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18. October 2016

 

Inkscape 0.92 beta was just released.  Inkscape is a popular open source vector based graphics application that was featured in my free game development tools guide.  From the WIP release notes, the new features include:

 

  • The new Object dialog allows to select, label, hide and lock any object in the drawing from a dialog that lists them all Spirolive
  • Selection sets make it possible to 'group' objects together regardless of document structure
  • Guides can now be locked to avoid accidental movement
  • Several new path effects have been added, among them Envelope/Perspective, Lattice Deformation, Mirror and Rotate Copies
  • There are several new extensions (e.g. a seamless pattern extension) and a new filter (colorblindness simulation) included in the release, many old extensions have been updated or got new features
  • Many SVG2 and CSS3 properties are now supported for rendering (e.g. paint-order, mix-blend-mode)
  • Spray tool and measure tool received a set of nifty new features
  • Interactive smoothing for lines created with the Pencil tool
  • BSplines (and more) are available for the Pen tool
  • Checkerboard background can be used to more easily see object transparencies
  • Open Type font functionality

 

 

 

This bullet list is nowhere near complete however, check the release notes for all of the new features, including animations of much of the new functionality in action.  Currently this release is only available in source form, to download the 0.92pre2 source package click here.

Art ,

13. October 2016

 

In the recent release of Blender 2.78 Blender received a new feature that’s quite cool, B-Bones or Bendy Bones.  This post is going to take a look at how you can use this new bone option.  So what exactly is a b-bone?  Simply put, it’s a new bone type in Blender that allows itself to be subdivided and bend as a smooth spline instead of as a single entity.  This enables you to use fewer bones to control curved meshes such as a tail or eyebrow.  Don’t worry, it will all make sense in a second.

 

Let’s first take a look at a regular bone and a b-bone side by side:

GIF

 

The bendy bone on the right still only uses two bones in the armature, but the b-bone has additional detail enabling a smoother bend and tighter controls.  Now let’s look at how you use Bendy bones in the first place.  At this point I am going to assume you already know how to use bones in Blender.  If you don’t be sure to check out either this tutorial on animation in Blender.

 

To use Bendy Bones, create an armature like normal.  Then head over to the armature tab:

image

 

Now under display make sure B-Bones is selected:

image

 

Now you can control each individual bone in the Bones section:

image

 

Segments determines how many sub-divisions occur within the bone:

GIF2

 

The remaining controls enable you fine tune control over the spline controlling the sub bones.

 

Using Curve, Roll, Scale and Easing, we’ve got fine tune control over the way the individual bendy bones perform.

Gif4

 

Bendy Bones are a (pun intended) flexible way of adding detail to bending bones without having to create several more bones.  There is a catch however!  Outside of Blender most game engines are going to have no idea what a Bendy bone is.  For example, you can see (by the pinching) that the Bendy Bone is ignored completely once imported into Unity.

gif3

 

It would be awesome if they added the ability to export B-Bones that automatically split into multiple bones.  The only alternative is to get B-Bones support added to the various game engines, a much less likely result.

 

If you want more information on the math behind Bendy Bones, be sure to check out this very technical post.

 

Video Version

 

Art

9. September 2016

 

Never in the history of game development have indie developers, or developers in general, had access to such a massive array of resources.  What is perhaps most impressive is that so many of these tools are available at no cost.  That is exactly what this guide is going to look at, and end to end look at freely available tools for all facets of game development. 

There is also a video version of this guide available here.

This guide is not meant to be comprehensive, I don’t want to flood the reader with too much choice.  I do however want to make sure I capture the “greatest hits”, so If I miss a package that you believe should have been included, please let me know!

 

The Definition of Free

First off, this point needs to be addressed right up front.  To use a popular open source expression, I am talking free as in beer, not free as in freedom.  This means that non-open source tools are going to be included, although when source is available I well mention.  The primary criteria is that the developer can get started and develop using the tool completely free.  There might however be a cost after a certain revenue threshold is met (I find this to be an exceedingly fair business model personally) or there might be multiple tiers available, so long as it includes a free tier that enables you to ship and sell your title, it will be eligible for this guide.  It will also include software and tools that have a premium version available, just know that I am referring to the free tier in this guide.

