Ghost Recon Future Soldier is definitely not the first time I’ve seen “cold breath” in a game but it’s been such a long time that the effect really caught me by surprise. Watching Giant Bomb’s Quick Look of the multiplayer beta I kept focusing on the effect after thinking to myself “wow, I’ll bet that guy’s cold”.
‘Smell’ and ‘Feel’ are two of the hardest senses to convey in any form of media but games have it hardest. Showing that an actor is sweating from heat takes almost no work at all. Doing the same to a player character requires immense feats of visual programming. Given a third-person perspective it’s work we might not even notice outside of a deliberate cutscene. What can help is the spoken word — a simple comment by a character about a smell or a change in temperature — but that relies heavily on the voice actor’s performance and a good bit of planning from designers and writers.
Approaching a lab that has recently been “decontaminated” with the staff still inside, one of your squadmates in Mass Effect 3 exclaims “what’s that smell?” and the otherwise sterile room takes on a whole different feel. It’s the only scene like that in the game and all it took was a tiny voice file and a note in the script to make a simple puzzle room memorable. As the voice acting talent pool deepens and we move on to new hardware with power to spare these are the kinds of “sensory effects” I hope to see much more of in the future.