Going through Internet websites on game-art you can see how popular the topic of weapon is nowadays. A lot of unexperienced graphics come up with the idea of creating their own object to a portfolio. Unfortunately, they treat the object the same as those which are part of the environment. As a result they create something that looks like a rifle but can be only hanged on a wall.

My first experience in weapon modelling was when I started working on Deadfall Adventures. I had already made some steps in working with models but had no idea about modelling for a FPP, therefore, had a foggy idea of what to do. I have managed to make all the possible mistakes. Fortunately, things were improving with every model / project I worked on.

This publication is entirely devoted to the issue of modelling for the FPP kind of view. While creating it, I was trying to recall myself all the problems I have encountered within the last few years, when dealing with this issue. The work is a summary of all the answers to vital questions I had posed and, above all, to those I had no idea of existence. The content is definitely targeted to more advanced graphics. I do not deal with purely technical matters, neither do I explain the basic terms. My work includes elaboration on the entire process of modelling ‒ from the stage of searching for dimensions and proportions down to the last detail. Also topics concerning creation of a low poly model, an UV mapping and an texture baking are discussed. In-depth understanding of the issue required a separate chapter which would describe placing an object in a frame. I had to acquire a similar approach when it comes to designing weapons. Even though, I have concentrated on the issue of translating real models (more adequately on interpretation and transferring them into games), all the matters were analysed from the visual point of view, which is of my particular interest. However, in order to create a correct element (a single model) of art (game) you need to be aware of the requirements it needs to fulfil. Therefore, on few occasions I was made to refer to FPS games’ mechanism.

In The Art of Color Johannes Itten wrote:

Doctrines and theories are best for weaker moments. In moments of strength, problems are solved intuitively, as if of themselves. source

I believe that knowledge gained through experience is worth more that all the sets of rules and tips available. It is, however, much better to create and read about creating simultaneously. The more conscious our approach to the problem, the better the final results.

This text is, in majority, a set of various precious information and tips that I have received from my friends or teachers. Above all, the text includes my thoughts on masterpieces created by contemporary artists. Those were the pieces of art that I have compared my works with in the search for the answer „Why are their works good and mine still require corrections?”.

Also questions asked by people who consider me an expert in this field were extremely valuable. It taught me not only to formulate my thoughts in the right way, but also to raise issues. It enables me to find my own way to share my knowledge and support their artistical development.

Pictures included in this publication come from video games, artists’ web pages, the Internet databases or from my private archive. Click a picture for its description.

Johannes Itten. The Art of color. Wydanie studyjne, Kraków:, 2015, page 9

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1.0. The first person perspective

Whenever something is created it is important to analyse how the object is going to be presented. This applies to almost every manifestation of human creativity.

The first chapter is entirely devoted to the general issues connected with the FPP view. The first-person perspective (FPP) differs from the others (e.g. a TPP or isometric projection) by the way the camera is embedded in the world of game.

In order to create a correct object in this projection, a knowledge of the object we are modelling is necessary (good analysis of the issue) and a knowledge of the shot which the object will be presented in (the relation of the object to the frame).

The rules for the FPP view are universal, the same for a lighter, a screwdriver or a rocket launcher. An experienced graphic, who knows the character of the FPP view, working on yet another object needs only to „understand” the object that is being created.

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1.1. The history of the FPP games

Games with the first person perspective were a breakthrough for the video game industry. Thanks to it, a player 

[…] could empathies more with the character he was playing with. source

Together with the technological development, more and more creators turned to the FPP view, most often used it in RPG games […] It wasn’t, however, before the beginning of ’90s when the real breakthrough came: id Software launched Wolfenstein 3D, the game that set the standards. source

But it was

DOOM, launched in 1993, that revolutionized not only the shooter games, but also the whole market of computer games. source

The FPP games can be distinguished by a prop that appears in the screen corner. Usually, though it’s not a rule, a prop is being hold by a player. Słownik gracza. [online].
Adam Tobojka. 40 gier, które napisały historię FPS-ów. [online]. 2014.
Adam Tobojka. 40 gier, które napisały historię FPS-ów. [online]. 2014.

The Farm 51. <b> Painkiller Hell&amp;Damnation</b> [PC]. Nordic Games, 2012, <i>source:</i>
In Painkiller Hell&Damnation the view covers only a weapon, player’s hands are not visible.
Valve Corporation, Hidden Path Entertainment. <b>Counter-Strike: Global Offensive</b> [PC]. Valve Corporation, 2012, <i>source:</i>
In Counter Strike Global Offensive player’s hands are visible.
Props put in character’s hands have hugely changed since it appeared for the first time. At the beginning those were only sprites which, with time, evaluated into the fully modelled 3D props.

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1.2. The FPP game screenshot

By dividing frames of a FPP game into layers, we can find:

  • scene (bright) – the world of game
  • character (dark) – hands and props
  • GUI (black) – the user interface

Bungie. <b>Destiny</b> [PS4]. Activision, 2014

In this publication we are interested in the layer concerning the game character. A prop, usually a weapon, included in the frame is something between the world of game and the user interface. Even though a prop:

  • is visually coherent with the world of game,
  • is affected by the light and post-process,
  • is fully a 3D model.

The main task of a prop is to inform a player (similarly to GUI). The object in frame tells what the player has at his disposal.

The Character’s layer can be treated in an autonomous way – it’s unique and specific. An object in this layer should not only „look good” but also fulfil certain principles.

The object and its hands rotate according to the camera rotation (a prop is attached to the camera) which means they are always in the same place in the frame and take up given space.

The character’s layer has its own, independent FOV. Thanks to that both the prop and the world of game can be presented in the most attractive way (in an adjusted and independent perspective). Such an assumption can sometimes contribute to strange situations. The problem, however, is not noticeable by a player.

The object of weapon was initially placed closer to the middle of the screen, with time it moved towards the right side. Such placing has become the standard one. Today it is hard to imagine a FPS with a weapon located on the left. Dual-wield is an exception because on the screen we can see two pieces of weapon, on both sides of the screen.

