8. February 2013

In this section, we are going to look at the fundamental aspects of modelling in 3D.  If you have done any work in 3D, a lot of this will be old hat for you and you can safely skip ahead to the bottom for the Blender specific details.

## 3D Fundamentals

At the very core, 3D models are ultimately built up of 3 basic building blocks:

### The Vertex

Vertex, or vertices ( plural ) are the very basic building blocks.  In a nutshell, a vertex is a position in 3D space.

### The Edge

An edge is simply the connection between two vertices.

### The Face

The Face ( or Polygon ) is the solid hull you get when you have 3 or more vertices connected by edges and forming a closed surface.  Most rendering stacks, like OpenGL or DirectX are optimized to work with triangles.  When modelling however, it is often easier and preferable to work with quads.  Given that any quad can be turned into a triangle by splitting it corner to corner, it is incredibly easy to tesselate from a quad to a tri, so when you can, work with quads.  It is possible to have more than 4 sided faces, we will cover this later in the form of BMesh, but behind the scenes they are simply performing the task for you.  The problem with having shapes with more than 4 sides is you can no longer guarantee that they are flat, which can lead to some bizarre rendering artefacts.

There is one last concept that is important to understand...

### The Normal

See the green lines?

Those are each faces "normals".  Basically the normal is the direction a face, um… faces.  Most of the time you won't have to deal with normals all that often, but if your face is "missing", there is a good chance it's normal has flipped.

Take the above cube image, right now all the normals face outwards from the cube.  Here is the same cube rotating, with it's normals flipped:

Sometimes this is actually the behaviour you want, such as if you are modelling the interior of a space, like inside a room, or creating a skybox around the world.

## Modelling in Blender

### Configuring the 3D view

When working in 3D, you have a number of options for how you want your mesh displayed, you can work on a wireframe, solid or textured image.  At the bottom of the 3D view screen, locate the sphere icon to bring up the Viewport Shading menu:

Which mode you ultimately select is up to you.  I generally flip back and forth between all of them.

There is one other setting to be aware of, and this will determine how your scene will be displayed within Blender.  If you want to match your game results as closely as possible, you probably want to set it to GLSL, which is OpenGL rendering.  This is done from the properties window.

If the properties window isn't currently being displayed, press N to display it.  Scroll down to the section labeled Display, open the Material Mode drop down and select GLSL.  If things aren't displaying correctly for you, play around with the settings in this panel.  Oh, and notice the Toggle Quad View button?  If you like the 4 panel mode in 3D Studios Max, click this button to emulate it.  I personally do not like the results, it's better to simply configure display windows as you need them.

Ok, now that we have the screen rendering set up, lets actually start modelling.

If you have a cube on screen already from the default scene, great.  Otherwise we need to create one.

A cube will then be created at the location of the cursor/pivot.  It is actually incredibly common to start modelling with a simple cube, it's called "box modelling" and we will look at in depth shortly.

Now that we have a 3D object to work with, there is a very important concept we need to address, object mode vs editing mode.

### Object Mode vs Editing Mode

When working in Blender, you can be in a number of different modes, which completely changes the tools available and the way things perform.  There are a number of different modes you can be in, but two are of importance to us right now, Object Mode and Edit Mode.

You can toggle between modes using the menu at the bottom of the 3D view:

You can also perform the same action by hitting the TAB key.  Each time you hit the tab key, it toggles between modes. This is one of those things you will do A LOT, so it really helps to memorize that hotkey.

So, what then are the different modes?  Well, Object mode is when you are dealing with a mesh or other scene objects ( lights, cameras, etc ) as a single entity.  If you move something in Object mode for example, it moves the entire object.  Edit mode on the other hand, works with the components of the mesh, those being the vertices, edges and faces.  When you are actually changing the mesh, you will be working in EDIT Mode.  As you may notice, when switching between modes, the tools and menu options available change massively.

### Welcome to Edit Mode

During the modelling phase, you will spend a LOT of time here, so get used to it.

As I mentioned earlier, models are built of three basic building blocks, the vertex, edge and face.  In edit mode, you have to choose which of those three levels you want to work at.

This once again can be accomplished using the menu at the bottom of the view menu.  When in Edit Mode, you will see a series of buttons for switching between Vertex, Edge and Face editing mode.  These buttons will only be available in Edit Mode.  One option will always be selected, in this case Face mode.

