Blender - is there any easier to use alternative for simple content?


I’m trying to make a simple android game, but I’m really struggling with blender. My experience to date in terms of creating 3d models and whatnot is limited to a small project I did in school some 12 years ago using 3d studio max. However, looking back, what I created was more advanced than what I’ve done in blender so far and it was much much easier and more intuitive. I did a simple tutorial in blender for a low polygon tree, and I must have used 20 different keyboard shortcuts.

I’m sure Blender is very capable, but this is just a side project during my (very limited) free time so there is no way I can remember all this in between the times I get some time to work on it. I’m only creating some low polygon assets and hopefully some simple animation, so I’m hoping people can recommend some easier software to use? I don’t need all the bells and whistles, but I also want something suitable specifically for importing to UE4 and for my circumstances.

I would love to work with 3d studio max, but it seems to be impossible to get hold of without paying an arm and a leg. And even though I’m not planning on making any money on my game, I do hope to one day get to a point where I can put it on the play store, and I rather not have assets created with pirated software, which is why I don’t want to go that way. I am however willing to pay a small amount if there is a way to get hold of this or some other good software legally even though it’s just a hobby. Say a couple of hundred or so at most, if there is enough reason to do so.

So yeah, I’ve tried to search this subject, but it’s difficult to find anything that everyone doesn’t shoot down. The only free alternative that people are actually consistently recommending seems to be blender. And all paid alternatives seems to be thousands of dollars. And I also don’t want to try all these other not-so-recommended software programs just to end up wasting my time learning programs which I later realise are not suitable. So yeah, what would you recommend and why?

Bonus question: I’m creating a tower defense game. I’ve never created animations and my static mesh creation is limited to a couple of tutorials. But to decide which area to focus on, how should I rotate/pivot the towers? Am I supposed to create animations with bones etc? I saw some guide where the guy just created a base and a tower and then rotated the top piece, which would be very easy to do I think, but it seems a bit hacky and I suspect it would start to get tricky when pivoting and the different pieces start cutting into each other etc. But maybe I’m overthinking it for a simple Android game.

Any other suggestions for a rookie in terms of learning how to create (simple) 3d content is also much appreciated. Thank you!

I should maybe also add that although I’ve never created a game before, I do work fulltime as a software developer. So I would prefer to use a well known program in case I do get into this a bit more and/or find use for my skills in the future. No one will care about any knowledge I have of random-program-x, but if I know a big program like 3ds max (even if I’m not an expert), then that might actually be useful.

With that in mind, the big ones (not counting Blender) seems to be 3ds max, maya and zbrush from what I can tell (but I could be very wrong). I only now realised that there is a maya lt version which is the cheapest option I think. But even then, it’s quite pricey at $A340/year (in this point in time that equates to about $US260/year). If it was a once of cost maybe it would be worth considering, but for a subscription it still seems a bit steep for something I will use very little and is unlikely to make any money off.

Blender is a good choice, you dont need to use every shortcut right now, there are some basic ones that get you far enough. If you dont know how to find something, you can use space to search for the function. The biggest hurdle in the beginning is realizing how awesome using the shortcuts G,R,S in Kombination with yxz are. It’s not easy, though. Every 3D software is hard to learn.

Yeah, it always seems to come back to Blender unfortunately. Although I’m sure a lot has happened since I last used 3ds max and it’s probably more complex now, but still. I had none of these extreme frustrations while using 3ds max. I could follow a tutorial and then create something else using the same methods myself. With Blender, I’m so far extremely frustrated/agitated through the tutorial and I wouldn’t really be able to remember the steps afterwards because the UI does not make sense to me.

I just don’t know. Although it’s early days yet, I just feel I need to put in a somewhat high minimum amount of weekly time with Blender to get somewhere or else I’ll just be threading water. But maybe there’s really no other viable alternative.

