//What Software is Used to Create VFX for Games?

What Software is Used to Create VFX for Games?

By Starloop Studios | 16 April, 2021

Video game players around the world are increasingly looking for more immersive and high-definition visual experiences. This demand for game visual effects is due to people’s access to the internet at a low cost, the development of state-of-the-art technology, and the increase of gaming devices, such as high-performance mobile phones, PCs, or consoles.

In particular, the demand for Animation and VFX content for immersive power experiences such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality is growing exponentially. Improving visual effects software for video games has given the masses access to the highest quality VFX. Also, it makes this industry one of the fastest-growing global media and entertainment market segments.

What does VFX mean?

VFX meaning the process by which digital art software is used in conjunction with traditional art to create any movements that are not characters or objects. VFX artists can create explosions, water, superpowers, dust, or whatever they set out to do. Due to the advancement of visual effects software, they can develop various VFX on video games, from explosions to something almost unnoticeable, such as the slow movement of clouds.

VFX is used in both video games and movies, and its purpose is to keep the player interested and involved. VFX are essential because they give the game a much more professional look, give players a more engaging gaming experience and enhance the user’s immersion in the video game story. VFX also helps the player better understand video games and makes the game run as smoothly as possible and with almost no interruptions and simply looking great.

How are VFXs used in video games?

VFX includes several different disciplines, and some of them could also involve programming when the technical artist needs it. Two major categories of visual effects applied in video games are gameplay effects and environmental effects. For example, most VFX in a hack and slash game include character powers or spells that affect the gameplay. To accomplish this work, VFX artists must understand the game’s mechanics very well and communicate continuously with the design team. Let’s take as an example a tornado of fire. Gameplay designers indicate ​the tornado’s damaged area, and then game artists must create the effect above the debug cylinder.

VFX artists most often use gameplay effects in-game genres such as RPGs, fighting games, and hack and slush. Instead, in video games like realistic shooters, the environmental effects occupy a place as necessary as the gameplay effects. The environmental effects such as rain or fog render the reality as faithfully as possible and introducing the player in the game’s story. Visual effects in games run in real-time, which means they have to be created much more efficiently than the pre-rendered effects often found in films or cinematics. So a lot of creativity has to go into how real effects are built. Also, the role of VFX is to communicate the gameplay, and VFX artists do this through shape language, color, and timing.

Maybe at first glance, players are not aware of the VFX and don’t notice them. But if VFX would not be there, the gamers would certainly see that in a few seconds of the game. For example, if the player shoots something in the game, the effect that bullets produce when hitting would be missing, the game experience would be greatly reduced. VFX add atmosphere and greatly enhance the gaming experience.

VFX software provides artists with already preset assets such as textures, animations, or meshes, but they always look the same. Therefore, the challenge for VFX artists is to create special qualitative effects in real-time based on these assets. Fortunately, the developers of VFX software are continuously improving the technology to render flawless real-time effects, simulations, and complex shaders.

Among the most popular visual effects for video games is morphing, which involves transforming an image through a perfect transition. Image capture (MOCAP) is another popular VFX that records movements and then transfers them to a digital environment. Simultaneously, the creation of computer-generated images (CGI) and sound effects are often indispensable in VFX projects.

What are the most frequently used programs to perform VFX in video games?

The more powerful the technology, the lower is the limitations for making realistic video games. This is partly due to the best programs for visual effects that have appeared in recent years. For example, to create visual effects of smoke, explosions, or fire, some of the most popular software for video games are Fume FX, Phoenix FD, or Maya fluids. For destructions or rigid body simulations, VFX artists use Rayfire or MassFX.

The following softwares are just some of the top VFX programs that professional studios use to do high-profile work.

1. 3Ds Max

3Ds Max is one of the most widely used VFX software in the world. Even most VFX artists at Starloop Studios use this software to create VFX, 3D character models, game assets, and animations. It is one of the favorite software of game artists due to its robust toolset, simplicity, and speed. 3Ds Max is owned by Autodesk, the same company that developed popular software like AutoCAD and Maya.

Besides creating VFX, game artists love this program because they can use it in almost every stage of the animation pipeline: from modeling and rigging to lighting and rendering; 3Ds Max makes it easy to create professional-quality animations easily and simpler.

2. Unity and Unreal

Unity and Unreal Engine are the most important game engines on the market, where game artists spent most of their time using shuriken, cascade, Niagara, VX-graph shader graph, and a long list of tools. Unity is more famous for indies games because it is easier to work with, while Unreal Engine is preferred by large companies with high budgets which want to produce high-quality visual results.

With Unity, game artists get less sophisticated VFX, unlike Unreal Engine, which gives a VFX specialist the necessary tools to put their most creative ideas into practice. Of course, this is not a well-established rule. There are exceptions, such as Hearthstone, which is a high-budget Unity game with impressive VFX.

3. Photoshop

Photoshop is an essential tool that VFX artists use daily in their work. With this program, they can tweak some rendered images, matte paintings, clean plates, or create some textures from scratch.

4. After Effects

After Effects is a software that VFX artists regularly use to create textures and sprite sheets. It’s a perfect program for the post-production stage with which VFX artists add special effects to moving graphics up to spectacular explosions. After Effects is an easy-to-use software, and the possibilities of application are limitless. VFX artists can create particle effects such as explosions, smoke, stars, dynamic disappearing effects, simulation effects such as snowfall creation, and more.

5. Houdini

Houdini is one of the most loved, known, and used software by VFX artists in game development and mainly used for dynamic environments and particle effects. What is special about Houdini is that it makes it easy to explore iterations as artists refine their work due to the node-based procedural workflow. This feature is advantageous for VFX artists because they can make the necessary edits to the project with fewer steps. To be accessible to as many studios as possible, including the small studios and individual artists, Houdini also offers a low-cost version.

An additional reason why VFX artists like to work with Houdini is the advanced tools that allow a dynamic simulation to get very realistic VFX.

What software is used to create VFX for games

The cutting edge technology


The VFX artists can expand their creativity more and more thanks to cutting-edge technology and software like EmberGen or Pop Corn.

  • EmberGen is a game-changer for VFX artists. This software is a real-time fluid simulation through which they can iterate on their simulations only in a few milliseconds. There is no need for VFX artists to adjust settings and then wait for previews because EmberGen allows them to see the edits they make instantly. The time savings are enormous, and some VFX artists already believe that this software is a must.
  • PopcornFX is a real-time VFX node software that VFX artists have at their disposal to edit real-time particle effects. More and more game development studios are using PopcornFX in their projects. Merging with Unity or Unreal Engine 4 is considered the most efficient and complete solution for creating 3D effects in video game development.
  • Here is a remarkable example of VFX obtained using POPcornFX: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18KUEsHYa3Q&t=42s

Visual Effects at Its Best.

To get creative and high-quality VFX, it is good to collaborate with specialists with experience in the field. At Starloop Studios, we push our limits and make every VFX project reach its full potential. We match the market’s best references without losing performance and communicate what we desire using the standard tools on the market.

One of our recent successful VFX projects is Duel Arena – Hero Battle Game, a fantasy strategy RPG with turn-based battles where the player can compete with real opponents in PvP. Using a broad set of tools and shaders, our VFX artists create visual effects from scratch in the 2D and 3D mode that render precisely the style and impact that any game needs to be successful.

Feel free to contact us.

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