Ever notice how textures evolved over the years? Ever since I learned how to texture UVs I've looked much closer at video game assests. Often times I will texture something, not like the way it wrapped; but then later notice the same flaw in AAA title assests that worked out just fine. Fallout 4 for example: some of the stone assets have UVs that do not seemlessy match, but when you view them from a distance you would never know. Final Fantasy 15 has a few low quality bump maps on some minor assests that are genrally naked to the eye, but when you get close you see pixelation; but it's still amazing! Before in the PS1 era, a lot of the textures were basic; but now there are monster games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted with very realistic art dedication.
I never got a chance to mess with it. My computer logic board died and I haven't bought a replacement computer yet. I was overdue for an upgrade. I was only just getting into the beginning of bump mapping. I don't think I was doing it like I was supposed to because the light didn't seem to display well. Either my lighting was too harsh for the shading to work, or I wasn't making the map dark enough on the deeper portions. I was only messing with mortared brick textures so I didn't go too dark. I never really got much of a chance to mess with it after that. Once I get set up with a new computer I'm definitely going to get back into it. Not designing games but trying to do animation.
It takes practice, it's all about adjusting the levels after you've applied the map. I don't know what your local library is like, but our has a section dedicated to 3D modeling and rendering; open education to the public. Hardware is expensive, so use someone else's if you have too lol. They have 3D printers too, my very first print was the Buster Sword
I was using Blender. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think the other applications required massively priced subscriptions. I'm saving those for once I start to get the hang of it. I've heard Blender isn't very good for lighting anyways. I don't know of any good ray tracing applications neither to I know how to use it alongside Blender, but like you said. Practice. I'll get the hang of it eventually.
Blender is awesome, don't disregard it's ability to adapt; like Maya and other pricey programs, I downloaded an add-on that lets me use a Kinect camera for scanning and MOCAP (no offense Sony lol). Blender has a plug-in feature. You can download custom user made add-ons to tune the program the way you like it. I say tune because my instructor said 3D modeling is exactly like learning to play an instrument: you learn the modeling, then the UV mapping, then the painting, setting scenes, backdrops, HDRI, lighting; then it gets real as you start exploring all of the rest.. As far as the higher priced programs; I learned 3D modeling with Maya, and though I don't agree with their price models, their subscriptions give you more than just the program itself. They have nifty bonuses (Character Creator, Cloud Storage, etc.), but honestly if you are going to go the indie route, Blender is a good place to start, coupled with MakeHuman; both are open source, and have Unity compatibility.