Funny because I get that feeling when using Maya/3dsmax… especially the Material systems Of both… the one I liked was Modo, but I can have everything Modo does in Blender for free with a little more knowledge… instead of dishing out more than 1000$…

Learn the basic shortcuts of Blender and you will have fun modelling : ) I’m a bit lucky because I have close friend that teaches Blender.

Modo, you can get a 15 day demo at foundry’s site, and you can buy licenses on steam for modo indie. They even do quarterly rentals for the full version that are pretty reasonable.

Side FX Houdini has a free Apprentice version you can try out for an unlimited ammount of time and you can export objs with UV sets that will work in Unreal. For 199 a year you can get Houdini indie which gives you full access to Houdini’s fbx exporter as well as houdini engine for Unreal which is awesome.

Autodesk does monthly subscriptions on Max and Maya which aren’t cheap, but if you absolutely must work with their products, it’s a good way to go (less than 200 a month).

I was looking at houdini earlier, but wasn’t sold. Sounded like it did some things well but others not so much. I might give it another look. Modo is one that I had missed completely. Seems to be $US60/6months. I’ll try and investigate this one. What are the benefits compared to Blender? More user friendly I assume? Does it give me a good platform to stand on if I want to continue on with more in depth learning later on or is it quirky?

$200/month is WAY more than I would consider spending since I would be using it very rarely and not making any money from it.

Let me preface this by saying I have used every major 3D package at some point extensively except Cinema 4D and my preferred software is Houdini. I also have a grudge against autodesk as a company so my view is pretty biased :slight_smile: I haven’t touched Blender in about 8 years. I see people do good stuff with it, but based on my previous experience, never likely to touch it again.

Modo is a great piece of software. You look at Max or Maya or even (now defunct) XSI and they are more similar than they are different. Modo I think is decidedly different in that it obscures to a greater degree some of the ugly lower level technical aspects of 3D modeling in favor of artist friendliness and intuitiveness. To that end, it has some really great modeling tools you won’t find anywhere else. To it’s detriment, it was engineered with more of a film and video mindset and you will encounter idiosyncracies you sort of have to work around making game content in Modo. I know some very skilled professional modelers and they almost universally prefer Modo. I can’t speak to Modo’s animation or rigging tools because I don’t use it for anything but modeling.

For Houdini, I don’t think there is anything it doesn’t do well if not better than anything else out there. It’s modeling tools on first blush might seem primitive compared to something like Modo, but they are extremely powerful and well suited to game development. The hurdle with Houdini is that it is fundamentally different from any other package out there and doesn’t try to hide any of the deep technical aspects of computer graphics. The tools are very general purpose and you need to usually combine a handful of operators to get the same result as another package. The upside to this is it is non-destructive and for the most part you can go back to any point and make changes that will filter down to the end result of your models. It’s also easy to proceduralize your modeling, say build a tool that spits out hundreds of variations on rocks, or doors or walls. It’s definitely not for everyone though. The learning curve can be steep.

Just want to add that Modos newest version improves the use for game content.
I want to check out Houdini too, but I’ll stay at Blender :slight_smile:

It’s $200 per year for the indie version. And if you think Blender is hard I doubt you’ll like Houdini. :stuck_out_tongue:

For Blender you should use left click to select and bind the keys for the normal modeling tools so they’re close together. Stuff like grab/scale/rotate, extrude, make face, box select, loop cut and slide, edge slide, vertex/face selection, smooth should be close together, I have them on the left part of the keyboard. You’ve also got stuff like loop select on alt+select click I think and axis constraints on x/y/z when grabbing vertices and so on. I guess it’s not easy, but it’s fast and efficient once you learn the keys.

For the towers I would use bones, that way you can have a whole tower object with a rig instead of a bunch of separate tower parts which can easily turn into a mess.

