The MoeGamer Awards 2018: Best Lightning and Storm Effects

The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards that I’ve devised in collaboration with the community as an excuse to celebrate the games, experiences and fanbases that have left a particular impression on me in 2018. Find out more and leave a suggestion here!

This award was suggested by LightningEllen.

I’m old enough to remember when weather effects in games were new and exciting.

I have vivid memories of desperately wanting to play Toyota Celica GT Rally on the Atari ST, for example, purely because it had rain, snow and sandstorm effects — and working windscreen wipers!

Nowadays, weather effects are something we just take for granted for the most part… but sometimes, a game comes along and impresses you with its representation of a particular environmental condition. Today’s award celebrates my favourite virtual thunderstorm from the year just passed.

And the winner is…

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water

The fifth Project Zero game — now quite a sought-after collectors’ item due to its Wii U exclusivity and its limited print run in Europe — is one of the best-looking games on its host platform.

Not only does it have absolutely gorgeous character designs, making use of technology from its stablemate Dead or Alive 5, but it also has some absolutely amazing environmental design; fitting for a game primarily about exploration, discovery and uncovering a mystery that involves spiritualism, attitudes towards death and where nature fits in with all that.

Maiden of Black Water primarily unfolds on a mountain. Every region of this is lovingly rendered, from the initial narrow pathway that twists and turns around cliff faces, waterfalls and natural pools, to the densely forested area that surrounds a seemingly forgotten shrine. Every part of it is believable and realistic; it’s a pleasure to explore, and really captures the feeling of being alone in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by nature — and the fact that this can be both calming and terrifying simultaneously.

What really adds to the atmosphere of the game is its extremely effective use of environmental and weather effects. Since water and wetness plays such a key symbolic and thematic role in the game as a whole, it will probably not surprise you to hear that much of the narrative unfolds during a raging thunderstorm.

This has several effects; on a symbolic level, it represents the idea of nature being “angry” — a concept which is explored in a number of different ways over the course of the complete narrative. On a more practical, mechanical level, it means that hanging around outside will cause your playable character to get drenched; this fills up a “wetness meter” in the corner of the screen, and the higher this is, the more vulnerable you are to attack by ghosts — but the more damage you do, too.

Wetness is represented visually, too; this is part of the reason the game makes use of the character modelling tech from Dead or Alive 5. As the characters get more soaked, their clothes start to cling to them and in some cases become semi-transparent.

For most characters, there is quite a strong contrast between their standard “dry” appearance and their “drenched” appearance. Protagonist Yuri, for example, wears a pair of shorts and a somewhat shrine maiden-inspired dress/top thing. Under normal circumstances, this is a delightfully “flowing” garment that swooshes around as she moves, much like a traditional kimono or real shrine maiden garb. However, when she gets drenched, this elegant garment becomes plastered to her body, giving it a very different appearance and silhouette, and making it immediately apparent what her status is.

The actual weather effect itself is very convincing. Given that the game unfolds from the sunset hours and into the night, the visuals don’t emphasise the individual “drops” of rain as you might see in some games, though they are visible. Instead, what we find is that a lot of areas are covered in a low-lying mist while the rain falls; it further adds to the mystique of areas like the forest in particular.

It’s also quite interesting that an area at the top of the mountain is clearly designed to be “above” the cloud level, and as such tends to remain dry. Since the area you have to proceed through to reach this locale is partially flooded, necessitating a slow and dangerous trudge through knee-deep water, there’s a really nice contrast here; a feeling of “emergence” from one distinct environment into another. That doesn’t mean you’re safe, by any means — quite the contrary, in fact, given what happens on a couple of occasions in this mountaintop area — but there’s a feeling of almost physical relief to be out of the worst of the storm and into the cold, unyielding rock of the summit.

I’ve always been fascinated by the depiction of rain in video games; besides the aforementioned Toyota Celica GT Rally, I have especially vivid memories of the highly convincing (for the time) rain storm effects in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And Maiden of Black Water captures much of the same feeling I had when I first stood in the virtual rain in that game all those years ago.

I think my enjoyment of rain as an environmental effect in video games is probably down to the fact that I find it quite a pleasant, calming weather condition in real life, too — assuming I’m either wrapped up nice and warm if I’m out in it, or, preferably, watching it from behind a window and hearing those droplets spattering on rooftops and panes of glass.

Of course, Maiden of Black Water is hardly a “calming” game when the ghosts decide to come out to play — but during its quieter, more contemplative and exploration-centric moments, I often found myself just hanging out in the virtual rain for a little while, just as I have been known to in reality once in a while. It was blissful respite from ghost attacks — and a big part of why I feel I’m going to remember that game long after I saw its credits roll.


More about the Project Zero series

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.

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