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Allegorithmic Substance for Non-Artist, Tools for Amping up Graphics?

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Hey Everyone, 

 

I'm finishing up development on a small game I'm working on, and I've started planning (quite in depth) the next project I'll be working on, which will be pretty large scale. 

 

Bare with me while I describe the game a bit.

 

In a nutshell, it's going to be a first-person walking simulator/puzzle/exploration game developed in Unity with a heavy story. For the final product (which, if my huge plan goes accordingly, should be released sometime in late 2017/early 2018) I really want to have gorgeous graphics. However, I'm a programmer, not an artist, so I'm really going to be stretching/expanding my skillset for this project. I do however have a little bit of modelling experience in Max.

 

When I think about the games that have inspired this project, at least as far as graphics/environments go, I think about the following (to give you an idea what I'm going for):

  • The Witness (minus the kind of cartoony style)
  • Layers of Fear
  • Mind: Path to Thalamus
  • Gone Home

 

The game, as far as I've planned so far, will only have maybe one other character that you ever see in the game, so the environments really need to be engrossing.

 

The majority of the game will take place outside, but there will be many scenes inside a modern home and small structures found within the outside environments, as well as inside something more decrepit (think Outlast, etc. for these scenes). So the environments are going to be quite varied.

 

Normally, excellent graphics are not that important to me, but the nature of the game really calls for it (the immersion of the exploration will be vastly increased by great looking environments). I really want the player to stop, look and marvel at the little details (cracks, pebbles, reflections, etc.) as well as the overall feel of the environments. I feel it's these kind of minute details that can bring this kind of game from the level of good to great.

 

In order to achieve this, I've been researching a lot and here are the things I've come up with:

  • Fully learning/harnessing Unity's GI capabilities
  • Mastering Unity's Physically Based Shader (the new Standard Shader)
  • Picking up some really nice weather effects assets from the Asset Store
  • Utilizing Allegorithmic's Substance software
  • Using free 3d assets from the Asset Store and Turbo Squid, etc (only if they're high quality and fit the game)
  • Purchasing/commissioning other 3D assets if needed
  • Leveraging Unity's Post-Processing affects

So now that you know a bit about what I'm trying to accomplish, and some ways I'm thinking about getting there, I've got a few questions:

 

  1. Like I've said: I'm not an artist. I really like the way that Allegorithmic's substances look, as well as the ability to modify/animate them at runtime. However, based on what I've seen so far (at least in the tutorials), it seems tailored mostly to 3D artists generating textures and maps for specific models. I would want to use it primarily for environmental purposes (terrains, walls, floors, rocks) and for creating effects (accumulative snowfall, etc).
    • What's the learning curve and workflow like (remember I'm not an artist)?
    • Would you recommend it for my purposes?
  2. Has anyone used the UBER Shader asset, and would you recommend it?
  3. Would Substance and the UBER Shader compliment each other, or would it be overkill (should I go with just one of the two)?
  4. Other than Turbo Squid and the Unity Asset store, can you recommend other resources for high-quality free 3D assets or reasonably priced paid assets?
  5. Do you have any suggestions for tools or approaches that I haven't mentioned here?

 

Thanks in advance for any help!

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Using free 3d assets from the Asset Store and Turbo Squid, etc (only if they're high quality and fit the game)

I am going to say there is almost no chance of finding a high quality model, that fits your game and is free.

Free models tend to be low quality, the kind of thing a training 3D artist makes then puts on the web for free, knowing they will never have a use for it.

 

I do freelancing work on the side and a lot of that work is fixing free or bought models to be used in specific games. Some of these models look good, that is until you attempt to unwrap or use them.

Even ready to use 3D models need adjustments.

 


Like I've said: I'm not an artist. I really like the way that Allegorithmic's substances look, as well as the ability to modify/animate them at runtime. However, based on what I've seen so far (at least in the tutorials), it seems tailored mostly to 3D artists generating textures and maps for specific models. I would want to use it primarily for environmental purposes (terrains, walls, floors, rocks) and for creating effects (accumulative snowfall, etc).

This is like buying a private jet to go to the supermarket.

Allegorithmic like Quixel is a useful addition to a 3D artist workflow, it helps speedup and improve texturing. It isn't a tool I would recommend starting with, there is a lot you need to know before you will be able to really use it.

 

The price is the second reason to abandon this, even the indie license is expensive for a single game. If you where a artist who used it frequently then it will be worth it.

There is a very simple solution for your problems, just hire a artist.

 

 

If you aren't skilled at art and don't have a team, then maybe a walking simulator isn't the way to go for you. Make a game that complements your own skills, if that skill is story telling then make a walking simulator that focuses on that.

You don't need good graphics to make a good game, look at Dwarf Fortress.

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IF you have a small budget, consider using SpeedTree... there is an Indie plan for Unreal Engine 4 and Unity, and it is really affordable (20 bucks / month, you only pay for access to the speedtree modeller application, as well as free tree assets every month... using the trees afterwards in your game is actually free).

 

IMO THE best tree creation middleware, now neatly integrated into Unity. Unity tree system cannot compare to it.