 Gearbox Software. <b>Borderlands 2</b> [PC]. 2K Games, 2012, <i>source:</i>
Dual-wield system
FOV parameter for weapon-layer can range between 35°–50°, but the most common setting values are close to 45°.

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1.3. Props in a player’s hands

A prop held in a player’s hands can be really everything. From food to everyday-use objects, up to rocket launchers. Most often, however, the prop is a gun.

While categorizing props for a FPP view one can certainly use „actual criteria”, such as melee weapons, firearm, bladed weapon, tools and so on. However, from a graphic point of a view it is better to determine whether the model:

  • changes its position in the frame dynamically ‒ usually melee steel or tools. Most often the objects that we can look at carefully from every angle are objects that appear in the cut-scene,
  • is more static – it usually concerns firearm, magic artefacts. They can be animated, however, are usually seen from the first person perspective.

By determining it at the very beginning we know which areas of a given object are of particular importance (clearly seen), and which are not.

Techland. <b>Hellraid</b> [promotional materials]. 2013, <i>source:</i>
An example of a weapon set in the frame dynamically
EA Los Angeles. <b>Medal of Honor: Airborne</b> [PC]. Electronic Arts, 2007, <i>source:</i>
An example of a weapon set in the frame statically.
Concentrating on firearms (although, it can concern other props too) you should take into consideration the fact that there are different weapon classes (for example among firearms we have: pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles and machine guns). Types are groups of weapons with similar features. Their number is restricted only by creators’ imagination. This knowledge will be useful while discussing further stages.

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1.4. The process of object creation

Creating an asset together with a texture is a clearly described, multi-staged process. It can differ depending on pipeline, technology and project’s targets. Despite these differences, pipeline usually looks as follows:

ENG 1.4.B-I

While making corrections one needs to go few stages back. In the worst case if we spot an error (e.g. some element is missing) already after texturing, we will have to leave everything behind and come back to the very beginning. This production drawback concerns also cooperation with people responsible for choosing kinds of weapon for a game. Should we fail to receive full information, or they change their vision of a model, we will have to start all over.

A good approach is to think at least one stage ahead. It is also not advisable to decide to whitewash some problems that have already appeared in the stage we are working on in the subsequent one. To gain 100% of quality, each stage needs to be performed on 100% too.

A graphic needs to be aware of the fact that weapon in FPP kind of games is more important that the characters’ faces. After all it is the weapon that we see majority of the time. The aim is not only to get a correct model, but also to make it interesting, pleasing and to give it the necessary features – to bring it to perfection, as close as possible. Each weapon should become a piece of art.

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2.0. An object in a frame

Although setting-up weapon in a frame has a huge impact on an object it is often treated as one of graphic’s tasks. It is so, because placing an object in character’s hands requires cooperation of a few specialists from different branches. It is often beyond the competency of a modelling person.

Placing weapon correctly in the frame is important, as setting the position early in the work makes it easier to decide which elements are important and which should be abandoned. Setting an object determines the choice of silhouette, proportions and details’ visibility. Therefore, I’ve decided to discuss this chapter as the first one, before starting any kind of modelling.

While working on a FPP model, a graphic must check it in a scene most resembling the one in the game. Thus, one of a graphic task is to prepare the set-up. It is necessary even if tests would require setting camera in a modelling software. It would be perfect to have a preview in the game engine. It isn’t always possible though.

A test set-up in a modelling software

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2.1. Weapon scale in the FPP view

Treyarch. <b>Call of Duty: Black Ops II</b> [PC]. Activision, 2012, <i>source:</i>

One of the most basic parameters of an object placed at a camera is the object’s scale. Weapon should not be too big, otherwise it would cover the battlefield. Neither should it be too small, not to disturb perception of the scale of the surrounding. The best option is to stick to about one-eighth of the screen surface and not to exceed the fourth quarter.

An interesting approach towards the scale and settings is presented by Ryan Duffin in an article on animating weapon in FPP games.

David Rosen. <b>GDC13 Summary: Animation Bootcamp</b>. [online]. 2013. <i>source:</i></div>

When experimenting with gun placement for Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and surveying gun placement in other games, he found that the most pleasing weapon location corresponded to the spiral formed by the Golden Ratio as applied to the screen. By lining up all the game’s weapons according to this rule, he achieved a consistent and intentional look, instead of just placing them arbitrarily on the screen. source

The size of an object depends not only on the correctly adjusted proportions of space taken by a weapon in comparison with the screen space, but also on the weapon class.

When working on a given set, the correct relation between the scale and models should be preserved. Everybody knows that a pistol is smaller than a heavy machine gun as so on. The scale of weapon should be changed so as to widen the contrast between types of weapons. Players should get a clear message: The bigger the weapon, the more powerful it is.

Rage could be an example of a game where the size of weapon is proportional to its power.

Due to the weapon class (light machine gun) the object was made bigger comparing to the shot in the previous subsection

The scale of hands in the FPP view should remain consistent with all the objects owned by a player. If, for some reason, we need to change the scale of hands for a particular weapon, the differences should not exceed about 15%.

David Rosen. GDC13 Summary: Animation Bootcamp. [online].
2013. source:

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2.2. Game mechanics vs. the model

Talking about FPP models we need to acquire a just assumption that the object visible on the screen is only a decoration, a prop. It has not much in common with the game mechanics. In reality, in video games we do not shoot with a weapon but with a crosshair.

Crytek. <b>Crysis 3</b> [PC]. Electronic Arts, 2013, <i>source:</i>
In this case we target with a „triangle” located in the center of the screen.
It can, therefore, be concluded that weapon in a video game is more an element of user interface than the game environment. Even though it is visually coherent with the presented world and influenced by light, in reality it serves mainly an informative purpose. It informs a player what he has at his disposal at the moment and how powerful it is.

Modelling for the FPP view is, therefore, matching perfect, artistically interesting forms and creating a message.

If a crosshair is the place we are aiming at, it seems logical that a weapon should also determine where this point is. Weapon should aim at the middle of the screen.

