Favorite VFX in Video Games

I’m curious what everyone’s thoughts are on their favorite VFX in video games. I feel like there are some definite stand outs when it comes to great VFX, but let me know which ones are the best!

For me, it’s The Last of Us series. Their attention to detail always leaves me speechless, even when it’s simple things like flares from the sun or water dripping from a roof and hitting the ground. It always looks so real and natural. They also have some great scenes of burning buildings, explosions, burning debris, and muzzle flashes.

I don’t think I’ve played any other game that has impressed me more than The Last of Us games, but I’m excited to hear what you all think!

For me… the Good folks are Remedy are pushing the edge farther than anyone else. The FX in Quantum Break were just mind blowing, and Control is right up there too (for which they won a Visual Effects Society Award).

Killzone Shadowfall, despite being 8 years old, still has some of the best FX I’ve ever seen. The scene where you are flying in, and buildings are crumbling around you, and the “instability” level where rocks are floating everywhere, forming structures and destabilizing. I was completely mind blown.

InFamous: Second Son is up there for me. Killer FX work by the team at Sucker Punch (they just won a VES awards this year for Ghosts of Tsushima).

Naughty Dog always brings it, of course.

And not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty proud of a lot of my (and my team’s work, particularly Alessandro Nardini and Tobias Stromval) work on Call of Duty. Particularly the opening level of Ghosts (for which we won a VES award)… which shows up in our setpiece demo reel here: time 3:36



Wow, there’s a ton of great shots in that reel! The opening level of Ghosts is a definite standout. I still remember playing that for the first time and being blown away!

How did you get to the level you are now @UndertoneFX-dj ? How did you get started?

Quantum Break did have some pretty ground breaking effects! To this day it’s one of the most cinematic games I’ve ever played.

Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider had a few sequences where the pyro effects blew me away.

The real answer though is anything @UndertoneFX-dj has done! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hey Joel,

My bio on our website has the bullet point accomplishments… and there should be a podcast airing soon with Allan McKay where he asks me all about that. But in short…

I studied all sorts of Art, digital art, desktop publishing, video editing, tv production, photography, computer graphics, web design… etc… all at Jr. Colleges, after failing to graduating high school and failing out of my first year of Jr. college classes. Once I ditched the requisites and started studying things I enjoyed… I got nearly straight A’s from there. Took pretty much every digital art class offered at both Cerritos City and Fullerton City Colleges in Southern California. My appetite was still hungry, so I ended up at Santa Monica Colleges first year of their new “Academy of Entertainment Technology”. All of this was in the mid 90’s.

From there, I got a job at a 3D modeling company that was merged into Viewpoint Digital, and my chops at 3D Studio Max and 3D modeling became strong. After a few years there, several 3D websites, car commercials, a few games (Tomb Raider Revelations and Microsoft Baseball), and eventually getting myself fired (that’s another story)… I moved up to Seattle for a job at WildTangent as a 3D art generalist. I released probably about 12 games there in 5 years. Got to touch everything from UI design, to mocap, character modeling, environments, modeling, materials, outsource managing, art directing and particles. It was a great first job in games. Got a really broad understanding of how all things art come together in a game. But I kinda shined at materials and particles, so I became the studio go to guy when anyone needed FX stuff.

That led to… at some point… a fellow at work was a co-author of the book “Introduction to Game Development”. It was a bit much for him to write the entire art chapter on every discipline, so he offloaded a few of the art chapters to me and a couple of other guys at work. I wrote the chapters on modeling and effects. woot! My writing is now getting into college curriculum for gamedev, despite me being fairly green when I wrote it.

Meanwhile, I was attending “East Side Industry Night” and “West Side Industry Night” in Seattle, where I’d get beers with a bunch of other gamedev folks, and became fast friends with several of them, including the head of FX at Bungie… my buddy Steve! Another Attendee was complaining that the FX weren’t going well on their game… and Steve said “dj just wrote the book on FX!” which kinda-sorta I just had. So I interviewed at FASA, got the job… the previous FX artist left soon after and we were off to the races. My first full time effects job in games! I did a majority of the FX (along with a kickass former and now present Disney FX animator Dan Lund) for the Shadowrun FPS game, which I think a lot of still holds up to this day.

After that game, the studio shut down but sister studio Bungie was on their push to ship and needed extra manpower on Halo 3. So I went there for several months and did a majority of the environmental ambient FX for most of the levels on Halo 3. woot! What I didn’t know, and nobody could tell me… was that they were in the process of splitting from Microsoft, and there was a no-poaching agreement between Bungie and Microsoft. So, being that I was technically a Microsoft/FASA employee… they were barred from giving me an offer, but couldn’t tell me that. They offered to put me on contract if I’d quit Microsoft… which meant that I’d have to forgo my severance pay of about 20k. It was a crap deal, so I said no. And walked away from my dream job. I spent the next few months enjoying some downtime and kicking myself for walking away from my dream job.

A few months later, it was time to start lining up the next job. If you have a Halo game on your resume, at that point in time… you could pretty much pick where you wanted to work next. I interviewed at 9 studios across the US and Canada and got offers at 7 of them. I decided on the one studio I interviewed at… whos game I had personally played start to end (a pretty rare thing for me to do). Call of Duty 2, I thought was a fantastic single player experience, and I knew I would learn a ton from their brilliant FX lead, Robert Gaines (head of FX at Respawn now). So I accepted the offer at Infinity Ward and moved back to California. I started about two months before Modern Warfare 1 shipped.

The rest is history.

-Made some kickass games there.
-Won 2 Visual Effects Society awards there. (The only person in the world with 2 in the real time category, as far as I know)
-Became the FX lead after Robert left for Respawn.
-Became deep in the Visual Effects Society, eventually writing the real time chapter for the VES handbook of visual effects, and am one of about 33 VES Fellows (which means I can put “VES” after my name in games credits).
-After a decade, left and started my own “FX for games specialist company”, Undertone FX, Inc.


I chock it up to lots of hard work, some smart moves and a bit of luck.


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