 


Art

In this section we will look at the essential tools for creating game development art, both 2D and 3D.

 

2D

There are a wide variety of 2D imaging applications available, some specialized for developing and animating 2D game sprites, while others are more general purpose image manipulation applications or painter focused.

 

Paint.Net – Windows

An excellent, easy to use general purpose Painting application with hundreds of plugins available, layer support and more.  Frankly this is my goto application for simple image manipulation tasks.  Featured Paint.NET in the GameDev Toolbox series if you want to learn more.  Sadly it is Windows only software.

 

GIMP – Various – Open Source

Pretty much the closest thing to an open source alternative to Photoshop.  It’s a powerful application with an unwieldy UI.  Thankfully they have been focusing heavily on making UI improvements.

 

Inkscape – Various – Open Source

Inkscape is different from other applications on this list as it’s Vector based (instead of bitmap/raster based).  It takes an approach similar to Adobe Illustrator or Flash and is very useful for creating resolution independent graphics.

 

Krita – Linux/Mac/Windows – Open Source

Krita is an open source application that is focused on digital painting, similar to commercial products like Corel Painter.  In recent releases however it has been extended to add animation and text support, making it more and more useful for game development.

 

ASESprite – Windows/Mac/Ubuntu

This is app is dedicated to creating and animating 8/16bit style sprites.  Supporting painting, layers, onion skinning, fixed color pallet, sprite sheet generation and more.

 

GratfX2 – Various – Open Source

Once upon a time there was a program called Deluxe Paint and it was responsible for art creation for 99% of games developed.  GrafX2 is an open source implementation of that application.

 

Piskel – Mac/Linux/Windows/Web – Open Source

Piskel is another pixel art oriented image editor, although this one is somewhat unique in being usable in the browser, with offline versions available for download.  Supports layers, palletes, animation frames and more.

 

JPixel – Various

Not technically free, it’s a name your own price application, however that price can be $0.  It’s a pixel art application with support for animations, tilesets, color palettes and more.

 

GraphicsGale – Windows

The free version of this application is mostly just limited in what file formats it supports for export.  Sadly it is Windows only.  Offers pretty much every feature you would expect from a pixel graphics oriented application.

 

ShoeBox – Adobe Air

ShoeBox is an image/sprite/texture manipulation tool.  Useful for creating textures from existing images, extracting an animation into a sequence of sprites, creating 9patch images and more.  This is a utility and not a graphics creation package like many in this list.  It requires the Adobe Air runtime to run.

 

TexturePacker – Mac/Windows

TexturePacker by Code and Web is a utility designed to create sprite sheets.  Like ShoeBox above it is not an image creation or modification application.  There is a free version but limits some advanced features.

 

DragonBones – Windows/Mac

Unique in this list, DragonBones is a 2D animation system that enables you to use bone based IK animation to control and animate 2D images.  It’s similar in function to Creature, Spriter and Spine but is completely free.  It comes with runtimes for playing your animations in various game engines.

 

OpenToonz – Windows/Mac

An open source implementation of Toonz, originally developed by Studio Ghibli and used to help make Princess Mononoke, is completely free to use.  Aimed primarily at film animations, Toonz has been used to create animation for games in the past.  Not an easy tool to master.

 

TileCraft – Windows/Mac/Linux – Open Source

TileCraft is a unique little tool for creating 2D sprites using a 3D workflow.  Essentially you add and subtract solid 3D shapes to create more complex 2D images.  It’s an interesting approach and is open source, but sadly hasn’t been updated in over a year.

 

3D

 

Blender – Most Platforms – Open Source

Blender is certainly the biggest 3D package available for free, it’s also open source and remarkably full featured.  Model, sculpt, animate, physics simulation, render and composite all using a single program.  There is a ton of power here, but also a huge learning curve.  Thankfully, I’ve got you covered with a pair of tutorial series.

