For example, take bullets, sparks, fireballs, light sabers, lightning bolts, any kind of special effect in a game.
Are there various ways to implement these effects in a game. As far as I can see you create either an animation is some modelling package like Maya and then load these animations, you also seem to be able to do these kind of effects using layer upon layer of textures(images).
So where does the particle engine come in in a game, what is the relationship with pre-made animations.
Lets say I wanted to have some custom effect like the player could have a Thor like hammer and smash it on the ground as special power. Now when it hits the ground, everything rumbles and bolts of lightning appear from the hammer which propagate in a every increasing circular motion away from the hammer, like a circular lightning bolt and eventual fade away.
What options do I have to create a special effects like this, is it mainly done in animation software or mainly done in the engines code.