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I have a game concept that only really works in an urban area that is of reasonable scale and diversity. In terms of what it should look like, think GTA, in terms of the size think more like a small neighbourhood with residents and a few local shops, perhaps a supermarket.

I'm mostly experienced in programming and not at all with modelling, texturing or drawing, but I've found that SketchUp allows me to design interesting looking buildings that I model after real world buildings in my own neighbourhood.

Designing these buildings and other objects can take from a few tens of minutes to a few hours. My question is: what is the best approach for a one man army like me who does manage to model buildings to create an interesting city environment in a reasonable amount of time? My game will not be based on procedural generation, the environment will actually be modelled like GTA cities.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Even with a manual process of model generation, there are some tricks you can use to maximize your output. We can follow the same basic rules for real life conservation. The three R's:

  • Reuse - Take the same model and apply a different texture to it. This can save you the time it takes to generate a model. And will give a convincing "that's a different building" feel. But generating textures can be time consuming too, so the savings here are not great.

  • Reduce - Is there some part of the city that isn't likely to be visited? You could just use billboard sprites for houses/buildings. From afar, this will look good enough to fool some. The fastest, but least visually appealing way of growing your city.

  • Recycle - Use the same model and texture, in a different part of the city. Since you're placing these manually, you can ensure that the same models will be far away from each other. This is the fastest method for growing your city where players will interact with it, but keen-eyed gamers will notice these buildings and you may lose some of the immersive value of your game. (Though with some of the subdivisions I've seen in real life, you could probably get away with this).

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At least around where I live, there's a bunch of houses that are all based on the same plan (or parts of plans, which allowed for some customization). I mean, down to window sizes, etc; including my parent's place. Which means that, without any modifications, the houses literally look like re-colored versions of each other, as if on a memory-limited system... It can be fun to find the 'look alikes' in other neighborhoods. –  Clockwork-Muse Nov 12 '12 at 20:55
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