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Understanding 3D Modeling as a Game Designer by@joeysats

Understanding 3D Modeling as a Game Designer

Jonny Kelly HackerNoon profile picture

Jonny Kelly

Web + tech + code enthusiast. Gaming, Crypto, AI, Sports.

Video games are now predominantly 3D, with even many 2D games actually running on 3D graphics. Although there are still very popular games from large studios that utilize 2D graphics, a game designer will typically want to know 3D modeling to succeed in the industry as a whole.

However, 3D modeling for a specific game will intrinsically be a bit different from 3D modeling for art projects or 3D modeling to create assets that other people will use. When you’re learning how to 3D model, you need to know what you’re going to use those skills for in the future. When you’re a game designer, your 3D modeling will be a bit unique.

Here’s everything you need to know about 3D modeling as a game designer.

How Is 3D Modeling Unique for Game Designers?

The stated uniqueness of 3D modeling for game designers is not always self-evident. After all, game designers are just modeling a piece of art in 3D like anyone else, right? What makes it so unique when you’re talking about game design? There are a number of things that make 3D modeling so unique for game designers, and these two are the most prominent.

Necessary Angles

Possibly one of the most important things that game designers need to remember when 3D modeling is the specifics of the angles their image will be viewed from. If you’re modeling large rocks that the player will only ever approach from the front, it’s a waste of time to model a fully round rock – you’ll only model the front half of the rock. However, if the rock is a held item, you need to model the full rock, as the player will see it from many angles.

This is something that’s true in many 3D modeling spheres, but in a video game, it may need special thought. Sure, you may intend for the player to only approach an object from a specific angle, but what if a number of players approach from different angles? A good game designer will either make it more difficult to approach from unintended angles or redesign the items to cover all approaching angles.

Maintaining a Theme

A game’s visual theme will be one of the things that makes or breaks a game. For example, the 3D-modeled video games The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are both open-world games that have a fantasy angle to them. However, at a glance, no one could mistake one for the other; Skyrim aims for more of a realism approach, with muted colors and human or animal enemies, while Breath of the Wild uses a more cartoonish design, with bright colors and deliberately nonhuman enemies.

When you’re learning 3D modeling for video games, you’re not going to learn in a specific style, as you might if you were learning for your own personal artistic endeavors. Instead, you’re going to learn how to expand your tools into a variety of styles, which you’ll be able to use to suit any style that you end up creating a game for.

Methods of Acquiring 3D Assets for Game Development

When you’re developing a game with a 3D style, you’re going to need 3D assets for that game. How do you get those assets? There are many ways game designers find 3D assets. From least effort to most effort, these are typically the four ways that a game developer would acquire the 3D assets they need for their game.

Find Existing 3D Assets

There are many 3D assets out there that are available for game developers. If you look around online, you may be able to find 3D assets in a number of different styles available for free or for a small fee, reducing or completely removing the need for you to create your own. The most important thing for you to do when using other designers’ 3D assets is look at the usage rights. If you’re making a for-profit video game, you’ll need to use 3D assets available for commercial use, and you’ll also likely need to credit the creator somewhere within your game. If you’re ever uncertain, message the creator to clarify.

Commission an Artist to Make 3D Assets

Another option is to commission someone else to make 3D assets for you. This will typically be a little bit more effort than just finding the assets on the internet, or about the same amount of effort. The main drawback to this option is that it can be very expensive. Depending on the number of 3D assets you need and the level of detail necessary for every asset, getting another artist to make these assets may be prohibitively expensive.

Modify Existing 3D Assets

If you find 3D assets that are similar to the ones you’re looking for, but not quite right, you may be able to modify those assets. Modification may allow you to change the color palette, certain shapes, elements that may not work for your world, or usage opportunities for your players. Again, make sure you check the usage rights to ensure that you can modify the original, as not all assets allow for changes.

Make Your Own 3D Assets From Scratch

Although this is definitely the most labor-intensive option, there’s a reason some game designers gravitate toward it – creative control. When you’re making your own 3D assets, you get to control everything about the assets, from the color to the exact shapes to the way it fits into your world. This level of control is unparalleled, and it’s why many game designers choose to model many of their own assets from start to finish, rather than relying on other people’s assets.

Important Elements of 3D Modeling for Game Designers

So, what does a game designer actually need to know when it comes to 3D modeling? These are four of the things that you’ll want to take to heart when it comes to learning 3D modeling as a game designer.

Modeling Technique

Modeling technique is, of course, one of the reasons you’ll take courses for 3D modeling in the first place. A program like Think Tank Online, takes you from the basics of modeling all the way to insider tips, and will even help guide you in your ideal modeling specialty. This point covers all sorts of elements of 3D modeling, including how to use industry-standard modeling software, how to understand the different elements of modeling, and how to layer pieces on top of other pieces to make the end result look incredible. Modeling technique is typically the selling point of any CG training program, and it’s a key component of 3D modeling for game design.

Color Theory

As you learn your modeling techniques, you’ll also probably start to learn color theory. Color theory is a more comprehensive understanding of the color wheel. It may include what colors typically look good together, what colors clash, how to tint colors, the emotions people associate with different colors, and how to create a color palette, among other things. Color theory is a crucial part of creating a specific mood for your game.

Stylistic Choices

When you look at just about any 3D modeled video game, you’re going to notice certain stylistic choices. Super Mario Odyssey makes its characters very soft-looking, with rounded edges; the Final Fantasy VII remake focuses on statement pieces, like oversized weapons and unique hairstyles, to create characters that make an impact throughout gameplay. Those stylistic flairs are what make a game stand out even from a single screenshot, giving your game a unique feeling and making it more enjoyable.

Minimizing Unnecessary Labor

Lastly, you want to learn how to minimize the amount of unnecessary labor that you do when you’re 3D modeling. Not every asset needs to be created from scratch; if you’re trying to make a number of different rocks, for example, you may be able to create one rock from scratch, then modify that model a bit to create individual rock models. A seemingly textured wall may actually just be a flat wall with a texture printed on it. The idea is that you don’t need to do extra work. Your work just needs to look good.

Final Thoughts

Game designers 3D model differently than people who are 3D modeling for film, for personal art projects, or for other reasons. When you’re modeling for game design, there are a number of things that you’re going to want to pay attention to, most notably sticking to a design scheme and avoiding unnecessary work.

A good CG program should help you understand these things, building your ability to 3D model in the way that will work best for a video game. That way, when it comes time to put your abilities into play, you have the knowledge you need to make a creative and beautiful game.