Google SketchUp for Game Design: Beginner's Guide

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By Robin de Jongh
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  1. Why Use SketchUp?

About this book

Creating video game environments similar to the best 3D games on the market is now within the capability of hobbyists for the first time, with the free availability of game development software such as Unity 3D, and the ease with which groups of enthusiasts can get together to pool their skills for a game project. The sheer number of these independent game projects springing up means there is a constant need for game art, the physical 3D environment and objects that inhabit these game worlds. Now thanks to Google there is an easy, fun way to create professional game art, levels and props.

Google SketchUp is the natural choice for beginners to game design. This book provides you with the workflow to quickly build realistic 3D environments, levels, and props to fill your game world. In simple steps you will model terrain, buildings, vehicles, and much more.

Google SketchUp is the ideal entry level modeling tool for game design, allowing you to take digital photographs and turn them into 3D objects for quick, fun, game creation. SketchUp for Game Design takes you through the modeling of a game level with SketchUp and Unity 3D, complete with all game art, textures and props. You will learn how to create cars, buildings, terrain, tools and standard level props such as barrels, fencing and wooden pallets. You will set up your game level in Unity 3D to create a fully functional first person walk-around level to email to your friends or future employers.

When you have completed the projects in this book, you will be comfortable creating 3D worlds, whether for games, visualization, or films.

Publication date:
November 2011


Chapter 1. Why Use SketchUp?

Imagine you're in Los Angeles. You're sitting at a round table covered with expensive champagne and caviar. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are sitting opposite you, and you've been getting on like old friends. That's natural—you spent four months with them last Summer. On stage, Kevin Spacey announces the winner of this year's Oscar for Best Director. It's you. As you stand and make your way to the podium you feel familiar nerves. You begin your acceptance speech, "This is really embarrassing for me as I'm not even a film director, and I'm really running out of things to say now—I've already been up here seven times. So, I'll tell you how this whole amazing journey started for me. It started with a book called SketchUp for Game Design."

You might think that the journey you're starting with this book will end with only some mods on your favorite game. Or you might expect, at the most, to sell some game assets on the Internet. You may not have bargained for this introduction. However, it is well within the realm of possibility. Last time you unwrapped and installed a new 3D game, you probably noticed the unbelievable realism that is now achieved in game design. This realism is due to the assets contained in the game, as well as the effects provided by the game engine. Due to the magnificent computational power hidden in just an average gaming computer, these assets are now approaching the same detail level of those used in film animation. In other words, CG film and game assets will no longer be any different.

When you have completed the projects in this book, you will be able to create 3D worlds— whether for games, visualization, or film. Your assets will be indistinguishable from real world artifacts. You will be documenting the world in 3D computer space. Given that it is said the future of film and gaming will ultimately bring the two together, you could find yourself becoming a master of both!


Commitment brings rewards

I want to talk to you from the outset about passion and commitment. If you commit to this book, it will commit to you. If you passionately apply what it tells you, in both the tutorials and principles discussed, you will find yourself on the road to stardom. It may be stardom in a small gaming company in your own neighborhood. It may be superstardom both in game and big screen. Still, passion and commitment are required for both these outcomes. The methods shown in this book are not hard to apply. Best of all, they do not require talent. The entry level for this profession is reachable, and you can make it. I would liken it to a brand new Olympic event running for the first year. There aren't many pros out there because the event is so new. Given that you train for the next four years you are almost guaranteed a place in your national team. Do you remember the film Cool Runnings? It's like that! Once you're in the team you will make what you can of it.

Creating assets for game and film is simply a matter of documenting the world around you. SketchUp gives you the tools to do that. You could spend ten or twenty times more than the price of SketchUp Pro and you wouldn't be any better off. In fact, you'd be worse off in the long run. Why? Because SketchUp users will create assets ten times faster than you can and, before you know it, you will have to start using SketchUp anyway. Here's a quote from a professional game designer who uses SketchUp. This is Ken Nguyen, a concept artist in the game and movie industries:

"I can build low and high detailed models (architecture and props) much faster than someone using for example Maya or Max. Moreover, if the game engine allows you to upload the models, one can see in a few minutes or hours if the models work or not, if the sizes are right instead of waiting a day or more for the models to be finished by a Maya/Max modeler."

There it is from the horse's mouth. What are you waiting for?


Is this book for me?

