Legends Jason Keizer, Lead Effects Artist for lol eSport, posted a video on his YouTube channel about the interaction between visuals and gameplay. We have selected the most important of his recommendations.
How To Make Effects Serve The Gameplay.
According to Keizer, the first principle that an effects artist should understand for himself is: “Gameplay is more important than the visual component.”
At the same time, the main, and, in fact, the only goal of the game is to create a certain specific experience for the player, and in a good game, visual aesthetics work to create it no less than gameplay. For example, Ori and the Blind Forest seeks to involve the player in the exploration of its mysterious and beautiful world – this is the task that the entire visual part of the game is aimed at.
And in Battle Chasers: Nightwear, the authors tried to make each hit of the characters on the enemies feel powerful and “cool” – therefore, visually, the attack of the Battle Chasers characters looks completely different than, for example, the attack of Ori.
Keyser advises artists to use this method: before you start working on a game, you need to clearly define for yourself two or three goals that this game wants to achieve. From now on, each graphic element will have to be subordinated to a specific task. This method, according to the author, will be useful even for the only artist on the project, but in the case of a team of many specialists, it will be almost indispensable – each artist will need to clearly understand “what we do and what we do not do.”
A few more examples: the creators of Battlefield 1, according to Keyser, sought to make the effects of shots and explosions very powerful and fast, because their main goal was to evoke emotions in the players, the excitement of participating in the battle.
The idea behind the effects in Overwatch is a completely different idea: the animations and effects in the game reveal the images of its unique characters, making them more memorable. There is also a second goal – each action should stand out visually because the game was created with an eye on e-sports, and the clarity of what is happening on the screenplays a very important role there.
Keizer dedicated the rest of the video to League of Legends, the game he worked on the longest. In it, as in any MOBA, it is very important that the player understands what is happening on the screen. Keizer’s main point is that even if you really like the effect you’ve created, it will have to be reworked if it’s hard for players to “read” it.
An example is the explosion effect that the character Timo produces. Initially, the effects artists settled on the option with a multi-colored cloud, but later it was decided to change it to another option that more clearly demonstrated the affected area.
A similar situation happened with the animation of Sona’s ultimate ability.
Another principle: the visualization of an attack or spell should always correlate with its importance to the gameplay. If a regular attack visually differs little from the use of the ultimate ability, this will lead to several negative consequences at once: the player will not intuitively understand the difference in significance between these two actions, the use of the ultimate ability will not cause such delight in him as it could, plus there will be the problem of “visual noise” – in the heat of battle, important hits will be very difficult to distinguish from ordinary ones.
The creators of League of Legends divide the various effects into six clear categories, each with its own principles. The first category is what happens to a character by default even when they’re not doing anything: effects that don’t make any sense from a gameplay standpoint. Such effects should be barely perceptible and not conspicuous.
Normal attacks, according to the principles of the League of Legends team, should take up very little space on the screen – so as not to create “visual noise”. The effects of defensive spells should not draw too much attention to themselves and can take on vague forms, while offensive spells and abilities, on the contrary, should have a very clear shape and be bright and noticeable.
Even more striking and noticeable should be abilities from the category of “game changers” (“game changers”). Seeing such an effect on the enemy, the player must immediately respond to it – for example, try to run away from the area of its effect or refrain from attacking for a few seconds. The bottom line here is that if the player does not change the strategy of behavior at the sight of the “game-changer”, then he will most likely die – therefore if the death occurs due to the fact that the player simply did not notice him in the heat of battle, he will be very unhappy with this.
The situation in which a player can lose due to the fact that they do not pay attention to some visual element and do not have time to react to changing conditions in time can arise in any game – not only in MOBA or something like that. The task of the effects designer is to warn him enough to avoid it.
The last category is ultimate abilities, which are used very rarely. Keizer recommends making them as bright and noticeable as possible, but at the same time, he advises avoiding temptation and not making the effect too long in time.
As an example of finding the right match between gameplay relevance and visual impact, Keizer cites Tristana and her “rocket jump” ability. Initially, Tristana just jumped without any special effects – it looked boring, plus it did not reflect the fact that she deals damage to opponents by landing on them. Then they added a small explosion upon landing, but it still didn’t look impressive enough – according to Keizer, if it was assumed that there would be a hundred of such characters on the screen, they would have settled on just such a version, but Tristana was alone.
In the next version, Tristana jumped, leaving a huge fiery trail behind her, and her landing was accompanied by an explosion on full screen. It looked “cool”, but this time it was too much. The damage from the “rocket jump” was not as significant as its animation would suggest. In the final version, Tristana leaves behind a trail but produces a much smaller explosion.