 

Daz Studio – Windows/Mac

Daz Studio is a 3D package, focused heavily on characters.  It’s incredibly easy to use, is available for free, while they make money selling 3D models, outfits, etc.  It is similar in scope and functionality to another application called Poser, which is not available in a free form.  A warning however, they will spam the email address you register with.

 

Dilay – Windows/Linux – Open Source

Dilay is a free open source 3D sculpting tool in the same vein as Mudbox, Sculptris and ZBrush.  I featured Dilay in this video if you wish to learn more.

 

MagickaVoxel – Windows/Mac

MagickaVoxel is a free to use Voxel editor.  Voxels are an alternative to traditional polygon approach to models, essentially composing objects out of blocks in 3D space. Minecraft is the most famous Voxel based game, but there are plenty of other examples preceding Minecraft.

 

Mixamo/Mixamo Fuse – Windows

Mixamo is a gigantic animation data base, and set of tools for applying animations to 3D models.  Mixamo FUSE is a 3D character creator, using a video game like interface for making 3D character models.  It was purchased by Adobe and currently is available for completely free.  I reviewed Fuse before the Adobe acquisition if you want an idea of what you are getting.  This is perhaps the simplest way to create 3D character models and is certainly the easiest way to animate them.

 

PolyBrush – Windows

PolyBrush is a one of a kind 3D sketching app, enabling you to create complex organic 3D shapes using a sketching workflow.  There is a free version available with some limitations ( single layer, max 8 undo levels, cannot save brushes ) but it is perfectly functional.  I featured Polybrush in this video should you wish to learn more.

 

Sculptris – Windows/Mac

A free 3D sculpting tool from Pixologic, the makers of ZBrush.  It’s not actively developed anymore, but is a great introduction to sculpting and the results can be exported for use in other software such as Blender.  For more details you can watch our Scultpris feature in the GameDev Toolbox series.

 

Wings 3D – Most Platforms – Open Source

Wings is an excellent 3D modeling application built around the Winged Edge polygon.  It enables fast and fairly easy 3D model creation.  Development however appears to have stopped sadly.  In recent years the 3d modeling tools in Blender have also improved greatly, making Wings less and less valuable.

 


Audio

By far my weakest area of knowledge, the following are applications freely available and used to create and edit audio from sound effects to background music.

 

Audacity – Windows/Mac/Linux – Open Source

Audacity is the swiss army knife for recording, translating and modifying audio files.  Simply put you should stop everything and download this tool if you haven’t done so already.  Audacity was featured in the GameDev Toolbox series if you want more information.

 

SunVox – Various

SunVox is a class of program called a ModTracker and can be used to create music.  The interface is simply daunting, but the effects can be pretty amazing.  Runs on just about every platform created by man and possibly aliens.  Was featured in the GameDev Toolbox series as well.

 

ChipTone – Web

ChipTone is like a streamlined version of SunVox that runs in your browser.  Comes with several game focused samples and the ability to record your own.

 

Bfxr.net – Web

A web based sound fx generator.  Very easy to use, start with several default sounds ( explosion, laser, etc. ) then modify the generator to create exactly the effect you need, then download locally.  Dead simple.

 

FMod – Windows/Mac

FMod is perhaps the most used game middleware for AAA and A game titles.  While it’s commercial software, it’s free to use if make less than $100K USD a year. They also offer FMod.io that gives access to a gigantic library of sound effects for 99cents each.  There is a first look video of FMOD.io available here.

 

Podium Free – Windows

Podium is a surprisingly full featured free version of Podium.  Podium is a digital audio workstation (DAW) that enables you to create, record and edit audio and MIDI as well as hosting VST instruments and effect plugins.

 


 

Code

 

This is where the various programming languages and development tools are listed.  Just a few years ago many of these products cost many hundred or thousands of dollars.  These days most programming tools are made available for basically free.  This features only the languages and tools most commonly used in game development.  There are dozens of programming languages and literally hundreds of tools, so a line in the sand must be made.

 

Please note, you often don’t require a programming language at all, at least not a stand alone one.  It’s increasingly common for many game engines to include the entire tool-chain for you, basically hiding this layer from you.  Additionally, some may find using an IDE as way too heavy.  Don’t worry however, you can also work entirely from the command line or terminal and use a lighter weight code editor should you prefer.

