Game Dev Tools: Blender

Being an artist working in a variety of media, some of the greatest hurdles for me involve finding the time to really get to know the plethora of tools I work with. Testing out new tools is an important part of my professional growth… But it can also be a huge pain in the ass. Being a practicing artist, I don’t really get much spare time to sit around learning all the ins-and-outs of every tool I’d like to try. Finding a good balance between learning and practice is essential for, y’know, actually completing anything.

It’s been about 9 months since I last used blender and a solid 3 years since I used it before that. Certainly lots has changed since my early experiences and, much to my relief, for the better. The UI is far better than earlier incarnations a nice clean, easy to read interface instead of reams of inhuman text presented in nightmare mode. The inclusion of the ‘Cycles’ render engine is also a much appreciated upgrade (even if my mac struggles to render in Cycles at anything other than a snail’s pace, due to my graphics card the integrated graphics of my CPU.

An earlier attempt to learn to use Blender

Credit where credit is due, if you want to make 3D game assets/art/models on a shoestring budget, you really can’t do better than Blender. And for my geek moment, I will also mention that it runs on Linux, which is a far cry from most other arts-based professional software. At the modest cost of zero -anything- and excellent capabilities, if I want to make 3D assets for making computer games or in my art, I’m pretty much stuck with having to learn to use it or to start making my pockets a LOT deeper. In the past I’ve always had a heavy bias towards 2D work. For a start, when both your screen and the program are based in two dimensions, it’s easy and quick to get to grips with the controls. But try to edit a virtual 3D object in a 2D space and suddenly everything gets a little confusing. I might even go as far to say that I hate working with a 3D cursor. If you’ve ever tried one, you will probably know what that feeling. And without depth perception on the workspace, it gets quite annoying at times to make an edit and then find that you’ve pulled something out-of-place and space where it shouldn’t be. Still, if I am to ever make artwork for games in true 3D, learning blender is pretty much first base. And heaven knows, I like to make games. I still don’t know if this will pass my ‘Spaghetti test’- one in which I apply myself to it, flail around, and see if it sticks. Blender sure does use a lot of keyboard commands. And I mean a LOT. It’s an inherent side-effect of using most advanced programs that are loaded to the brim with features. Still, I wish this weren’t the case. Blender controls can be quite counterintuitive at times and any extended period away from using it lead to having to relearn the keyboard commands all over again. It’s also not very easy remembering whether you need to press ctrl, cmd, alt, shift or any combination thereof with which mouse button.

I’m sure that given enough time, I’ll be able to learn and remember all the various commands and methods that Blender uses with efficiency. However, getting to that point is not easy and, sadly, I worry about how much time it could end up eating into my schedule. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to sit around learning a new tools when the actual meat and bones of doing any sort of art is actually making the work itself.