Ever find yourself drooling over programs like 3DS Max and Maya? I know I have. In fact that’s what I was doing when I stumbled upon Autodesk Maya LT, which was released just back at the end of August (2013). It packs in many of Maya 2014’s new tools and advancements. It actually includes all of Maya’s modeling tools, most of its material tools, a selection of animation tools (including rigging and weight painting), Viewport 2.0 and DirectX 11 viewport technology, among a few other fancy features.
High Quality Realtime Shaders with ShaderFX
A huge draw for those looking to create game assets comes in the form of ShaderFX, a node based realtime shader editor that allows for the creation of HSLS and CgFX shaders without the need for any programing knowledge. This feature is not currently in Maya 2014 (though it does support these real time shaders languages), so it is currently a nifty perk for Maya LT owners. Below is an example of a scene rendered in real time in UDK with custom converted CgFX shaders made in Maya. The ability to view results in Maya similar or the same as those in UDK, CryEngine, or Unity is pretty neat. These shaders can then be exported in a number of formats that suit most current 3D game engines.
obviously the meat of Maya LT lays in it’s modeling capabilities. The program also includes some handy retopology tools and geometry baking (to bump/normal maps), to help convert those high poly models down into something more suited for work in real time environments.
Maya LT Limitations
Perhaps the biggest drawback to LT is that it has a serious restriction on how much geometry can be exported, and the formats it can export in. For a start it can only export in its own native .mlt format and .fbx. With the .mlt format there is no limitation on polygon count, but only Maya LT can read it. With FBX the limit is a mere 25000 polygons! The argument here is that 1) LT is primarily targeting indie developers, who are primarily developing for iOS and other mobile devices 2) Autodesk need to implement some harsh measures to ensure LT doesn’t compete with its premium kin.
The suggested work-around is to export assets in multiple parts, if necessary. It is worth mentioning that there has been some rumbling about the possibility of lifting the export limit somewhat, though Autodesk is still very keen not to get too generous. For the inquisitive, there is an interesting thread on the Polycount forum in which the developers have sought to communicate and collect ideas.
The next big features to be excised are a good number of more advanced rigging features, advanced 2D/3D textures, MEL and Python scripting, and then the rendering features – all gone! To be fair rendering and the advanced 2D/3D textures (for software rendering) would be of little use to games developers. Rigging and scripting are very important to many users, but scripting could be used to circumvent limitations, and advanced rigging tools are one of those premium features (arguably).
So, while Maya LT has many of Maya 2014’s best features, it is sorely lacking in some respects, so this brings us to the all important question, how much? USD $795. Some people will be spitting their beverages at the screen in disgust at this point, while others will be carefully weighing up the pros and cons. To put it in perspective, Maya (and 3DS Max) are roughly 4 and a half times that. It’s also half the price of LightWave and Modo, but significantly more expensive than Carrara 8.5 or Shade 14. What it comes down to is that Maya is the gold standard in game and film asset creation. It is respected and used widely, and for a fraction of the price you can get a good deal of that power.
While it is half the price of the mid-level programs, it is still expensive in that it comes with some hefty restrictions. It is up to the punter to decide if the tool is for them.
Just For Indie Developers?
As far as I know there are no licensing limitations locking the software to indie game development, but with the cut-down feature list it is certainly a targeted product. This is to say that Maya LT may have other uses too. If you don’t mind having to cut your models up for export via FBX to your other 3D programs then Maya’s modelling tools and 3D painting might be an attractive asset to your 3D tool set, whether your a hobbyist with a bit of cash to burn or a content creator for programs like DAZ Studio and Poser. Or maybe there are some software nutters out there that just want to own everything they can get their hands on… like me.
So yeah, I’m personally a little excited by all this. I’d love to see Autodesk increase the polygon limit and include an OBJ export option, but on the whole, I think Maya LT is a solid product.
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