 

Languages and IDEs

 

Visual Studio Community – Windows

Visual Studio Community is perhaps the most used IDE (Integrated Developer Environment) in the world of both Windows development and game development in general.  It includes several programming language, but C++, JavaScript and C# are the most commonly used for game development (VB.Net, F# and TypeScript are also supported).  It also contains editors, debuggers, source control and much more.  In fact it contains so much more it’s actually rather bloated at this point, resulting in an install size north of 10GB.  Visual Studio Community is a revenue/team size limited version of the full Visual Studio package.  It’s essentially the same product and for individuals there is no limitation, for organizations there is a team size limit of 5 developers and $1M USD in revenue.  For Enterprise organizations, usage is not permitted.  You can read the full license details here.

One recent change with Visual Studio is Microsoft recently acquired Xamarin, and made it’s suite of products available free as part of Visual Studio Community.  This now gives you the ability to target iOS and Android using Visual Studio and C#. 

 

XCode – MacOS

XCode is the Apple equivalent of Visual Studio and is a requirement to sign and package iOS applications.  It can be used to develop for the various Apple platforms ( OS X, iOS, AppleTV, etc. ) with the primarily languages being Objective C and now Swift.  C++ is also fully supported, but is treated like a bit of a red headed stepchild for some unfathomable reason.  Like Visual Studio it contains a full set of development tools including code editors, an integrated debugger, forms designers and more.  XCode used to require a developer subscription with Apple but this requirement and fee has now been removed.  On a personal note, I’d rather use my forehead as a hammer than use XCode, but that’s just me.

 

GNU Tool Chain – Various – Open Source

GCC, or the GNU compiler collection, is a set of open source developer tools including support for just about every single language you’ve ever dreamed of using.  If you are developing on Linux, chances are you already have much of the GNU toolchain installed.  One caveat of the GNU suite is the GPL or Gnu Public License.  This open source license greatly restricts what you can do with the software, basically requiring you to make all changes and modifications to the code open and available.  Don’t worry, this restriction only applies to changes to tools themselves, not code you compile using them.  As mentioned earlier, GCC is generally included with any Linux distribution.  There are also ports to various platforms such as MingW for Windows or MacPorts on Windows.  Keep in mind GCC is NOT an ide, it’s the underlying compiler/linker/debugger.  Generally some form of editor is required as well.

 

LLVM(Clang) – Various – Open Source

LLVM, which isn’t actually an acronym no matter what other people tell you, is a suite of tools very similar to GCC.  It is instead released under the much more liberal BSD license and is the underyling technology behind a lot of commercial tools as a result, including XCode mentioned earlier, as well as closed development kits, such as the PlayStation 4.  An LLVM implementation is available as part of the MingW port, while it can also be used directly inside Visual Studio.  Like GCC, this is a lower level suite of tools and generally still requires an editor for code creation.

 

Qt Creator – Windows/Mac/Linux

Qt Creator is a full cross platform IDE primarily for C++ programming.  It’s has several tools designed to work with the Qt cross platform UI toolkit, but can be used as a standalone C++ development environment.  It includes a code editor, debugger, project management tools, UI designers, etc just like VS and XCode.

 

JetBrain’s Suite Of Products – Most Platforms

Instead of listing each product individually, it’s probably easier to mention the entire suite.  Most of the IDEs made by JetBrain offer a free version that is generally enough for most developers needs.  Perhaps their most known product is IntelliJ IDEA a Java IDE that has plugin support for dozens of programming languages.  They also have C#, C++, HTML/JavaScript, Python, etc. IDEs available as well.  

 

Eclipse – Most Platforms

Primarily a Java IDE, plugins have extended it’s functionality to support several other languages.  Full suite of tools and used to be the preferred development path for Android development (it is no longer).  Eclipse has everything and the kitchen sink.  Personally I’d rather code using morse code then use Eclipse again, but I figured I’d mention it for completeness.