The easiest methods to show the direction could be:

  • barrel – it is a common mistake to make it too short, not visible. The length should be adjusted to the FPP view otherwise, determining the direction can be difficult. Of course, some projects do not include a barrel at all.
  • clear/ simple weapon’s geometry – perspective draws lines/ shapes towards the middle of the screen,
  • using additional elements e.g. scopes – shows the shooting direction in a clear and obvious way.

Techland. <b>Call of Juarez: Gunslinger</b> [PC]. Ubisoft, 2013
In this case the barrel shows us the direction
MachineGames. <b>Wolfenstein: The New Order</b> [PC]. Bethesda Softworks, 2014
The direction is pointed out by a simple, clear shape
Bungie. <b>Destiny</b> [PS4]. Activision, 2014
Even though the barrel is not visible, the scope shows the direction.

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2.3. Kinds of weapon vs. the set-up

Not so vital, but still worth mentioning, is placing weapon on a screen. Ways of doing it depend on the kind of weapon. For example:

all pistols in the same place, on the right and lower,

all shotguns more on the right and higher, and so on…

It is worth thinking over especially while planning the whole set. Unfortunately, restricted scope of possibilities to choose the angle and the height results in not many creators taking this opportunity.

Call of Duty World at War could be a good example. Weapons of the same kind have the same angle and place of embedding.

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2.4. The character of each model

Each weapon has its unique character and features that need to be highlighted, also in the frame. Sometimes the weapon itself determines the set-up which is most favorable for a particular model.

For example:

This rifle has a great detail at the magazine. It would be worth capturing it in the camera view.

Ubisoft Montreal. <b>Far Cry 3</b> [PC]. Ubisoft, 2012, <i>source: </i>
Visually interesting elements (magazine case, knobs, flaps and a strap holder) were very well displayed in the frame.
While planning the whole set of weapons, features of one object are of secondary importance. It is still worth making an effort and showing what is unique.

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3.0. The beginning of modelling

You can’t disagree with an opinion that games are part of the pop culture. It reaches wide range of people who are not very much into arts. Laymen eagerly express their opinions about the visual part – after all we are talking about video games. Unfortunately, the lack of specialized knowledge results in judging games on the basis of textures resolution, level of details, frames per second, etc. It’s like judging a painting on the basis of the size of its canvas.

It is the object that matters for a graphic, as it is seen as the first one. Of course, we cannot forget about details altogether. They can, however, be dealt with on further stage of work. It is the solid that should determine details, not the other way round.

The first stage in working on an object is to create a very simple object, made up of very trivial shapes. Such an object is called whitebox. Thanks to the basic cubature all necessary alternations and changes can be easily implemented.

The issues that should be determined at this stage are above all:

  • the size of weapon,
  • the dimensions and proportions of the main elements,
  • the number and position of each attachment,
  • movable elements.

Correctly prepared whitebox makes the work much easier and faster. Although it will never be used in a game, it serves as a determinant of the basic parameters in the process of an object creation.

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3.1. An object look in the FPP

The FPP perspective is very limiting. In a frame only a part of weapon is visible, and this part is the most important for a graphic. All elements should be given the right proportions and arrangement so that the cropped picture would show more than is really visible. All the uniqueness of a weapon must be expressed in this visible part. Therefore, while working on a silhouette it’s worth checking if what we can see in the FPP perspective applies to the features of the whole object.

In case of weapon in a frame we don’t see a butt, magazine or the right side of a weapon.

When a prop is placed statically, on the right side of the screen, its left side is far more important. Such assumption causes that some parts of the object are mirrored to make it more attractive in the frame.

Yaron Levi. <b>MSBS Call of Duty: Ghosts</b> [portfolio online]. 2013, <i>source:</i>
The gun sight’s knob was mirrored on the left side (in reality it is placed on the right side) in order to display it better in the frame.
Ubisoft Montreal. <b>Far Cry 4</b> [PS4]. Ubisoft, 2014, <i>source:</i>
In this case the whole optical sight was mirrored.
If a game has an upgrade or customization option, all configurations should be taken into consideration. Thanks to that we are able to identify problems resulting from connecting attachments at an early stage. The following are the most typical:

  • crossing the geometry of different attachments,
  • incorrect scale of attachments,
  • incoherent width of fixing devices (e.g. a rail),
  • maladjustment caused by mutual exclusion of attachments, e.g. lack of possibility to attach a torch and a grenade launcher together.

An example of the extensive system of weapon customization. In this case all the parts had to be well thought and adjusted at the stage of whitebox creation.

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3.2. Mockup animation

Generally weapon in a frame stays still. Sometimes, however, there are moments where animation is necessary (e.g. reloading weapon).

At the stage of whitebox object creation it is worth to create a simple animation (mockup). The mockup of animation doesn’t have to be polished. Its only function is to check which parts of the weapon will be visible in the FPP view during the animation. It also tells us which movable parts of weapon will be visible and to what extent.

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3.3. Perspective foreshortenings

Andrea Mantegna. <b>Opłakiwanie zmarłego Chrystusa</b>. ok. 1480. [online], <i>source:</i>
Foreshortening perspective on an Early Renaissance paining.
A substantial reduction in the weapon visibility on a screen is very limiting. In such a perspective parallel divisions (against vertical or horizontal edge of the screen) are very tricky and need to be manipulated in order to gain the best effect. Placing too many parallel lines has adverse influence of the shape on the weapon. It makes the object too chaotic and cut.

Too many divisions make noise, especially on the left side.

Exemplary ways to deal with that problem are as follows:

  • erasing unnecessary divisions,
  • extending an element deeper into the screen,
  • increasing spaces between divisions,
  • merging few divisions into one shape.

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3.4. Realism vs. video games

People who play the FPS games a lot when seeing weapon in reality are surprised with the small size and the width of which resembles a „plank”.

Solutions in video games are not coherent with the reality. Sizes are understood similarly to the way they are presented in comic books. Everything seems to be scaled up, huge. It concerns both the models in the world of game and the weapon put in a player’s hands. Weapons used in a game should be solid, massive and of considerable size. All the features should be highlighted in a proper way, presented cartoonish so to say.

Up to some point it derives from purely technical issues (bigger seems better) and from the need to show the power of the weapon (more massive seems stronger). Very realistic models look ridiculous, as if not in the right place.