And while it takes time to get the hang of the Speedtree Modeller, you can create almost every tree shape you can think of, and randomize it afterwards.

 

 

Oh, have a look at the RTP Terrain system. IMO the best Terrain shading system in Unity, with great support. If you want a top notch looking terrain, with some effects already builtin (water effects for example), RTP is a great asset.

 

 

And, just to reiterate what others have said, even with stock art and clever tools, you will get NOWHERE in the 2 years you plan in if you a) have not much expierience in art yourself and b) are not working with an expierienced artist.

At least not if you are aiming for almost AAA looking graphics... never underestimate the time it takes to create AAA looking art assets, OR to integrate bought stock art so that things fit together.

Edited by Gian-Reto

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The Substance Shader is backed by a big company so if you HAVE to get it than I would go with that. However, keep in mind the only real reason the shader exists is because artists can take the tools "Painter/Designer" and import the substance made materials directly into the project. If you are not doing this than there is no real need for that shader system.

 

Thanks for the feedback. There are a lot of valuable things in what you said. 

 

I should be clear that my learning focus in Unity has been in coding, and that only recently have I begun practicing with making things 'pretty'--However, I've got a pretty good handle on what all the different types of maps (specular, normal, etc.) do, but thanks for the explanations nonetheless. 

 

Additionally, I'm hoping for the final project, that I'll have an alright amount of funds to throw around.

 

I guess the thing that sticks out most for me when it comes to Substance is the ability to create varied versions of the same texture, and to manipulate those textures through code at runtime. While I know materials in Unity can be manipulated at runtime, it seems to be much more cumbersome and less robust. This is also a capability that UBER seems to offer (at least the modification of a wide range of parameters at runtime). Am I wrong in my understanding that these things can't easily be accomplished with Unity's standard shader? 

 

Additionally, if you watch the UBER promo video, it's got some really nice translucency that I don't think exists natively with Unity's shader.

 

Even if the only functionality I get out of either of these is the ability to manipulate materials at runtime and create semi-random versions of textures, I think it would be worth it. Based on this, do you still think that UBER would be a waste of money? (I don't think $50 is a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, really). Another functionality I really wanted was the particle type affects you mentioned, for rain and what have you (which seem to be offered by both UBER and Substance).

 

Something else I should ask: do you know if the substance materials can be painted onto a terrain? 

 

Also, have you used the Substance database? It seems like it might have pretty much every kind of material I could ever want. Is this something you would recommend as a solution? (i.e. 'dragging and dropping' substances from the database, and modifying them if needed?) Although I know the database is pretty expensive.

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The price is the second reason to abandon this, even the indie license is expensive for a single game. If you where a artist who used it frequently then it will be worth it.
There is a very simple solution for your problems, just hire a artist.
 
 
If you aren't skilled at art and don't have a team, then maybe a walking simulator isn't the way to go for you.

 

Thanks for the reply.

 

I hope this doesn't come off as hostile, but I'm just trying to be honest here. I really do appreciate the feedback, but:

 

You said the cost of Substance is too high... It's only 299 for a perpetual license for the pack, or $19.90 a month. You say the simple solution is to hire an artist. Sure that might be the simplest thing to do (and I wish I could do that), but that would definitely cost more than 20 bucks a month. Not really a helpful response I'm afraid. 

 

Also (and again I'm sorry if this is critical), but you said "If you aren't skilled at art and don't have a team, then maybe a walking simulator isn't the way to go for you.".

 

That might be the realist thing to say, but it could be extremely discouraging to some. It's like telling someone to only do things they know how to do, and not to expand their skills. This might not be what you meant, but it's kind of the way it came off. To your credit, you did mention that you don't need great graphics for a game, and that the story could pull it through. 

 

This project will definitely be a challenge, and it might not be (probably won't be) as polished as I would like it, but I'm very passionate about it and am looking for advice on how to get it as close to my vision as possible, not suggestions for a different project.

 

Thanks again for the response.

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IF you have a small budget, consider using SpeedTree

 

Does the paid version of speedtree offer many more options than the built-in speedtree? I know that you can make custom trees for free in Unity.

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I guess the thing that sticks out most for me when it comes to Substance is the ability to create varied versions of the same texture, and to manipulate those textures through code at runtime. While I know materials in Unity can be manipulated at runtime, it seems to be much more cumbersome and less robust. This is also a capability that UBER seems to offer (at least the modification of a wide range of parameters at runtime). Am I wrong in my understanding that these things can't easily be accomplished with Unity's standard shader?

 

Well unity is a bit diff than what I am using right now (UE4) so... I am not fully sure of the limitations of unity. I know they have spoken of adding in a HLSL editor, but there is nothing there like UE4 right now... so.... out of the box? Prob not possible. With some coding and some help you could very easily mimic what was provided in that Shader package. My work with Unity was using only the basic PBR shader and I had no issues in any areas. However, I have not tried to create some of the things I have in UE4 so... you could have a point there in the UBER being good.

