Bring marshmellows and a stick…

For this texture set, I wanted to retain the fire/lava vein effect in the walls. Although I had mapped it out from my previous run through all the textures as covered in a previous post, I ended up making quite a few changes. Click the picture below for a closer look.

Here’s a breakdown of the sequence of events from start to finish.

1. Create an outline – To do this I selected a dark color and outlined all the rocks letting anything outside the outline be designated for the fire/lava. I followed the source fairly closely but did take some liberties to make some a little bigger.

2. Fill in the rocks – I initially selected a tan color for the rocks since the original was largely tan-ish. I colored in every rock, one by one. There are easier ways but I enjoy it so I don’t mind using the color every pixel method.

3. Make tiling template – Since any texture in the set could be next to the other, I had to make sure that they match up naturally and didn’t have any obvious seams. I copied the first 3 left-side columns of pixels in the top most texture and pasted them on each image all the way down. Next, I repeated the process but for the right side. This made all 4 textures (this SET is 4 textures in a column) have the exact same sides. Since the top one was seamless, they now all are seamless.

4. Make duplicate of image in new layer – The duplicate layer is what I used to create a uniform and consistent lava pattern. To duplicate a layer, right-click on the layer in the layer toolbox, then select duplicate layer. An exact copy of that layer will be placed right underneath the original.

5. Remove fire/lava from top layer – First, I turned off the bottom layer and make sure the top layer is selected. Then, using the eraser tool, I erased all the fire/lava and miscellaneous areas not already designated as rocks (and thus colored in). This made the lava area transparent but it is still preserved in the bottom layer which is “hidden” from view when turned off.

6. Create lava layer – First, I turned the bottom layer back on and the top layer off. Then I started with the top image and hand created a gradient covering the whole image starting with yellow at the bottom and working to dark purple(ish) on the top. Then I copied this completed lava gradient and pasted it over the 3 bottom images.

7. Merge the two images – I “turned on” the top layer (making both layers on), then right clicked on the top layer in the layer toolbox. From there I selected “merge down” so the top layer and bottom layer become a single image with both the new rocks and lava together.

8. Revise – At this point, I decided that the lighter color rocks didn’t contrast well enough or give the lava the pop I wanted. I loaded another copy of the original texture in GIMP, picked out a new brown but then decided on a slightly lighter color than the original rock outline. Using the bucket paint tool, I filled in all the rocks with the new color. In this process, I also caught a few miscolored pixels and fixed them.

9. Create depth – Next, I added a lighter faded version of the rock color to the left side of all of the rock outlines. This created a highlight and adds the impression of depth to the rocks.

10. Touchup – Lastly I offset the image 1/2 on the horizontal plane so I can see how the whole file tiles sideways. Since dungeons and interiors don’t exceed 1 tile in height, I didn’t have to worry about this texture set tiling vertically. To offset in GIMP, press Ctrl + Shift + O and in the “X” box typing 32 which is half the total width of the texture. After clicking the “offset” button, the whole image will shift 32 pixels to the right and placed the edges of the image in the middle. I scanned and fixed any mismatchs or slight errors then shifted the whole image 32 more pixels returning it to its original place.

Icy walls of bleh

A little before and after pictures. There are a total of 5 ICE dungeon texture SETS. As you can see in the below images, they are mostly just recolored variants with different symbols. SIDENOTE: I presume they are Daedric symbols commonly seen in later games.

Here are three of the originals….

It took a bit to decide how much different, I wanted each to be. Ultimately, I just decided on to make them vary enough so that they would have their own appeal but maintain the overall theme. I haven’t seen these dungeons in game yet (never played far enough I presume). Once I complete all the SET files, I will do a test run through the game to see if I can find them (and others).

And the same there afterward…

Where do I start….

Design Document

ARENA DEPIXELIZATION PROJECT(ADP) 

Texture mod for The Elder Scrolls 1: Arena

 

PURPOSE:

  • Create the (first) TES1:Arena texture mod replacing the down-sampled blocky artwork with smoother less pixelated textures that is hopefully appealing and unique.

 

GOALS

  • Create a new unique art style for game
  • Improve texture variety by replacing duplicate textures and ensuring that each texture set and image is unique and stands out from the others.
  • Replace all textures.
  • Create a more cohesive theme amongst textures.

