Video game explosions are actually a lie

Video game explosions are actually a lie

– Hey, you wanna see something cool? All right. Hell yeah. Nice. All of those moments look good and they feel even better, but why? Animation and sound are important, but there’s something else
that makes it all pop, the secret sauce that gives
us billowing fire in Mad Max, messy explosions in Doom, and whatever the hell this is in Control. It’s v effects, specifically
particle effects, and it’s absolutely vital to
making video games feel great, and it’s all a lie. (dramatic music) Or, maybe just a series
of very artful deceptions, smoke and mirrors. (bell dinging) Particle effects are an incredible example of game developers using
artistic and technical creativity to overcome the
limitations of their tools, but precisely what the
heck is a particle effect? To find out, we talked
to some of the masters of the art form. – To Remedy, visual effects
are extremely important, but visual effects allow
us to build experiences where the player gets feedback
where they have very clear understanding of the
consequence of their actions. – [Patrick] Mikael is a game director, so it’s job to make sure
that the art direction, the story, the gameplay, the level design, and the sound are all coming together as one cohesive package. – We will start to create this
satisfying, ratifying feel that the game recognizes
what I’m doing and responds to the player. It’s fundamental for
any kind of interaction in any kind of a game. – So, particle effects give you feedback, but they don’t just tell
you what you’ve done, they tell you exactly how it went down. – I think a lot of what
people associate with it is the interaction between two things, and telling a story of that interactions, how powerful it was,
how not powerful it was, or the temperature of it, or essentially, I would say the
story of what that object is and the properties of it. – [Patrick] Precisely how an object reacts communicates important information. In a shooter like Rage 2, it
can tell you if your shots are actually doing anything. – So, in a situation where you have a very armored individual, you’re shooting at them,
the bullets are hitting and then sparking and flying
off in a very distinct way, when that armor pops off, then
you get this sort of meat, thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk feel, so a lot of, the blood
coming out has a relationship with the health of that
thing that you’re attacking, at least if it’s an organic thing. – These bursts of sparks, puffs of smoke, and splatters of blood are
all vital in communicating to the players and making us feel good, but how do they get made? Particles are ephemeral and amorphous. Their shape changes from moment to moment, and that makes them really,
really hard to render in 3D. So, how do they make an
explosion with real detail, scale, volume, and depth? They don’t, but they do put
an incredible amount of work into faking it. This is Oscar Bernelind. If you meet him at a party
and you ask him about his job- – I usually say I blow things up. – [Patrick] And he does that with the help of particle effects. – A particle effect, in its basic form, is a physics simulation, where we then put images on top of different points that are physically
simulated to create the sense of giving a volumetric effect. So, for instance, most
explosions are just billboards, which is just, it’s a flat surface, just a flat square that’s
being put on a point and then being moved through space. – So this is how games
trick you into thinking you’re seeing an explosion. If you saw it from an
angle, you’d be able to tell that it’s flat, so to avoid
that, the particles are automatically oriented towards the camera, and this solution works
for all kinds of stuff, depending on what we attach
to these invisible points. Attaching sparks to the points can make a rudimentary bullet impact, attaching alien goo can make
a rudimentary blood burst, and attaching confetti can
make a rudimentary celebration, but to really spice it up, game developers modify the parameters. How many particles do you want? Should your particles
get bigger or smaller over their lifetime? Which direction should they move? Should gravity affect them? How about wind? How quickly should they fade away, and what about the particles themselves? Aside from still images,
developers can use 3D meshes, light sources, they can use
animated images or flip books to show the particle evolving over time. By mixing and matching these variables, v effects artists can
make whatever they want, smoke drifting up from a wreck, dust shooting out from under a tire, whatever the hell this is, but back to explosions. Avalanche’s games are explosion-oriented, so Oscar has made a lot of them. His explosion recipe has
three key ingredients, the kick, the high point, and the falloff. Each of these ingredients
uses particle effects in its own way. As the name implies, the
kick kicks things off. – For the kick itself,
usually we use like, a flash of a generic shape or spark shape or basically, you know, the cartoony ones where you see it’s going like, tsh. Then we add additional sparks as well to add more momentum to that. – [Patrick] And they don’t
want the explosion to look too perfect, so
