Visual effects design is about much more than creating pretty explosions. A good visual effect communicates a game’s design through its timing, scale, composition and motion. Acting in concert with animation, sound design and other art assets, visual effects are a tremendously powerful tool that can influence the player’s perception of a game’s design. This guide outlines the basic processes and more advanced techniques of visual effects design.

The first step in creating a successful visual effect is to ask the important questions behind it. What is one trying to communicate? Where and when in the game world will it be seen? How does it originate? These questions matter regardless of whether the effect is to be realistic or stylized. They give context to the design, which is essential in developing a visual representation for it.

Starting with sketches is generally more productive than starting immediately in the game engine or image editing software. Determining motion and shape at this stage allows one to iterate through ideas at a much more rapid and efficient pace.