Today I'm going to start a series of articles on Free Game Development tools. There are a lot of useful tools that are either completely free, or mostly free to use, and a lot of independent game developers use them. No, you won't make the next "Call of Duty" with them, but you might be able to impress some friends or, better yet, real game companies by designing levels for some popular engines.
Of course, the best part about any of the tools I'm going to cover - they're FREE! Some of them are even small enough to run on older hardware without the help of video cards and high-end processors. I'll start with one I have been working with for a lot of years - Anim8or.
Anim8or, available at www.anim8or.com, is a labor of love by R. Steven Glanville. Looking back into the mists of time, you see that Steven started the project in the late 1990s as a fun hobby. Over the years, he has added features on par with some of the better professional animation studios, but it's still FREE, and will still run on my old Windows XP machine with 1 Gig of memory and a single 2.5mhz Core.
What Is It?
Anim8or is a basic modeling and animation program. It's not a game building tool per-Se, but a low cost, low power platform to get your feet wet in 3D modelling and Animation. With the manual, and the online tutorials, it's exactly what the beginner needs to understand how models, cameras, lights, textures, and tools can all come together to build an environment. And with it's model export tools, you can even take your creations to other platforms and tools, when you're ready to play with the "big boys."
3D Game Development requires a basic understanding of modeling objects in the computer world, and Anim8or can help. It has a lot of good tutorials, and within 10 minutes of downloading, you can be creating basic objects and then setting them in scenes. There is a very supportive community.
What Can It Do?
Anim8or can build 3 Dimensional Models (called meshes, or wire-frames) using primitives (like spheres, cubes, cylinders, geodesic models) and can also customize their looks using a variety of editing functions.
Once your Models (or Objects) are created, you can also apply pictures to them (textures, in the lingo of the 3D world) so that they are more "realistic."
Anim8or also gives you the ability to define "Sequences" to your creations. The Bird Tutorial actually teaches you how to create "bones" for your models and get them walking in short order.
And finally, Anim8or allows you to pull it all together into a Scene editor, where you can create videos of your favorite objects interacting for the camera.
I have only touched on a few of the capabilities of Anim8or here - it also supports lighting, shading, material development, morphing, and many other features.
Being free, and a very simple interface, it makes the perfect tool for the beginner. There are other free modelling tools and imaging tools out there, and I will touch next on free image editing software.
In the meantime, I've included a clip from a video I made. It has no sound, but shows what can be done with simple static meshes and some basic lighting effects. If you follow it to my Anim8or playlist, you will see the PHASOR test image which I rendered on a Dell Vostro1000 laptop.