Yet another noticeable difference between a real object and the game one, is highlighting bulges on the side. In reality weapon is pretty flat – in games we can clearly see the drive to highlight convexity, roundness, etc. Thanks to that an object has definitely better shading and the light (reflections) is better displayed.

Weapon from Brink game and its diversified construction can be a perfect example. Click for marmoset viewer

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3.5. An object significant features

The object of a prop should indicate straightaway its purpose and function. A player after taking a prop should instantly know what it can be used for. He should be able to answer the following questions: How does it work? How can it be used? What kind of weapon is it?

Ambiguity is usually caused by complexity and not clear silhouette or failure to capture the object’s characteristic features. While preparing weapon for the FPP projection one should answer the following questions:

  • What element tells us that an X object is perceived as an X object?
  • Which elements of the X object tell us what it can be used for? Is it weapon, an element of a jigsaw or an ordinary object?
  • Is player informed clearly what to expect after pulling the action button/ the trigger?

Valve Corporation. <b>Half-Life 2</b> [PC]. Valve Corporation, 2004, <i>source:</i>
In this case a jimmy is not only a kind of weapon but is used as an object to break off planks and destroy wooden boxes
Ubisoft Montreal. <b>Far Cry 4</b> [PS4]. Ubisoft, 2014, <i>source:</i>
This prop tells us clearly that after pushing the action button, the target will be burned
Techland. <b>Dying Light</b> [PC]. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2015, <i>source:</i>
The battery, cables and sparks suggest that this is a live knife.
All the elements we consider important for an object should be included in a whitebox model. The key elements that are small in the reality should be appropriately scaled up and highlighted to show clearly what the object is.

While deciding on dimensions and shape of an object you should consider not only single components and relation between them but also the whole silhouette of a model.

MachineGames. <b>Wolfenstein: The New Order</b> [PC]. Bethesda Softworks, 2014
An example of weapon where details, even if in big number, are well organized and do not disturb the silhouette.
Determining the silhouettes of the whole set you should take into consideration both the characteristic features of a single kind of weapon and the characteristic features of the given type of weapon. A good solution is to choose one or a few parts of weapon and use it, or them, in all models of such kind (with adequate changes).

Revolver would be the best example. Although differences in workmanship and shape, each has a cylinder which is a characteristic feature for this type of weapon.

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3.6. Movable parts

Games treat weapon only as a prop therefore, there is no need to imitate the mechanism working inside the model. It saves the amount of tris and assets. What is more it shortens the time required to prepare a model. There are usually the following exceptions:

  • the inside of the optical devices,
  • a magazine,
  • a lock,
  • the inside of the break-open kinds of weapons,
  • the inside of pistols slides, barrel, parts exposed while shooting,
  • elements visible while reloading, e.g. the inside of a grenade launcher.

Showing mechanical elements aims only at creating a feeling of playing with a „real” thing. A player needs to believe in the illusion created by a graphic. Therefore, each movable element visible by a camera should be somehow justified, have shape and composition. The relation between them should not rise any concern of an onlooker.

Not many players have in-depth knowledge about weapon or machines’ construction. But seeing different kinds of mechanisms every day, people have adjusted some patterns and schemes, and subconsciously compare them with pictures they see, e.g. in games. If what they see does not match the imagination / pattern, they will question the authenticity of the world of game. Badly designed mechanism will not mislead the viewer.

Valve Corporation, Hidden Path Entertainment. <b>Counter-Strike: Global Offensive</b> [PC]. Valve Corporation, 2012, <i>source:</i>
The electronic system is well thought-out. Wires end with plugs placed in sockets. Everything is connected in a logical way.
Film by Feng Zhu is worth watching. He explains what, according to him, the contemporary design is and where to take the inspiration from.

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3.7. Composition

The number of elements that make the object of weapon is set on us (after all we are reproducing a real model). Even though the shapes are imposed on us, it is still worth creating an interesting composition. The process of searching and matching detailed layers, with the rest can be started at the stage of creating a silhouette. Models of monotony structure look much less attractive. Solutions to similar designing problems could be found in, for example, nature or abstract paintings.

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4.0. Basic assumptions ‒ aiming

In the FPS apart from placing weapon in the down right corner (hip shooting), there is usually the second, alternative setting. Shooting when a player uses a sight / scope.

In such a setting weapon is placed in the middle of the screen and a player targets not with a crosshair (as in case of the hip shooting) but by adequately modelled parts of weapon sight.

If there are any elements of a whitebox object that should be precisely modelled, those are the sights.

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4.1. Aiming in games and in the reality

Even though such setting (close-up look) is rarely seen on screen, it is a challenge for a graphic. We should not only pay attention to the proper setting but also to the design and functionality of the scopes.

In reality there are a few types of scopes depending on their work and usage, etc.

<b>M1A Socom 039</b> [online]. <i>source:</i>
An example showing aiming in reality.
In video games the situation is much simpler. It doesn’t matter whether weapon is equipped with a scope, iron sights or optical sight – „aiming” is only about pressing the right button and the weapon’s object changes its position on the screen.

The biggest discrepancies in the aiming rule occurs in the iron sighting. In reality:

to aim, one needs to coordinate all devices (usually the fore sight and the rear sight or the sight vane) and the target in one line. source

In video games, however, it is possible to ignore the fore sight/ sight vane and aim only with the rear sight. Games’ creators take that step in order to improve functionality. As then the rear sight or sight vane does not cover the battle field.

View on the whole weapon

It shows that while aiming in a FPS game weapon should show clearly which point on the screen is responsible for hitting, so which place we will shoot at. Determining this point and the player’s comfort is much more important than correct (realistic) copy of the operating principles of the whole system.

Iron sight [online]., 2013.

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4.2. Aiming vs. game mechanics

Aiming system is very much connected with the game mechanics. Largely the effortlessness of aiming results in a player being eager to use the weapon or not.

While playing targets often change their positions. Player needs to observe the battlefield and, depending on the target’s position, change the weapon’s position.

When too big part of the battlefield is covered, a player has problem to determine the enemy position, especially when entering space covered by aiming devices (dead space).

