Looking for cheap/free 3D environment design software (Mac)
January 6, 2014 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I'm looking for cheap/free 3D environment design software -- it can be a stand-alone program, or it could even be a kind of 'map building' tool that comes with computer games these days (so you can build your own levels, etc)

Hi, I'm looking for cheap/free 3D environment design software -- it can be a stand-alone program, or it could even be a kind of 'map building' tool that comes with computer games these days (so you can build your own levels, etc)

The main functions I'm looking for are:

1. Relatively easy to use / customize -- definitely want to be able to import my own textures, etc

2. It *must* be NAVIGABLE, e.g. I need an option where I can walk/fly around the environment once it's rendered.

3. I'd like the environment to be 'alive' once you start navigating, e.g. if you design trees, water, clouds, etc, then they actually MOVE (e.g. water flows, trees blow in the wind, clouds drift)

4. I want it to be 3D and semi-realistic, e.g. not like Minecraft graphics

5. I'd prefer it to be reasonably cheap or, preferably, free. But you might as well suggest anything/everything.

If you can help me find anything like this, I would be eternally grateful. As I said, there might be something perfect like this which comes with a first-person shooter or whatever, I don't mind, just so long as it's highly customisable and has all those other things on the list

Thanks heaps!
posted by heylight to Technology (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The "alive" part of your request is going to be the hardest. Some CAD software might work for you. SketchUp might be worth experimenting with. It's free to use. If you want to sacrifice ease of use, look at Unity 3d. Your request is kind of like the old engineering joke - you want it fast? you want it to work well? you want it cheap? - choose two.
posted by Brent Parker at 12:41 AM on January 7, 2014

What's your application for this?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:51 AM on January 7, 2014

Hey Sebastien, what do you mean by my 'application'?

Brent: you're right, I'm being greedy :) Thanks for the ideas though.

More recommendations welcome!
posted by heylight at 12:52 AM on January 7, 2014

what do you mean by my 'application'?

What, actually, do you want to use this for?

I'd agree with the above - SketchUp would give you the closest I can think of.
posted by Jimbob at 12:59 AM on January 7, 2014

Multiple applications, i.e. music video, art, general experimentation. I'm not trying to build a video game or anything like that. I've tried SketchUp before and found it a bit difficult/limited for what I want. Unity 3D looks like the best option so far.
posted by heylight at 1:08 AM on January 7, 2014

Do you want to create games? Experiment with architectural design? Create a five minute long animated movie? Machinima? Something more esoteric?

People who are actually using this stuff will chime in, but you may want to look at the Valve Hammer Editor which apparently came with a game called Team Fortress 2, with tutorials here and put together sophisticated environments. I guess (but do not know) that this will give you the chance to use a bunch of premade models and terrain as if they were clip art, but then also design completely new stuff.

I do imagine there's a lot of energy and creativity in the level design communities, and that some of the tools are probably fairly sophisticated. So you can create and then walk around in environments, even if you're not big on shooting stuff.

Or you can create models or animated movies in blender. Or games. i.e. interactive 3D environments.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:12 AM on January 7, 2014

(I didn't check on how blender's gaming stuff is working out, so you'll want to hear other people's thoughts on this stuff.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:23 AM on January 7, 2014

well, I like that Blender is free, cause Unity is $1,500 ... 0_0
posted by heylight at 1:27 AM on January 7, 2014

there is a free version of Unity but I'm not sure how limited it will be... testing it now.
posted by heylight at 1:44 AM on January 7, 2014

I agree that unity is your best bet for the interactive part of the question. The free version will not limit you. Most of the pro features are advanced graphical options and a profiler.

Unity isn't a 3d modeling package though. You can design the terrain, but for more detailed modeling I'd check out cheetah3d, for an inexpensive and intuitive 3d modeling package on Mac.
posted by meta87 at 6:45 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh and I would stay away from blender's game engine. Blender is great for everything else (modeling, animation, etc) but the game engine is not stable and just not worth it compared to unity.

This is mentioned on blender's dev blog:


"What should then be dropped is the idea to make Blender have an embedded “true” game engine. We should acknowledge that we never managed to make something with the portability and quality of Unreal or Crysis… or even Unity3D."
posted by meta87 at 8:45 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about OpenSim? It's basically Second Life on your own server. Or you could just join Second Life, but keep in mind you would probably need to at least rent some land in order to build anything persistent. In any case, you'd have dynamic skies, water, wind built right in, and you can even play with Windlight settings to make custom skies. Seems a lot easier than trying to reinvent all of that stuff. Maybe grab a free account and check it out?
posted by salix at 9:55 AM on January 11, 2014

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