As a mod finally reaches that point in development where there are enough assets for the shape to start forming, a developer has to ask himself one thing: what the hell am I supposed to do with all that now?
When it comes to space games involving huge battles, what we gamers really want to see is lots of screaming, falling apart, blaster bolts flying about in space and of course, always - pretty explosions. So it comes down to the developer to carefully balance things such as polygon counts and particle density against things such as awe-inspiring explosive extravaganza.
It's not easy. When you've got sometimes close to a thousand ships on screen, even the most robust engine is bound to gag a little. But on the other hand, does that mean one should have explosions that feel more like popcorn-in-space and not like some fusion reactor just blew up and vaporized a 100m long ship?
Anyone who has played the vanilla game knows that the original explosion effects were two-dimensional for the most part. This (and the particle design) had the unfortunate effect of breaking the immersion somewhat every time something blew up, and that happens a lot. People often complained that the ships would actually abruptly disappear instead of being polite and doing it while hidden behind their explosion effects. Or that the explosions themselves felt too weak.
Since then, several moders attempted to remedy this, with a degree of success I shall not judge since it comes down to the tastes of the player.
My own approach has since the start been to create the most visually appealing and believable special effects I could muster. Not just with explosions either. While I decided to create the special effects for the new races entirely myself, one great mod has caught my eye because its creator managed to take the somewhat bland vanilla effects and boost/edit them to quite a degree of prettiness. That is how the original game should have shipped, in my honest opinion.
I speak, of course, of the Bailknight's Graphic Mod, whose creator was kind enough to place his work at the disposal of the moding community and whose weapon effects for the vanilla factions have been incorporated into The Last Stand.
As for explosions themselves, I felt the volumetric approach, that is - true 3D particle simulation involving not only two-dimensional textures but also a fully 3D debris system - would be best. Careful attention was paid to everything from particle speed and size to opacity. Several days were spent tweaking various components of now quite complex effects to achieve what I deem a pretty good feel of physicality during space battles - at no or very little "cost" with regards to system requirements.
The result... well, look and judge for yourself. I hope you like it! More action to come in a few days (hopefully) with the first teaser...
(You can also download the video from here)