemies build a solid foundation for adrenaline rush-inducing action, but real-time effects enhance it.

Explosions are practical in the sense that they can be used to damage enemies, but they’re used as a visual tool to enhance combat intensity and the feeling of danger. Bullet effects and enemy projectiles similarly have practical effects in that they cause damage, but they also add a level of intensity to firefights, that without, could leave firefights feeling flat and lifeless.

Beyond the realm of action and shooter games, real-time VFX does an incredible job of enhancing the sense of speed and urgency in racing games. The Burnout series specifically comes to mind, with its high-speed pursuits and focus on destruction and vehicular combat. The simple effect of visual distortion adds to the high-octane atmosphere by simulating movement at wild speeds.

Otherworldly Effects

Perhaps particularly relevant to RPG games and fantasy worlds, real-time VFX can inspire a sense of awe and wonder in players. This is commonly seen in fantasy RPG titles such as Skyrim and The Witcher, where impressive magical effects help players suspend their disbelief as they fully immerse themselves in these game worlds.

On a larger scale, real-time VFX is used to great effect to sell the otherworldly nature of alien planets in sci-fi games. The Mass Effect series comes to mind as BioWare crafted countless memorable planets for this huge gaming franchise. From the crimson-red vistas of Mars to the arid deserts of Rannoch, the ethereal aspects of these memorable locations are brought to life with spectacular VFX that arrest the player’s attention. Though similarities with our world can be seen, the sense of wonder comes with the inhuman weather conditions, fantastical flora and fauna, and incredible phenomena seen in the sky.

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