This post is going to talk about some of the 3D tools I’ve used in the development of Mothership.
Remember: this is my experience, and my efforts in self publishing. I’m sure real studios use big expensive programs, but for us stay-at-home dads who want to save a buck or two, you might learn something. I’m also not a dad but heck I have a dad so I’m halfway there.
Out of all the self-taught gizmos I’ve learnt over the last 2 years, 3D programs have been by far the coolest. The abilities that open up to you when combined with Photoshop (or your program of choice) are immense.
The free (that’s right boys and girls…FREE) programs that helped make Mothership a reality are Tinkercad and SketchUp.You can use these programs for any part of your game’s development. I’ve used both for rendering artwork, creating game pieces and confirming scale (ie. making sure your game fits on a dining room table).
Development for Mothership stalled when it came to the game pieces. I burnt through several ideas: flat cardboard chits, generic plastic spaceships and little cards on stands. All of these had their pro’s and con’s. However, after a while I came to the conclusion that for the game that I’m trying to make, I needed custom-made pieces, designed to the scale that I needed, and in the shape that I needed them.
This was an irritating epiphany, how the heck was I supposed to make my own pieces?
Well, this is the year 2015 and everyone knows that if you have a problem you can usually 3D print a solution, which is what I did. After some research and fumbling about I found the awesome, simple to use and flexible 3D application – Tinkercad.
Tinkercad is versatile, easy to learn and can produce STL files which can be used for 3D printing or can be imported into many other programs (which I’ll talk about below).
Tinkercad works by combining simple three-dimensional shapes together to create more complex shapes. The shapes can add or subtract from each other. Through this one program, I was able to create all of my game pieces.
Now that I had finished my designs, I was then able to send them off to a printer.
Finding a 3D Printer
This was a little tricky, because the costs of 3D printing seemed to range from high to crazy expensive. So, instead of using an established company, I chose a local printer. When I say local, I mean there are average Joe’s who have bought $1000 printers and offer to print on demand for a fraction of the cost. The site that put me in contact with my fantastic and highly professional printer was makexyz.
This website is an ebay setup, with feedback ratings and many merchants. So obviously, keep an eye on the reviews for each printer.
A great experience that I would wish on any board game designer is the satisfaction of seeing your pieces in real life for the first time. Oh boy it was cool. And the best part is that they were exactly what I needed.
SketchUp is a free program that you can download which was originally made to fill Google Earth with buildings. Since then it has been bought out by a company called Trimble. I remember using it when I was a teenager building PC case mods. Like Tinkercad, it’s great because it can help you with the scale of your board game.
You can use the tools available to make shapes or download from an online library of user made content. Even though it is far more robust than Tinkercad, it’s modelling tools are not very user-friendly. Not because they’re complex, but because they’re not intuitive. This is why I make my models in Tinkercad and import them into SketchUp.
Why you need it
SketchUp can wrap textures around models. The photo below of my box mockup is an example of this.
By using this program, I could see during the layout phase how my box was going to look from each angle. That’s super useful. The next best use? Rendering. SketchUp can render your images as flashy pngs or jpgs which you can chuck into GIMP or Photoshop.
The rendering is limited however, but there are plugins (most of them paid extensions) which will make your models look like they’ve come out of a Pixar movie.
Game Play Shots
Need an in-game shot for your box? Well you can add the textures of your board or cards onto your 3D models and arrange it as you would in real life.
As a result, I was able to get images such as this:
I think that’s a good effort for someone who has no training or background in 3D anything. You can do this too. Just remember all the complex models above were made in Tinkercad first, then imported into SketchUp.
I know I’ve brushed over the specifics of this subject so please feel free to comment if you have questions or want me to clarify any methods seen above.