PlaceholderMaterial in Godot – Complete Guide

When diving into the world of game development, one quickly encounters various resources and materials that can make or break the immersive experience of a game. In the new and improved Godot 4, materials play a crucial role in defining how objects appear on screen. But what happens when you’re optimizing your game for a server or working across different engine versions? Enter the PlaceholderMaterial class – a utility that can make your game project more flexible, and maintain critical aspects of gameplay even in reduced form.

What is PlaceholderMaterial?

Understanding PlaceholderMaterial

In Godot 4, PlaceholderMaterial is a special class designed to stand in for more complex material subclasses in certain situations. It’s essentially a lightweight, compatibility-focused resource within the Godot engine that ensures your game can still function under specific constraints.

What is it for?

PlaceholderMaterial comes in handy primarily in two distinct scenarios. First, when you have a game running on a dedicated server, you might want to strip down your game to its essentials for efficiency. PlaceholderMaterial helps by keeping only the texture dimensions, impacting the game package size minimally while maintaining gameplay integrity. Secondly, it serves as a fallback when certain materials are unavailable due to version differences or disabled modules.

Why should I learn it?

Understanding and implementing PlaceholderMaterial can be invaluable for any Godot developer. Learning about this class equips you with the knowledge to optimize your multiplayer games efficiently or maintain cross-compatibility among various builds of the engine. It adds a layer of resilience to your project, making sure that your game survives through various deployment scenarios while saving on crucial resources.

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Creating a Basic PlaceholderMaterial

Let’s start by creating a simple PlaceholderMaterial. This is the foundation of utilizing any material as a placeholder within your game.

const placeholder =

Once the PlaceholderMaterial is instantiated, it can be applied to a MeshInstance or similar object like this:

var mesh_instance =
mesh_instance.material_override = placeholder

Here we’ve created a new MeshInstance and set its material_override property to our newly created placeholder material.

Setting the Placeholder Properties

While the PlaceholderMaterial is basic, it still offers a few properties that can be adjusted to better match the intended “real” material’s basic appearance.

placeholder.albedo_color = Color(1, 0, 0)  // Red color
placeholder.emission_enabled = true
placeholder.emission = Color(0, 1, 0)  // Green color

In the code snippet above, we’ve set the albedo_color to red and enabled emission, with the emission itself being green. This gives a quick visual reference that the object will be bright and somewhat stand out.

Applying PlaceholderMaterial to Multiple Objects

It’s common to have multiple objects use the same PlaceholderMaterial, particularly in large scenes or during optimization passes.

for mesh_instance in get_tree().get_nodes_in_group("placeholders"):
    mesh_instance.material_override = placeholder

This script would set the PlaceholderMaterial to every node in the ‘placeholders’ group. Alternatively, you could iterate through a list of MeshInstances:

var mesh_instances = [MeshInstance1, MeshInstance2, MeshInstance3]
for mesh_instance in mesh_instances:
    mesh_instance.set_surface_material(0, placeholder)

In this case, we’re calling set_surface_material to apply the placeholder to each MeshInstance at surface index 0.

Switching from PlaceholderMaterial to Real Materials

At some point, you’ll want to swap out the placeholder materials with the actual, final materials for your game. Here’s an example of how one might do that.

var real_material = preload("res://path_to_your_material.tres")

for mesh_instance in get_tree().get_nodes_in_group("placeholders"):
    mesh_instance.material_override = real_material

This can be utilized in a testing build, for performance measurement, or when transitioning from a dedicated server build to a client build with full graphics.

Stay tuned for the next part where we will delve deeper into advanced uses of PlaceholderMaterial, ensuring you’re prepared to make full use of this class in a variety of game development scenarios.

Advanced Uses of PlaceholderMaterial

Beyond simple color and emission parameters, PlaceholderMaterials can be tailored to represent different visual cues which alert the developer or artist to certain states or requirements of the material that will eventually replace it. Let’s explore some examples of how to leverage PlaceholderMaterials for more complex scenarios.

Indicating Texture Size Requirements:

placeholder.texture_placeholder_albedo =
placeholder.texture_placeholder_albedo.create(256, 256, false, Image.FORMAT_RGBA8)

In this example, we’re creating an ImageTexture with specific dimensions to mimic the size of the eventual texture, giving a visual cue for the asset requirements.

Simulating Shader Parameters:

placeholder.shader_param_outline_size = 1.0
placeholder.shader_param_outline_color = Color(1.0, 1.0, 0.0)  // Yellow color

Here, one might simulate shader parameters that deal with outlining objects, providing a placeholder that respects the intended visual style of the object.

Handling Variations:

Suppose you have multiple PlaceholderMaterials for different variations of the same object. You can dynamically assign them based on certain conditions or flags.

var materials = {
    "wood": preload("res://PlaceholderMaterials/WoodPlaceholder.tres"),
    "metal": preload("res://PlaceholderMaterials/MetalPlaceholder.tres"),
    "plastic": preload("res://PlaceholderMaterials/PlasticPlaceholder.tres")

func set_material_for_object(obj, material_type):
    if material_type in materials:
        obj.material_override = materials[material_type]

Transitioning to Final Materials Conditionally:

On loading the final materials, you may want to transition only when certain conditions are met, such as the completion of a loading screen or specific player actions.

func _on_loading_complete():
    var final_material = preload("res://Materials/FinalMaterial.tres")
    foreach mesh_instance in get_tree().get_nodes_in_group("placeholders"):
        if mesh_instance.is_visible_in_tree():
            mesh_instance.material_override = final_material

Substituting Missing Materials During a Version Migration:

If you’re porting your project to a newer version of Godot and find that some materials are missing due to changes in the engine, you can use PlaceholderMaterials as a temporary solution.

