Saturday, February 15, 2014

VFX Best of the Best: Company of Heroes

 Company of Heroes was a realtime strategy game that was released back in 2006 developed by Relic Entertainment. Company of Heroes has the most incredible looking FX design in the history of video games.


 For an RTS game, CoH had an unparalleled level of detail in it's vfx. Explosions would spray an impressive amount of debris high into the sky, which would create impacts of dust as it begins to rain back down onto the ground. A tank shell ricocheting off armor would bounce into the air, trailing smoke behind it. Watching a flamethrower lick across the environment leaving objects burning in it's wake is a treat.

In the normal RTS view, these guys are about half an inch on your screen. So then why do the impact fx look better than most FPS games?

 Watching the effects in slow mo is a great way to see just how detailed Relic's fx designers got. You can see how layered the effects really are. How they'd offset elements by fractions of a second to enhance how the effect feels.

 My favorite element of Relic's fx design is the way they handle the "fans" of smoke and debris bursting from an explosion.

 Many other games have attempted to use a similar method to render the dust and debris getting launched from an explosion, but nobody handles it as well as Relic does. I've attempted to replicate the effect, but it utilizes a technological aspect that I haven't seen before.

 The particles burst out, orienting the texture to the direction of their initial movement, but then they are able to move freely without affecting the orientation. CoH utilizes this feature to make the streams of dust float down as if they are being effected by gravity, which is what gives the effect such a feeling of realism and weight.
 What sounds like a simple action is something that's more or less impossible in most particle editors.

 Where most games' fx simply feel like simulations running their course, the particle effects in CoH feel like finely crafted pieces of art. The amount of structure and detail given to each one shows how much work was put into designing them. It's something that gives me a deep respect for Relic's fx artists. Their passion for their work really shows.

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