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I'm making a mobile game for Android and iOS on Unity. At the moment I am researching and designing the technical aspects of the game. Since it is not plausible to use highly detailed models for mobile platforms, should normal mapped models be used instead?

Thus I have couple of questions about normal mapping. Are normal mapped models much more costly to make, in other words, do they take a lot longer to create? And are they much more expensive to render? At least there are no additional draw calls, but of course the shader is more complex.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you doing shader calculations or want to do a normal map texture? \$\endgroup\$
    – Cristina
    Jul 23 '13 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ In Unity the shaders are already there. I am just wondering how much more time it will take for the artist to create a normal mapped model compared to low-poly texture mapped one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Esa
    Jul 24 '13 at 6:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ My artist is creating normal mapped models for our mobile game and They look great on iPhone and iPad. I didn't feel any performance problem unless I use complex image effects on the camera (Blur, AntialiasPostEffect and such) \$\endgroup\$
    – Xtro
    Jul 30 '13 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you ask your artist about his workflow? In particular how he does the normal mapped models? As one artist said that creating normal mapped models is very time consuming. \$\endgroup\$
    – Esa
    Jul 31 '13 at 5:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suggest you read these two articles as a general rule of thumb: - IPhone Practical Guide - Optimizing Graphics Performance \$\endgroup\$
    – Ron
    Jul 31 '13 at 12:28
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The model itself is not more costly to made but an additional texture is required. Depending on the artist a new texture has to be drawn or the bumpiness is created from a high detail version of the model. The is no general answer.

Unity states

Normal mapped. This is a bit more expensive than Diffuse: it adds one more texture (normal map), and a couple of shader instructions.

Normal mapping is a viable option on mobile platform if you stick to the mobile shaders.

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