Outside the Box:
The most face-consuming geometry you can make is curved, tubular objects like hoses or bars or tentacles. Normally I limit the maximum cross-section to a pentagon. Sometimes based on the visibility and proximity of the object you can mix up the cross sections accordingly (see MIXED CROSS-SECTIONS below).
Diamonds Over Squares
When you need to make a tube-like shape such as an engine nozzle or cable, a pentagon is the optimal shape for low-poly objects. However, sometimes we need to use less and a square cross-section is all we can afford. If the shape is supposed to be rounded make it a diamond shape instead of a square. The reasoning for this may be debatable, but it's been my experience that if the top edge of a supposedly round object is blatantly flat as in the case of a square. With an edge at the top it seems just that much closer to being round.
This is a technique where a shape is not constrained by the same cross-section or lofting shape in it's length. This works especially well with darker or smaller objects or when a cross-section is very noticeable in the design and needs to look rounded.
Splitting the Difference
Sometimes you'll get an edge which needs to be represented by a more traingular shape than a rectangular shape. A quick and easy way to accomplish this with accuracy is to 'split the difference. Basically you simply take an edge, divide it and merge the end vertices to that point. You could just merge the vertices and move them but then that'd be more work now, wouldn't it?
A corollary to STD I use in 3D Studio Max is to just select the two vertices making up the line being divided and uniformly scale them to a point, and then click 'select' under the vertex merge command.
Credits: Thinking Outside the Box logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Thinking Outside the Box is © 1998 Paul Steed. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't even try it. We've got really big guns, and we're ripped, baby.