they add some dark grit to break up the brightness of the flash. Once we’ve seen that initial burst, it’s time for the high point. – Which is, as the explosion
grows to its full size, this is where we get most
of the kind of fire-smoke interaction which is what most
people really enjoy seeing, such as from the Michael Bay movies. – [Patrick] One trick
that Avalanche borrows from noted explosion pervert Michael Bay is his liberal use of slow motion, because real explosions
move too fast for you to appreciate the hypnotic
dance of the flames, so Avalanche’s explosions move in slow mo, while the rest of the
world just cruises along in real time. Here in the high point of the explosion, the evolution is the main attraction, so to sell that evolution,
they attach flip books to the simulated points. Flip books are 2D images
but they’re animated. They do the complicated fluid simulations in a program like Houdini, and then they export a series of images that they can plug into
their particle system. Played on its own, it looks
like of like an animated gif, but in groups together
with subtle movement, and rotation, and complimentary effects, it looks like this. Explosion. You blow up a truck or a gas tank and you get an explosion that looks big and billowy and rich and it looks like it has depth and continuous
shape that morphs and evolves, but once again, it’s just
a series of flat images stuck onto points moving through space. The illusion works, so it feels good, but nothing good can last. That’s why we need the falloff. – Just having a kick and a
big mushroom cloud coming up would look cool, but if
then you just kind of, disappeared, it would
not feel as satisfying. – [Patrick] We need to see
the wind pushing the dust away and smoke slowing down and dissipating. – So, it’s kind of trying
to enhance that feeling of it being something that’s
physical within the world. – This is one of the awesome strengths of particle effects. They can be pushed around by the wind or affected by gravity. They can be attached to moving objects and move with their own velocity. This means every particle
hit can feel a bit unique, like it’s a direct
response to what you did and how you did it. Game developers tune their
effects to make them look and feel satisfying as hell,
but those effects can also tell us a lot of about the game’s world. In some cases, they can
even help tell the story, like in Control. Your enemy is the Hiss, an alien energy that corrupts reality. It seeps into humans and fills them up, and when you shoot them, they pop. – It kind of strangely breaks the reality as it leaks out, when you hit enemies, so super gruesome, sorry about that, but that’s the kind of the idea, that we are kind of
dealing with strange forces and resonances and
elements that don’t behave in an expected way. – [Patrick] To visually sell the idea of these strange forces, Remedy combines the very
practical particle techniques we’ve been talking about with some extremely
innovated post-processing. That’s where Elmeri’s team comes in. – So, we take, for example,
an enemy and we take information from the previous frame, we re-project it from the
position of the camera in the next frame, and
kind of draw this trail of the enemy, but that
would be boring to look at, so then it gets adfected
with the fluid simulation and then after that, it gets broken into the colors of dispersion. – Okay, that is weird, so let’s try to break
it down a little bit. You shoot a bad guy, and an explosion of Hiss mist comes out. Like our explosion particle effects, it’s a bunch of objects
stuck to invisible points, but these aren’t just balls of fire. They behave… strangely. The mist distorts time,
everything you see through that mist is one frame
behind the rest of the game. Then, they make that
image wobbly and weird using real time fluid simulation, and then they apply a secret
recipe of over-sharpening, color filtering, and
other little adjustments to make something genuinely otherworldly, something that sells the
story that this vape cloud from beyond breaks our reality. From a story perspective,
it’s mysterious and weird, but from a gameplay perspective,
you still know exactly what it’s telling you. The sharp tendrils of
mist that shoot upwards are a big blinking sign that says, you got a headshot, good job. You can fill a screen
with explosions or dust or reality-bending cotton. The trick is making
sure all of those things look like they belong
there and that they all serve the game. – Really adamantly make our visual effects part of the world so that they fit in and they blend and they
get married to the scenes. – Developers reach deep
into their VFX toolkits to make sure everything
looks and feels right. They’re constructing
an elaborate illusion, and you know what? Lie to me. (laughs) I love it. Look at this shit. Yeah. Hell yeah. Nice. (upbeat music)

100 thoughts on “Video game explosions are actually a lie”

  1. WTF is with the stereo effects of the interview shots? is it just jumping back and forth between stereo and mono?

  2. Alright that's cool but how do they work when you put them in a VR game, or 3D TV/Monitor/S, etc or I suppose in a less direct way what happens when you open the other eye?
    Edit: like do you use depth maps or do you heavily rely on using meshes or do you make a few different angles for the same animation and fade/morph/reproject between etc?