I’ll just add to what DEFNIQUE said about Houdini (and I’m way more biased :wink: )
if you’re a software developer that might give you an advantage over many people looking into Houdini for the first time - I DO NOT mean that you need to be a programmer to use Houdini - rather that the low level access Houdini provides might click with your programming experience, and get you over that first hurdle of learning that some people experience with Houdini.
it’s worth taking a few minutes and checking out some of the quick overviews and tutorials here :

the Apprentice version is free and the Indie version is only $199/yr - and Indie gets you The Houdini Engine allowing you to build assets and tools that can be used directly in Unreal Engine.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Modo indie is current version 901, and Modo 10 indie is coming in 1-2 months from now, so if i were you just sub for a 1-3 months then if you like it, you can buy Modo indie 10 for 299 USD(no need for subscription, assuming the price doesn’t go up), Modo 10 is more suited for game development:

Modo is pretty easy to used compare to blender(I totally understand how you feel about it’s UX/UI). Modo is like a modern version of Lightwave but even coming from 3DSMax you should be able to learn it easy enough. No one can truly say which software is best , different people different preference to UI, you need to take it for a spin by modeling something.

By indie version, you mean “Maya lt”, right? Yeah, I mentioned that earlier, but $260 per year (localized prices) is too much I think. And I don’t think there is a cheap version of 3ds max, but let me know if I’ve missed something.

I’m sure Blender had great capabilities, but getting to the point where you are would take a long time. By then, maybe I’ll appreciate it more or maybe I won’t. For now though, I really did not enjoy working in blender. I rather pay a small amount and use a program I get more joy out of right from the start instead of torturing myself for no real reason. Maybe Houdini isn’t easier, but maybe it makes more sense to me like someone mentioned. Who knows. It’s worth a try with the free version.

Thanks for answering the bonus question (the only one so far to do so I think). Yeah, even though I’ve never done anything like this before, what your are saying makes sense and is along the same tracks as I was thinking.

Thanks for the info, I’ll definitely try out modo.

Yeah, makes sense that it might just click easier with the way I think. Definitely worth a try. Thanks.

Thanks for all the great help from everyone I didn’t quote as well. For now, I’ll do some simple tutorials on Modo and Houdini and then evaluate if they seemed to make more sense (and be more enjoyable to use). If it’s much of the same, I’ll just stick with Blender and hope that it gets better, but I feel very optimistic based on everyone’s comments.

No, I mean Houdini Indie. But I guess it’s $199 per year. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t see how Blender can feel like torture if you change the hotkeys/enable pie menus and so on. But rather than aiming to be easy to use for newbies Blender is built to be fast when you’re experienced and use hotkeys. I think most other 3d programs are like this too though. Instead of using default settings you have to mold Blender to fit yourself instead of trying to adapt to Blender.

The only software I tried that felt as nice was Modo, but it crashed way too much. Maybe it’s better now though. Still, I don’t like that Modo indie has a lot of restrictions. Houdini Indie is also nice but it’s completely different compared to other 3d software and I wouldn’t really recommend it for straight up poly modeling. It’s useful for doing procedural modeling though and you can use it with the free Houdini Engine in UE4.

OK, I think you earlier post mentioned Maya/max at 200/month, which is why I got confused. At least with Houdini, I can download and use the free version as long as I want before deciding if I should buy. It’s pushing what I’m willing to pay though, but I put the hard limit at $200, so it’s still an option.

As for Blender, I suppose something more newbie friendly is what I’m after. I understand these programs are complex by definition, but still. And I’m probably a long way off from knowing what settings to change and how to “mould” it to my liking, which could of course make it more pleasant to work with (eventually).

I have high hopes on Modo to be honest. Hopefully your experience was not the norm, or at least that it’s better now. Which restrictions in the indie version were you unhappy with, ie is there any actual deal breakers there?

I’m not sure about 3ds max, but Maya LT has a free, 3-year student license (I’m pretty sure you can just renew it when it runs out anyways) that you can get by simply inputting a few details about what school you go to (they allow “homeschooling” as a school, but their registration page seems to have changed and now I think you have to select an actual school, but you can still just pick any at random, it doesn’t ask for any school ID info or anything like that. Anyways, the content you create in this version can’t be used to make money, and every time you open a scene created by a student edition, it gives a notice that it was in fact created by a student edition, and cannot be used commercially.