var missing_material = preload("res://Templates/MissingMaterial.tres")

foreach mesh_instance in get_tree().get_nodes_in_group("migrated_objects"):
    if mesh_instance.get_surface_material(0) == null:
        mesh_instance.set_surface_material(0, missing_material)

Balancing Performance on Low-end Systems:

Lastly, for optimizing performance on systems with lower capability, PlaceholderMaterials can be adjusted to drop certain properties that are resource-intensive, such as subsurface scattering or transparency, ensuring smoother gameplay on more devices.

if OS.get_system_info()["ram"] < 8000:  # If the system has less than 8GB of RAM
    placeholder.subsurface_scattering_strength = 0.0
    placeholder.transparency = Material.TRANSPARENCY_DISABLED

By mastering the use of PlaceholderMaterial, you can streamline your development process, improve performance, and ensure cross-compatibility for your Godot projects. Always remember that PlaceholderMaterials are temporary; they serve to keep your project rolling until the final materials are in place, so be sure to eventually replace them with the intended assets as your project nears completion.

While PlaceholderMaterials are inherently straightforward, their advanced applications can become complex depending on the specific needs of your project. Let’s delve deeper with more code examples to illustrate these use cases:

Simulating Physical-Based Rendering Properties:

placeholder.roughness = 0.5
placeholder.metallic = 0.8

This mimics a metallic surface with moderate roughness, which can be useful for indicating materials that require a PBR approach.

Adjusting for Different LODs (Levels of Detail):

func adjust_for_lod(mesh_instance, lod_level):
    match lod_level:
            mesh_instance.material_override = preload("res://Materials/HighLODPlaceholder.tres")
            mesh_instance.material_override = preload("res://Materials/MediumLODPlaceholder.tres")
            mesh_instance.material_override = preload("res://Materials/LowLODPlaceholder.tres")

Here we’re defining a function that applies different PlaceholderMaterials based on the LOD level specified, ensuring that the most appropriate visual placeholders are used during the LOD tuning process.

Visualizing Collision Shapes:

var collision_shape_material =
collision_shape_material.albedo_color = Color(0, 1, 0, 0.5)  // Semi-transparent green
collision_shape_material.flags_unshaded = true

foreach shape in get_tree().get_nodes_in_group("collision_shapes"):
    shape.debug_material = collision_shape_material

This snippet uses PlaceholderMaterials to render collision shapes in the scene, giving them an unshaded, semi-transparent green color to make them stand out for debugging purposes.

Indicating Special Material States:

var special_state_material =
special_state_material.albedo_color = Color(1, 0, 1)  // Magenta color
special_state_material.emission = Color(1, 1, 0)  // Yellow emission

func mark_special_state_mesh(mesh_instance):
    mesh_instance.material_override = special_state_material

This code sets a unique PlaceholderMaterial to objects that require a specific material state, using a magenta color combined with a yellow emission to stand out significantly in the scene.

Using Placeholders for Prototyping:

var prototype_material =
prototype_material.albedo_color = Color(0.5, 0.5, 0.5)  // Grey color
prototype_material.flags_unshaded = true

func apply_prototype_look(objects_array):
    for obj in objects_array:
        obj.material_override = prototype_material

When prototyping, visuals aren’t the priority. A simple grey, unshaded material can be used to diversify prototype objects temporarily while focusing on gameplay and mechanics.

Substituting Materials When Assets are Missing:

func check_and_replace_missing_materials(nodes):
    var missing_mat_placeholder = load("res://Materials/MissingMaterialPlaceholder.tres")
    for node in nodes:
        if node is MeshInstance and node.get_surface_material(0).is_null():
            node.set_surface_material(0, missing_mat_placeholder)

If during the development process you encounter missing assets, perhaps due to a sync issue with a version control system, this function will replace any null materials with a visible placeholder.

By incorporating PlaceholderMaterial into your toolset, you’re not just optimizing for performance and compatibility—you’re also preserving the integrity of your game’s visuals throughout the development process and setting clear indicators for the work that needs to be done. PlaceholderMaterials can be potent tools, striking a balance between temporary stand-ins and informative cues for the final production polish of your game assets.

Continuing Your Game Development Journey With Zenva

Your exploration into the functionality of PlaceholderMaterial in Godot 4 taps into the broader universe of game development skills that can lift your projects from foundational concepts to polished games. We understand that mastering game development is a continuous process, and we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Our Godot Game Development Mini-Degree is a comprehensive learning pathway tailored for aspiring developers who want to build cross-platform games from the ground up. This collection of courses covers the ins and outs of the Godot 4 engine, guiding you through the creation of interactive scenes, platforms, role-playing games, real-time strategy games, and even survival games. Suitable for beginners and those looking to further enhance their skills, it provides a structured curriculum that fits your learning pace while helping you build a professional portfolio.

For a broader look at what we offer and to find the perfect course to match your current skills and future aspirations, check out our full range of Godot courses. At Zenva, we’re dedicated to equipping you with the knowledge and tools you need to turn your game development dreams into reality.


Mastering technologies like PlaceholderMaterial is a step towards achieving proficiency in game development. With these skills, you are not just building games, you’re crafting experiences. As you’ve seen, the PlaceholderMaterial in Godot 4 isn’t only about optimization; it’s a strategic asset for troubleshooting, prototyping, and refining your game’s visual fidelity and performance across different platforms.

At Zenva, we commend your dedication to learning and growth in the exciting realm of game creation. We invite you to continue your journey with us through our Godot Game Development Mini-Degree, ensuring you have the expertise to bring your imaginative worlds to life. Let’s keep coding, keep creating, and keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in game development!

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