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Best Systems for 3D Modeling, Texturing, Terrain Generation, Light Maps, Animation, etc...

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For creating media in games, I'm curious to hear about what the preferred tools are for various needs: 


1) Generating Landscape  (maya?)

2) Generating Vehicle Models (3ds Max? )

3) Generating Characters

4) Wire Frame Animations

5) Texture Light Maps

6) "Unlighting" textures.

7) Sound Effect Management

8) Sound Effect Editing



What are the best tools, in your opinions, for the various needs?


 - Thanks!

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You have a lot of different things up there... I hope you are not looking for a "one to rule them all" tool?


I will list the general tool used for what you have in the list:


1) Landscape Generator for automatic creation, Landscape tools in the engine or 3D modelling tool for manually created terrain

2) Any 3D Package: Poly Modelling or Sculpting tool, most probably involves some NURBS / CAD modelling along the way

3) Any 3D Package:Poly Modelling or Sculpting tool, NURBS / CAD modelling might be used too (for equipment for example)

4) Any 3D Package with animation capabilities, game engine 

5) Game engine usually... you can bake Light maps in practically all 3D Packages though.

6) What are you talking about? Light blocking volumes? This is an game engine editor feature. Light cookies? 2D Image Editor.

7) Game engine editor. If you write from scratch, you might use thirdparty frameworks like FMOD

8) Any Sound editing tool or DAW will do.


Generally, there are the big fat 3D Packages (Maya, 3DS Max, Blender, ...)... apart from Blender, which is free, they tend to be VERY expensive. You can get a a Maya LT sub, but it still costs 30$ per month for a feature reduced version of Maya.


These tools can do most or all tasks in that list (Blende for example brings its own game engine along, if you want to use that).



What Engine are you planning to use? Do you want to write from scratch instead of using an engine?



Some recommendations from my side:


Get Blender. Learn how to use it. That tool does it all, is completly free and open source, and even where there are better tools out there for some tasks, Blender is always handy to have for the small things other, more specialized tools cannot do.


1) If you are looking for great generated terrain, check out World Machine. Its node based workflow is daunting at first, but gives you a lot of freedom on how to setup your generation scripts, and the results do look pretty good if you tweak the eriosion nodes correctly.

If you want to go the manual route, and are using existing engines (for example Unity or Unreal Engine 4) I would suggest you create your terrain with the game engine editor landscape tools. Much easier to work with than polymodelling, and the endproduct can then use the game engines Terrain LOD system.


2) I personally use 3D Coat for creating vehicles, which is a Voxel Sculpting tool (apart from 3D Painting and Retopo)... now while this tool allows me to work in details without worrying about the general topology, it is quite limited when it comes to doing NURBS like modelling for complex anorganic forms. I use MoI as an additional tool just for that, which is kind of "CAD Light".

These are both paid tools, altough not very expensive ones for what you get. You can also use Blender for this task which is free. The sculpting tools in blender are more basic, but you will mostly use boxmodelling and NURBS modelling for Vehicles anyway, which Blender does just fine. As an additional boon, Blender can also be used for Mesh duplication (for example for duplicating the wheels so that they all use the same mesh and texture), which 3D Coat doesn't do. I also need Blender as a last step in my workflow because of that.

Animation for vehicles is not really needed, can be done in code. If you want to create animations that you can just trigger in code though, you will need an animation tool like the one Blender provides.


3) virtually the same as creating vehicles for the mesh. Less need for NURBS modelling, more need for good sculpting tools. Blender should do fine, even though tools like 3D Coat or ZBrush (more expensive) are way better and more specialized tool for organic sculpting.

You most probably will want to make your organic mesh animatable as a "rigged mesh", which means you will need to place bones and do weightpainting on your mesh. Blender also does this. It even has basic autorig tools. If you have money for it, you can use online services like Mixamo to help you autorig your models (quality might depend on your models topology and bone structure).

Lastly you will need to animate the model with your bones and rig. You can either a) buy stock animations from Mixamo or the game engine asset stores (can get expensive quickly), b) MoCap your animations with tools like iPi + some cams (Ps Eye cam or XBOX Kinect), which will need actors, a lot of time and space apart from some money for the hard and software, or c) you create your animations manually, again, Blender can help you here.


4) Already answered above...


5) I always use the game engine tools to bake the light maps. Makes it simple to a) see the result asap ingame without export/import, and b) makes sure the result is compatible with the format the game engine expects.

If you go without using a game engine you will not be able to do that... I think blender has capabilites baking such maps, though I lack any expierience here.


