How Mojang Reimagined Minecraft VFX for Minecraft Dungeons

gaming industry interview vfx Aug 29, 2023
How Mojang Reimagined Minecraft VFX for Minecraft Dungeons - Featured


Mojang Studios VFX artist and game developer Chris Nordgren shares insights into the creation of Minecraft Dungeons VFX that stay true to the original game.


Today we are joined by Mojang Studios VFX Artist Chris Nordgren, who has spent the past 10 years in game development. You'll learn about his creative journey and the challenges he faced reimagining the look of an iconic franchise. 

Chris shares insights into Minecraft VFX and how they were adapted for Minecraft Dungeons in a way that felt cohesive and in the same universe. He even shares some of his regrets in the process as well as some of the successes like introducing circles into a world famous for its square blocks and textures. 

Chris, take it away!


My name is Chris Nordgren and I am a VFX artist at Mojang Studios. I was initially hired in the Stockholm office to make a few visual effects for Minecraft Dungeons as they were transitioning the prototype of Minecraft Dungeons to Unreal Engine.

The company wanted to amplify the visuals of the game, and when I was hired there were only a handful of artists working on several projects. Some areas needed support outside of VFX, so I took the opportunity to help out whenever I could. 



The art department of Minecraft Dungeons was very slim, and many designers also contributed with art assets. I took the initiative to spearhead the character art, some early character concepts, animation, and rigging which made me familiar with the majority of the art workflow of Unreal, but the area that I am most passionate about is real-time visual effects. 



For Minecraft Dungeons I created most of the VFX. For the DLCs I mostly worked on reviews and support. I’ve always been drawn to real-time VFX mainly because it tends to be related closely to gameplay which initially drew me into the game development business. 

In games like Minecraft Dungeons, it's all about slaying mobs. That means the combat needs to feel good! There are a lot of components that need to feel “just right” from many departments and I would consider VFX to be one of the most important. But mainly it is the most fun task!


Approaching the Art of Minecraft Dungeons 

Minecraft is arguably the biggest game with a pixel art style. This unique approach means Minecraft looks different than most games. The game is missing the usual visual flair you see in most games such as lighting, VFX, or even joint-based skeletal animation (depending on the version of Minecraft).

The pixel texturing is something we work on constantly and I am proud to see how it is continuously improving. Ultimately, the goal of my work is to take out what works and make it better without ruining the simplicity of Minecraft. 



The key difference is that we decided to make the pixel density in the same resolution as the rest of the environment. Due to this, it constrains a lot of fidelity but in the larger whole, it becomes easier on the eyes and very easy to produce!

Here is a comparison shot between Minecraft Dungeons and Minecraft VFX. 



A lot of the effects don’t use any textures and are just empty due to the pixel size which is great for performance. Forcing Minecraft Dungeons to be a top-down perspective camera simplifies development significantly. From an art perspective we are restricted to only render a finite amount of objects compared to the first-person perspective which demands a lot more polygons and objects to be displayed.


Minecraft VFX Textures and Particles

In Minecraft there are fewer than 150 sprites that are used as particles. This sprite sheet was used for Minecraft Bedrock and contains a majority of the particle effects. Minecraft Java separated all the textures into separate sprites.



A lot of the flipbooks are reused throughout the entire game and build a language of shapes so players can expect what certain shapes do.

The Strange Noise texture is used for Creeper’s explosion and mob despawn. It is essentially the dust of Minecraft.



You can see various effects appearing when fighting a creeper and a witch in the swamps. 

  • The Strange Noise texture for despawning creeper.
  • Big Red effect that signals a splash potion exploding.
  • When a potion is active, swirly circles appear around the Witch.
  • Single pixels appear when a player submerges themselves in water.


It is important to know exactly how Minecraft handles everything. That way we are conscious of what we are altering so both worlds feel like they belong in the same universe.


