Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dev-corner: Primer to modelling with Wings3D

Today I would like to start a new regular (?) feature here on FreeGamer: The Dev-corner!

As you should know by now FreeGamer is all about FOSS games, and of course the most important part of the FOSS development model is participation! So, yes that also means you! Yes you... don't think I am not seeing you... and don't switch to that other browser tab to hide from me ;)

So with the new dev-corner we will try give you some easy introductions how to participate in FOSS game development, maybe do some more development focused developer interviews and so on. I also hope to get some guest bloggers to write an introduction into contributing to their projects or something like that... so if you are a developer interested in this contact us :)

So what can I do?

You though about contributing to a project already, but are not much of a programmer guy/gal? Well... there is an artist in all of us (it's in our genes the anthropologists say)!

But getting started with that can be a bit scary... 2D art is of course an option, but the learning slope is steep there, as for a long time everything you draw will look like crap (trust me, I am still in that phase also). But if you are interested in that there are a few pretty good FOSS tools for that (we will do a dev-corner on that some other time).

3D art on the other hand is more accessible, especially if you are not a born artist! You can make some pretty awesome (albeit simple) art in the first few days of learning, and you will certainly not have the feeling of "ahh... this is all crap" like you will have with 2D art. Oh and non-computer people will be amazed by your l337 computa skillz ;)

But who am I kidding here... you probably downloaded Blender (or another non FOSS modeling application) already, and the complexity of the programs made your head spin, right? Yes... those are full modeling suits meant for experienced professionals, and can do much more than you will ever need for FOSS game development. But don't get scared away by this... there are other options and once you got the basics concepts, Blender and the like will suddenly appear much less scary and actually quite easy to use ;)

The maybe easiest 3D modeling application is Google's Sketch-up, but due to it's non-FOSS nature and the severe limitations in what it can do, we will not go into much detail here... but have a look at it if you like to get some simple models done fast.

Primer to Wings3D modeling

There is another really great FOSS modeling application next to the all over shadowing Blender however: Wings3D!
It is not a full 3D suite, however and only focuses on the modeling and texturing part. In those parts it is generally accepted however that it is among the best of all programs out there (FOSS or non-FOSS)! So head over to their new website and get the latest version 1.4 now!

Now, the advantage of limiting the program's feature scope is it's much less cluttered interface and the quite a bit lower learning curve for the beginners. But don't get me wrong... it's not a beginners toy (like Google's sketch-up); Wings3D is capable of everything you will need for even the most professional models!

Have a look at this video to get an first idea what to do (I suggest you to use Blender camera style movement ;) ):

More video tutorials like this you can find on the Wings3D Youtube channel, and other nice tutorials here and a user manual here.

One of the especially helpful features of Wings3D is that all menus are context sensitive, so you will only see the options that make sense to use at that time. Also all features are available through the menus and are not hidden behind obscure keyboard short-cuts like in Blender (but you can fully customize all commands to shortcuts in Wings3D to speed up your work-flow). And last but not least... at the bottom status bar you can always tell what options are available with each tool upon different mouse and button combinations... so it is very easy even for the beginners.

However due to the way model data is set up in Wings3D, it is really geared towards box-modeling, e.g. a standard work-flow approach that works by extruding features from a single original box, instead of shaping the model from individual polygons (like normally preferred in Blender)... but don't get scared by this tech-babble ;) It's the better and easier way anyways, and just think of it as if working with a real-life clay model.

Ok I got the basics, where do I start contributing?

Well you could of course look for a FOSS game directly... and there will be for sure plenty of projects happy to have you helping out. But as a beginner you can also first practice a bit more. A good option for that would be for example to participate in the weekly challenges over at There you have a simple topic every week and you can also discuss with other 3D artist about techniques and so on. Definitely a great way of practicing.

Oh and one last word of caution: You might realize at some point that making 3D models and contributing to game development is actually more fun than playing games... but don't say I didn't warn you ;)