Game assets can vary in complexity from one extreme to the other. However, no matter how complex a game asset might be, they all have a set of guidelines that should be followed to create the best look for your games while keeping the memory usage low. In this article we'll talk about 5 simple ways you can improve your game assets.
Remove unneeded topology
This concept is not exclusive to game art. When we model assets whether for film or games, we should strive to model efficiently. Polygon count can have an impact on the frame rate of a game if it is not kept in check. A few polygons here and there on a single object is not going to make much of a difference, but when you have hundreds of complex models on screen at once, the difference will then be noticeable. The first thing you should ask yourself is, " If I were to remove these edge loops, would it change the shape of my model?" If the answer is no, then you've located some unneeded topology. You can see a good example of this in the image below.
Add enough geometry in areas of deformation
Characters that are animated in your game are going to need enough geometry around the joints of the rig. The best example will be around the knees and elbows. If you don't have enough resolution, the areas around the joints will skew and the animations will look terrible. However, just adding more edge loops won't always fix your problems. You need to make sure that you create edge loops that are conducive to the flow of movement. For example, the face of a character has many different loops around the mouth, nose and eyes. Notice the natural flow of geometry around those areas in the image below. Because these loops are following the natural flow of the face, it can deform for the animator to create a wide range of facial expressions.
Getting the most out of your UV space
Laying out the UV's can be an incredibly tedious task, especially on complex characters. When laying out the UV's it's important to remember that each shell is important and deserves just as much space as the next shell. To ensure that each shell is treated fairly, use the checker map to scale each shell so that the size of the checker pattern is consistent for each object. Then you can start to scale the shells based on importance. For example, the character's face is more important that buckles on his boots, so the shells for the buckles can be scaled to give the characters face more texture resolution.
Baking ambient occlusion to help develop your textures
Once you have finished the UV's of a game asset, you can start working on the diffuse texture. Sometimes it can be really difficult to get started, so it may be worth it to bake out an ambient occlusion texture. This will show you exactly where the natural shading is going to be on your model. Once you've baked out the ambient occlusion, you can add it as a Multiply layer on top of a base diffuse color for your game asset. With time, you'll notice how you can begin creating your diffuse textures faster.
Make those textures pop
Textures are going to either make or break your game assets. If a model has been created flawlessly, but the textures leave something to be desired, the entire project then becomes flawed. Some areas that textures must execute are in color, contrast and attention to detail. Whether you are working on a crate or a character, you should have an idea of what colors you plan to use. You can create some quick color palettes on your texture (on their own layer of course) to help identify colors that work well together. Secondly, you must watch the contrast in your texture. This can be adjusted very easily using a Curves Adjustment layer in Photoshop.
Create enough separation in the colors and you'll immediately notice a positive change in your textures. Finally, details. This is where reference images really come in handy. Picture a wooden chest in your mind. What you probably didn't picture was the dust, scratches, wear and tear. All of this will add life to the texture of your assets.
Each of these quick tips can be done in about ten to fifteen minutes yet will greatly help push your game assets to the more polished look you desire.
Keep pushing the limits of your game art and game assets with more game art tutorials and game art articles.