Pick a random
game development studio, and take a guess as to what software you will
find their artists using. Adobe Photoshop, for sure. Probably also 3DS
Max or Maya, with a small minority running Lightwave or Softimage. At
the extremes, you might even run into the odd copy of Houdini or Deluxe
would be badly wrong if you happened to visit Climax Brighton, though.
Here, we use a trio of inhouse tools called SuperModel, SuperTed, and
the Bastard Love Child.
I think. We had a lot of graphics to build in not much time (familiar
story?) and we didn't fancy the idea of working weekends, so we needed
tools that would get the job done with a minimum of fuss. Hence Bezier
Loft Creator (BLC, affectionately known as Bastard Love Child),
a simple, specialised lofting package that quickly churns out the basic
geometry for race tracks, and SuperTed, which lets us apply textures to
those tracks using the smallest possible number of mouse clicks.
out making environments in BLC, buildings and vehicles in Maya, and texturing
everything in SuperTed. But all was not well...
In an ideal
world, everyone involved in making a game would be equally good at design,
art, and coding, but few such multitalented individuals actually exist.
Most programmers can get along fine without being able to create artwork
(to the extent that 'programmer art' has become a common description for
primary colored placeholder graphics), but artists are not usually so
lucky. They may not actually be required to write C++, but they often
run into sentences like "although we refer to a dependency graph
as a singular graph, be aware you can display two or more independent
graphs of connected nodes in the same window" (from the "Maya
Essentials" manual). We have a couple of artists who are fine with
this sort of thing (one even knows some C++), but we also have plenty
who are not, and rightly so. We hired them because they had a good understanding
of color and shape and how to make things look good, not because they
knew how to use a computer!
being lazy, did not want to spend the next few hundred years learning
how to use Maya properly. The programmers, also being lazy, would have
loved to ignore this problem, but were unfortunately unable to do so due
to our belief that the artists should be free to concentrate on the artwork.
several months writing plugins that tried to make Maya behave a bit more
sensibly, but the artists were still unhappy, and writing plugins is hard
work. Also, our engine was doing some freaky things with curved surfaces
(originally bezier patches, but these quickly evolved into various more
efficient homebrew variants), and we were having a horrible time writing
a converter that could reliably turn bezier patch source artwork into
the optimal format for our engine.
be simpler if the artists built their models directly using the same type
of curved surface that we could render most efficiently, but adding new
geometry types to Maya turned out to be hard verging on impossible due
to API bugs. So, to our considerable surprise, the fastest and easiest
solution turned out to be writing our own modelling package from the ground
two coders, six weeks, much questioning of the artists, and a few sessions
of watching them work to see which functions were used most often, combined
with a healthy dose of plagiarism as we borrowed some of the best ideas
from Max and Maya. Today, we still use Maya for animation and Photoshop
for textures, but everything else is done with our own tools.
landscapes are quickly churned out using BLC, which is the bulldozer of
the trio. It can shift huge amounts of geometry, but is crude and imprecise.
SuperModel is more of a skilled craftsman, adding the buildings, instances,
and other fine details, as well as correcting whatever things BLC got
wrong. Finally, SuperTed handles texturing, lighting, and object/camera
placement, bringing the final artwork up to a high state of polish.