Following last week’s post on our new music and sounds, let’s take a look at the new visual effects (VFX) we’re implementing, and why they’re important.
For our purposes, VFX covers anything which happens ‘on top of the game’ to show you something happening. For instance, when a card makes a ranged attack the burst of gunfire you see is VFX – as is the damage effect on the enemy card.
That sounds straightforward enough, but why are they important? After all, from a developer point of view, each effect tends to be quite bespoke, so they’re relatively difficult and time consuming to create. They also take a lot of time with back-and-forth discussions over exactly how they should look (bearing in mind most of them are used for completely abstract concepts – like a card Readying – so could look like anything we choose).
There are three main reasons why VFX are so important – messaging, ‘feel’ and reactions.
At the most basic level, VFX are there to deliver information.
Because they’re animated, VFX tend to draw your eye to them, helping us to ensure you see something important happening. That’s why on the visually complicated ‘upgrade this card’ screen, we use animated VFX to show you which stat(s) will change when you make the upgrade. Another example are the little ‘damage VFX’ which come off a card’s Wounds when it takes a hit. We could just swap their health from the old to the new value, but the VFX help make sure you see this happening and aren’t blindsided by a card suddenly dying.
All this is important, because one thing we’ve learned is that if a player fails to spot something happening it’s always the game’s fault, never the player’s!
Like the sounds and music, we also use the VFX to make the game feel as Warhammer 40,000 as possible. It’s why our effects tend to be quite ‘military’ and aggressive, as opposed to being too clean or modern looking.
Obviously this is a highly subjective area, leading to a lot of discussion. What does building up and unleashing a psychic attack look like, anyway? Fortunately there are a huge amount of 40K images, videos and games we can look at for reference, and of course Games Workshop help us to nail the correct atmosphere.
Finally, we have to make sure the VFX provide satisfying reactions to player actions. Because this is a turn-based game, players make relatively small inputs (such as tapping an attack button) which lead to long chains of actions taking place (all the cards attack, take damage, die, then the next player’s turn begins).
As a result, we need the VFX to acknowledge that you’ve taken an action, so it’s clear why the chain of events is now playing out. The trick is balancing the effects with making sure the action is quick and snappy, so you’re not waiting too long for events to finish. This is something we’ll continue to experiment with over time, as there’s a sweet-spot between turns taking forever and new players being overwhelmed by too much overlapping action taking place.
Most of what we’ve been doing over the last few months has been improving and upgrading the game’s current VFX, so they fit in with our new art style. Our next steps will be to add more VFX, giving better feedback on things that are happening during battles. For instance, we plan to add an ‘a Warlord’s special rule just triggered’ effect, helping you to understand why a card just healed / took damage / etc.
We’ll continue to upgrade and add more effects over time, ideally until we get the right balance between cool stuff happening on-screen and information overload.
Thanks for reading. Hopefully this and last week’s post are helping to explain why it’s taken us so long to release the game to the rest of the world – i.e. that we’re not just fixing up a few bugs then shipping it out, we’re upgrading and improving almost every aspect of the game into a ‘v2’ state.