  3. Everything about video games is a lie.

    That's why I love watching boundary breaks and similar videos that take the camera outside of the player's view to show you what's really going beyond the veil.

  4. Brian stole Pat's years, which is why one is a English teacher and the other is the high school nerd based on their haircuts.

  5. I love this because I didn't know quite how particle effects were done but I also hate it, because now I can't unsee that it's basically 2d sprites animated over each other. I love ruining my love of games slowly over the course of years by getting into game dev!

  6. Me spending hours on a particle system in Unity but it still looks like shit: 😰
    Pat: it’s all lies. LIES I tell you, LIES!

  7. funny y'all would upload this literally as I'm making explosion effects for my own game 😀 I'm loving this deep dive series; truly hope it keeps going!

  8. Really enjoy these vids on smaller aspects of game design. There's so much work that goes into making games that you don't realise how technically finessed it is. Thanks Pat!

  9. Q: "Precisely what is a particle effect?"

    A: "To Remedy, visual effects are extremely important. Visual effects allow us to build experiences where the player gets feedback where they have very clear understanding of the consequence of their actions."
    Hm. I don't think you understand what "precisely" means. Want to try that again?
    A: "A lot of what people associate with it is the interaction between two things. And telling a story of that interaction. How powerful it was. How not powerful it was. The temperature of it. Essentially – I would say – the story of what the object is and the properties of it."
    No, no PRECISELY. Not PRETENTIOUSLY. Also, I don't think we asked for DEVOID OF MEANING.

    -This pablum paid for by Intel Alienware and brought to you by shills.

  10. i literally saw the first 'whatever the hell this is' and immediately paused the video and looked into Control because if it looks this sexy i want that game. Melikes some pretty games.

  11. Video game effects 😀 it's what i do for a job, if you want to try a game made by a effects artist, try this…..
    Twin Ruin –

  12. if each of the flipbook particles in all of a game’s explosions were just various animations of Super Mario twerking, would Laura Kate Buzz give the game a 10/10 rating?

  13. i love when developers who aren't just head devs, creative directors, etc get spotlights…some 3d artists are really enthusiastic about this kind of shit specifically and its good that they can geek on camera about it 🙂

  14. I def enjoy Polygon's more personality-driven content, the comedy vids, reviews/opinions, game play, etc., but I love the increasing amount of "why/how video games do this thing" type of content. The horror series, game history, one-offs like this—whether it's the tech or cultural side, having someone explain a subject they're passionate about and personally coming away from it with new knowledge (usually about something I'd prob never look for info about) is a great experience.

  15. Really dig this video! Even as someone who's always had an interest in this kind of stuff, this was an awesome breakdown on how this stuff works!

  16. As a big fan of Control (actually playing it while I watched the video) hearing how they make the Hiss effect is awesome. 🙂

  17. Myth 2: Soulblighter and Marathon Infinity taught me these lessons by showing me under the hood of their sprite animations.

  18. My brain short circuited when I heard the Finnish accent and had to check the guys' names twice to be sure. Suomi mainittu torilla tavataan!

  19. I like the nod to VFX artists, but I think he's seriously downplaying the impact the audio design has on the feel of an explosion.

  20. This is a pretty good description of my job. The work in Control's Hiss death explosion is masterful. My coworkers and I were trying to implement a simple version of it in unreal yesterday, and I don't think a "simple" version of that effect exists lol.

  21. I enjoyed this excuse to justify the purchase of a Trapcode Particular license for the Polygon video team. Love hearing from devs on the tech art side of things.

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