 Gearbox Software. <b>Borderlands 2</b> [PC]. 2K Games, 2012
Creators of Borderlands 2 decided to have the sights’ insights hardly covering the battlefield.
It should be also noted that the aiming system should reflect the game mechanics’ assumptions.

For example:

We want this weapon to be powerful but aiming needs to be difficult.


Shooting from this weapon should be pleasant and easy and so on…

The less onerous aiming system the greatest pleasure it gives.

Majority of the aiming methods in games (looking from the visual point of view) is based on three schemes:

  • open (e.g. sight) – almost all area of the battlefield is visible,
  • half-full (e.g. collimator) – substantial part of the battlefield is visible but part is covered by the scopes,
  • full (e.g. scope) – only a part of the battlefield is visible, the rest cannot be seen by a player.

Reto-Moto. <b>Heroes & Generals</b> [PC]. Reto-Moto, 2014, <i>source:</i>
An example of open aiming scheme
Treyarch. <b>Call of Duty: Black Ops II</b> [PC]. Activision, 2012, <i>source:</i>
An example of half-full aiming scheme
Ubisoft Montreal. <b>Far Cry 3</b> [PC]. Ubisoft, 2012, <i>source:</i>
An example of full aiming scheme.

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4.3. Sights modelling

Both the scale of a scope and the red dot shape is an issue connected with graphic designing not modelling. Therefore, I will concentrate on iron sights and scope’s case, which are fully 3D objects.

Because in the targeting mode crosshair is substituted with a 3D object you have to take care of its shape and the sights’ silhouette. Also in this case the majority of real dimensions cannot be applied in games. The most common corrections include:

  • elements’ thickness – the faces that should be minute and only suggest their shape cannot take up too much space on the screen, it works also the other way round,
  • change of position – elements cannot be too small, should be visible and readable from a further distance from the screen (it is usually the distance between a sofa and a TV set),
  • changes in a sight construction – it’s especially vital when we skip the rear sight/ sight vane. The point, we will shoot at, must be clearly defined and visible at the first sight. Sights in the shape of a circle are good example. Its middle, and place we are shooting at, can be established straightforward.

Lukerichard. <b>Cybergun Cyma Thompson</b> [online]. <i>source:</i>
The picture shows real shooting from Thompson submachine gun. Such dimensions cannot be used in a game.

Other examples of redesigning that has positive impact on aiming in shooters:

It’s worth remembering that the scopes must be placed exactly in the middle of a weapon. Usually it is so, although some exceptions can be found. They shouldn’t be strangely misplaced in relation to the weapon’s axis. You should also make sure, in the orthogonal projection, if the fore sight and the rear sight are placed on similar height.

Weapon in two orthogonal projections together with drawn axes.

Exceptions to that rule show objects that have scopes mounted at a side (usually the optical sights).

<b>M1-D Garand Sniper Rifle</b> [online]. <i>source:</i>
An example of a scope mounted at a side

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4.4. Additional notes

Thanks to the depth of field (DOF) aiming in a game looks more natural. While preparing a silhouette it’s worth analyzing if the elements after blurring will not have strange / cartoonish forms or will not disturb each other.

Infinity Ward. <b>Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2</b> [PC]. Activision, 2009, <i>source:</i>
An example how the depth of field works while aiming.

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5.0. High poly object

When buying a game players expect it to have „good graphic and lots of details”. Meeting these criteria is not as easy as it seems.

The stage of basemesh object creation can be divided into two separate sub-stages:

  • giving an adequate shape – more precise divisions, carvings, transfer of forms, giving character to given parts,
  • minor details – screws, threads, small indentations, dentations.

Shaping is about polishing a silhouette. About adequate sketching everything that should be included on an object to make it look more authentic. Define better the elements which proportions, dimensions and shapes were set in the whitebox.

Next we can go into details. It is all about setting small parts skillfully so that they would complete the bigger ones, not randomly spreading thousands of small objects on the surface. 

An object prepared in such a way is not ready to be baked yet. However, it has all the necessary elements, drafted shape, character of the surface and the way of its smoothening already determined.

If the basemesh object is created in a software for polygonal modelling, I would recommend to base the mesh on quads. Thanks to that it will be easier to adjust the grid in the next stage, creating a subdivided object – high poly.

Basemesh with the wireframe; an object prepared in such a way can be subdivided to create high poly.

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5.1. Significant features of an object

Looking carefully at any weapon it is easy to notice which elements are vital – key to the object. Older games or the mobile ones show it nicely. Due to technical limitations (number of tris, textures resolution, displays’ resolution and size) artists were made to present the essence. A part of irrelevant details was eliminated and those key ones highlighted.

Nowadays, we have reached the stage of so high resolution that we can show all details of realistic weapons (and even add a few more). But we still need to remember to show the essence, to choose those forms, shapes and objects that are important, and highlight them.

Of course, apart from the key details there are also other, the smaller ones. Analyzing an object it is worth to create the hierarchy of importance ‒ a pyramid. In such a way we can easily determine which elements are important and influence the others.

<b>Heckler & Koch HK69A1 - 40x46mm</b> [online]. <i>source:</i>
The hierarchy of importance for the K 69A1 Grenade pistol.
Current trends in weapons’ designing require constant developments, adding a lot more, than it is presented in pictures/ references (of course sensibly and moderately). Majority of the real weapons have simple construction – by adding suitable elements we can make objects more attractive for an average player. Also in this case objects should be placed in some hierarchy not to compete with each, other but to harmonize.

Reno Levi. <b>Call of Duty - Ghosts</b> [portfolio online]. 2013, <i>source:</i>
An object of a weapon with substantial amount of „visual additives”. Slings and other additional objects correspond well with the rest.
On the basis of the hierarchy of importance we should play with the elements, make the object show what we had already determined in our ranking. The easiest ways of manipulations can be the change of scale – the more important, the bigger.

Valve Corporation. <b>Portal 2</b> [PC]. Valve Corporation, 2011, <i>source:</i>
The mechanisms which „emits” the beam is big, visible – it is the most important in this object. The remaining elements are subordinate.

