Noctis added a topic in 3D Assets3D Development: General Procedures and GuidelinesWelcome to Elsweyr!
First off: hello, fellow 3D Artists! Welcome to Elsweyr: Sugar and Blood. I hope you enjoy your time here -- it's an exciting project filled with talent and skill, and it's a great place to be.
This post should be read by all new recruits to the 3D Art Department, and by those of you who want to get some quick, general advice. Hopefully, I can provide a framework of material to assist you in your workflow and (somewhat) standardise the way things are produced throughout the province, so that help will be easier to give and everyone will be on the same page. Many of you may be new to modelling in general, or be unsure of specifics in the workflow, and I aim to help iron out some of those concerns here.
The 3D Workflow:
The workflow is similar for the creation of every in-game asset. There are steps that you must keep to, and certain orders that will make your work more efficient and easier to revise/improve at each step. If you're familiar with the general workflow, feel free to skip this, and go to General Procedures! Here is a general outline:
1: Look at the Concepts!
Every asset should either have completed concept art, or a collection of reference photographs or models to work from. Following these ideas results in everyone being familar with the work taking place, and a knowledge that the work will fit in with the atmosphere and general approach of Elsweyr, saving painful hours of revising work and redoing things. Most major models should have dedicated concept art, produced by one of our many talented 2D Artists. "Major" models involve architectural tilesets, character/creatures, weapons and armour etc. Occasionally there may be clutter items that will not have concepts but will have photographic references. Try to take influence from these to create your final model.
The next step is to make your model. There are many applications you can use for this: Blender, 3DS Max, Maya, 3D coat -- they all achieve the same result, don't worry about specifics here. Blender is entirely free, and both Max and Maya have free student licenses for non-profit work. This step has a workflow entirely of its own, depending on what you're modelling. Most architectural sets will not involve any sculpting, but many other assets will. There are many sculpting applications out there also: Blender has a Sculpt Mode built-in; so does 3D Coat; Autodesk have Mudbox, and ZBrush is the ultimate sculpting package, but comes at an astounding price! There are two ways you can sculpt a model:
Model a low-poly in 3D application --> Sculpt high-poly using low-poly as a base mesh --> Bake normals and AO from high to low-poly game meshModel a high-poly in sculpting application --> Retopologise to low-poly base mesg --> Bake normals and AO from high to low poly game meshThe best tool available, in my opinion, for baking down detail maps (curvature, cavity, normal, AO, base texture etc.) is XNormal. It's widely used in industry, and is suprisingly completely and utterly free! http://www.xnormal.net/downloads.aspx
This step is, personally, the best bit of it all. Here you decide what your model will look like in-game, using textures to create and finalise your object. There are many packages available out there that work very well: Substance and Quixel to name the most prestigious. It is recommended that these "next-gen" tools are used for this step, because of the ease-of-use and efficiency of their pipelines. Substance currently offer a free contract with a valid student ID -- not entirely sure about Quxel. There are also rent-to-own plans, where you pay towards the buying price each month, and stop paying once you've reached the total, and officially own the product. Nevertheless, textures can be produced in Photoshop, it just seems a little tedious in comparison! For TESV: Skryim, you will need a diffuse, a specular, and a normal map as a minimum requirement. A lack in any of these will either result in a lack of visible information on the mesh, or a blindingly shiny model when rendered in-engine. Metal areas generally need a cube map and environment map too. These dictate how the reflections are processed by the Creation Engine.
If you are not a texturer/don't make textures for your models, skip this step, the texture artist will take care of things for you!
4: Convert to Nif:
Skyrim uses the .nif file extension, which is proprietary to Bethesda. Because of this, there is no built in export function in any existing 3D package. Instead, you must download the NifTools exporter for your corresponding program. There are exporters for 3DS Max, Blender, and Maya. The Arcane University has a great tutorial on exporting to a .nif, and is certainly worth a read-through if you've never done so before.
You will also need a copy of NifTools, so that you can edit your Skyrim model file. It's a little daunting at first, but it's incredibly useful, especially when you begin making more complex models. Stick with it!
Both the exporter and NifSkope can be downloaded from NifTools' GitHub repo: https://github.com/niftools
Now, test your model in game, using the CK to place it beforehand. Take some screenshots, and see what it looks like!
5: Repeat ad Infinitum:
The above processes become a bit of cycle, until you're happy with your model the way it is, and the team leads approve of your shiny new pice of game artwork. Many of us who work on these things are perfectionists, we understand if you want to go back and change little details. I spend half my time doing just that...
Once your model is complete, you can add a collision mesh. You may have noticed that you can walk through your object in-game. Time to change that! Collision is a bit of an intimidating process if you don't know what you're doing -- check out the guide on the Google Drive, or send it to me (or whoever the future Department Lead will be...) and they'll deal with collision generation for you.
7: LoD Generation:
The final step. The game needs to be able to switch to a different, lower poly, lower resolution model to render at distance, to decrease load on hardware. This is another tricky step, and we have another tutorial for this on the Drive.
Alternatively, send it to the Lead.
General Tips and Procedure to Follow *PLEASE READ!*
The work that we produce is intended to be of a higher quality than vanilla 32-bit Skyrim. Therefore, we can get away with higher-poly assets. Many people who play now most likely have much more powerful PCs than back at release, and if they play heavy content mods and 64-bit SE, their systems should handle a slight increase in rendered polygons. That being said, we don't want to go too overboard. Stick to below 20,000 tris as a maximum on a large architectural piece, and continually scale this down as models get smaller. We're using the Static Mesh Improvement Mod as a guideline here for rough acceptable poly-count numbers: http://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/8655/?
Textures should be bigger than vanilla! At minimum, we want to be using 1024px square maps. 2k maps should ideally be the maximum, 4k are still a bit high unless absolutely necessary (which they should not really be with efficient UV mapping). Pick either 1024px or 2k for your maps.
Texture Format and Configuration:
This is another one that Skyrim does in a bit of strange fashion. At the moment, textures are to be compressed using the DXT compression method, with the .dds file extension. This will change when we transition to Special Edition: that can make use of a less lossy, lower file-size compression method, BC7. Use the NVidia plugin for Photoshop to export to these files: https://developer.nvidia.com/nvidia-texture-tools-adobe-photoshop
Diffuse maps must be DXT1 compression.Normal maps must be DXT5 (RGBA) compression.Specular maps must be transferred into the alpha channel of the normal map. Don't use a separate specular map -- normals and specular are one and the same in Skyrim.
Lighting and Interior Meshes:
Architectural interior meshes need to be broken up into separate pieces. This is because the Creation Engine can only process 4 light sources per mesh, which results in some really strange-looking things. Make lots of modular pieces that can be assembled together to make the right shape.
Finally, have fun with your work, and enjoy your time here at Elsweyr!
If you have any problems whatsoever, don't hesitate to contact me!
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