In 1999, a small company called @Last Software produced an easy-to-use 3D modeling package called SketchUp. Over the years, it has evolved, becoming an indispensable tool for architects, game developers, film and stage professionals, hobbyists, and more. Its strength lies in an intuitive set of tools which allow the end user to quickly give shape to an idea in a 3D world without extensive training or background in design. Owned for a number of years by Google, the product is now owned by Trimble, a company with a background in GPS applications.
SketchUp can be an invaluable asset in a game developer’s tool set. Useful for laying out level designs, throwing together a quick model for prototyping use, or building the basis for a complicated model, SketchUp has a variety of uses throughout the development pipeline.
There are two versions of SketchUp available; the free version, “SketchUp”, and “SketchUp Pro”. From a game development point of view, it depends on what you are going to use the tools for. If you are simply going to concept out ideas in SketchUp and go no further with them, then the free version is adequate for your needs. If you want to take your output into another software package or make a game asset, you will likely need to either buy the Pro version, or use another software package (like 3DS Max) which has the ability to import the SketchUp SKP format, and convert it.