3D movies, 3D TVs, 3D cameras and camcorders, 3D cell phone displays… The 3D craze is well underway. So here’s a list of my favorite 3D development apps.
3D in Flash – Since Flash CS4, Movie Clips could have 3D transformations (position and rotation, but not scale). It’s a primitive 3D engine. In fact, Adobe calls it 2.5D. It’s more than 2D, but not quite 3D.
There are also 3D libraries such as Papervision3D and Away3D that can be imported into your Flash project that will give you a real 3D engine. These are great if you need to use Flash for your project, but you’re still limited to bending a primarily 2D program into 3D. Also, Flash comes with a lot of overhead and it is not the most efficient or fast solution for 3D content.
Virtools – Virtools offers a unique coding experience in which the programmer adds functionality by linking together behavior blocks in a schematic drawing, similar to a flow chart. It’s a very fast way to get basic functionality on your game assets. For example, to make a box rotate, just drop the box model in the 3D view to add it to the scene, then drop the Rotate behavior on it. In the schematic view, draw a link from the output of the Rotate behavior back to its input and you’re done. There’s not a single character of code to write, and it only takes about 5 clicks of the mouse. Of course, this is a pretty simple example, but most of it really is that easy. If you want more control, you can click a few more times to specify how fast it rotates and in which axis. You can also create your own behavior blocks if the hundreds that come with Virtools doesn’t have what you need. The downside to Virtools is that it is ridiculously expensive. Seriously, Virtools, offer a free version and lower the price to build your install base. You’d make up for it in volume.
Unity3D – Like Virtools, Unity is an integrated development environment (IDE) for building 3D games and simulations. I just started playing with it, but so far I like it a lot! Programming in it is not nearly as easy as in Virtools, but it is about the same as coding with Actionscript. It beats Flash with Papervision or Away3D when it comes to everything else. It’s a pain in the neck to get 3D models into Flash. In Unity, just save your assets in the Assets folder. They’ll now show up in your assets list in Unity. Also, because Unity is a real 3D engine, Flash can’t compare in visual quality to what you can do with Unity. Unity comes in a free version and a pro version, plus add-ons for developing for iOS or Android. And Unity 3.0 is coming out soon!
So there you have it; 4½ 3D development solutions (Flash by itself only counts for ½).