3ds Max, Maya LT or Blender - Which 3D Software Should I Choose for Asset Creation?
If you're working on a 3D game, chances are you're going to need to create 3D assets to fill the world. This can be everything from characters and creatures, to environment pieces like fences, trash cans and even buildings. A game without the assets is just blank space with placeholder objects, and no one wants that!
So the question now is which 3D software should you use to create the different assets for your game? You definitely have a wide range of applications to choose from. For this article, let's discuss the three most popular 3D applications used for game asset creation, 3ds Max, Maya LT and Blender, so you can decide for yourself which will work best for your needs.
3ds Max has traditionally been known as the go-to app among the game industry. However, with so many updates and new features added to other 3D applications it really begins to level the playing field. Since each 3D program is on the same level, it does make it a bit more difficult for you to decide which will work best.
3ds Max really boasts a powerful set of modeling tools that allow you to achieve any project thrown your way. Its interface is also relatively simple to grasp if you're a new user, an the way the UI is designed allows for quick and easy access to the most important modeling tools. If you're looking for 3D application specifically for asset creation you'll feel right at home with 3ds Max because it really caters to the task of pushing and pulling vertices.
The UV editing tools in 3ds Max are also great and allow you to combine an unlimited number of textures and use many different projection methods to achieve the correct UV layout.
It's important to remember that 3ds Max is a Windows-only application, so there's no cross-platform integration with Linux or OSX. If you're a Windows user, then there's really nothing to be concerned about. However, if you're not, and prefer to stick with Linux or OSX then 3ds Max may not be your best option. As the outlook is now, Autodesk doesn't seem to have any plans to develop cross-platform integration with 3ds Max.
If you're a new game studio or just a one-man team looking to create a great game then one of the most important deciding factors of which 3D application to choose might be based solely on price. There are quite a few price options available for 3ds Max. There's the pay as you go plan, with the monthly subscription price of $185, Quarterly $460 and Annually is $1470. You also have the option to buy the software outright for $3675.
As a developer you'll need to make the choice of which payment option will work best for you. A great 3D program can be quite the investment, so it's a good idea to weigh all of your options before making the decision.
Maya is another industry-standard application also owned and developed by Autodesk. However, Maya LT is not the standard version of Maya but rather a "light" version designed specially for game development. It's important to mention that it's not really a different application from the standard Maya, but rather just a stripped down version with just the essential tools required for game development.
So if Maya LT is basically a version of Maya with fewer features, does it have everything you need for game development? It definitely does! You have modeling, texturing, rigging and animation tools. Everything that goes into creating 3D elements for your game, and with the recent push for better modeling tools, Maya is really on par with 3ds Max when it comes to modeling. However, the workflow is different, and Maya LT can be a little harder to grasp than 3ds Max with a UI that is quite a bit different.
Maya LT also has some great tools designed for game development workflows. Like an extremely easy export of your 3D models and animations straight to a Unity project folder.
The biggest downside to Maya LT is just the fact that it is a stripped down version of Maya. While you have the essential tools required there may be times when you run into a scenario where you need a specific tool and you may not have it with Maya LT. For example, there is no PSD file support, animation layers or some of the helpful rigging tools like cluster deformers or set driven keys. (Update - Autodesk has included set driven keys with the Extension 1 feature update for Maya LT)
Likely the biggest upside to Maya LT is the price for the 3D application. You can get full access to Maya LT for just $30/month. Now that's affordable for any indie game developer! While it doesn't have the full features that Maya has, it's still capable of getting the job done. Including modeling, rigging animation and texturing, everything that goes into game development.
While Blender may not be a 3D application you're as familiar with, and is definitely not one that's found its way into big name studios it's still an extremely powerful 3D program. When it comes to strictly asset creation Blender has found its way into the hearts of many indie game developers and hobbyists.
One of the best elements of Blender is its modeling tools. While all three applications have the capabilities of creating the same asset, Blender is known to have a very intuitive and easy to understanding modeling workflow. If you're getting a 3D application strictly for asset creation then Blender can be a great option.
Of course, Blender has the full capabilities you'd find in any 3D application like rigging, texturing and animation. It also has a built-in game engine. Now, this game engine is definitely not amazing, but it still makes it very easy to quickly prototype ideas directly in the 3D application.
Blender also has a huge community of Blender enthusiasts and game developers so you'll have lots of avenues for support.
Unlike the other two 3D programs, Blender has no sticker price at all. That's right, it's a completely free 3D application! This is one of the main reasons why it's an extremely popular program among smaller game development studios. If you're on a very tight budget, then Blender is definitely a smart choice.
There are a lot of things that go into asset creation, luckily for you all three of these 3D programs have the capabilities of achieving what you need to accomplish. There's no right or wrong choice, and choosing one can really come down to personal preference or your budget. If you've decided on a 3D application to use for your game, and are not sure of which game engine to choose, be sure to check out this great article. If you want to share your own personal experience with these applications post them in the comments below!