These different modes once again change the tools available.  More importantly, they change the way selections work… in Face mode for example, right clicking within the object will select the clicked Face.  This effects all the various different selection tools too, such as the Border Select, Circle select, etc.  It's fairly common to switch between different modes regularly.

Fortunately there is yet another hotkey available, but this one requires a bit of dexterity to pull off.

First off, pressing CTRL + TAB brings up the mode selection pop-up window, like so:

That said, for those with long enough fingers, there is yet another combinations of shortcuts to make things even faster

CTRL + TAB + 1       Select Vertex Mode

CTRL + TAB + 2       Select Edge Mode

CTRL + TAB + 3       Select Face Mode

Trust me, you will switch between modes A LOT.  It is certainly worth your while to learn these hotkeys.  I will admit, a 3 key hotkey is more than a bit annoying.  One of the very first things I tend to do is define my own hotkey for each of these settings.  There are perils in setting your own hotkeys ( you can clobber existing commands, plus documentation will no longer apply ).  If you are interested in reconfiguring Blender, you can read more about it here.  I leave that decision to you; in many ways it makes sense to learn the Blender way first, then customize things to fit your needs later on.

## Axis and Allies… no wait, just Axis!

There is one more important concept to cover before we carry on, the Axis, they play a very important role in 3D applications.

Let's take a look at an empty Blender 3D scene:

Not shown in that example are the Z axis ( normally in blue ), which runs straight up and down.

Blender orientation is known as Z-up.  In that up and down in the scene are along the Z axis.  This corresponds with the camera, where looking down the Z-axis for example is the same as the "Top" camera, while looking up the Z-axis is the same as the "Bottom" camera.  It is important to remember that different game engines use different orientation systems, as do different 3D programs.  Some are Y-up, in which the Y axis denotes up and down.  Fortunately switching between the two is a simple rotation away. You can read a bit more about the subject here if you are interested.  It really only becomes important when you are moving between programs or exporting to a game engine.

Axis are important to understand because you commonly want to constrain your movements in a single direction only.  We will cover this shortly.

## Moving, Scaling and Rotating Things

There are 3 basic actions you will commonly want to perform on objects, or their vertices/faces/edges and those are moving( or translating), scaling and rotating.  Let's take a quick look at each.  All of the operations we are about to describe work in either Object or Edit mode.

### Move/Translation

Moving or translating is simple the act of well, moving something.  In Blender though, it has a remarkably weird name/hotkey.

G , G as in Grab.  Press G then move the mouse around to position your object.  Then press the left button to finishing moving. Otherwise, press the right mouse button to cancel the move.

Remember earlier when I said you could constrain along a single Axis?  Well, doing so is quite easy.  After you press G to perform a move, press the axis you want to move along.

Move Along X Axis only: G then X then move mouse, then Left Mouse Button when done.

Move Along Y Axis only: G then Y then move mouse, then Left Mouse Button when done.

Move Along Z Axis only: G then Z then move mouse, then Left Mouse Button when done.

You can also move using just the keyboard.  To do this, simply press G then the Axis letter to move along, then the amount, followed by Enter to commit, or Esc to cancel.

For example, to move 5 units along the Y axis, you would: Press G then Y then 5 followed by Enter.  This is handy when you are going for precision movements or are modelling to scale.

That might seem like a lot to learn, but don't worry, you only need to learn it once and it works basically identical for Scaling and Rotating.

### Using The Widget

You may also notice that when you press G to move an object, a widget appears on screen.  You can left click on an axis arrow to begin dragging in that direction:

Simply pick the axis you want to move along and hold down the Left Mouse Button.  Once you have positioned where you want, release the Left Mouse Button, to cancel, click the Right Mouse Button.

### Scaling

Scaling is the act of growing or shrinking an object or parts of it.

To Scale in Blender Simply hold the S key, Left Mouse Button Down, then move the mouse toward the pivot to shrink the object, or away in any direction to increase the size, release the button when complete.  Click Right Mouse Button to cancel.

Like moving, you can constrain the scaling axis by holding X, Y or Z after you hit S.

### Rotating

Rotating is simply the act of turning the object or parts of it.

To rotate an object in Blender simply hold the R key, then click and hold the Left Mouse Button, drag the mouse up or down and release when fully rotated.  Once again Right Mouse Button cancels the rotation.

Right the other two operations, you can constrain rotation along a given axis by holding X,Y or Z after you press R.

