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I'm curious how 3D effects like spells in Warcraft or Torchlight are implemented graphically. I just finished a book on Direct3D and feel pretty comfortable with it and 3D graphics in general, but I am not sure how I'd do something like have a character 'cast a lightning bolt' or some other spell graphically. I would assume it has to do with particle effects or animated texture coordinates, anybody able to give me some more specific insight? Thanks

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Search around for UDK Particle System Tutorials. –  Patrick Hughes May 3 '12 at 3:05
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

In terms of what you are trying to accomplish you are more likely looking for an answer that relates more to game architecture.However, the rendering techniques for effects in games vary enormously, but here are a select few of those that I have come across for beginners:

  • Particle Effects: These usually consist of some alpha blended or masked texture mapped to a series of quads. These quads can have any number of tranformations applied to them including gravity, wind and lifetime.
  • Meshes: Loaded meshes are the bread and butter of any 3D game. Tven simple mesh with a texture moving in the right way can make for an awesome spell. For example if I had a mesh that looks like a blob with a firey texture alpha blended in and when I clicked my fire button it lobbed this blob at an enemy with an arc and random rotation I have a basic fireball.
  • Simple Textured Quads: Never under estimate the power of a alpha masked texture on a quad that is drawn from the caster to the enemy and billboarded to the camera.

There are an enormous number of other techniques including even using pixel and vertex shaders but this should get you started.

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