NOTE: This article still feels like a bit of a draft version to me, but I wanted to get it out there before the conversation had completely dried up.
|Minami from Pervert Action: Future. I didn't want to use images|
from someone else's game to illustrate the article without their
permission, so here's one from my game.
When playing a game with 3D pictures I sometimes find them distracting, and if I don't like what the author has tried to do with the pics then I will be turned off a game I might otherwise have liked. Still, the pictures do seem to be popular in the community, which has really responded to the emergence of 3D pictures in games.
The first appearance of 3D images in our community was when ~3~ started doing his "O Erin" comic strip. At the time many of us were blown away that it could be done, and it wasn't until some time later when Goblinboy started using it that I realised that it was not a total from-scratch 3D design system, and was not just something experts would use. I've been interested to see that though images are slowly becoming more common, we haven't had a total explosion and take-over... at least not yet. Maybe that's partly because we've been getting only a modest number of releases, and many of them are mini-comp entries.
Using a 3D image program
Some people probably have the impression that using Daz is either really easy or really hard. I'd say it comes in somewhere between those two poles. The most problematic things are the initial learning curve (you'll need to practice and play around with it for a while, emulating what others have done before you start to churn out anything good) and also the need to acquire content. As an aside, if you're looking to side-step the issue altogether and use some easier and cheaper alternatives to this kind of image designer, check out some suggestions in this post.
Without good content you can't do anything, and getting it can be expensive. That alone could prevent it being used by just everyone, although it is possible (naturally) to pirate most of what you'd want (I'm not advocating that approach). There are sales, and it helps if the kind of stuff you want is not particularly new or popular, as it's likely to be cheaper. Being a little clever and restrained in what you actually show will also help you get past the hurdle of not being able to get what you want for pictures. I was also able to be patient, as it was quite a while between first taking an interest in Daz for my project and actually needing to use it to make pictures. Furthermore there are some great websites that offer a lot of free stuff; the best is probably sharecg, which contains loads of content. Oh, one other thing: the program Daz Studio Pro is actually free (they make their money on selling the content).
I've found the most time consuming part of making 3D pictures is designing the characters. Once you have the characters done it's relatively easy to just pose them in new positions. It does depend, however, on how ambitious you are. If you aren't willing to get in there and tamper with the posing, the subtleties of facial expressions and such things as props, lighting effects and camera angles then you will not produce good pictures. You'll sometimes need to go back and try an idea over again, or scrap it altogether if you can't get it right or if the content you've got just isn't going to look right. You'll also need a decent sense of visual composition.
An issue I haven't run into much, but one that can be a big deal if you're making animations or have an old computer, is rendering time. When I'm generating a lot of frames with complex lighting and shadows sometimes I just have to walk away from my computer and let it do its thing for half and hour. My computer is reasonably powerful (if a couple of years old now) so if you don't have something with a good graphics processor you may find rendering is very slow. Incidentally, I'll do a separate post on the subject of animations.
Another thing I've discovered is that Daz is almost never the last stop for a picture. Photoshop (or some equivalent) is an essential second stage for picture design. That means that there's a second learning curve if you don't know Photoshop, and of course you will have to acquire the program, which is another significant expense (I lucked out there – already had a registered copy). Rather than buying Photoshop you may prefer to use one of the free alternatives out there; I have heard good things about GIMP. You can make pictures without Photoshop, I suppose, but that will mean that you can't do a lot of cool stuff. Perhaps more importantly, 3D images often have flaws in them when you render them, such as a body part clipping through a piece of clothing or a weird-looking part of a pose that you need to include in the frame in order to get the good bit in. In these situations Photoshop is one answer, as it allows you to correct mistakes that you just can't fix conveniently in Daz Studio or Poser. Tools such as smudge, blur and clone stamp are of tremendous utility for that kind of correction.
Evaluating 3D images in AIF
I've seen a lot of 3D pictures out there in recent years, and I have to say I don't like very many of them. It seems to me as if most people using the system for porn are unimaginative in their picture composition, use often mediocre or inconsistent content (and they mostly use the same stuff as everyone else) and aren't particularly meticulous in the design process. Now, I grant you, looking back on the images in PAF I already see them as underdeveloped, and I feel like I could do a much better job on them now. Some shots I still quite like, but generally the work is quite unskilled. That's fine, as it was my first shot with the software, although I should point out that creating that stuff wasn't especially easy or quick – there was quite a learning curve involved.
I really hope new authors don't all feel the need or even necessarily the desire to use Daz or other 3D image programs to make pictures for their games. I accept that things are drifting that way and that by making PAF with pictures I've furthered the trend, but I still hope that it won't go too far. At the least keeping the tight multimedia restrictions in the mini-comp seems like a good idea to me. This is fundamentally a writing community and you can't tell me that there isn't something kind of awesome about being able to entertain and enthrall people with just words to fire their imaginations. Remember that as an AIF writer fundamentally words are your medium, and they still do most of the work in a game.
And another thing! With words you aren't limited in the way you are with 3D design programs. You aren't restricted to only showing the stuff that's available in Daz Studio content; with writing, as Neil Gaimen points out, there are no rules. You can write whatever the hell you want, so long as it's good, and as a consequence you can do some amazing things. I'd strongly recommend that even if you plan to use 3D images you should write first, then see what you can illustrate. You might want to adjust what you have later, or just design the ideas but not actually write the prose until you've done the pictures, but I really don't think you should start by looking at Daz and then write what you see. Let your imagination create the game, then try to illustrate what you see in your head. Yes, it's harder that way, but your games will be better. Of course, you can go back and tweak things later if your images are good and you can come up with something cool from Daz that you hadn't thought of before – it may well stimulate your imagination – but don't let your writing suffer from using 3D design programs or your game will probably suck.
Well, that's my appraisal. I hope I didn't sound too arrogant or superior in my judgements of 3D image use on the Internet – I know I don't personally have a long track record on the issue and as I say, I think I can do better than I have done. It just seems to me that AIF is faced with a situation similar to what we've seen with other technical developments such as new IF platforms before; namely that a lot of people are going to use the new medium poorly.
This is an issue of a lot of interest to the community these days so go ahead and comment below. Are all games going to have images in the future? Should the mini-comp ban pictures outright? Are images a great thing or a terrible thing for AIF? Are the increased demands on authors reducing the output of new games?