### Manual Entry

For all of these operations, you can directly enter numeric values if you prefer, or you can lock rotation around a given axis.  If the Properties Window isn't displayed, press N to display it.

Note however, that most of these options are only available when in Object mode.  In Edit mode, you will have different selections.  But if you want very precise positioning, or want to prevent movement along a certain axis, this is where you do it.  Simply click and drag a value left or right to change it, or double click a value to enter a new one.  Clicking the padlock will prevent movement of the given type on the given axis.  For example, clicking the Padlock on the Z value of Location, while prevent your object from being able to move up or down on the screen.

## Hotkeys / Actions used in the Tutorial

Key/ActionAction
N Show or Hide property window
G + LMB + Drag Grab/Move/Translate selected item(s)
S + LMB + Drag Scale selected item(s)
R + LMB + Drag Rotate selected item(s)

S or G or R

+

X or Y or Z

Limit scale,move or rotation to selected axis

S or G or R

+

X or Y or Z

+

Number value

+

ENTER

Scale, move or rotate selected item(s) along selected axis by entered amount.  Can use a decimal point.

TAB

Toggle current mode ( Object, Edit, etc )

CTRL + TAB Toggle between mesh select modes (Vertices, edges, faces )

CTRL + TAB + 1 Vertex editing mode ( must be in Edit mode )

CTRL + TAB + 2 Edge editing mode ( must be in Edit mode )

CTRL + TAB + 3 Face editing mode ( must be in Edit mode )

## On to next part

6. February 2013

As we reported back in december, Torque2D was going open source.  Well, the day has finally arrived, Torque2D's source code is up on Github now.

So what is Torque2D?  It is a 2D cross platform game engine, previously under a commercial license.  I will let them describe their baby:

In simple terms, Torque 2D is an extremely powerful, flexible, and fast engine dedicated to 2D game development. The following is a breakdown of the core facts about the engine:

Currently supported platforms:
* Windows
* OS X
* iOS

Support for new platforms is surely on the way. In fact, YOU get to help us decide what we should work on, be it Linux, Android, editors, or just simple bug fixing.

Languages:
* Core: C++
* Windows: C++ and Windows API
* OS X: C++, Objective-C, and Cocoa API
* iOS: C++, Objective-C, and Cocoa touch API

Main Features:
* Box2D physics
* Simple and flexible sprite system
* Composite system capable of rendering thousands of images and animations with little performance impact
* Flexible module system that makes rapid prototyping a snap and code reusability a simple matter
* TexturePacker Support
* TAML serialization format (like XAML and XML)
* Batched rendering
* Multiple collision shapes
* Built-in unit testing framework, cross platform
* Solid behavior system for packaging reusable game logic that can be applied to multiple sprites in different projects

In addition to the core engine languages, you can script all your game play via TorqueScript. This is a C-like syntax language that is very simple to learn and utilize for your projects. Additionally, persistent files such as particles, levels, GUIs, and more are stored as "TAML" (Torque Application Markup Language). If you have ever edited XML or XAML in the past, you should feel more than comfortable with TAML.

Blazing Speed
Blazing fast performance on Windows, OS X, and iOS. On desktop platforms, you can have thousands of sprites, particles, and physics objects running at once without ever dipping below the 60 fps mark. While more limited, iOS hardware can run the engine at a solid 60 fps, even with hundreds of objects interacting on screen.

Very cool move open sourcing this GarageGames, I hope it works out for you.

You can read the complete announcement here.

5. February 2013

In a move that is causing a small bit of Déjà vu, Blackberry and Unity released the following to the press today:

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY)(TSX:BB) and Unity Technologies today announced that they are working together to create a Unity deployment add-on product for BlackBerry® 10 smartphones, empowering Unity's over 1.5 million strong developer community to publish their games on these powerful platforms. The deployment tools will also be available for BlackBerry PlayBook™ tablets when they run the BlackBerry 10 OS.

BlackBerry 10 will now be one of the premiere mobile platforms supported by the market-leading Unity Engine. The deployment tool is currently in development by Unity Technologies and BlackBerry, and will be released as an add-on option for Unity.

"Unity developers have an extensive catalogue of incredible mobile games, many of which are award-winning. We're excited to offer Unity developers easy access to the new powerful and rich BlackBerry 10 platform," said David Helgason, CEO, Unity Technologies. "We're eager to provide them with another exciting avenue to have their games devoured by an audience hungry for entertainment."