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5.2. The scale of elements

When choosing elements we should bear in mind that the further from the camera, the less space on the screen they take (according to perspective). If some elements are important (e.g. a fore sight) we can scale them up a little bit. We should not, however, scale up the distant parts, as it can cause imbalance in proportions of the whole weapon (the form will look bulky).

Similarly to what I have written about designing the silhouette, too subdivided lines parallel to the screen’s edge are problematic. Props created that way are irritating to the viewer’s eyes. For that reason it is necessary to redesign some parts of a weapon to make them look better and more functional in the frame. It is a good idea to restrict the number of divisions or to make more space between them. The intensity of correction made to a given part depends on its distance from the camera and on the angle it is set at.

Reduction of the indentations at the side of Tommy Gun or at its barrel is a good example.

Due to perspective foreshortening and distancing the object from the camera ‒ in some extreme cases it is allowed to change circles into ellipsis. Such a change can be advantageous for the look in FPP projection ‒ a given shape will look round and will be more visible.

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5.3. Module and the minimal size

An aspect which is also worth mentioning is creating elements on the basis of a module. Such rigorous attitude is not popular, thou, worth considering. If we set some minimal size (for example dimension of a screw) the rest of elements should somehow derive from its size (for example: the diameter of a barrel is equal the diameter of 3 screws, the width of the handle is equal to 10 screws and the weld equals ½ of the screw, etc.) It is an idealistic assumption but sticking to some rule guarantees very coherent look. It is worth using it if not for the whole weapon, than for the smaller parts (screws, knobs, buttons, and smaller cylinders).

It is acceptable to include very small details, indents, incrustation, etc. You should check, however, if those elements will not make noise.

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5.4. Modelling per-pixel

Due to the fact that we are dealing with a vector graphic (3D in this case) creators often forget about the target scale and about the way an object will be seen.

Ubisoft Montpellier. <b>Rayman</b> [Playstation]. Ubisoft, 1995, <i>source:</i>
Even though it’s a two-dimensional platform game, it shows perfectly the possibilities behind pixels. The disordered scale of objects is used to show them better (e.g. a padlock).

The medium in which a particular work is fixed has an immense influence on its appearance. In painting it’s the canvas and paints, in sculpture material that was used in its creation, etc. In modelling to video games it is taking the screen into consideration that is worth doing, i.e. targeted resolution in which an image will be projected.

Weapon in a game is visible in almost invariable scale (it takes up the same surface all the time) therefore, it is easier to estimate whether a detail is not too small in the ration comparing to the number of pixels fall. So technological approach allows to create harmonious and coherent objects. Per-pixel modelling resembles a little pixel-art with the usage of vector graphic. Being aware of the possibilities and limitations of a screen, we can make conscious and wise decisions.

The most important parameters, determined by the matrix, are as follows:

  • elements’ scale (Is an object clearly visible?) Is its perception in this scale clear? Would that be advantageous to scale up some elements?
  • shape (Does the weapon has understandable, clear form when projected in the target scale on the screen?) Maybe it is worth resigning from part of details for the benefit of more iconic parts?),
  • Amount of detail (Do the small elements or too intensive contrast details create noise?)
  • the width of bevels
    • sharp edges can create artefacts ‒ jagged pixels,
    • too sharp edges contribute to reduction of reflections. As a result it is difficult to determine the material an element is made of. Click to get more information.
    • one more, extremely vital, reason for which it is good to round edges is the texture resolution. In a situation when there are few pixels on our bevel on the UV, the object will be very angular after baking (we will have an impression that a normal map is missing). The width of bevels should go together with the size of UV map. The lower the resolution, the rounder the object should be,
    • edges should also be softer relating to the distance to the camera. It’s caused by amount of pixel destined for part and also by anti-aliasing. Further elements such as the weapon front (muzzle, barrel, silencer) should have wider edges, while closer ones (hammer, bolt, gunbody cover) – sharper.
Racer 445. <b>Normal_edge_thickness</b> [online]. <i>source:</i>
The rules can be seen in this example. A picture taken from

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5.5. Contrast

Almost all pieces of art are based on some contrast. It is the combination of two contrasting elements that is interesting to us.

Introducing contrast is one of the best ways to make a project more attractive. What is more, it exposes differences between elements. source

In this case the difference between the smoothness of wooden surface (polished, round) and metal (sharp, cut) was highlighted

Acquiring contrast (diversity) in case of material is an issue associated mainly with texturing. However, it is the object itself that can tell us all about the material it is made from. The best reference can be a Renaissance sculpture. The differences in parts of material combined with parts of body are very well seen. Similar tricks can be used in weapon modelling.

The basic question worth asking is: Which elements should be separated, contrasted? To answer this question we can use one of the following criteria:

  • diversification by the degree of use – e.g. new versus old,
  • diversification by material – e.g. plastic versus metal,
  • diversification by the way a given element is produced/ manufactured – e.g. casting metal versus stamped metal.

Once we know what to separate, we should determine the way to acquire the contrast. It can be:

  • the number of details – e.g. smooth metal; rough plastic,
  • the width of bevels – e.g. used elements: smoothen; new elements: sharp
  • number of divisions – e.g. leather: a lot of small bits; metal: one, a big form.
  • scale – e.g. metal: small parts; plastic: big surface,
  • the way of connecting it with the main part – e.g. casting metal: merged with the other elements; chromium: independent.
Pedro Amorim. <b>Homebrew Shotgun</b> [portfolio online]. 2014, <i>source:</i>
In this object an artist acquired the effect of contrast thanks to the level of devastation. The wood is damaged while the metal is hardly deformed.
Ewa Brzozowska. Art of contrast [online]. 2014.

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5.6. Micro-detail

The PBR makes us create detailed normal maps. Obviously, some part of an element can be imposed while texturing, however, not on the high poly stage. Not only does it allow for better manipulation of that elements, but also enables creation of less subdivided high poly objects (less subdivided object can be baked faster and facilitates smoother run on slower hardware).