3ds Max might also have this, but I never checked. Since you say you didn’t plan to make money off of the game, and because it seems like you’re more trying to learn than to actually sell assets, my recommendation would be that you get a student license and just learn the application that way. Once you get confident and want to actually start making money, the monthly price of Maya LT is $30 (which I know all-too-well if even that is too much to pay). Forewarning though, even if you create assets in the student edition and then later subscribe for that actual program, you are still unable to sell or use the assets commercially that were originally created in the student edition, so you’d have to start from scratch.

I once tried blender way way way back when I was creating content for The Sims 2, and I only had the choice of free programs. I came across Blender and, I thought it was because I was just young, but I hated the program with a passion. Then I stumbled on Maya and always felt at home with the UI. I recently tried Blender again but it still retains the same feel as it did in the past, and I just really can’t see myself ever using or even trying to learn it again. The good thing is that even if you can’t use the Student assets, you’ll most certainly learn how to make them from scratch in the full version once you accumulate enough knowledge. :X

I agree Ashern,

also there is a good point NOT to learn Blender and look for a student version of Maya or Max instead.

Maya and 3dsMax are (still) the industry standard for 3d Modelling tools. Even if there might be some studios that work with Blender, the majority is not (esspecially bigger studios). If you learn Blender you have to learn a complete new 3d Application once you decide to get a job in the games industry which can be tough and you still lack the experience in that particular software. I would not recommend it, but that’s just my personal opinion.

I haven’t been a student for some time which is why I didn’t really look at that option, but maybe I should give it a go then if it’s that easy to get the student version. I think I’ll probably try Modo first though as it’s cheaper. I’m definitely just doing this as a learning experience like you say, but I’d like to have the option of releasing a game even if it’s probably not going to be good enough to actually make any money.

I’m unlikely to try and make a career in the games industry, and even if so it would probably be on the programming side and not the artistic/modelling side, but having some minor skills outside of my immediate comfort zone at work is never a bad thing. And I agree, it makes sense to work with a well known and used program in the industry.

It depends. Here are the restrictions (the restrictions for the new version are unknown):

So whether or not these restrictions matter depend on your workflow. For example I use Substance Painter for texturing so I want to export high poly meshes to create the meshes directly in SP but with Modo Indie you can’t because of the poly limit. When I brought this up in the blenderartists forum people asked me why I wanted to sculpt in Modo in the first place which was a bit confusing, I thought Modo would have good sculpting tools by now (Blender’s dyntopo has been around a long time now). :stuck_out_tongue: To get around this you could bake your maps in Modo, but this breaks your workflow for no good reason.

The poly limit can also screw you over if you want to export whole scenes (think levels) at the same time and import them in UE4 with the new Import scene feature. 100k polys is not a lot when you’ve got a bunch of static meshes in your scene and it would be weird if the new Modo 10 is all about “PBR viewport! easy export to UE4! yeah!” and then screw all Modo Indie users over by not letting them export entire maps made in Modo.

Another thing is the ability to use user scripts/python, I find this really useful in Blender and often create simple one-off type scripts for repetitive tasks, for example during rigging/animation. It would be really useful to use other peoples’ tools made in Modo but again in Modo Indie you can’t. Being able to create user made tools is nice and can be especially useful in game asset authoring workflows where you can create scripts and tools that all of your artists can use. So the question again is: why can’t you do this in Modo Indie? To me it just seems like arbitrary restrictions that are there to make you unhappy and want to buy the full version of the software. :stuck_out_tongue:

The rest of the restrictions shouldn’t matter much if you’re just making game assets. If you only use Modo it might not impact you at all, but from my viewpoint coming from a software that’s free with no restrictions at all, the thought of paying every month for a software with restrictions doesn’t really feel like an upgrade. To each his own though. :cool: