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13. November 2014

 

Welcome to the first ever Steam Powered Game Dev review, a look at game development tools available on Steam.  This post looks at FUSE character creator by Mixamo.  In addition to this text review, you can watch the entire thing in video form by clicking right here, or using the embedded player at the bottom.

 

title

Product

Fuse Character Creator

Product Type

3D Graphics Application

Steam Store Page

Website Link

Current MSRP

$99 USD

Steam Discount at Time

75% off

Product Website

Website Link

Available On

Windows, Mac




First let’s start with what Fuse is.   It’s a character creation package, for generating fully textured 3D character models.  If you’ve ever used Smith Micro’s Poser or Daz Studio, you should have a basic idea what to expect.  However, Fuse varies from those packages in some very significant ways.

 

  • It is entirely about character creation, there is absolutely no animation built in.  Don’t worry, this isn’t a big deal as we shall see shortly.
  • It is by far the easiest to use of the three.  Quite literally anyone could use Fuse successfully.
  • It makes for extremely customizable characters, both in regards to model and textures.
  • It has some of the most confusing pricing you will ever see!  ( Actually, Daz is worse! )
  •  

    Character Creation

     

    Let’s jump right in and you can see what I mean.  On it’s surface Fuse is remarkably simple.  You start of by selecting various body parts, like so:

    image

     

    Basically you go through 4 stages.  The first is to build your character model out of body parts.  The above screen shot shows an assembly with a Zombie head selected and torsos being chosen.  Currently for example, there are 34 different torso shapes to be chosen from, ranging from teen cartoon to adult skinny zombie. 

     

    Here is a fully assemble teen female character for example:

    image

     

    You can mix and match body parts however you’d like.  You may be asking at this point… what about creating your own body parts, can you do that?  Yes, you can, I will cover that shortly!

     

    Character Customization

     

    Now that you’ve assembled a basic character by setting the head, arms, torso and legs to use, it’s time to customize.  Simply click the Customize tab and continue, like so:

    image

     

    If you’ve ever played a video game that gave you an incredible amount of control over your character’s creation, you should have some idea of how the process works.  This however goes into a staggering level of detail, with control over pretty much every single facet of your character.  You’ve also always got the Randomize button, which you can simply keep spamming until it spits out something your like.

     

    In addition to using sliders, you can also use the mouse to interactively sculpt the features you want to change, like here with the nose selected:

    image

     

    Clothing your Character

     

    Next it’s time to cloth your character.  One again you simply click the clothing tab.  By the way, you can go back to any of the previous stages at any time if you require.  Clothing works pretty much the same way as character creation:

    image

     

    For each various body part you can choose from a number of different outfits or styles.  If you are wondering, yes, you can give women beards or dress men in thongs if that’s what floats your boat.  There is a decent selection of models available to get started but no doubt you want to know if you can import your own?  Once again, the answer is yes, and once again, we will get to that shortly.

     

    Texturing Your Character

     

    Now that we’ve got a fully dressed 3d modeled character, it’s time to customize the texturing.  This is an area where Fuse absolutely shines!  They have partnered with Allegorithmics to package in their Substance technology for texturing and it’s powerful stuff.  For example, when setting the characters skin texture, here is how it works:

    image

     

    So you can set a basic base skin color, then rapidly modify it using intuitive sliders like “age”, “eye shadow color”, “lipstick” etc.  Plus you have control over the end texture resolution, a critical requirement for games.  You can generate a texture anywhere from 64x64 to 2048x2048.

     

    It’s the sheer volume of controls available for substances that is most impressive, this is just for the skin component:

     

    Video_2014-11-13_145755

     

    You can configure each and every part of your character, using premades like “jean” and sliders like “dirt level” and “age”.  It makes texturing incredibly simple, although there is no option for placing decals or multi texturing right now.  You do however get a fair bit of control over shader performance:

    image

     

    So, essentially that is the process of creating and texturing a full 3D character.

     

    Now it comes to animation, and this is where things get a bit confusing…  but first…

     

    Getting Your Own Content In

     

    As I mentioned earlier, yes, you can import your own body parts and clothing into Fuse, as well as Substances.  However there is a bit of a gotcha, there always is.

    The process is actually quite simple.  You model and UV map in your favorite 3D application, then export in OBJ format, an ancient and simple 3D file format that pretty much every 3D application supports.  However, you do have to follow strict guidelines available here.

     

    Animating Your Character

     

    Although Fuse doesn’t do animation, it’s exactly what the company that make it, Mixamo, does.  Mixamo offers a cloud based animation service and Fuse can hook directly into it.  Basically to get started, you simply click the Animate button when your character is prepared:

    image

     

    Your character will then by automatically uploaded to Mixamo’s servers.  Advanced warning YOU NEED TO HAVE THE UNITY 3D PLAYER ALREADY INSTALLED!

    Otherwise your file will upload then you will get an error.  Pretty stupid that Fuse doesn’t check for it automatically, but c’est la vie.

     

    I’m going to go fairly light on my coverage of Mixamo, as it’s basically a completely different site and service.  You can see a bit more of it in action in the video if you wish.

     

    The basic process goes like this… when you hit Animate in Fuse, your character is uploaded to Mixamo and automatically rigged.  You can then apply different premade animations to your character ( or none at all if you wish ), then download your character.

     

    Here is Mixamo in action creating an animation sequence:

    image

     

    There are hundreds of animations available, some completely free, some for a fee.  We will discuss money in a moment.  Here again you have decent control over your character and you can sequence multiple animations into a single file.

     

    Next you download your file from Mixamo’s server.  Any file your created will be available, so you can re-download to your hearts content.  You simply go to your My Characters” page and select the character to download:

    image

     

    On the download page, you can select in what format you want the file to be downloaded:

    image

     

    You can come back at any time and select a different format, or use different settings.  Now let’s look at the finished project imported into Blender:

    image

     

    The character texture, with bones showing in x-ray mode.  There we have it… a fully rigged, textured character with a walk cycle.  All told it took me about 5 minutes to create this character.

     

    Oh, and you might be wondering, what if I don’t need animation, can I still use Fuse?  Yes, yes you can.  There is an option to export as OBJ format, which again, is available in pretty much every 3D application available.  Of course, the results wont be rigged.  You have a bit of control over the results, but not a ton.  Sadly I couldn’t locate a place to set a polygon budget for example.

    image

     

    I believe it is the simplest way to get a game usable rigged character into a 3D modeling application.  There are other options, Autodesk has their own Character Generator, there’s Make Human and of course Poser and Daz that I mentioned earlier.  Fuse however just hits that sweet spot between ease of use and power that I appreciate so much.  With the exception of the missing Unity Web Player, I encountered no technical issues at all.

     

    There is however the cost…

     

    The Cost

     

    Cost is an interesting subject and can be a bit confusing when dealing with Fuse.  First off, there are two versions of Fuse available on Steam, Fuse Basic and Fuse.

     

    Fuse Basic is a stripped down version, far less body parts, far less character pieces to work with, less textures, etc.  You can however download it completely free, and I encourage you to do so, if only to see if Fuse performs well on your PC.

     

    However, Fuse has one HUGE advantage over Fuse Basic, and something that makes it an incredible bargain.  If you buy Fuse on Steam, you get two free auto rigs a week.  This means that you can have Fuse rig two characters you send to Mixamos server each week.  Now we are about to see the value of Fuse when we look at Mixamo’s pricing.

     

    The are the “bundle plans” on an annual basis:

    image

     

    And here are the “À la carte” prices:

    image

     

    Suddenly those 2 free auto-rigs a week start becoming a hell of a good deal.  The $100 purchase of Fuse on Steam pays for itself after 2 characters are rigged!

     

    What tier you need ultimately comes back to your individual requirements.  Myself, I move at a snails pace, so I highly doubt I will be working on more than two different character riggings per week, plus I am capable of making my own animations if required.  If you are absolutely spitting out characters or use tons of animations however, one of the bundles may be the way to go.  The economics of Fuse Basic though are always bad, especially if you can find Fuse on sale like I did. 

