I've been a long time Maya user, and I've seen how the software has grown and become more complex.
When I worked in media production, I pretty much knew the application inside out, and I was somewhat of an expert in most aspects of the app, from character setup to dynamic simulations.
However, when I switched to game development, I noticed the application became somewhat of an overkill for what I needed to make, and things like the new fluid simulations, geometry instancing, cloth, or camera matching tools were not useful to me at all, because all I needed to do is model, texture and animate.
And obviously, I wasn't the only one in this scenario, as Autodesk released Maya LT a while ago.
Maya LT is a limited version of Maya that offers tools just for game developers (this feels like how Maya was some time ago, with two different versions... yes, I've been around that long). For this current article, I will take a look at Maya LT 2018.
Maya LT is a version of Maya that provides tools to model, texture and animate; pretty much what any game developer would need. It doesn't even have a renderer, but you don't need one, since your models are rendered in real time by your engine, and a software renderer may not match what you see in your game.
As you would expect, Maya LT 2018 has a variety of little things that make it easy to work with games.
For example, you have a dedicated menu command to send to Unity, Unreal Engine or Stingray (Autodesk's own game engine). The "Send to Unity" command, for example, asks you to set your Unity project, and then allows you to select the desired folder where you want the object to export.
The export is basically the same FBX export with some game-related configurations. However, it saves you time as you don't need to manually browse for the folder every time you want to export something. You also have the Game Exporter, that lets you export the entire scene, a selection, or a set of objects.
UV Mapping is very important for any 3D object, but when you work with games, you have to be extra careful, since UVs can help you improve performance, data baking and the creation of texture atlases. It caught my attention how the UV Editor has changed, and how it includes an extra panel to help make UV creation easier. Another detail I liked, even if it's a small one, is how the viewport matches the UV Editor visibility options for UV colors, and edge seams. For example, in the UV Editor normals facing out are colored in blue, while reversed normal are colored in red, and now the viewport reflects that, making it easier to recognize reversed UV normals in the viewport.
It caught my attention how the UV Editor has changed, and how it includes an extra panel to help make UV creation easier. Another detail I liked, even if it's a small one, is how the viewport matches the UV Editor visibility options for UV colors, and edge seams. For example, in the UV Editor normals facing out are colored in blue, while reversed normal are colored in red, and now the viewport reflects that, making it easier to recognize reversed UV normals in the viewport.
Another small element that has caused me a lot of trouble in the past is frame rate. Since Maya is mostly aimed at film production, the frame rate is set to 24fps by default, so I have to manually set it to 30fps before doing anything.
The problem arises when I import an animation and start working with it, just to realize I forgot to change the frame rate. In Maya LT, the default frame rate is 30fps, since games will usually run at either 30fps or 60fps. On a side note, even if you animate at 30fps, the engine will have no problem in running that animation at 60fps, thanks to partial frame interpolations.
Maya users have gotten used to the software offering the different menu sets depending on your current module (Modeling, Rigging, Animation), and switching between modules with the Function keys becomes second nature to any Maya user. Maya LT 2018 still has that, but it now also includes "Workspaces." This allows you to switch between different UI layouts that include the tools you need for your current task (modeling, animation, etc.).
Obviously, the software allows you to create your custom Workspaces, in case you need specific layouts with specific tools depending on your workflow. For example, I only use HumanIK to animate my bipeds, so I would create a Workspace that includes HumanIK and all other animation tools I use, like the Dope Sheet, Graph Editor, etc.
If you are an independent developer working as a part of a remote team, chances are you are using the cloud to share data. It turns out Maya LT lets you import/export from the Autodesk cloud service (A360) or Dropbox. Again, you can perfectly export and then manually upload, or download and import, but this is a small thing that lets you save some time.
If you are a (standard) Maya user thinking to make the switch to Maya LT, there's something you need to consider. Maya LT uses its own file format, but you can import .MB or .MA files into Maya LT. This is useful to those making the switch because they don't run the risk of losing the ability to edit old files (or current ones, in case you make the switch during mid-production).
You can get Maya LT 2018 through a subscription, for either $30US a month, $240US a year, or $720US for three years (these last two result in $20US a month), and as part of your subscription you get access to the Autodesk Stingray game engine (which I've covered in the past, here).
If you compare that to the 125USD a month you have to pay for the Maya subscription, you'll see you have 95 reasons to make the switch if you only use Maya for game development (the 95 reasons being the 95USD you save, of course). If you have a permanent license of an older version of Maya, and are wondering whether or not you should make the move to Maya LT, you can download the trial and see for yourself.
Relevant links: Maya LT
Sergio Aris ROSA
Sr. Staff Writer