 


Even if the only functionality I get out of either of these is the ability to manipulate materials at runtime and create semi-random versions of textures, I think it would be worth it. Based on this, do you still think that UBER would be a waste of money? (I don't think $50 is a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, really). Another functionality I really wanted was the particle type affects you mentioned, for rain and what have you (which seem to be offered by both UBER and Substance).

 

I know that substance designer can do this, and if the integration into unity is good (which I do not know right off hand) than you should. I know the UE4 stuff is very good and can do this on the fly.

 


Something else I should ask: do you know if the substance materials can be painted onto a terrain?



Also, have you used the Substance database? It seems like it might have pretty much every kind of material I could ever want. Is this something you would recommend as a solution? (i.e. 'dragging and dropping' substances from the database, and modifying them if needed?) Although I know the database is pretty expensive.

 

Yes, and yes. and basic substance materials work with all flat map UV systems. Keep in mind that custom UV mapped items might not work as well with such things, but a terrain will certainly work.

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The price is the second reason to abandon this, even the indie license is expensive for a single game. If you where a artist who used it frequently then it will be worth it.
There is a very simple solution for your problems, just hire a artist.
 
 
If you aren't skilled at art and don't have a team, then maybe a walking simulator isn't the way to go for you.

 

Thanks for the reply.

 

I hope this doesn't come off as hostile, but I'm just trying to be honest here. I really do appreciate the feedback, but:

 

You said the cost of Substance is too high... It's only 299 for a perpetual license for the pack, or $19.90 a month. You say the simple solution is to hire an artist. Sure that might be the simplest thing to do (and I wish I could do that), but that would definitely cost more than 20 bucks a month. Not really a helpful response I'm afraid. 

 

Also (and again I'm sorry if this is critical), but you said "If you aren't skilled at art and don't have a team, then maybe a walking simulator isn't the way to go for you.".

 

That might be the realist thing to say, but it could be extremely discouraging to some. It's like telling someone to only do things they know how to do, and not to expand their skills. This might not be what you meant, but it's kind of the way it came off. To your credit, you did mention that you don't need great graphics for a game, and that the story could pull it through. 

 

This project will definitely be a challenge, and it might not be (probably won't be) as polished as I would like it, but I'm very passionate about it and am looking for advice on how to get it as close to my vision as possible, not suggestions for a different project.

 

Thanks again for the response.

 

 

Well, if you get all the programming in place and make the gamplay solid without any real EPIC art, you could easily get a budding artist to work with your budget. Just saying :P

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You said the cost of Substance is too high... It's only 299 for a perpetual license for the pack, or $19.90 a month. You say the simple solution is to hire an artist. Sure that might be the simplest thing to do (and I wish I could do that), but that would definitely cost more than 20 bucks a month. Not really a helpful response I'm afraid. 
It's because either your going to hire a artist or you will be buying Substance software for the next four to six years while you learn 3D modeling.
 
Substance doesn't work out of the box.
The model needs to be made for Substance. A metal pipe could be easy, just use Substance to make the material and use it. However what about a Shoe?
With a shoe you will need complex textures and for this you will need actual texturing experience, this takes a long time to learn and daily practice.
You could also use more than one material, however this will be expensive performance wise.
Quixel and Substance create what is know as a texture base, it's a starting point for texturing.
 
Even a badly made pipe wouldn't work with Substance as the textures would stretch and differ.
 
The time you spend learning will be expensive or you will hire a artist who already learned all these and more. It really will be easier and cheaper to hire an artist.
Besides foreign artist like my self work for a lower fee than most, dollars is just worth a lot more to us.
 

That might be the realist thing to say, but it could be extremely discouraging to some. It's like telling someone to only do things they know how to do, and not to expand their skills. This might not be what you meant, but it's kind of the way it came off. To your credit, you did mention that you don't need great graphics for a game, and that the story could pull it through. 
 
Feel free to experiment, that's how you learn. Just don't Throw money at it expecting something to happen.
Before ever buying Substance look at software like Blender and see if it can fill your needs.
 
In the end my opinion doesn't matter it's your choice, just don't make a game focused on something you don't have some experience in, focus the game on some thing you care about.
It's not that I am trying to be mean. It's just that if you make a game focused around a field you don't know about, it isn't only going to be hard, your going to hate every moment of it.
 

I hope this doesn't come off as hostile
Don't worry about it. A live as a artist has thought me the value of criticism, feel free to express yourself, just don't do any thing to get banned.
 

I guess the thing that sticks out most for me when it comes to Substance is the ability to create varied versions of the same texture, and to manipulate those textures through code at runtime. While I know materials in Unity can be manipulated at runtime, it seems to be much more cumbersome and less robust. This is also a capability that UBER seems to offer (at least the modification of a wide range of parameters at runtime). Am I wrong in my understanding that these things can't easily be accomplished with Unity's standard shader? 
 
Substance's ability to edit in real time is for the editor only, if you make a packaged game Substance's libraries doesn't pack with it, otherwise you would be giving every person a free version of Substance.
I don't know if UBER allows for this, I have never used it.
 
Have you used the Substance trail and some free models, to see if it works the way you want?
Edited by Scouting Ninja

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