 

Netbeans – Most Platforms

Oracle’s Java IDE, but can add support for other languages via plugins.  Again full featured, but certainly enterprise focused.  I’d prefer it to Eclipse, but then, I’d prefer just about anything to Eclipse.

 

Other Languages of Note:

 

Special Note for Android Developers

Android is a bit of a special case for development.  While based on Java, it’s not technically using Java (it’s a long story and got Google sued).  So long and short of it, there are special tools for Android development, specifically the Android SDK(Java) and the Android NDK(C++).  Google also make an IDE called Android Studio available, a port of the IntelliJ IDE, specifically for IDE development.

 

Editors

The following are code oriented text editors.  Don’t want the heavy install of a full IDE, are using a game engine that doesn’t include it’s own editor (or it’s built in editor sucks?), then you will probably want one of these.  Each of the following generally offer most of the following: multiple language support, plugin extensibility, syntax highlighting, refactoring tools and more.  Choosing the right editor is a deeply personal experience... Im not going to start any wars here... just list the options available... you pick your favorite.

And just so I don’t fend the old timers...

Just be aware of the learning curve, you will need to memorize about a hundred character combinations to become proficient with either of these editors.  That said, once you’ve got them down they can be exceedingly efficient.  It’s worth noting however the VI and Emacs keyboard bindings are often available in other editors.  A quick note here, Visual Studio Code and Visual Studio Community have NOTHING in common.  Code is a light weight cross platform editor, not a Windows only IDE.

 


 

Tools and Misc

Didn’t fit somewhere else but is available for free?  It goes here.

 

Tiled – Windows/Linux/Mac – Open Source

The preeminent free 2D map editing software package.  The map files Tiled generates are supported by just about every game engine available.  We have a full Tiled tutorial series available if you wish to learn more.

 

FreeMind – Various – Open Source

Freemind is an open source mind mapping package.  If you’ve never used one before, this is a great way to get ideas from your head to your computer.  There are actually a massive number of mind mapping packages available, FreeMind just happens to be the one I’m most familiar with.

 

ShaderToy – Web

GPU Shaders are becoming more and more critical to the world of game development and ShaderToy is perhaps the primary place to share and download shaders on the web.  You can also modify the shader source and see the results in real time.  Almost 12,000 shaders currently exist in the collection and growing daily.

 

FreeSound.org – Web

A huge collection of free audio files.

 

OpenGameArt.org – Web

A massive collection of free game graphics.

 

VST4Free.org – Web

A resource for VST instruments and effects.  VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology an enables you to encode samples of actual instruments, special sound effects etc. and use them in VST compatible instruments and software such as Podium mentioned earlier.

 


Game Engines

This is a section that could fill a few hundred pages and only just get started.  The reality is, almost every single game engine is available in a free form with differing business models.  Some such as Unreal Engine take a percentage of your revenue after certain thresholds are exceeded.  Others like Unity offer a free tier which has limitations, such as a maximum annual revenue, and require a subscription if you exceed those amounts.  There are also game engines like Godot, Urho, Atomic and Panda that are completely free and open source.  Then there are all the various frameworks such as SFML, LibGDX, SDL, Love, etc. many of which are open source and freely available.

 

This topic is well beyond this guide’s ability to cover.  Thankfully I’ve slowly been reviewing many of these engines and frameworks as part of the Closer Look series.

 


The Video

 

Design, Art, General, Programming , ,

6. September 2016

 

There is an entire area of 3D modelling known as architectural visualization, or ArchViz for short, that have long been used by architects to help design buildings and help customers visualize the end result.  Many major CAD packages have archviz functionality built in, but Blender is not one of them, or at least wasn’t.  With the upcoming Blender 2.78 release, there is a plugin called Archimesh that brings much of this capability to Blender.  So… why should you care as a game developer?  As you will see shortly, this can also be used to help rapidly prototype 3D game levels as well.  So without further ado, let’s jump right in.

 

There is a video version of this tutorial available here and embedded below.

 

Getting Started

 

As of writing, the Archimesh plugin isn’t available in the normal Blender distribution.  If by the time you are reading this you are using Blender 2.78 or later you should be good to go.  If not, you will need to download the most recent test release available here.