6) If you are talking about Light cookies (b/w textures that can give a light a certain "shape", thus for example mimic the shadows produced by a window frame, or fake cloud shadows for a sun in an isometric view:

I use 2D Image editors for creating these. Pretty straightforward for directional and spotlights. Pretty mind boggling complex for point lights (because of the whole cube mapping to spherical projection stuff). Does the job pretty well. Get Gimp if you need a free 2D Image editor. You will need it anyway later to tweak your textures even if you use the 3D Painting tools in Blender (or 3D Coat like I do).


7) If you use an existing engine like I do (Unreal Engine 4 currently), you do not need to worry about that. The engine will cover all the basic needs. For more complex stuff (like procedural music and stuff like that), you can either look in the asset stores for existing solutions, or code it yourself. But if its just about playing and looping sound, don't worry. Unity/Epic got you covered.

If you write from scratch, well, either code it yourself or find one of the many existing frameworks and middleware solutions... FMOD is an example, but most probably not free. There might be free ones


8) Depends what you need. If you need to tweak existing audio effects, any audio tool will do. You could use expensive DAWs like Reaper or Cubase, but that most probably is way to expensive to just use for such a simple task.

I have a cheap Music Maker, Magix Music Maker, that does the job for me... which is basically clipping, pitch shifting and combining existing effects I bought.

There are free tools like Audiacity that can be used for such simple tasks.


If you want to record your own Audio Effects, you will have to spend some money for hardware most probably. And then you will want to invest into a little bit more elaborate tool than just audiacity. But to be honest, never tried that. If you search though the game engine asset stores or some of the audio sites on the net, you will find sound effects practically every occasion, and if you search long enough, you might even find some tracks that are not too expensive (though audio generally is expensive... recording and editing sounds does take a lot of time and skill).



If you want a better, more targetted answer, then tell us EXACTLY what you are planning to do... which engine? What kind of game? What is your budget?

Edited by Gian-Reto

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Thanks!  I haven't finished reading your post, but I'm just responding that #6, "Unlighting Textures" I was referring to removing light from photos so you can get cleaner textures for surfaces and add the lighting in game.  I'm not even sure if there are any good tools for that one.  Aside from a general paint editing app.


Also, no, I'm not looking for a universal app to do all of it.  I just want to know what some of the move common/respected tools in the industry are.

Edited by Dan Violet Sagmiller

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There's no good unlighting tool because such a tool would be made out of pure magic laugh.png
Epic/Unreal are working on a magic tool like that, but, it requires you to have an accurate normal map to go with your "lit" texture, and to have captured a chrome/matte environment map of the area/time that the "lit" texture was captured. i.e. it's only good for unlighting photogrammetry.

1) World Machine, Photoshop, ZBrush, Max/Maya/Softimage/etc
2) Max/Maya/Softimage/etc
3) Max/Maya/Softimage/etc
4) What are Wire Frame Animations?? Motionbuilder/Max/Maya/Softimage/etc
5) Usually specialized middleware / part of your game engine.
6) Magic.
7) FMOD studio.
8) Audio guys always seem to have a long list of personal favorites.

Choosing between Max/Maya/Softimage/Blender is usually a religious question, not a technical one biggrin.png

Main tools at my studio are Photoshop, Softimage, Substance Painter/Designer, our game engine itself, and FMOD studio.

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Thanks!  I haven't finished reading your post, but I'm just responding that #6, "Unlighting Textures" I was referring to removing light from photos so you can get cleaner textures for surfaces and add the lighting in game.  I'm not even sure if there are any good tools for that one.  Aside from a general paint editing app.


Also, no, I'm not looking for a universal app to do all of it.  I just want to know what some of the move common/respected tools in the industry are.


Ah, I see...


I think you might find Photoshop plugins and such things that might do a decent job... Crazybump which I use for map creation (specular/AO from normal, normal from height and so on) also has an included subtool that will automatically remove highlights and/or shadows from photos... it does do the job in simple situations, but how well it really works with complex images IDK, never really had to use because I either paint my textures or kitbash with stock textures I buy off the internet.


Well, every artists pipeline will be different, but I think Hodgman has covered most.



And still, budget to be spent on the pipeline IS important... as Hodgman said, currently there is little technical reason to move past Blender (which is free) to the other standart 3D packages (which cost big bucks)... there are some limitations to Blender, which get less and less with each new release, and there are some special nice-to-have tools in the expensive commercial solutions which potentially could improve efficiency.


But if you have little money and either artists that are used to Blender or that start from scratch anyway, at least for basic 3D Modelling and animation the ideal choice is obvious.



Or are you just asking to know which tools are most used for being attractive as a potential employee?

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