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Visual Effects Design in DUST 514

Reported by CCP Frame

Hi, I’m CCP Luo Bin, team leader of the visual effects (VFX) team for DUST 514®, and I would like to share our experiences in making VFX for this revolutionary shooter. Visual effects are an important part of CG imaging during post-production, and when properly implemented, can really bring a game to life.

However, VFX design and production differs from character or backdrop creation, because visual effects are more abstract. In most cases, VFX are not fixed forms and require multiple design iterations, and of course, DUST 514 and EVE Online® are closely linked which means that they share similar styles and design. Still, this doesn't mean the VFX in DUST 514 are the same as in EVE Online, because that would be boring.

In DUST 514, VFX styles are determined by factional or racial differences. Each of the four major factions in New Eden uses different technologies to create weapons, and that is reflected in their visual effects. From laser beams to lightning arcs and plasma weapons, each branch of arms technology requires a unique VFX design.

Gallente Light Assault rifle

As an example, let’s take the Gallente Light Assault rifle which is very popular with players. From the design side, the ammunition type it uses is a high energy plasma round. To show this in-game, we’ve taken images of magnetic storms from the Sun as a reference and expressed its innately superheated and unstable state in the muzzle flash of the weapon. The effect of this ammunition upon impact should reflect its high energy potential and cause instantaneous conflagrations. This weapon also has a high rate of fire and to express this in its tracer effects, we wanted to retain its high energy/plasma aspects and combine it with a high emission rate to resemble flames.

Caldari Forge Gun

Now, let’s look at the Caldari Forge Gun. It is also a high energy weapon but it differs from the Gallente Light Assault rifle in that instead of using plasma, it utilizes a high-voltage magnetic propulsion system to deliver its munitions. Because of this design, the entire operation of this weapon system is more complicated, since it requires a charge phase, launch stage, cool down time and finally, a recharge period. Along each of these steps a visual effect is required for the weapon. During the charge phase you will see powerful currents course through the weapon’s chamber and bore. As the munitions exit the barrel they emit a dazzling halo followed by residual high voltage arcs from the projectiles. As the barrel cools the lingering heat from the launch is then pooled and ejected as steam.

Yet, this lengthy process takes place every few seconds. To express this visually, we focused on the electrical arcs that occur when the weapon is fired and designed various types of arcs that can be seen during each stage of the firing. During the initial charge phase the arcs are seen coiled around the barrel of the gun and they appear more warped, and when the round impacts the arcs become more emissive giving it an explosive feel. This is a common theme amongst many Caldari weapons.   

Minmatar HMG

Minmatar weapons resemble modern weapons more closely and are of the gun powder projectile variety. However, this does not mean that they lack the punch of other weapon classes. These weapons have the highest rate of fire and are designed to deliver a hailstorm of bullets to the enemy. The Minmatar Heavy Machine Gun is a veritable hand held Gatling gun and to stress this aspect we’ve amplified its muzzle flash in size and added a shimmering blaze. The end result is that when fired, players will see writhing tracers bolting toward their targets belching smoke trails in their wake.   

Amarr Laser Rifle

When it comes to the Amarr racial weapons things take on a more grandiose tone and this is also reflected in the design of their weapons. From the etched heraldry to the shape of their guns, Amarr weaponry combines religious symbolism with deadly purpose. We took that in to account when designing the visual effects for Amarr weapons with the goal of ensuring that players get a sense of splendor unique to the Amarr.

A good example of this is the Laser Rifle. The weapon itself looks like a sophisticated instrument, precise and measured. When activated, it operates in a similar manner, with very little recoil and a high level of accuracy. Since the weapon deals damage with focused light, we’ve made its muzzle flash in the form of light particles that fan out. Its tracer effects take the form of a continuous light beam accentuated with flickering gleam to emphasize its power.        

To make things even more interesting, a lot of these weapon technologies are fictional and have no real-world references for artists, so we have to rely on our personal creativity to come up with cool concepts of what they should look like. This has been a challenging and enjoyable experience for us.

On the art side, we spent a good deal of time to ensuring DUST 514 maintains a polished look while delivering a smooth user experience. To accomplish this, we spend a lot of time communicating and coordinating with engineers, game designers, and artists to determine the most efficient means of achieving this goal.  

I have used many development tools and in comparison, Unreal is an outstanding software. This is in part due to a fully featured material editor that lets us easily create a multitude of assets. Simply change a few value settings and you can get a vastly different visual effect. This key feature and allows our VFX team to vigorously explore new ideas with a short turnaround time. We've spent a lot of effort in pursuing that perfect balance of beauty and efficiency with DUST 514 visual effects, and we hope you will enjoy seeing them as much as we've enjoyed in creating them. 

CCP Luo Bin

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