BlackBerry will also seed the Unity development community with BlackBerry 10 smartphones for testing to provide developers the best possible environment to create amazing games for the new platform. Unity and BlackBerry will hold developer meet up events in Europe and North America and will give qualified developer attendees Unity Pro and BlackBerry 10 smartphones. Details are coming soon, so stay tuned to BlackBerry Developers Blog.

"One of the driving forces for success for a mobile platform is a strong games offering. BlackBerry customers have already shown their hunger for mobile gaming, with games being one of the strongest categories on the BlackBerry World storefront and continuing to grow in popularity," said Alec Saunders, Vice President, Developer Relations and Ecosystems at BlackBerry. "We are thrilled to work with Unity and to propel the momentum we are seeing in games on BlackBerry even further. Soon Unity developers will be able to use this deployment tool to quickly and easily offer their games to BlackBerry customers."

Availability

A free beta version of the Unity add-on will be made available to a limited number of qualified developers in the spring. Unity is expecting the final release to be available in the summer of 2013.

Looks like a good opportunity to get your hands on some Blackberry hardware if you are already a Unity developer.  Or you hands on Unity if you are a Blackberry developer.

Myself, I actually have a Playbook which is a pretty nice device and went to buy a Z10 for my wife today and they were basically sold out everywhere I checked… most places laughed and said they sold out in minutes.  So, say what you will about Blackberry/RIM, they might actually be back in the game.  The device itself is quite capable, with a dual core 1.5GHZ Snapdragon processor.  Let’s not forget too that BB10 is actually QNX, a wickedly fast embedded OS that’s been in development for many years.  On top, I have to cheer for RIM er… Blackberry, they are just down the road from me and full disclosure, I own some stock ( which I’ve really enjoyed the past few weeks ), but then, almost every Canadian owns a bit of RIM stock, directly or indirectly…

I will certainly say, Blackberry Developer support is certainly better, as is their focus on gaming, with the Gameplay library, involvement in a few open source game libraries, the portathon they held a few months back and now bringing Unity on board.

Now the déjà vu part…  I SWEAR Playbook was already one of the supported platforms for Unity as part of UNITE.

4. February 2013

This press release caught my eye and could be of interest to many of you, especially if you are looking for money or perhaps more importantly, exposure.

Kongregate, a leading online game platform, today announced the Kongregate Mobile Developers program, a \$10 million fund to help independent game developers succeed in the free-to-play mobile arena. Backed by parent company GameStop, the world’s largest retailer of video games, Kongregate will offer distribution, financial assistance, consulting services and marketing support to help developers be successful in the highly competitive mobile arena.

“Developers are increasingly finding it harder to get their games discovered through the different app stores”

To support the newly created development fund, Kongregate has hired former Zynga general manager, Panayoti (Pany) Haritatos, as vice president of its new mobile division. Haritatos, who brings more than 8 years of web and mobile gaming experience to Kongregate, will lead Kongregate’s in-house game development as well as oversee the company’s mobile games unit.

[snip]

As to what the program actually does:

The Kongregate Mobile Developers program offers game creators three areas of assistance:

Financial assistance to complete your game

Qualified games that are already in development can earn cash advances to cover final build and integration expenses.

Expertise to make your game even better

Kongregate pioneered one of the first cross-game virtual currencies on the web, and has years of monetization experience that can be applied to mobile games. Kongregate will provide free consultation with game developers to ensure the best possible performance. Kongregate will also offer creative services, quality assurance, gameplay testing and competitive research to maximize game performance at launch.

Promotion to share your game with the world

Games can receive promotion across Kongregate, the newly updated GameStop iOS and Android apps and GameStop online destinations including website features, email and social media outreach that collectively reach more than 50 million hard-core gamers. Selected titles have the potential to reach millions more gamers with exposure in GameStop’s 6,600 retail stores worldwide. Kongregate will also manage paid advertising campaigns for games across third party networks, execute PR and game reviews and work with app stores to get games featured on behalf of the developer.

If you are interested, check out or apply at http://developers.kongregate.com/mobile.

Could be an interesting opportunity, especially given the promotional muscle that can be brought to bear.  As to what Kongregate’s stake is, I have no idea as of yet.  I’ve never dealt in the free web game space, but I do know a few developers who are making pretty good money, so there is certainly something there… beyond of course, the 10 million dollars.