How to Bring Your Imagination to Life By Developing 3D Games

how to design 3d games

If you want your players to become fully immersed in all the action you have planned for them, it’s time to explore the world of 3D. Sure, 2D games can be a lot of fun, from Pac-Man to Candy Crush, but for many genres — like racing games, obstacle courses and shooters — 2D can leave players feeling a little flat.

The Key Differences Between 2D and 3D Games

In a 2D universe, everything is on one plane: stuck to the ground, like the drawings on a sheet of paper. Objects and characters have length and width, but no height, and the player looks down on a flat map. Left and right is called the x-axis, while up and down is the y-axis. 

In a 3D game everything pops out into a third dimension. Objects now have height and up-down movement along a third axis – the z-axis. Most 3D games use perspective, as if the player was looking out at your new virtual world through a video camera, which is why the player’s perspective is usually called the camera. Objects appear larger when they’re close to the camera and become smaller as they move away. 

If moving from 2D to 3D game development seems complicated, it certainly used to be the case. Years ago, developers had to figure out how to make perspective seem real, make graphics flow without eating up too much memory, and how gravity, bouncing and all the other physics needed to be rendered. However, that work has already been done, so today you simply drag and drop in a no-code engine like Buildbox that does all of the rendering for you. 

Today’s creators stand on the shoulders of giants (along the z-axis, of course). 

The Best of Both Realms: The World of 2.5D

Using perspective isn’t the only way to create a 3D game. Some games have objects in three dimensions, but give the player a 2D view of the action. This is called an isometric view and is much like looking down on the ground from a satellite’s perspective. Use the features that work best for your project — there’s never a reason to limit yourself.

Getting Started in 3D With Buildbox 3

To jump into your first 3D game, download Buildbox for free and log in. Click the “Templates” tab and choose any of the prebuilt templates closest resembling your game, like Martian Marathon, Interstellar Strike or Dagger Toss. 

If you don’t want to rely on a template and prefer starting from scratch, select “Create New” and then “Create 3D Game.”  Buildbox automatically generates the first scene of a 3D game, with a cube floating slightly above a green field. If you click the “Play” button to see a preview, you’ll see the cube gently fall to the ground. No, that’s not really a game, it’s just the template you’ll use to create yours. 

Everything you see is just an array of placeholders, which you can modify to turn it into your own game. You decide on the size and shape of the ground, where the objects and characters go, how they move and what sizes they are. And, when the basics of the game are finished, you can replace the objects with your own 3D artwork from Blender or your favorite graphics program. 

There are two main screens to look at. First is the 3D World showing the objects in your game. Second is the Mind Map, showing you the action. Start with the 3D World first:

Navigating and Manipulating the 3D World

The 3D World screen looks much like what your players will see, a land of objects and characters, which are all called assets. Characters are assets that can be followed by the camera, while objects cover everything else. Players can control some objects, like collision groups, but the camera won’t follow objects. 

To take a good look at your 3D world: 

  • Zoom: Use the scroll wheel on your mouse.
  • Rotate:  Press the spacebar and right mouse button.
  • Pan: Press the spacebar and left mouse button. 

Tips for Working With Objects

To add a new object, select one from the Asset Library. To make a character out of that object, drag it into the Character folder in the left menu. When you select a character or an object, you can change its size, shape and position by clicking and dragging, or by changing its attributes in the right menu. 

Remember, everything has three axes. When you select the Multitool or Scale Tool, dragging the red line on an object changes its size along the x-axis, while the green line scales the y-axis and the blue line scales the z-axis. 

The same three axes are used for controlling an object’s movement, along with a fourth option: rotation. Keep in mind that objects can be affected by gravity and other forces in the game. If you don’t want an object to ever move along any axis, set its movement to “0.” If you want it to be affected by other forces, but not to move on its own, use the setting of “none” instead. 

Using the Mind Map

When it’s time to start setting your characters and objects into action, open the Mind Map window.  Here, you can choose from preset actions in the menu on the left by dragging them onto your Mind Map, like Jump, Float, Rotate and Bounce.. 

When you select a movement, it appears in the Mind Map as a node. Every node has an input and an output connection to link it to other nodes. For example, if you want an object to jump, connect a Jump node to that object by clicking the Enable button and then dragging the connector to that object line connecting the object to the Jump node, linking them together. If you want the movement to begin as soon as the game opens, connect it to the Start node. Remember, in the Mind Map, it doesn’t matter where the nodes are each situated, the important thing is what they are linked to. 

For more tips and some ideas of what you can do with the 3D game engine, check out Zack’s 3D complete game tutorial series on YouTube. 

How to Name a Game

Once your 3D game is ready to go live, it’s time to give it a name. Your players should have some idea of what to expect from your game just by reading its name. If someone is looking for a racing game, they are going to completely ignore a title like, “Susan’s Shopping Adventure.” Even if Susan is racing a shopping cart through a store, that isn’t what the name suggests.

If you’re creating a racing game, it should have at least one word to suggest speed, or a word describing the vehicle used in the race. Likewise, a 3D shooting game should have at least one word describing shooting, or the featured weapon. “Tank Blitz 1940,” for example, makes it obvious this is a WW2 tank shooting game.  “Tank Rally Obstacle Course,” would likely describe a racing game — hopefully with lots of objects to be crushed under the tracks. For more game naming ideas, read our article, “19 Ways to Come up with Game Ideas.”

Building 3D Game with Buildbox

Buildbox 3 allows for easy 3D game development with no coding. All you need is an imagination and a plan to bring your game to life using our preset templates and assets. Download Buildbox for free today to get started!

Tiana Crump

About Tiana Crump

Tiana Crump is a journalist and social media manager at Buildbox with a passion for inspiring others and driving brand awareness. As a gamer and creator, she enjoys sharing game development insights, tips, and success stories from the Buildbox community.