Sunday, 30 March 2014

Time to update your tools!

Tools are important  for every artist, whether it's better paper, paint with higher pigment values or digital tools that will significantly speed up your digital workflow. Especially in the digital realm tools keep rapidly evolving. And this is a good thing. Especially in the AAA games industry people expect bigger and better looking games every time.

If tools wouldn't evolve, we would no longer be able to keep up with these expectations and deliver within an acceptable budget, both time and money. Luckily there are plenty people who love making things easier, faster and better for the rest of us. And for that we should be really thankful.

I have mentioned some tools before in this blog but after the recent GDC and the announcements made during that week, I thought it would be a good moment to share some of the updates.

Quixel Suite

The first time I wrote something about the tools from Quixel was way back in October of 2010. Before it was a full company and they just released a handy tool for creating normalmaps called nDo. Over the past years they iterated on nDo and expanded with dDo, a tool that will quickly speed up your texturing workflow. I think it's great to see people with a good idea being able to create a business around it and do well.

During GDC they announced Quixel Suite, a complete package at a great price. It includes the new versions of NDO & DDO and comes with the new 3DO model viewer that hooks directly in Photoshop for direct viewing of your results. Lastly it comes with MEGASCANS, a material library full of materials scanned with surface capture technology, which provides you with all the maps you could want for your materials like normalmaps, clean diffuse/albedo, AO etc. The video below gives an overview of the tools included:

You can pre-order Quixel Suite and find more information at their website found here: If you would like to try it out first, both nDo2 and dDo have a trail version available at the bottom of their pages.

Marmoset Toolbag 2

Another great example of a useful tool developed for internal use that grew in a great stand alone product available to everyone. Marmoset is a stand alone model viewer/realtime renderer which is very easy and straightforward to use.  I've used the first version of Marmoset Toolbag quite a lot and I have found it incredibly useful for making awesome presentation shots of hero assets or mini-environments.

The new version, Marmoset Toolbag 2 released back in December 2013, but since I didn't really gave it the attention it deserves yet I'm giving it a spot in this post.

The new version comes with a whole bunch of new features to play with including BPR rendering, the option to add multiple meshes and a new way of using and setting up the camera for you shots. It's also much easier to build and compose bigger scenes with the new version. All these new features are build on what made Toolbag already great so if you ever used the first version of this software you'll feel right at home in this one.

The website comes with a bunch of tutorials to get you started and there is a 30 day trail so there is no reason not to give it a try. Find it here:

Unreal Engine 4

Unreal Engine 4 is here, announced and released at the same time during last weeks GDC. It is available now and requires a monthly subscription. However they launched with a great deal of documentation, videos and easy-to-use website to get you started and it seems to be well worth the money.

Since this is a big new iteration there is to much new stuff in this fully functional game engine to quickly sum up. But the website and videos are loaded with everything you would want to know.

What I specifically like about Epic's approach for the release is that they brought Zak Parrish on board to work on the tutorials and documentation. He has a long history of creating training videos for the Unreal technology through 3dbuzz since Unreal 2004. He has also coauthored the Mastering Unreal books that where of great value to anyone who was looking to get started with the engine.

Find more info here:

Cryengine - Cryengine As A Service

Crytek also had a nice announcement during GDC, Cryengine as a service.
This new service will provide its subscribers with the latest cryengine technology used in games like Ryse, which includes the new BPR pipeline and tons of updates. It will also be contentiously updated with new features as they roll out. More and more studios are starting to use the Cryengine for their next projects and now subscribers will have acces to exactly the same tools.

When the service will officially start has not be announced yet, but more info is available on the official website found here:

Wrapping up..

This is it for the tools updates for now, however there is a lot out there and things keep evolving so I will probably do another one of these updates somewhere down the line. If you feel there is anything worth checking out let me know. For now have fun checking out the above tools/engines and make something awesome!