 

Next you need to enable the plugin.  With Blender loaded select File->User Preferences or hit Ctrl Alt U.

Select the Add-Ons tab

image

 

In the search field type arc

image

 

Click the checkbox beside Add Mesh: Archimesh.

image

 

If you dont want to do this every time be sure to Save User Settings before closing the preferences window:

image

 

We are now ready to make use of Archimesh.  Feel free to close the settings window.

 

Designing A Room

 

Now that we have the plugin enabled, let’s get started.  First let’s get started by drawing some walls.  This is done easily enough using the grease pencil.  In the 3d view (I’m using top view), draw the room outline.  ( D + LMB + Draw ), like so:

image

 

Now in the Tools ( T hotkey ) menu, locate the Archimesh tab:

image

Scroll to the bottom of the tab and locate the Room from Draw button.

image

 

You’ve also got the option to have it generate a Ceiling, Floor and to close the room in ( close any gap in your drawing with a wall ) or not.  I selected Floor then clicked the button.  Here is the result:

image

 

Now in the properties (N) panel you can make tweaks to your generated room.

image

 

Here you can set the thickness of generated walls and you can also add or remove the floor and ceiling after the fact.   Here i’ve set the wall thickness to 0.120.  This is required so we can add doors and windows later.

image

 

You can modify each individual wall, including curving it, raising it to a peak, changing the length, etc.

image

 

And the results of these various settings:

wall

 

Creating your room is that simple.  Now we can refine our room.

 

Adding Detail

So rapidly creating walls and floors is certainly nice, but a little dull no?  Well don’t worry, that’s not the extent of Archimesh’s functionality.  If you take a look in the tools panel you will notice several other options.

image

 

Let’s go ahead and add a door.  Place the cursor where you want the door to be created.  This pivot point is relative to the bottom of the door, so place it low near the floor and along a wall, like so:

image

 

Now you can either add the door using the button in the Tool menu, or via the Shift + A hotkey, then Mesh->Archimesh->Door:

image

 

Tada, a door.

image

 

You will notice there are several options and styles to choose from in the Properties panel:

image

 

These settings appear to only be available on creation however, so be sure you have the door configured in a way you like before moving or modifying it.  Windows can be created using the exact same process.

image

 

Once you are done however there is one last step to perform.  You basically have to “Cut” the window and door from the room.  Don’t worry, it’s easy.  In the Tools panel, with the Room selected, select the Auto Holes button.

image

 

Now the appropriate holes will be cut into the wall.  You will also notice that the mesh hierarchy has changed as well:

image

 

And essentially that’s the process in a nutshell.  There are other very cool features in here, such as Stair creation:

StairGif

 

There is also the option to show detailed measurements, automatically create roofs, built in props like lamps and book shelves and more.

At the end of the way, it’s just creating mesh objects for you too, so you can quickly jump in adding details using traditional techniques like extruding.   There are some missing features.  Ways to link multiple rooms together easily, the ability to create interior walls automatically, but these are easily worked around. 

 

The Video

Art, Design

16. May 2016

 

MakeHuman 1.1 was just released today.  This marks the first release to Make Human in nearly two years and adds major new functionality such as a new pose system and completely new and more game friendly skeleton support.  MakeHuman started life as a Blender plugin but was since spun off into a stand alone application.  It enables people to quickly and easily create fully rigged and textured human models.  Oh and it’s complete free and released under the CC0 Creative Commons open source license, perhaps the most liberal license in existence.

 

image

Major components of this release include:

  • Many bug fixes and stability fixes
  • Many targets improved and minor modeling corrections
  • Completely new skeleton and posing system, with support for pose loading from BVH, and support for custom weight and proxies
  • New pose system with auto-rigging, support for T-pose export, and initial support for special poses like high heel shoes
  • New skin library with age variation
  • New expression system now based on a face bone rig, including a library with facial expressions.
  • Improved topologies/proxies
  • FBX export now supports binary FBX and should work for most third-part applications which support FBX

 

 

You can read the full release notes here.

 

You can watch a video of MakeHuman in action below.

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