Are 3D scans good for games?

Using 3D scans in games – are you crazy! We simply don’t have the budget for such luxuries, never mind the memory or graphics capacity.

Shelling out cash for a scanning rig or services, optimizing the scans from their RAW format to a workable solution and then making them do what you want in a game is simply madness…
Madness? This is SPARTA!

GetEven Warehouse

Apologies, I get carried away sometimes. But using scans in games has never been easier or more optimized than now. Lets take a look at how scans are used today and the benefits for the future of gaming. Prepare for Glory!

The technology behind software and hardware for 3D scanning is progressing constantly, methods of scanning are also becoming ever more consumer-friendly. It’s no surprise game developers are introducing 3D scanned assets to their projects right now in the hope of utilizing the photorealistic properties of scans. Take The Farm 51 for a start, who are working on a game called GetEven.

The Polish studio has introduced glorious environments and full-body scans that really add depth and realism in a way we have not encountered before. They are also planning to introduce a VR element to the game, which will give it almost a 4th dimension, check the trailer here (and yes, the warehouse is a scanned asset – incredible, we know).

Another forward thinking game developer is Remedy Entertainment. You might recognize some of their previous game ventures – Max Payne, Max Payne 2 and Alan Wake. For the latest creation the Finnish studio has excelled in creating some of the most life-like characters and settings we have ever seen in a game, enter Quantum Break.

Quantum Break 3D scan use

Clearly focusing on facial and character animation, using 3D scans has a huge impact on the quality and realism of this title. You can see from the screenshots some quite famous faces instantly recognisable from the in-game graphics. Adding their 4th dimension – Remedy showcases the game with a live-action TV companion series, so what you do in the game changes what you watch in the series. Sounding crazy right, but this is adding film, game and 3D scans together to create a storytelling experience unlike any other. Don’t believe me, check out the trailer here.

I think we have time for one more, the pioneer some would say. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter by The Astronauts. Photo-realistic 3D scans that created arguably the best looking environment seen in a game upon release, nearly 2 years ago.

Vanishing of Ethan Carter using photogrammetry

The Astronauts scanned their own assets for this title, making sure the captured environments and props were handpicked so they fall seamlessly into the world they created. Take a look at the trailer here.

So using 3D scans in games is happening now and to great effect. The benefit of using scans is clear – realism. Essentially having a digital double of anything you can see in the real world copied into a game makes for ultra-realistic content. Let’s also take into consideration advances in technology software and hardware. Programs like Reality Capture and AgiSoft Photoscan make processing scan data faster and more highly detailed than ever before thus saving valuable time for artists. The amount of scans available on marketplaces such as SnapTank also helps because instead of going down The Astronauts route and doing all your own scanning, developers can purchase ready made scans saving time and money. Camera and screen resolutions also benefit 3D capture artists, photogrammetry scans are processed from photographs and the more detailed these are, the better the scan. All these factors and many more are contributing to the rise of scans being used in game.

CoD and Vanishing of Ethan Carter

3d scan in Zbrush

You might be thinking, this is all too good to be true! What’s the catch here Rossy boy? Well there are some challenges when working with 3D scanned assets, which I will touch on lightly. Poly-count is a factor we can’t ignore. This makes up the size of the scan and if it’s in the ‘millions of poly’s’ category – chances are it’s too big to utilize in a game engine. You could always decimate the poly-count, lowering it to your specified needs. This will take time though and depending on how much you decimate – it will also reduce the quality. Cleaning scans is another problem for some, if you purchase or create a scan you might find it’s a little rough around the edges. You can spend time cleaning this up and making it perfect for going into the game engine but again this takes time and skill, which some artists and developers don’t have enough of. This is just a couple of challenges you might face when using scanned assets – and I did say I would touch lightly. I still need to cover retopology, texturing, rigging and animating to name but a few. Let’s keep that for another blog.

I hope this has given you a tiny insight into how 3D scans are being used right now in high-profile games. Studios such as The Farm 51, The Astronauts and Remedy are paving the way forward in regards to the consumer gaming experience. Look at the environment in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the scanned warehouse in GetEven and the character cut scenes in Quantum Break. In terms of realism, these are the benchmark. This is only the beginning too, with VR and Augmented Reality finally rearing their heads to the mass market with devices such as the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear, things are only going to get better. I personally can’t wait for the future of gaming. Blurring the line between the real world and a virtual one, it all starts with a 3D scan.

Ross Martin

Written by Ross Martin.

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