Getting to know Unity’s Particle System
Hey everyone, Steve here. We have particle VFX working in the game, sweet! Right now we’re using Unity 5.4.2 and are planning to update to Unity 5.5 soon. In the meantime, let’s take a look at what we’ve done.
For me, it’s important to have unique, interesting-looking FX that supports the visual style of our world. To do this, I build up my FX with multiple particle systems, like layering a cake. Adding variation in the parameters really injects life: I adjust settings, even if only a small amount, to make things pop. The image below on the right has “3D Start Size” checked to separate the size values on X, Y, Z. Going deeper, separating the X, Y, Z values again to “Random Between to Constants” so the particles will spawn randomly in various sizes on start. You can continue by changing colour, transparency, etc., like so:
On the right is the Flare prefab. You can see the layers used to make up one effect. Each layer is a particle system with its own custom settings. I know it looks like I lot, but I limit the amount of particles that can be emitted from each layer so it doesn’t get too heavy in-game.
3rd party effects software
After Effects is a great tool to boost the look of your VFX. One feature I use a lot is adding animated textures to particle systems to give it a little extra punch. This blast effect isn’t in the game, but it’s still fun to show off. You can see each frame of the animation on the left.
Here’s a few tutorials that may help you get started:
Unity 5.5 – Portal (Particle/VFX Tutorial)
A cool video that shows how to create the portal effect from Valve’s Portal in Unity. Even if you don’t get the asset mentioned (Ultimate VFX), the video will show you useful techniques for creating particle effects.
Unity 5 Tutorial: Particle Systems – Healing Spell Effect
Another helpful video that shows you how to create a healing spell effect.
Mesh Based VFX Tutorial Blender Unity
Great tutorial explaining how to create trail FX.
Just a note: we’re not in any way affiliated with the publishers of these tutorials. They helped me in designing my own VFX and they might help you too!
Design and Prototyping Early Development
Debris is set in a dark, unknown place, but it’s also set in the future. The technology available includes a tool that converts energy into light and weaponized heat. For example, since the flare is made up of energy, it should feel like some sort of hot plasma. In this concept art below, I’m trying to inject a sci-fi feel to the flare: beams of energy, spinning and spraying out into the world. In the final FX we decided to tone it down a bit because it seemed too wild and out of place, but that’s what concept art is for!
Debris Flare FX concept art
I separated the particle effect into three separate systems: muzzle flash, shot and impact. Each one is it’s own unique snowflake.
Building the FX
Debris is an underwater world. To make it seem that the particle FX are submerged, we need some sort of distortion. Using After Effects, I created a looping fractal noise FX like the blue burst above. In this case, the fractal was black and white so I could add colour to it in the particle system later. From the animated sheet I generated a normal map, which is the key to adding distortion. The normal map is used with a glass shader or distort shader to displace things rendering behind it.
Animated Distortion FX
Animated Distortion Normal map
Below is the flare effect that uses this technique:
Debris Flare Core
Debris Flare Shot Complete
And there it is, the game’s done! Well no, but hopefully you enjoyed this little slice of development.
Thanks for joining us, more cool stuff is on its way.
PS. Here are some assets from Unity’s store that can help create awesome particle effects.
Realistic Effects Pack 1
Awesome package for distortion effects.
Realistic Effects Pack 3
Extension to the first pack, adding further complexity and additional presets, very cool!
Particle Systems/Magic Kakky
Inexpensive pack to help get you started building FX.
Again, we’re not in any way affiliated with the publishers of these assets. I just tried them and think they’re pretty great.