Game development tips: human 3d characters with Poser Pro
Staff Writer By: Sergio Rosa (nemirc)
A couple of months ago, I wrote about using human characters from Daz Studio in your games. At that moment, I had not tried Poser Pro for game development, so I couldn't compare them. I recently got myself a copy of Poser Pro 11, and now I am able to make a comparison between the two. As I said before, I focus on 3d games because we don't have many 2d artists, so to us making 3d games may be slightly easier than making 2d games. Above all, keep it simple, and don't try to make something too complicated, especially if you're either a solo developer or part of a small team.
As you know, Poser figures are very high resolution to be used in a game (even if they have lower resolution than Daz figures). Depending on the game and platform, you may get away with a 15K-to-20K polygon character (higher number of characters appearing on the screen requires lower polygon counts), but in some cases, you must strive to reach around 5K per model. Poser offers a polygon reduction tool so you can reach the desired polygon count.
Compared to Decimator for Daz Studio, the Polygon Reduction tool is pretty basic, though. You can only decide how many polygons you want, and leave the rest to the software. Meanwhile in Decimator for Daz Studio, you can actually configure "weights" that allow you to preserve details in some areas, and reduce other areas more. This is useful when you want to retain as much detail as possible on the face, but you don't care that much if the legs or arms have a smaller polygon count.
Poser Pro does offer a "Morph Target Analysis" option that will be used to retain some detail, but in my opinion, it's not a replacement for a fully featured reduction tool that allows you to control optimizations per body part.
When exporting, you can select a preset that fits your needs, or you can select the options manually. In the export window, you can choose to compile a texture atlas, so all your textures are combined onto a single texture. The creation of the texture atlas is also automatic, so you can't control how much space a texture takes (unlike Daz Studio). This may not be a big issue, but it would be a good thing to have that feature.
If you decide not to bake morphs, you will be prompted to pick which morphs you want to export. This should be useful in cases where you want to be able to animate the face, for example. The problem is you can't decide to bake some morphs and export others (it's either all or none). To give you an example, if you decide to bake morphs, your custom character is exported with no morphs that can be animated, but if you decide not to bake morphs, you end up with the default character and a bunch of morphs, even morphs that were already changing your character's shape and face. On top of that, each morph is stored in its own Blendshape node (if you're using Maya).
So far, it's like Daz Studio is winning, and while some may be tempted to say "a free app turned out to be better than a paid one" remember that, while Daz Studio is free, Decimator is 100 USD (and the indie game developer license is 500 USD). Poser Pro 11 is 500 USD (unless you're upgrading from a previous version) and it includes A LOT of content that you can already use.
I think that's a very important difference and something you really need to consider when deciding which application to use. For almost the same price, you're allowed to use all the content included in Poser Pro for your games. Maybe the default figures don't look "as nice" as Victoria 6, but if you ask me, the default Victoria never looked so good until version 5 (or maybe 4), so custom morphs and modifications play a big role. If you're into game development, chances are you already have at least one 3d app that can help you make a custom head and body morph for Alyson or any of the other default Poser characters, and you can also make modifications to the default textures. Poser Pro 11 also includes some cartoon characters that may be useful for certain types of games.
There's the issue about the Reduce Polygons tool not doing a great job. An alternate solution could be to reduce the character to different polygon counts, one for the face, other for the body, and then combine those in your 3d application. Clothing can also be useful to hide seams from a higher polygon count face to a lower polygon count body. An alternate (but not so efficient) solution would be to manually reduce the polygons in your application of choice.
On top of that, there's the problem with the morphs. In that case, I think the only viable solution is to manually export every morph and then reapply it inside Maya (or your application of choice).
On the other hand, If you have Decimator for Daz Studio already, nothing stops you from using Decimator to optimize your Alyson-based character, and then export it with the morphs you need.
Poser Pro 11 can be very useful if you want to use 3d human characters in your game. The tools are certainly not as mature, and have a lot of room for improvement, and they can force you to do more work than you were supposed to do, and one can only hope Smith Micro reads input like this and use it to improve future versions. On the other hand, being able to use all the included content in your games without having to buy additional licenses is a big deal, and it can be very helpful when you're trying to keep costs or development budgets down. Personally, I am using Poser Pro 11 and a custom Alyson model for a small project, and I will share more about it with you in future articles.