If you work (or want to work) in any industry that uses 3D assets, this book is for you. If you are an enthusiast, it's for you, too. You can follow everything in here, either on a PC or Mac. You can do it completely for free with the free version of SketchUp and free file converters. Best of all, the game engines you'll be using are also free. See the next chapter for more details about Unity 3D . As well as these obvious industries, web designers are catching on, too. There will be a large market for asset designers for Google Earth now that you can explore inside a building as well as outside it. The potential for replicating every store, museum, and park within Google Earth is immense, and so is the possibility for advertising revenue. Will Google shift their entire search engine into 3D web space? What if it does?

Can I really become a professional in the game and film industry?

As you've already seen, there is enormous crossover between the two industries. In the future, there will be no difference between the 3D assets used in the film and the game spin-off. Gamers will walk around the same sets that were used in the film, simply because the film sets will be entirely digital assets. This also means that the bar for entry into the film industry is lowered significantly. If you are a skilful SketchUp asset creator, you will be able to create a set for a fraction of the cost of the real thing. This means as long as you can afford a couple of actors and a blue screen setup, you're well away to being an Indie Film Director. Okay, that's simplifying it too much. It may take a larger team than just you to create a full-length film, but there's no reason why you can't be a spoke in a bigger wheel, or even the hub itself.


What's SketchUp really good at?

There are a multitude of things that SketchUp is good at. In fact, there are a multitude of things SketchUp is world-class at, though there are only two things that it is so good at that there's no direct competition.

There's also two things that are easily the most important considerations when creating 3D assets.

Not surprisingly, these two things coincide with game asset design.

  • Fast modeling of simple 3D geometry

  • Fast texturing of simple 3D geometry

Leaving everything else aside, if you concentrate on these two you will win with asset creation. This is why you should use SketchUp, and why it is ludicrous to use Max or Maya which are designed to be used for all sorts of other things too. They're a jack of all trades, masters of none. SketchUp is a master of these two attributes, which are most necessary to asset creation.

How will this book help?

I've written this book honestly. I've kept my feet on the ground. That's what will help you where other books have failed you. I must confess that I've leafed through a lot of books on 3D modeling over the years and I have been absolutely disgusted with the dishonesty of those authors. I mean, you pick up a book with the promise on the cover that goes something like "Master complete figure modeling and rigging" backed up by a beautifully textured and rendered figure on the cover. When you get the book home and labor over it for a couple of hours, you realize that the only way of creating that figure on the cover is by loading the example files from the attached CD.

In most of these books, the tutorials are not realistic, which means that you, the reader, cannot replicate what's being offered. They have steps such as "continue editing vertices until your face takes shape." Hang on there! A face? A human face? There are seven billion human beings in the world all with subtly different faces so that we can recognize each one. Such is the level of detail in the face. You expect me to sculpt it in Zbrush with just a paragraph of explanation? Well yes, apparently!

The same goes for tutorials in magazines. I recently saw a tutorial on character modeling where the artist even claimed to have sculpted the finely muscled hero in four easy steps, when the model by all accounts appeared to be imported from Poser or Daz. Maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit, but this kind of dishonesty really bugs me because, like you, I just want to learn the skills. I'd rather learn how to model an Aardvark really well than be promised a finely muscled human and end up with a blob that looks more like an anthill.

My promise to you as an author and someone who has had just as much frustration learning the skills as you have, is that I will only present the things I know you can, and will, model successfully. The upshot of this is that the front cover might not look as spangled and promising as the dishonest books. Neither will this book cover every single 3D modeling subject that each need a book by themselves, but it will provide a solid foundation to build on. I think that's a trade off that I know you're going to be fine with. In this book, we're interested in assets that will sell or make a difference in your games or movie sets.


You can get the tutorial models and source textures for this book by going to and selecting this book title. Scroll down and click on Code Bundle and enter your e-mail address to receive the download link.

Some limitations

Because we're talking about being honest, I'll admit one or two things. While SketchUp is the best you can get by a long way, SketchUp is not perfect. There are currently some limitations with the way images map onto geometry that sometimes requires you to import to the other software to finish the job quicker. Such as when you are texturing a highly-detailed model and need to use texture unwrapping. Modeling is also frustrating when there's a hole in your geometry and you just can't get it to plug up! These are things that I hope you'll get used to over time and you'll find ways of working through them. I can't list fixes for them all here, so it's best just to remind you that the various SketchUp user forums are some of the most helpful on the Internet. Also, if you've bought a license of SketchUp Pro, don't forget it comes with free e-mail support.