VFX of Minecraft Dungeons

Due to the pixel resolution, the particles are constrained to have a simpler look. But we have more access to modify particle behavior due to Unreal having more diverse editor tools. All the effects done in Minecraft Dungeons were using Unreal’s old particle system Cascade. Mainly this was because Niagara was still considered an experimental feature and had a tendency to crash Unreal. It works much better now!


Explosion FX

One of the first assets I asked to create for Minecraft Dungeons was the ExplosionThe project manager saw my explosion asset pack for Unity and was interested if I could recreate it in Unreal’s Cascade. 

Here is a Creeper explosion from Minecraft compared to a Minecraft Dungeons explosion. 


Creeper Explosion - Minecraft


Explosion - Minecraft Dungeons 


Combat FX 

Initially, Minecraft Dungeons had about 8 different weapons. When creating the weapon VFX and animations I considered that the materials and textures would be reused. 

I decided to go for a more expressive art style compared to Minecraft to boost the arcadey hack-n-slash feel of the game.


Axe - Spin Attack


Sword - Slash and Stab


Hammer - Slam

Mist FX

I like this effect that is present in SoggySwamps. It has a pixel feel that feels true to the world of Minecraft and it is a sprite sheet that randomizes between 4 images. It has a simplicity that I really like. 



Fire FX

Minecraft Fire Block


Minecraft Dungeons Fire Block


Additional Minecraft Dungeons Fire Sprites


Introducing Circles to Minecraft

One hot topic I’ve always had to wrestle about with people over and over again is circles. The concern stems from various disciplines from art or design and sometimes overhead. If I try to look objectively at the topic it boils down to - what looks best?



There are various ways to look at circles in Minecraft. I believe circles are the best way to indicate a force push that expands radially. There is a lot of work iterated to avoid clear spheres or circles. One of my favourite compromises is the totem of shielding which we turned into a hexagon. 


Totem of Shielding - Early Dev Iteration


Totem of Shielding - Final VFX


Minecraft Dungeons VFX Improvements and Regrets

Looking back and acknowledging mistakes is something I think is valuable for everyone! There are two main things I regret in Minecraft Dungeons.

Radial Gradients

I used a bit too many radial gradients due to the fact there was a bit of uncertainty if a mobile port was happening or not. We might not be able to post-process bloom in case we were going to make a mobile port. I wish I just leaned towards using bloom and didn't use the radial gradients!

Smoke Material

One very late change that affected a lot of smoke materials was changing some lit to unlit to improve performance. It was a rushed decision at a late stage and we should have looked into adjusting it only on a few dust effects and not all of them.


Personal Projects and Ambitions

I enjoy my time at Mojang making pixel effects in a 3D space but as an artist, I do need to have a more creative outlet other than thinking in blocks. 

Mojang Studios and Microsoft allow their employees to work on spare time projects during free time which is getting more common in game development. Being a game developer as a profession is known to not be a long career path for many due to various reasons. I have been fortunate to find a niche in development that brings me joy.

Some advice I got early on in my career was to focus on what you are good at and then everything will sort of figure itself out!  

It might not be the right advice for every person due to financial or social circumstances, but if you are interested in working more on the visual aspect, I think making sure that you enjoy the work is a crucial part. 




I have been maintaining a storefront for optimized mobile VFX for Unity. These effects are mainly created for people who want a very performant VFX while also having a good punchy feel. They are intentionally using barebone dependencies and in some cases default materials of unity to ensure they are working in most circumstances with low performance impact. 

Many game developers have high ambition and want to create the perfect system, but that is a luxury that isn’t really suited for mobile or indie games.


Everhood and Everhood 2


My primary side focus has been on a game called Everhood. Essentially it is a way for me to flex a lot of VFX along with everything else that comes with a game, but I like to say that it all is grounded in making cool visual explorations.

Here are a few battles that are more expressive than I’ve created.

It's sort of marrying visual effect elements with gameplay and music. Some would call it interactive music videos. I am also working on the sequel to Everhood.

All images via Mojang Studios/Chris Nordgren

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