With the rising popularity of multi-player games in the gaming community, the need to create characters that stand out from the multitude of characters available on gaming platforms such as World of Warcraft, Everquest etc. has never been greater and although gamers can now customize personal characters on some of these game platforms, limitations still exist. These limitations which include; poor graphic quality, limited customization options, and poor facial animations have led gamers to petition developers to either improve customization options or allow the use of third party software to create appropriate models.
The Godfather franchise took the first step of allowing players load animations of their facial features to its “mobface” platform for file conversion and integrating uploaded images on your favourite character. This bold step is sure to cause...or has caused a ripple effect in the game developer community for a majority of games now provide gamers with the option of creating 3D models of your favourite weapons, vehicles and facial expressions for use in your favourite games.
This ripple effect is been felt by both private gamers and independent (indie) game developers who create games for either mobile operating systems--iOS, Android etc.--or computing/gaming platforms such as Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony PlayStation, and Windows to name a few. Taking the Xbox XNA builders platform as an example, indie developers can now model 3D characters--both animate and inanimate--import these characters to XNA for developing their unique games.
For facial animation, the difficulties are much due to the need to create advanced models with realistic facial expressions for each character depending on how unique they have to be. This animating process and techniques incorporate advanced CAD modelling procedures such as character rigging, mapping, working with polygons etc. which the average indie developer has neither the knowledge to accomplish nor the funds to hire a professional graphic designer to handle. The popular Toy Story characters took a team of graphic designers and an 8 hour per facial feature rendering time to accomplish. Therefore, the solution to this conundrum lies in acquiring 3D character animation software tools with very mild learning curve that can produce high definition models at record time.
3D CAD Systems for Gamers and Indie Developers
Zbrush: This is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D modeling techniques--texturing, painting, rigging etc.--to develop animated characters for use in games and other industries. With the Zbrush, you can develop high-definition models and export them in diverse file formats for use in game building platforms. Zbrush is an advanced CAD software which means that it would be quite difficult to use by both professionals and amateurs.
Natural Front: This software simplifies the difficult process of facial animation by eliminating the need or advanced riggings, motion capture, and polygon/lighting techniques that take hours to render. Natural Front focuses on developing photo-realistic 3D facial animations/expressions that can be exported in different formats onto gaming platforms. The learning curve associated with this software is very mild and it provides separate tools for both professional animators/graphic designers and amateurs interested in modelling character features.
Combining these software applications and game customization platforms or game builders will definitely give you the time and budget flexibility ever indie game developer desires.