     

    The Video Version

     

     

    Summary

     

    If you need 3D animated characters, Fuse is certainly worth looking at.  With the ability to import any body parts or props into Fuse, you can make pretty much any character you require, assuming you have the ability.  If you have no 3D modeling skill, the breadth of props available in Fuse probably aren’t enough to do everything you need.  If on the other hand you are a great modeler, but terrible animator, Fuse is absolutely perfect for you.

     

    There are a few things I wish that were different.  I wish you had more control over mesh generation and polygon counts specifically.  All told though, I have never encountered a package that enabled me to create animated and actually game usable models anywhere nearly as easy as Fuse does.  I certainly do not regret my purchase.

    Art


    12. November 2014

     

    This one falls under the category of “extremely awesome news”, Microsoft just announced Visual Studio Community 2013 and it’s completely free.
     
    You may think to yourself… big deal, there is already Express and it’s free too.  Unlike Express however, Visual Studio 2013 Community is actually the complete version of Visual Studio, nothing has been stripped out.
     
    Here is the announcement from the Visual Studio blog:
     

    Visual Studio Community 2013 is a new edition that enables you to unleash the full power of Visual Studio to develop cross-platform solutions. Create apps in one unified IDE. Get Visual Studio extensions that incorporate new languages, features, and development tools into this IDE. (These extensions are available from the Visual Studio Gallery.) Find out more details about Visual Studio Community 2013  here.

    Download Visual Studio Community 2013.

    What's in Visual Studio Community 2013 

    • Professional-grade editing, code analysis, and debugging support 
    • Support for open-source workflows (Git)
    • Compilers for managed languages, C++ and more
    • Cross-platform mobile development for your preferred device and platform, including the web, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone with the free Visual Studio Tools for Apache Cordova extension
    • Take advantage of cloud services with simplified Azure SDK integration, and incorporate modern app analytics and telemetry with Application Insights
    • Access to all the Visual Studio 2013 extensions on the  Visual Studio Gallery
    • Visual Studio Community 2013 includes Update 4, which is a cumulative update of all previous Visual Studio 2013 updates

    Watch the  Visual Studio Community 2013 video to learn all about what you can do with this release:

    Introducing Visual Studio Community 2013 

    Several other Visual Studio 2013 products are available for download with Update 4, including the following:

    • Visual Studio 2013 Update 4 
    • Azure SDK for .NET 2.5 
    • Visual Studio Tools for Unity (VSTU) 2.0 Preview 
    • Kinect for Windows 2.0 SDK RTW 
    • Visual Studio Tools for Apache Cordova CTP3 
    • TypeScript 1.3 

    To get more details on these releases, go to the  release notes for Visual Studio 2013 Update 4.

     

    So, what's the catch? There's always a catch, right?

     

    Yes, there is a catch, but it’s a pretty generous one.  From the Community page:

     

    Q: Who can use Visual Studio Community? 
    A: Here’s how individual developers can use Visual Studio Community:
    • Any individual developer can use Visual Studio Community to create their own free or paid apps.
    Here’s how Visual Studio Community can be used in organizations:
    • An unlimited number of users within an organization can use Visual Studio Community for the following scenarios: in a classroom learning environment, for academic research, or for contributing to open source projects.
    • For all other usage scenarios: In non-enterprise organizations, up to 5 users can use Visual Studio Community. In enterprise organizations (meaning those with >250 PCs or > $1MM in annual revenue), no use is permitted beyond the open source, academic research, and classroom learning environment scenarios described above.

    Q: How does Visual Studio Community 2013 compare to other Visual Studio editions? 
    A: Visual Studio Community 2013 includes all the great functionality of Visual Studio Professional 2013, designed and optimized for individual developers, students, open source contributors, and small teams. 

    So, basically if you are part of a team with 5 or fewer members, and made less than a Million dollars last year… Visual Studio is now completely free.

