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Efficient low-poly modelling

Making models for games is all about polygon counts. The more triangles your video card has to draw, the slower the game will run. Even if your machine can handle lots of highly detailed models, other people's may not be able to. It is therefore always best to aim to keep your models' polygon counts as low as possible.

There are always tradeoffs to be made. In first-person games such as SWAT, for example, you hardly ever see a weapon's pistol grip, as it is obscured by the hand of the character holding it. At the expense of slightly less "perfect" model, you can save yourself polygons by modelling the grip only roughly.

Of course it's very disheartening for a modeller to force himself to make such simplifications to a model. However, if you want to create the very best model you possible can and render a beautiful image of it, go ahead and do so. When you're doing it for a game you need to be ruthless and cut out unnecessary details.

The good news is that there are a fair few optimisations you can make which won't affect the look of your model too much. They're time-consuming and even slightly boring but they are easy to do and they can help you make a weapon which looks good and runs without huge framerate hits on lower-end machines.

Our test case

Here's the FN FALO, modelled for SWAT3 by _Mursey_ in Milkshape. As you can see, it's a great model. My thanks go to him for allowing me to butcher it!

_Mursey_'s FN FALO

As you can also see, there's no shortage of polygons on display. Before we take a look at how we can cut down on these excess triangles, I feel it's only fair to mention exactly why I'm choosing this weapon for this article. The answer is that it's a beautifully modelled gun which can be optimised. Don't go thinking that _Mursey_ is in any way at fault for using so many polygons. Modelling with Milkshape is hard. Milkshape simply doesn't have the cool features that enable Maya users to work more efficiently. Who can blame _Mursey_ for choosing to concentrate on making a detailed model rather than battling his software?

We're using Maya though, and we're going to take advantages of its extra power to reduce that polycount!

Warning! This is another graphics-intensive article. I strongly recommend saving it to your hard drive; along with the images of course!

Jump to a section

| intro | part 1: Hidden faces | part 2: Collapsing faces | part 3: Tweaking geometry | part 4: More drastic changes | part 5: Taking extra liberties | part 6: Less is more |