Portfolio Focus - Gameplay or Show Off?

Hey, long time lurker first time posting, I’m currently working on my portfolio/demo reel and I watched a ton of GDC talks on the topic of VFX and portfolios and I was wondering: Is it better to “show off”, go over the top with the effect or should I show that I understand the gameplay restrictions, that not everything can be THE flashiest since it can be distracting and there should be a hierarchy to represent power and AOE and show what I can do within those restrains?

You could do both if you’re on the fence, like a side-by-side comparison. It might be a bit more work, but I think there’s value in showing how you’re able to take something over the top and pare it down to something that would work realistically in a game. With your initial “over the top” effect though, just be able to identify that all the extra flash and wow still contributes to its intended use in a meaningful way.

Make sure your extra stuff isn’t there for the sole purpose of being extra, if that makes sense?


I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting on my team lately, and have gone over a lot of reels. With that being said, my personal opinion is…

Please please please show stuff in context. Gameplay is king. If you want to make VFX for games, why show VFX with no game? That’s not to say that breakdowns aren’t helpful, but I really want gameplay stuff (or environment or character or whatever kind of effects you specialize in) to take priority.

There’s lots of reels with anime-style effects with really exaggerated charge-ups, or cinematic style explosions with tons of camera shake that linger, or weapon trails that look like a total lightshow, and - don’t get me wrong, that stuff is dope and a lot of fun to make - but it tells me nothing about whether you’re able to make a good contribution to our team.

I get really impressed when I see someone tell a story with an effect that’s only half a second long. Show off by making something that’s punchy and appealing without sacrificing gameplay readability. Just because something is loud or “flashy” doesn’t mean that it’s good, it needs to serve its purpose and fit in its context. Your reel is the only place where you can prove that you fully understand this balancing act.

I’ve strong opinions on this, so please take it at face value haha. Anyway I hope this helped!


I totally get you, I wrote this post because I’ve seen a lot of reels online that while being “flashy and cool” most of them don’t really have gameplay clarity, values are pretty even and usually there’s 1 or 2 colors.
With that being said, starting artists don’t really have any full games to show their VFX in, but yeah I guess what you’re saying is, for example: take Mixamo animation and characters, build a basic level from free assets and that will improve your presentation by a ton.
P.S. I mainly wrote it this way for people stumbling into this thread in the future and also kind of confirmation that we’re on the same page :slight_smile:

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Oh yeah for sure. If you’re still in school, grab a few friends and make a portfolio project together! Unreal and Unity also both ship with demo games, experiment with replacing the VFX in those. And like you said, there’s plenty of marketplace assets to create something that’s similar to whatever game genre you’re passionate about.

Even if it feels like extra “non-vfx” work, it actually adds a lot of appeal. Showing that you’re not just a skilled artist, but also know how to hook your effects up correctly in-game, is a great way to stand out from the crowd.