Indie game designers are putting out awesome new titles that are being consumed by gamers all over the world. A lot of these games use low poly modeling—a simple design concept that will always have a place in game design—even as graphics and performance continue to get better. However, there are a lot of moving pieces that go into designing and making a game work. It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed. Here are five low poly pitfalls to avoid.
1. Don’t look at your model in a silo.
A lot of modelers tend to focus solely on their model and don’t look at the rest of what’s happening in their scenes, likely overlooking vital components that matter once the model is placed into a game engine. For example, paying attention to how you are naming meshes and materials is vital and can save you a lot of work. Come up with a naming scheme for all the assets in your project and stick with it. Give meshes and materials meaningful names that are clean and easy to read and understand.
2. Don’t forget about scale.
Knowing your scale is also important. Are you modeling in centimeters or meters? Inches or feet? Miles or kilometers? How will it translate into the game engine? Once you start rigging a character it’s tough to change the scale without starting over.
3. Indies don’t march to the beat of their own drum.
It’s important to be an efficient artist and adhere to certain industry best practices so everyone is on the same page. Requiring people to clean up your work as it’s placed in the game engine is a good way to build a bad reputation among your fellow designers. For starters, your model should be made of clean quads and make sure your UVs are laid out efficiently. Do not leave extraneous, useless polys, vertices, or edges floating around your scene. It’s good to separate meshes by materials on the same object—this is especially important for transparent materials where you are likely to run into sorting issues. Following these basic rules will ensure your models line up consistently from the beginning, saving a lot of work once assets are put into the game engine.
4. Don’t send off-center models.
Part of maintaining consistency is freezing and centering (or zeroing out) your model before you send it off to the game engine. Basically, you want to normalize your model so it doesn’t have scale applied and isn’t rotated. Have everything (translation, rotation, scale) set to zero so all assets start off on the same foot and can be manipulated accordingly.
5. Don’t take iteration time for granted.
Ensure that your modeling software and game engine are interoperable. When you send objects back and forth it’s important that you can do this quickly and easily, and naming properties are preserved. This allows you to work with the same material set, giving you the exact same look and feel in both platforms. Otherwise, you’re setting up yourself and your team for a lot of extra work resetting textures, shading and other characteristics.
We’re in the midst of an incredible time to be designing games. Avoid these common pitfalls and you’ll be one step ahead of the pack.
Andrew Grant is a product manager at Autodesk for the Stingray game engine. He’s worked on video games for more than 15 years, starting his career as a low polygon character artist at Monolith.