Before we get started doing 3D in a game, it is nice to have some 3D models to use in them. I have a few models that you can use in the 3D Model Library, and those are the models that I will use during these tutorials. However, I can almost guarantee you that those few models won't be enough, or even what you want in your games. So where do you get models from? There are a few choices. First, you can find some online. Unfortunately, almost all of the models online (and virtually all of the good ones) cost money. And I'm not talking about $3 either. They are usually more along the lines of $50 - $300 a model, and some are even more expensive. You could hire a artist to make models for you, which might be a good idea, but if you are just trying to learn XNA, you probably don't have money for that either. A third option is to make the 3D models yourself. You don't even necessarily need to be good at art or 3D art, because all you really need is some models to experiment with. Later on, if you build a game that has potential, you can bring in the professional, or shell out the money for the online models. So in this tutorial, we will look at a few 3D modeling programs, and compare them in terms of price, power, and ease of use.
Some 3D Modeling Programs
3ds Max (formerly called 3D Studio Max, sometimes shortened to just "Max") is kind of the industry standard of 3D modeling made by Autodesk. It is extremely powerful, and easy to use. It can do just about anything that you can dream up. The real drawback to using 3ds Max is the cost. The newest version, 3ds Max 2011, is $3495. It is so expensive that they have a financing program available! There is, however, a 30-day trial version available on their website. I do have to point out, however, that you will most likely come to the conclusion that it is well worth the money, after you've used it for a while. If you are serious about modeling, especially if you can find ways to get paid for it, this would probably be worth the investment. (http://www.autodesk.com/3dsmax)
Autodesk has also created Maya, which is a step up from 3ds Max. You can do even more in Maya, but it, too, comes with a big price: $4995. People say, though, that it is worth the extra features, and if you have the money, you should get it. There is a 30-day trial for this program as well. (http://www.autodesk.com/maya)
OK, enough with the expensive 3D modeling programs. Let's discuss some free ones. Blender is the king of free 3D modeling programs. It is extremely powerful and has all sorts of built in features, including the ability to script things with the programming laguage Python. You won't be dissapointed with this program once you learn how to use it. But this program, too, has a big drawback. It has a steep learning curve. It is not an easy program to learn how to use. I would recommend buying a good Blender book to help you learn it if you want to give it a try. If you don't have lots of money for a fancy 3D modeling program like 3ds Max or Maya, this is probably your best bet. Just be prepared to spend some time learning how to use it. (http://www.blender.org)
I've searched all over the web for a modeling program that is free and easy to use. I've played around with a lot, and most just aren't that good. Wings3D is just about as good as they come, though. It is limited in the number of features that it has (it looks like a toy compared to Blender, Max, and Maya), but still provides you with most of the things that you could want in a simple modeling program. It is extremely easy to use, and fairly well documented. If you are just beginning with game development, I would recommend that you start with this program for creating 3D models, and then when you are more comfortable with modeling, move on to Blender or something else. (http://www.wings3d.com or http://sourceforge.net/projects/wings)
Now that you're armed with a 3D modeling program, take some time to learn it. Make a few models and get some practice. Your first model will probably look bad, but that's OK. It always takes time. And remember that if you are working as part of a real game development team, there will be game artists (or you should hire one!) that will do the 3D modeling for you, so you don't have to become an expert.
Along these same lines, most artists are unwilling to commit themselves to the time it will take to create the art for a game, unless they have a good feeling that it is going to work out. The best solution to this is to go to a potential artist with a (mostly) complete game that is using your own prototype models. They will see that the game is mostly complete, and probably be willing to help out.
After you have spent some time making some 3D models, you are ready to continue on. Even if you don't want to make 3D models right now, feel free to move on. I have some 3D models that you can freely use in the 3D Model Library. The next step is to start using 3D models in an XNA game!
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