Business, Creativity & Game Engines

Every few years I adjust the focus on this blog based on my evolving interests. Here’s where my mind is for this coming year:

On this channel, I’m exploring the intersection of business, creativity and game engines.

The most exciting advances in entertainment and education over the next decade will emerge out of blending those 3 elements.

Game engines, such as Unity, are the software platforms for not only developing games but also for developing augmented reality, virtual reality and all types of interactive storytelling.

Yet, few people outside the game industry recognize the possibilities of readily-available game engines.

The global video game industry is a market valued at over $150 billion and growing. In comparison, for the film industry worldwide box office revenue was $42 billion.

The game industry consists of massive corporations with their AAA game studios as well as small, independent game developers. Indeed, these independent game developers are becoming a new creator class: solo, or a few people, small businesses offering a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle alternative to working for someone else.

Game engines are not just about games. The same software used to create games is now being used to create VR experiences in manufacturing and elsewhere.

Game engines provide our creativity with the possibilities to create experiences, digital and in-person, that cannot be done through any other means. The creativity made possible by game engines will be the core of entertainment and learning over the next decades.

Endless possibilities will emerge.

Industries will evolve.

New forms of storytelling will engage our daily lives.

I’ve been thinking about these topics for the last 20 years. Now, it’s time to share my insights and take a deeper step into the business and creativity of game engines.

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Creating an asset kit for a 3D game

Procedural and Versatile: Explore Cartegena with Vincent Derozier is a superb article detailing the steps employed in crafting a 3D environment. The article provides key visuals for explaining the process. I’m particularly interested in urban environments, which first drew my attention to this specific piece. Substance3D is a suite of products offered by Adobe for developing 3D textures. (Substance was originally a product of Allegorithmic, which was acquired by Adobe in 2019.)

Part of the Substance suite is Substance Source, which is like a stock image market but for 3D assets and textures. Adobe regularly commissions artists to design a set of materials that are specially marketed as a Substance Source Signature Release. Each release has a significant number of material types, usually 15, divided into multiple categories.

Derozier’s Substance set is available for download on the Substance Source site. An example of how these materials come together into a scene is on Derozier’s YouTube channel:

I’m new to working with 3D and what I really like about the article is the breakdown and examples that Derozier describes in the creation of this set. Read the full article but I’ll provide an outline, which I’ll adapt for my own work.

In establishing the stylistic direction Derozier wanted to pursue, he chose a “slightly idealized” realism of a specific setting. Before thinking about specific materials, he created a set of reference images. The Internet makes it silly easy to pull together a quality set of images to serve as a reference for creating artwork.

A person with no understanding of art may naively be surprised at how much digital artists rely on photographs. Some even employ a fascinating technique known as photobashing to remix a set of disparate photos into an intriguing scene. There’s an entire field of concept art and environment painting that is very useful when working with clients or part of a larger team. Or, you can do as Derozier did himself and create a sketch, either pencil/paper or in your favorite app. This rough draft is just to create a visual roadmap. Of course, Derozier’s “rought draft” sketch is pretty damn impressive!

Next, a visual mockup of the 15 materials he needed to create. He used actual photos from his reference images to show details of the chosen materials. Also, he prepared a written list to track the production process.

Then, a base mockup of the desired scene with simple shapes. A key in 3D modeling is modularity: reusing smaller shapes (i.e., assets) to piece together an overall structure. (The next time you look at a finished 3D model of a scene, look for the repeating patterns in the architecture or other elements.)

Each asset exists separately, which also allows for reuse in other projects or even sold in an asset store for use by others. There’s quite the cottage industry of 3D artists making 3D assets and selling those online.

The production phase pulls everything together into a composition. Once you have a fairly detailed composition, you might want to “paint over” the image in Photoshop to highlight the areas that still need work.

The entire article has many more details plus a lot of visuals. Read it for exploring an aspect of technology development that those of us trained as Web developers seldom experience.

As I get more and more into 3D, I’m sure I’ll find myself going back to that article multiple times.

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