A few questions about the best methods/practice for creating/acquiring character assets.

Hey everyone,

I hope this is the right place for this. I deeply apologize if it is not.

I'm new to the Unreal 4 scene and completely new to the indie game scene. I am pretty much a simple modder looking to develope my hobby into something I can bring in a little money with. I've actually modded games such as Fallout 3, New Vegas, Skyrim, Fallout 4, and even Descent 3 back in the day for quite a few years. My primary focus was 3D models, focusing mostly on creating new snap kit models,  furniture, ecs. For a few years I tried working with modding teams but eventually realized that it was better just to rely on myself to build everything. So, I gained quite a bit of experience in using Papyrus and the GECK scripting languages. I also made a few quests, added cutscenes, movies, custom music, in-game radio stations, and dabbled a bit in creation animations in 3DS Max under a student license and added some custom character animations to furniture objects. I've also made a lot of static and animated static meshes such as doors, fans with multiple speeds, animated neon signes and more.

For the time being, I'm working my way through watching all of the video tutorials provided here and looking for cost-effective solutions. I'm looking to create a very simple, fun, and well-made indie horror game in hopes to get it greenlit on Steam. I'm probably not looking at making it the most graphically intensive game, but fun enough and well enough made that people might want to pick it up for $5-$10. I am am also hoping to make it compatible to port to mobile devices and possibly allow for VR.

A few concerns I have are:

  1. How do most other professional indie devs create their characters? Do most create the skeleton/character from scratch in steam, or are most using the Character creator on the Marketplace, Fuxe, iClone, or Makehuman? I can do any of these, but I want to try and keep my project as professional grade as I can make it within a very low budget. I’ve never created a human character from scratch, but I’m sure I can accomplish this.

  2. Is there any recommended tools for adding facial animation to the game?

These first two may not be super important, since you will never really see the character unless you look in a mirror that reflects the player’s face.

  1. How decent is the exporter for Blender? Blender is what most of my experience is in and I can’t shell out the money for Maya/3DS Max. I only use the student an learning edtions of those programs, so indie game development would be a no-no, especially if sold for profit. Can custom animations, skeletons, animated static meshes, collision meshes, static meshes, characters/statics with particle effects be exported/imported properly? I do expect there to be a few issues such as the rotation problem that can be overcome. I’m not worried about these unless there is no fix for the issue.

  2. Speaking of skeletons, I want to make sure that if I create a custom skeleton, that is completely compatible with any animations on the marketplace. Or is there a default skeleton that is free, that works with all animations on the market?

  3. What is the legality of using assets from the market for a game that is sold? Are additional royaltees required? Does anyone know if models created with Makehuman, iClone, or Fuse require royaltees to be paid?

  4. Another concern is how much detail I should be adding. I may want to release this game for mobile devices. What kind of poly count should I be looking at for characters/assets. What texture sizes should I worry about. Would reflective mirrors be an issue?

  5. Would it be better to develope all my assets completely from scratch and have multiple levels of detail so that different versions of the same models can be used for mobile ports of the game? Or would it be smarter to just confine myself with a certain polycount and certain texture sizes ecs? Take into account that one person would be developing this for the most part. At least that is the plan for the time being.

Ideal situation is that you have custom characters and animations made for your game–that way you can direct the design and have it match what you’re looking for.
If you haven’t done a character before, it’s going to be a huge challenge, for a good human you need to have experience with modeling/sculpting people and beyond that you’d still need to rig and animate the character, both of which are usually jobs in themselves. Just don’t underestimate how much of a challenge it might be.
The same programs that you would use for a character can do facial animation–you can use a bone rig or morph targets to do that.
Blender doesn’t have a very good FBX exporter, but from what I understand it’s still possible to get almost everything exported with some specific things kept in mind, you’d have to look for a Blender to UE4 guide.
Also look into Maya LT which is a cheaper version for indies.
It’s possible to rig a character to the same skeleton that the UE4 content uses, plus there’s animation retargeting to be able to use rigs that are a bit different.
If you buy an asset from the marketplace, you can use it for a commercial game, you can also use the free content provided by Epic for commercial games.
As for detail/performance, usually you start out by going for the lowest level of quality you find acceptable, keep your high resolution textures saved in case you want to bump something up, it’s very easy to drop a texture resolution down to improve performance.
You can set up LOD’s for characters and for mobile you could then use a lower LOD to improve performance.
You mentioned mirrors a few times, while you can do that on PC, I don’t think mobile supports the 2D reflection capture actor (used to render reflections for floors/mirrors more accurately)

I’ve created a lot of custom outfits/clothing for characters in a number of games, but have never designed a full character from the ground up. The way I look at it, is that no matter what project you are working on, there will be some mountains to climb before you can reach your destination. The only issue with a project like this, is after I get over the first mountain, how many mountains are behind the first one that I will also have to climb? So, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and try to look at the larger picture to ensure the destination is worth the effort by the time you have reached it. Even though I’m confident I can create my own character, but I need to make sure it doesn’t absorb so much time that I don’t get anything else done.

The player is the only human that you will really see in-game and that is really when you see your reflection in a mirror or maybe in the final cut scene. It might be best to port a makehuman model as a placeholder and rig it to the manikin skeleton until the prototype game is done. Then I can remove the head later, make my own head/hair and add detail by hand to the body mesh and make clothing. Then just use some of the animations provided on the market for basic movement. Then I only have to make custom animations for special events such as interacting with furniture.

This is where things get a bit complex and I’m sure the rigging on this is a job in itself as well, plus I would need to make custom animations. I’m sure it could be done however. While I may never show the player talking, I might need to at least show emotion for things like looking in the mirror.

I would really like to hear from someone with experience with this. I do know that it has difficulty exporting materials and you will need to rotate your models correctly. Something that is pretty easy to work around for the most part. As for Maya LT and 3DS Max, I can’t bring myself to purchase them for economic and ethical reasons. First and foremost, I simply can’t afford them in the first place, even at that price-point, it is still $240 a year and I don’t really get to keep it. I just don’t believe in continuously paying for something. Considering, I may create some things, stop for a few months or even a year to develop other things, and when I come back I’ve lost the value of my purchase. I still run Photoshop CS2 for this very reason.

This is likely what I will do. I may replace the reflective mirror with an alternative one if I decide to port to mobile. I could probably just even make the mirror a flat plane to cover the original mirror with. Whatever the case, I will probably go ahead and make it with this in mind.

There’s also tricks you can do for mirrors, like making it transparent and duplicating the scene (mirrored) on the other side. Like how they did that scene in Terminator 2.