Making bags of cash selling assets

Can I really make money selling assets created in SketchUp? Let's take a look. Here's a screenshot from the online asset store for Vue users at Vue is primarily used for outdoor virtual photography (rendering outdoor scenes) and so the Vue users are always in need of buildings and props.

There you have it, a beautifully detailed model of the triumphal arch in Rome, $10.95 and it's simply cannon fodder for SketchUp users. Now, that's at the cheap end of the market because Cornucopia is used mostly by hobbyists. Shown next is another model of the same monument, this time, at the professional end of the scale at

This one's up at $100 for each and every download. A lot of money for an asset, you might say? But if you scroll down you can see it's got 4 ratings from customers, proving it's bagged at least $400 for this asset creator, probably more. Now that's not bad for a few days' modeling, is it? The model has been up since 2005 but it hasn't cost the creator a penny to leave it there generating currency for his or her holiday fund.

Yes, you can sell your assets created in SketchUp, if you follow this book and put some effort into your work.

Pop quiz

Here's a really quick quiz to get you into the Beginner's Guide way of learning.

  1. What are the two most important requirements for asset creation?

    a. High polygon counts and high-resolution texturing

    b. High-level modeling and rendering tools

    c. Fast modeling and fast texturing capabilities

  2. Can I sell the assets I created with SketchUp online?

    a. No, the quality from SketchUp is too low

    b. Absolutely, as long as I take the learning experience seriously

    c. Yes, but I won't make much money


The envy of the gaming community: creating custom levels

People all over the world play games. They've been doing it for ages. People always long to play alongside other people, rather than on their own, and it's the same with computer games. Virtual gaming worlds have sprung up with immense success. Games where teams can work together or against human opponents, such as Second Life, World of Warcraft, Halo, games where teams can work together, or against human opponents. Gaming brings people together in virtual worlds who would never get to meet in person. Games cross the boundaries of language and culture. When you start to take part in a community like, this you start to gain approval. After a while this turns to kudos, then adoration, and a following can develop. In the end, you have your own fan base. I have seen this happen time and again for extra-helpful forum members, game level creators, or tutorial writers. This kind of kudos can be the biggest reward available, much more satisfying than financial rewards.

If thanks and kudos are what motivates you, you've come to the right place. With this book, you will be able to mod your favorite games. You will be able to create the new game levels and release them for free to the community. You will be able to churn out detailed and professional assets for your friends to use. Just remember one rule: Do it for free, and don't be needy in your pursuit of praise. If you're good and you're consistent, it will come.

In-game level design tools

Many games come bundled with a level or map editor. Some have gone so far as to release the whole game development kit with the game, and you might be able to use this with SketchUp as your asset modeling tool. Find a good example of this and stick with it for a while. Learn the ins and outs of the game and the editor. Use the skills you learn in this book to create new game levels or customize the existing ones. If you are able to show that your levels are downloaded and popular, this will be an excellent portfolio to use in approaching a game company. Furthermore, the feedback you get from those playing your levels (good and bad) will help you hone your skills like nothing else.

Modding assets

Even if your favorite game doesn't have a level editor bundled with it, you can still make an impact with your new asset creation skills. Texture maps on your computer are usually saved somewhere accessible to you, so at the least you can take these and modify them to your own preferences. I once took great delight in mapping a photo of my own face on my gaming character, then running around creating mayhem.


What have I learned?

In this chapter, you have learned a little about SketchUp and how it excels at game asset modeling:

  • The two most outstanding features of SketchUp

  • SketchUp's limitations for game asset modeling

  • The convergence of gaming and film

  • Introduction to selling assets

  • How SketchUp is taking over from high-end applications like Maya and Max?

  • Where to find additional help

In the next chapter, you will find out what software you need to make game level and asset creation a swift and easy process.

About the Author

  • Robin de Jongh

    Robin de Jongh is the author of several books on professional workfl ows with SketchUp, GIMP, and Unity3D. He has worked for many years in the construction industry as a CAD designer and at one time ran his own architectural visualization company using SketchUp as the main presentation tool. He now works as an acquisitions editor for Manning Publications where he mentors new authors, and publishes books on Open Source technology topics. You can find him blogging at

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Latest Reviews

(2 reviews total)
Every Link results in a 404 error, I can't download anything, this is a sizable order...
The book gave me a whole picture how to use SketchUp, this was very helpfull for my first steps into this software.
Google SketchUp for Game Design: Beginner's Guide
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