Jim Saunders, director of VFX and technical art at Gearbox Software, discusses the whizzes and bangs that help bring chaos to Borderlands 2
3D World: What were the key effects challenges you faced?
Jim Saunders: For Borderlands 2, we needed a solution for character FX and tech ‘deaths’ that was kind to performance, usable on any creature or character, would replicate across the network, and wouldn’t bloat our material instruction counts.
Our coders came up with a clever solution we call our coordinated FX system. This allowed us to use nearly any type of game event and dynamically trigger a bunch of very cool effects on nearly any asset in the game.
To mention a few features, the coordinated FX system can swap materials, spawn particles, drive material or particle parameters over time and trigger full-screen effects.
For example, we can make [player character] Zer0 disappear when he uses a specific ability, cause a creature to dissolve if it dies from corrosive damage, or simply make an interactive object change colours.
3DW: How are particles used in-game?
JS: Thanks to great code/tool support, we were able to use our particle tool to do just about anything. We used particle systems for screen FX, weapon cards, item sticks, damage numbers, interactive objects, vending machine icons, post process, weather systems, weapons, creatures… we can even feed our particle system dynamic data, render targets, movies, flash, or send particle-based event data to our scripting tool.
So really, particles are used everywhere in Borderlands 2. Many of the effects in the game are actually several different ones layered together but if I had to guess I’d say they averaged around 20 particles per effect, with very few that exceed 80. We try to make each sprite count.
3DW: How consistent are the effects across all three platforms?
JS: Aside from texture settings and PhysX particles, visual effects across platforms don’t use platform-specific settings. We create content for use on all platforms and iterate to ensure they meet our quality standards.
3DW: We understand that the studio worked closely with Nvidia for the PhysX support to deal with things like cloth and water.
JS: Although creating PhysX particles is like a fun mini-game in itself, a key requirement was that we didn’t want to author a significant amount of PC-specific PhysX content.
Nvidia not only came up with a code solution to dynamically swap out our particles with PhysX equivalents, it also implemented its own changes and authored the majority of PhysX content. We really only offered cursory art direction and feedback. The Nvidia guys know their tech and did a great job implementing cloth, so for us it was easy!
Want more about Borderlands?
Read more about Borderlands 2 as Mark Ramshaw takes a look at the game, which boasts richer visuals, more variety and more guns than Borderlands
This article is from issue 160 of 3D World – you may like to check out the other games-related features in the special issue which also features expert tips for games artists
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