Things which are worth including on the normal map are as follows:

  • microsurface details – very small bulges, scratches. Everything in almost micro scale.
  • materials’ textures – texture plait, rough plastic, etc.,
  • inscription / logos,
  • patterns – defined, repeated design, e.g. stampings on metal,
The surface texture and inscriptions were added on a normal map.

Due to difficulties in maneuvering and problems with the adequate settings in the texturing process, details oriented in a given spot should be placed on a high poly object.

An example of detail focused on a spot. It is very difficult to have indentation on the top of a bullet while drawing it on the normal map.

Vast majority of weapons have different inscriptions, serial numbers, producer signs and so on. Typography placed on weapons aims at giving them features of real objects. The scales of scopes measurement usually do not go in line with the game’s mechanics, therefore, we have wide margin of maneuvering. All designations serves purely the decorative purpose. They should harmonize nicely with the whole and shouldn’t be too pushy.

The typeface should be adjusted in relation to its application. The shape of letters is definitely different depending on whether they are stamped in metal, painted or cut with a knife.

Yaron Levi. <b>M1887 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3</b> [portfolio online]. 2013, <i>source:</i>
Hand drawn typography, made only on color textures
Alan Van Ryzim. <b>BattleRifle</b> [portfolio online]. 2015, <i>source:</i>
In this case a part of typography interferes with the normal map.
While working on typography some graphics used readymade photos (they are full of details but also full of unnecessary noise). In practice it’s much better to use vector made inscriptions – they are sharp and readable. Additional hand tinting (adding or eliminating parts of letters) made them more unique.

Normal map of typography made on the basis of vectors.

One of way to make the surface full of micro-details is to sculpt it. Personally, I believe that sculpting the whole weapon is a mistake. An object loses its shape and becomes a shapeless „snot”.

If we decide to sculpt, it should be used more to contrast the given material than to gain micro-details. Even when creating free forms (e.g. a forged axe or a dragon paw) it is better to contrast the freely sculpt places with sharp, precise forms.

Reno Levi. <b>Call of Duty - Ghosts</b> [portfolio online]. 2013, <i>source:</i>
A great example where huge defects harmonize with the non-destroyed parts.
It is good to remember that factory manufactured elements are sharper and more precise, while natural or handmade forms are more free and organic. While working on an object it’s worth asking yourself if the structure goes with what the reference shows.

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5.7. Comparison of shapes

While adjusting a project to a game requirements one needs to pay attention to the way the shapes are matched. In reality shapes do not cut each other. Whether it’s nature or human made work, we can always find elements that connect „two worlds”.

Even if no such connector is used, there is always something visible, a hole or a break. Paradoxically it is the lack of anything – a free margin – that works as a connector.

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5.8. Connecting shapes

Objects created as a result of connection of few simple shapes (e.g. casts, welded forms) can be difficult to create in 3D, especially when we limit ourselves to polygonal modelling. This is a strictly technological issue. The solution to that problem can be to change the software (e.g. from Maya into zBrush).

It is worth paying attention to, especially, those shapes that are important – visible. Some connections can be nicely hidden (e.g. by additional stripe of material, sling, etc.). Sometimes thou, preserving the form consisted with the reference is necessary to convey the right image.

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5.9. Correction

When using references, a graphic needs to correct some dimensions, to make the solid more firm. Getting rid of curvatures, correcting parts that stick out at a strange angle and straightening some lines make the shape more accessible. Of course, it concerns only minor corrections.

If irregularity is the main feature of an object (e.g. a mace made of a root) it should be expressed, and even highlighted.

Arkane Studios. <b>Dishonored</b> [PC]. Bethesda Softworks, 2012
Heart is a good example of a chaotic, organic form.
Slight correction in respect of the reference also concerns placing the element, e.g. too minor margin between the whole and the edge looks like a mistake. It is vital to make sure that all elements are suitably placed in relation to each other, so that there would be a safe space between them.

<b>Sturmgewehr 44</b> [online]. <i>source:</i>
An example of weapon in which each minor detail has a margin around it
<b>Unique FN 1900 Copy Melior Semi-Automatic Pistol</b> [online]. <i>source:</i>
Rivets and small extras are placed too close to the edge. While creating an object they should be placed so that as to leave safe space around them.

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6.0. Preparation to reduction

Another step is to create a version with reduced geometry. Start the work on a low poly object by copying a basemesh object and then systematically eliminate unnecessary divisions or add them in places where they are needed. This is the object that is finally used in a game.

The low poly should comply with the high poly object.

Smoothing group’s settings basically do not differ from settings in any other 3D object. The correct look is what matters here – it should be coherent with the high poly’s curvatures and should not have too big differences (max. 60°).

If the nice LOD look is of particular importance you can add more smoothing group, so that the normal map will not have „discoloration” after baking.

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6.1. Distribution of geometry

In creating a low poly object, the number of tris used is not the key issue. It is a matter to be decided by people with wider technical knowledge. For a graphic it is the distribution of geometry that is vital, as it tells whether the object is good or not.

Object geometry of low poly should be coherent and consistent (when it comes to curvatures). It doesn’t mean that everywhere the same amount of tris should be set up. Tris should be applied thoughtfully – add more in round parts and less in more angular.

Beginners often have problem with balancing geometry on low poly.

A part of low poly barrel object. On the left, an object with unnecessarily subdivided mesh. In the middle, an object with badly placed divisions. On the right, a correctly reduced object.

As weapon in FPP projection is in static view (player cannot see himself from every side) we can use some „tricks” to save a few tris.

EA DICE. <b>Battlefield 4</b> [PC]. Electronic Arts, 2013, <i>source:</i>
For „some reason” in menu of Battlefield 4 the angle of camera rotation does not allow to see the right side of weapon…
The closer the part to the camera, the more subdivided the geometry should be. Parts which are outside the frame can be cut more.

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6.2. Reduction of the number of tris

When we exceed the given limit but do not want to resign from the level of bevel, we should consider remodeling some parts of the high poly. Such changes should result in creation of less complicated low poly object. One of the easiest way to safe tris is to distance elements and then remove tangent faces.

Four examples of interference in high poly seen from different angles. The objects before corrections were marked blue, after corrections, grey.

