Best Computer For Game Design

best computer for game design

David wrote in with this question:

I want to make games but my computer is junk. Blender doesn’t work good. I’m going to get a new one. What graphics card do I need? Is 256bit enough, or should I get 3 gigabytes or 4?

Thank you for your question!

How A Computer Works

First off let’s start by looking at the main components in a computer and how they effect performance.

The processor (aka CPU) is the main chip in your computer and handles most of a program’s calculations. Graphic card (aka GPU, or GFX) upgrades have gained in popularity over the last few years because of many game’s dependance on them for high frame rates and using the maximum texture quality. Some programs depend on graphic cards to replace the traditional CPU because they can run calculations hundreds or thousands of times in parallel on the GPU (Folding@Home is a good example of this) and return the final result very quickly. Now memory (aka RAM) is another important factor to keep in mind. Memory stores information between the hard drive and the processor (or GPU) so that it can be quickly accessed.

I’m afraid that, because of how these components work together and that I don’t know about the rest of your computer, I can’t answer your question. But continue reading and I’m sure you can figure out the answer of what you need yourself!

 

What The Programs Need

Most popular programs don’t even support or use graphic cards fully (yet?).

Blender 2.65 does not use the GPU except if you are rendering with Cycles. You would be better off with a balanced system.

Maya 2013 utilizes the graphics card to a degree, however Maya will perform best with a balanced computer. Check out the comparison between professional workstation and consumer graphics cards.

ZBrush 4 only uses the graphics card to display the window on your screen (like any other program) but the 3d stuff isn’t accelerated by it at all. For ZBrush you would be best off with a 64bit processor and lots of fast memory. Note: ZBrush 4 is a 32bit application, but is large address aware so it can use up to 4GB of memory with a 64 bit operating system. The upcoming ZBrush 5 release is reported to be a 64bit application and will be able to use more memory.

Mudbox 2013 will use a graphic card’s memory for texturing and post FX. Like ZBrush, you would be best off with a 64bit OS and a good amount of RAM in addition to the GPU.

Unity 4 can use a good graphics card for testing scenes but remember that even if a game that you author runs smooth on your computer not everyone who wants to play it will have as good as a system as you (especially if you want to make games for mobile). Also because you likely will need to load numerous assets into a scene, you also should have a fast hard drive.

 

What To Upgrade

For 3d modeling I recommend keeping the power in your computer balanced. Don’t put a $600 graphics card in your system when you have a $50 processor. The processor will bottle neck your graphics card and you won’t be able to use it to it’s full potential. Likewise, upgrading your memory if you have a slow hard drive or CPU will have little effect on improving performance.

A new computer will probably cost you more then upgrading the parts you need to meet the minimum requirements for Blender. I would recommend meeting those and then once you learn more, buy a new (or upgrade to a) wicked fast computer based on what you find that you need.

Also remember that better hardware won’t improve your modeling skills. You might want to think about buying cheaper hardware that will work fine and spend the rest on a few classes.

Triangles or Quads For Video Games?

Let’s start by looking at the basic shapes of polygons used with 3d modeling:

polygons

Triangles are made up of 3 sides which meet at the corners (called vertices). Quads are made of 4 sides. You can see in the above image how every shape can be broken down into smaller triangles.

ngon

Ngon example

There is also what is call an ngon, which is used to refer to a polygon made of more than 4 sides and has not been divided into triangles or quads. Ngons are not acceptable for games.

What to use:

Since all surfaces are automatically broken down into triangles in the game engine anyway which should you model with?

tri-to-quad

Dividing a triangle into quads.

Edge flow on organic models is important when you go to animate them to avoid problems with deformation. In these instances quads are preferred and should give you better results.

Additionally with programs that subdivide your model many times, such as Zbrush, quads will give you cleaner results because of the way triangles are subdivided.

eye-good-edge-flow

Good edge flow around an rhino’s eye.

On low poly (like those used in games) or hard surface (e.g. a table) models, modeling with triangles is perfectly acceptable. Just make sure that you have good edge flow where there will be joints so that during animation the model deforms properly!

Once your model goes into the game the cost of that model will largely come down to how many triangles (commonly referred to as tris) the model is divided into, so plan wisely!

Comparison of silhouettes based on triangles used.

Comparison of silhouettes based on triangles used. Source

 

 

Getting A Good Education in 3d Design

 

Earlier this week Issac asked:

Hey Scotty….. quick question.

Know any online schools that do majors in 3d graphics or 3d animation…?

Been talking to the parentals recently and have decided that online schooling is a bit more….. efficient than other schools….

Got any ideas/suggestions?

 

Thanks for the question Issac! Unfortunately I don’t have a quick answer, but here we go anyway…

Full Sail is the only credited school that I know of that has 3d design. Yes it costs a bunch, but if you apply yourself, you can be making $70k/yr right out of school.

However, most companies in the field don’t really care if you’re graduated or not. They want people who are good at what they do and know their stuff (Take a look at your favorite studio’s job section to get a better idea). If you’ve worked on shipped titles your chances of getting the job are much higher, however that introduces a catch-22.

By the time you are done learning, the tools (software/hardware) you learned on will be outdated so focus on learning the techniques not the tools.

While a lot of the tools and techniques are similar, choose if you want to focus on movies, games, or mechanics (like airplane parts and stuff). What do you want to be doing in 2, 3, 4 years? Also you need to look at yourself and figure out how self motivated you are. Online courses which allow you to work at your own pace and pay monthly/yearly can be much harder to focus on than having to physically go to class (trust me, I’ve done both!). But go at your own pace courses can be extremely rewarding!

I have heard great things about Gnomon. And they offer many different courses.

Digital Tutors is an amazing resource. You can start with the beginner courses free (in fact, follow along with some free courses RIGHT NOW. Forget about if they’re hard or not. Do you enjoy what you’re doing?). Follow the learning paths they provide and learn everything you can about topics. Allow learning to become an addiction

Photoshop… Learn it while in high school. Edit photos, create concepts, paint textures. This is the backbone of EVERYTHING that you will create!

Software… Go legit, don’t waste your time trying to get cracked versions. If you later sell your work you WILL BE found out and no reputable studio will hire you. Student discounts are great, but upgrade to the full version if it costs only a little more so you can make a little profit on the side if you want to.

Blender… Yes you can learn it and create amazing things, but it isn’t yet popular in any industry (except with indie game design). Again, learn techniques, not software. However additionally learn a few extra tools (ex: Maya) so you are knowledgeable and can easily switch between programs.

Choose a program and stick with it! Don’t be learning Maya one day and 3ds Max the next. You’ll probably never learn ether that way.

Autodesk… has some of the best software you will come across. They provide watermarked versions for students completely free of charge. Use it, love it, but remember you will have to pay for it someday.

Updates… Check how long you will receive software updates for after buying, are you covered for the major version? For a year? Lifetime?

Hardware…Get hardware you don’t have to worry about, don’t save $200 on a generic only to have to spend hours trying to get the drivers to work.

Windows vs Mac vs Linux… Use Windows or Mac. Don’t use Linux for 3d development, there simply isn’t support from most companies for it. Both are respected in the community. Use whichever is most transparent to you so you don’t have to learn a new operating system ON TOP OF new software (it’s a pain). Popular software is the same on both systems (Photoshop, Maya, etc…).

Don’t just do classes… Find something away from keyboard that makes you feel alive and that you enjoy, or you’ll find that you missed out on something huge once you come out of the “learning coma”.

Save often and save versions of files as models progress.

Look around, and check out different schools. Ask what software they use. Have the instructors worked in the industry? Checkout what projects graduated students have worked on.

–Scotty

 

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