     

    Merry XMas!

    News


    12. November 2014

     

    The title pretty much says it all.  The installation process to get a fully working Java, Android and GWT development environment up and running can be a bit tricky at times.  These three videos walk through the entire process, from downloading and installing a Java JDK, then the Android SDK and GWT then finally creating your first LibGDX project.  The second video then looks at working with IntelliJ IDEA with LIbGDX, the third video shows the same thing for Eclipse.  Each of these videos walks through loading a project, then running a Desktop, Android then HTML5 project.  Each of the videos is hosted on YouTube and is available in 1080p.  Click the link above the video below to open it directly in YouTube.

     

    Part 1: Configuring a Java Development Environment for LibGDX and Android Development

     

     

    Part 2: Using IntelliJ IDEA with LibGDX

     

     

    Part 3: Using Eclipse with LibGDX

     

    Programming


    10. November 2014

     

    If you are a Steam user, you may have noticed that game development related tools have been popping up with increasing frequency.  From 2D and 3D art packages, to script writing utilities and complete game engines, Steam is becoming increasingly Steam Logo mportant to indie developers.  Not just as a place to sell their games, but as a source for the tools to make them.  Also, and this is no small point, software on Steam tends to be a hell of a lot more affordable, especially with the frequent sales that occur.

     

    As a direct result, I am going to start a new segment here on GameFromScratch, covering game development tools available on Steam.  Right off the bat I am going to be looking at a pair of products, Fuse, then Substance Painter.  For each product covered, I will do both a text and video overview.  They will essentially be reviews, but without a score ( I am not a huge fan of scores, except for meta ratings ).

     

    I will also favour products that are on sale, when I get the opportunity.  This has a two fold purpose.  First off, it’s products that are on sale that generally draw the most attention.  Second, it’s a lot easier on my pocket book.  On the same topic, if you make a game development tool that is available on Steam that you wish to see covered, sending me a key will certainly increase the odds I will look at it, although it won’t influence my conclusion in any way.

     

    Is there a particular product on Steam that you’ve always been interested in learning more about?  Got a product that’s available on Steam that you would like me to review?  Either way, let me know!  Hope this series proves to be interesting and useful.

    News


    10. November 2014

     

    Up until now, there has been only one book on the market for LibGDX and it’s a bit long in the tooth at this point.  Now there is a new book in town, the Libgdx Cross-Platform Game Development Cookbook and I just finished reading through it.  Let me start by saying, this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting… (how’s that for a hook?).

    Gdxcover

     

    This book was written by Alberto Cejas Sanchez and David Saltares Marquez, who is the man behind the Ashley ECS component included in LibGDX.  So you can safely the authors know their stuff.  Additionally, one of the editors was Joost van Ham ( also known as Xoppa ), this is the guy that wrote the 3D portions of LibGDX.  So we can say right up front this is a technically competent and accurate book.  Full disclosure, I got a review copy of the book, not that this has any influence.  On a somewhat related note, this book is not yet available on Safari Books online.

     

    If you’ve never read a Packt cookbook series book, the basic premise is it’s a collection of “recipes”, which can be thought of as task oriented code samples coupled with a description.  With a traditional cookbook, say you wanted to cook a Quiche Lorraine ( for whatever aberrant reason! ) you’d flip open the cookbook to the quiche section and follow the recipe.  These cookbooks work very similar, except instead of retched pies it’s got recipes for things like creating a 2D depth of field shader or generating and rendering bitmap fonts. 

     

    Over time, I have read a number of those Packt cookbooks, I’ve even written one and let me tell you right up front, the quality varies massively from book to book.  One of the big flaws with many of these books is the author’s grasp of English, whether it’s that English is their second language, or they simply aren’t great writers.  Fortunately, this is not the case with this book.  The language is clear, the grammar is solid and there were very few errors that I spotted.  Most importantly, language was never a barrier to my understanding what the author was trying to say.  Nothing is more frustrating when trying to learn something than being tripped up by the authors inability to articulate, so this is a big point in the books favour.