After finishing the high poly object, graphic does not have to stick to it. Some changes, corrections and improvements, can still be made. Some element should be changed or erased if a situation requires it or if it is favorable for the whole object.

All faces inside an object should be removed. Redundant, invisible tris corrupt both the geometry and the UV map.

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6.3. Silhouette viewport

Valve Corporation. <b>Team Fortress 2</b> [PC]. Valve Corporation, 2007, <i>source:</i>
An example of a great, simple and clear silhouette. Low number of tris (angularity) is not a problem as their correct placing hides the problem.
Apart from checking the object’s mesh in the viewport, there is also one more useful method of checking the distribution of geometry. It is enough to set black material (no shadowing) and light background. In such a way the silhouette is very well seen and all its inaccuracies are nicely visible (excess angularity).

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7.0. Textures ‒ pipeline

Depending on imposed pipeline there are a lot of ways to approach the issue of texturing. The following can be used:

  • dedicated textures,
  • mixed material, according to mask or color blending,
  • generic textures set by material ID,
  • base materials and decals,
  • generating color (cartoon) only in the material instance

And many other methods…

The adjusted texturing method largely determines the way UV map will be created.

Placing the UV map will be discussed on the example of traditional texturing, as weapon is important due to the fact that it often has its own textures. Such approach is also the most extended, therefore, suits the presentation best. Experience gained in such a way will bear its fruits and will facilitate making decisions at other production processes (usually less complicated).

The work should be commenced with cutting weapon into islands with the same aspect ratio. All islands seams should be invisible in the frame.

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7.1. Mirror

To save some space in the UV you should mirror as much as possible. However, mirrored UV should be avoided in FPP projection (it concerns mainly such elements as scopes, triggers and upper part of a weapon).

All elements visible in FPP (e.g. a scope, upper part of wood, barrels’ girdles) have a unique UV ‒ are not mirrored

It’s best to mirror the whole right side, which is not visible in the camera.

The right side almost entirely mirrored

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7.2. The order of hierarchy

On the basis of the order of hierarchy that has been set in the low poly object, UV islands need to be adequately scaled so to „meet the needs” of resolution. The closer to the camera, the higher the UV scale.

After cutting and laying down islands, so that the UV aspect ratio was proportional (the same for the whole object), it’s time for scaling. The scale’s multipliers usually look like that:

  • 1.2 – elements placed the closest to player (scopes, optics, rear part of weapon) directly at the camera;
  • 1.1 – the rest of elements placed close to the camera;
  • 1.0 – the body of a weapon, magazines;
  • 0.8 – barrel, the front part of a weapon
  • 0.6 – elements beyond the camera

A method that allows us to make sure that all parts have a proper scale is to check it on UV chequer in the frame. If elements have similar resolution, depending on the perspective (the further, the smaller the UV island), we should get a good result.

Black squares are the same size

Additionally you can improve texture with a detail map. Thanks to that we can „level” the texture in the whole weapon. However, you should remember to make an additional UV set on which all UV islands will have the same aspect ratio.

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7.3. Smaller elements

A small trick that makes player think that weapon has high resolution with a texture is to improve the UV size of small details, such as e.g. screws. Small details are eye-catching, especially when they break monotonously a homogenous plane. source

Laymen treat the details resolution as an indicator of quality. That’s why it is worth to spare some space on UV for it.

This additional multiplier (base × hierarchy × additional multiplier) should not exceed about 1.15 and is usually reasoned by the amount of free space on the UV layout.

Christopher G. Healey, Perception in Visualization [online]. Department of Computer Science, North Carolina State University.
2014. Preattentive Processing source:

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7.4. Layout

From the technical point of view is doesn’t matter how we will lay out islands on the UV. However, there are a few tips how to do that. The most important is to create such mesh which allows everybody to see where a particular element is. The way of cutting and moving faces next to each other is also important.

Color-coded elements of an object
The UV layout with color-coded elements, all islands are placed in a logical pattern.

Each element should be placed next to another, laid out in a logical way (for example: bullets next to a magazine, trigger next to a slide, etc.). It makes texturing much easier. A graphic does not have to search for elements on the whole mesh, he knows they are nearby.

Laying up the UV mesh according to the rules of gravity, using software to generate textures will spare a lot of problems connected with the angle of leaking / patterns. It will also facilitate placing typography. Use gravity checker to run viewport.


Gravity checker

Another important parameter in laying up mesh is the distance between islands. You should adopt a rule saying that the space should be of minimum 4-6 px for the targeted seize of texture (when we bake an object in higher <not target> resolution, the space should be increased by the same multiplier).

The wider the spaces, the more substantial loos in the texture resolution. Keeping spaces is, however, necessary due to edge padding. This problem was described in more details on polycount wiki.

Noise pattern is used to measure spaces.


Noise pattern

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7.5. Preparation to export

Once the whole UV is ready, we can proceed to moving mirrored element by 1 quarter right. Thanks to that everybody who happen to work on the object will instantly notice which parts are not unique. It is good to label mirrored fragment on earlier stages, for example by material ID. Later on, it will be easier to determine which UV islands should be moved.

Red UV ‒ mirror

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8.0. The process of baking

The last phase preceding texturing is baking. A detailed knowledge on the process of baking is easily accessible.

Unfortunately, part of mistakes made on an object on low poly, high poly stage or in mapping will be visible only after baking. That makes us come one phase back to perform corrections.

The software commonly used to bake an object is xNormal. Apart from high poly and low poly we need one more object – a cage. This object is a bigger version of the low poly one and covers high poly totally. It is good to make cage in the same software which was used to export the low poly object. It will be helpful in making minor adjustments.

Cage object perfectly covering high poly

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8.1. Final remarks

The wireframe of all exported models should be changed from quads to triangles. It concerns both baking and exporting it to an engine.

It is a good practice to bake textures in resolution 1 grade higher than the final one (8 into 16, 512 into 1024, 2048 into 4096, etc.). Work on higher resolution makes it possible to acquire smoother transition of tones while texturing and better anti-aliasing. Very often the scaled up version is used in continuations or remastered editions of a game.

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