Visual Effects in “Limbo” by Playdead

Adam Kehl
Adam Kehl
Sep 13 · 2 min read

What is “Limbo”?

“Limbo” is a black-and-white video game most noteworthy for its unique puzzles. Its story mimics Dante’s Inferno with places and events overlapping. 2

The game was created by Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti, afterwards forming the company Playdead. Development took over three years before its release in 2010.


Engine, Effects, & Sprites

Limbo uses Box2D for its physics and OpenGL for the visual effects.

A large image consisting of smaller images, called a “sprite sheet”, is spliced and used for objects such as the player’s limbs, boxes, and for the environment. For example, a sprite sheet from the game looks like this.


The Game Consists of Three Depths:

  • Foreground: Closest to you, but out of focus.
  • Mid-ground: The focus of the game.
  • Background: Behind everything, setting the scene and contrasting the mid-ground.

Each depth moves on its own in relation to the player; this effect is known as “parallax”. The foreground moves more, the mid-ground moves with, and the background moves less than the player.


Recreation Steps:

  1. First start by adding blurry objects to create the foreground. The ground becomes the mid-ground
  2. Trees and vines become the background. Everything in this scene should be black and only differ in opacity.
  3. After that, add some blurred light behind the mid-ground, to darken the scene. Create some shadows in the light as well.
  4. Then import a smoke image and mask out some plant shadows, overlaying this layer behind the mid-ground but above the previous light layer.
  5. Create a concentrated exposure layer on the middle, masking the rest of the scene. This adds a spotlight effect.
  6. Proceed to add diagonal light rays with varying opacities to add to the overall brightness.
  7. Then add a negative exposure layer is to act as a vignette, darkening the edges. Be sure to only darken the outer corners and make it very gradual.
  8. Finally, overlay some generic grainy noise.
  9. An optional step is to use sprites from the sprite-sheet to recreate objects and characters.

Download the Photoshop project file, there’s a lot of smaller effects unmentioned. Download recreated scene (.psd)

Please respect the copyright of Playdead.

Sources:

1. Box2D.org

2. Jake Vander Ende

3. Xbox UK

4. Playdead

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