     

    Let’s take a quick look at the book’s Table of Contents:

     

    • Chapter 1: Diving into Libgdx
    • Chapter 2: Working with 2D Graphics
    • Chapter 3: Advanced 2D Graphics
    • Chapter 4: Detecting User Input
    • Chapter 5: Audio and File I/O
    • Chapter 6: Font Rendering
    • Chapter 7: Asset Management
    • Chapter 8: User Interfaces with Scene2D
    • Chapter 9: The 2D Maps API
    • Chapter 10: Rigid Body Physics with Box2D
    • Chapter 11: Third Party Libraries and Extras
    • Chapter 12: Performance and Optimization
    • Chapter 13: Giving Back

     

    The book weights in at 487 pages.  I suppose I should clarify, the Chapter 9 title is very confusing. It covers 2D TileMaps, creating them in Tiled and loading them into LibGDX.  Remember back at the very beginning where I said “this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting”?, well… here’s why...

     

    Looking at that list of topics and you probably come to the same conclusion as me, that this book is going to guide the reader through the process of learning Libgdx in escalating difficulty, frankly much like my own tutorial series does.  You would be wrong though.  To understand why, you need to look into one of these chapters to see what typical recipes look like.  Let’s take Chapter 9 as an example, the chapter on tilemaps, and not just because it’s one of the shortest… ;)

     

    On a chapter on tilemaps, what do you except to see covered?   Creating and loading certainly, but what else?  Maybe something on layers, possibly something on mixing sprites with tilemaps maybe?  Nope, what you get is:

    • Introduction (an overview)
    • Creating maps with Tiled and loading them into Libgdx
    • Adding and querying map metadata
    • Developing your own map loaders and renderers

     

    It’s that last one that defines this book, in my opinion.  I would have never expected to see that topic covered in this book, and I find it shockingly awesome that it is there.  It’s this level of technical detail that really makes this book.

     

    So often these books are written to target beginners, and that makes sense, as they are generally the biggest audience for a book.  In all honesty, and this may sound more conceited then I intend it to be, but I was expecting to personally get nothing out of this book.  I know LibGDX pretty well myself and as an example when I read Learning Libgdx Game Development I don’t believe I learned anything new nor was it ever a source I went back to when I was encountering difficulty.  This of course isn’t a bash on that book, I’m just not the intended audience.

     

    This book however, as an experienced LibGDX developer, represents a new and very useful tool in my toolbox.  It’s technical enough, applied enough and deep enough to be genuinely useful to developers writing real world code.

     

    This however is a double edged sword.  If you are completely new with LibGDX, this may not be the book for you.  You have to absorbed a LOT of information all at once and this isn’t really a book that is set up to teach you from scratch.  For example, instead of teaching the user how to draw a sprite, then rotate and scale it, then deal with it in a resolution independent manner, the first drawing example does it all at once.  Incredibly useful information to an experienced developer… confusing as hell to a beginner.

     

    The breadth of content is pretty solid.  If you are creating a 2D game, chances are what you need to know is covered in here.  There are a few odd decisions (IMHO), such as covering Git usage ( entire books are written on this subject already ), but not covering 3D at all, even though the guy that created the 3D api’s is one of your technical editors! :)  I know what writing to a page budget feels like, so deciding what to include and what not to include is an excruciating process.

     

    Summary


    So then, what’s my over all conclusion on the Libgdx Cross-Platform Game Development Cookbook?  Well, I don’t give a numeric rating or star score when I review things, but I can summarize it pretty easily with this title.

     

    If you are an experienced developer working with LibGDX, buy this book, it will most certainly be of use to you.  I know my own copy will be dog eared from use! ( well… if digitial copies could get dog eared that is ).

    If you are a beginner looking to learn LibGDX, this book will certainly be of use to you, especially as you get more comfortable.  That said, I wouldn’t recommend starting here, this is not a beginners book… fortunately, I know a good set of tutorials to get you up and running! 

     

    So yeah, TL;DR...

    Buy this book.

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