 

Limitations

  • TES1: Arena is a very old game and uses unconventional file formats and require special programs/methods to open.
  • Most textures are only 64 x 64 pixels (or in the case of SET files, groups of images with those dimensions) and cannot be resized. This limits the amount of fidelity that can be achieved.
  • Textures are limited to a (external) 256 color palette.
  • In game, many textures in the same SET are placed side by side in seemly random order. That means most textures from the same SET (and their door images) have to be seamless with one another.
  • Some textures are compressed in an unknown way that has yet to be deciphered.
  • The game engine assigns textures based on existing INI files for each type areas but the texture sets aren’t matched very well in multi-level areas. Many areas use different texture SETs for each level but they appear almost arbitrary in how they were selected.  It would take meticulous remapping of all the INI files to create more cohesive appearance.

 

Resources

  • Hallfiry’s Arena Suite– It is a set of tools that allows bulk extraction and reinsertion of assets from the Global.BSA (Arena’s game asset container file). It also converts all the non-compressed textures into PNG files for easy editing and then converts them back when reconstructing the BSA file.  This program allows me to have one working directory. When I need to test my work out in the game, I just create a new GLOBAL.BSA from that directory and replace the one in the game directory.
  • GIMP – Freeware alternative to Adobe Photoshop

 

Steps:

  1. Complete all SET files to have “Alpha” status. (95% complete)
  2. Complete all Wall and Ground IMG files.
  3. Complete remaining IMG files to “Beta” status.
  4. Tweak textures that don’t show well in game or don’t match.
  5. Fix any individual texture errors (e.g. rogue pixels or misaligned textures).
  6. RELEASE 1.0 (not set but likely on Tesnexus and ModDb.

Who’s steering this thing?

Planning

One thing I noticed recently on my work w/ Arena is that I don’t really have much of a game plan other than “finish Wall SETS then IMGs”. Considering how much project management is part of my work, I found it odd that I didn’t implement it here. After thinking about it awhile, I came up with two reasons: 1. When I’m home I don’t want to think. 2. This is my hobby so I have never been too worried about how fast or slow it goes…I just do it for fun. Incidentally, for my Torchlight project, I didn’t have this problem (well not to the same degree). In that project, I tackled one levelset at a time. I marked textures to see where they fell in the game ahead of time and work one of them till I was happy how it looked in game. Only then would I complete all the others in that level set. I even had some of the templates saved for similar creatures to minimize duplication of effort.  There was still room for improvement though. I was terrible about writing down and special techniques or tricks that I used. Because of this, if I held off and came back later, I forgot how it was done.

Mission

Realizing this now, I feel their are definite ways to plan a little more accordingly. Hopefully in the next week, I’ll enough time to work out a little design document. It might be the next post, not sure yet. I plan to work out the vision, objectives, goals, etc. It might not make too much difference but I think it will help keep me on track with what I want from this project (and I can develop the habit now so the next project will go more smoothly).

Line them up and knock them down

Start strong

As I have stated in the past, one of the most taxing aspects of editing the TES:Arena textures is coming up with a unique take on the image within the constraints of the limited pixel and color count. While I was thinking about my methods and ways to be more efficient, it occurred to me that I don’t appropriately leverage my motivation. For the last 1 1/2 I have been working one texture at a time. This would exhaust my creativity for the day too quickly. I would waste a bulk of my time “finishing” said texture after I decided how I wanted it to look. All of the “fresh mojo” that I had when I started for the day was worn away by the time I got through a few (sometimes one) SET files. This is especially true with the most of the remaining SET files that have no defined look or image (i.e. barely recognizable as any thing but random colored pixels).  Not only was that detrimental to the quantity of work completed in any one sitting, but it also deterred me altogether. There were days that I just didn’t have the energy or initiative to try and figure out a new take on what looked like white noise so I just wouldn’t decide to spend my efforts elsewhere.

Shotgun effect

To better capitalize on that “creative fronted”, I tried an experiment. I loaded up 18 SET files in GIMP. Then one by one, I worked on just getting the look I wanted for a small portion, enough to establish the look. I didn’t waste time completing the whole texture as that is really the easy and mostly mundane part. It worked quite well. Using this method, I was able to solidify my design for 16 SET files in just one day (really just a couple of hours). As I said the design is the hardest part with this project, and I wiped out almost half of the remaining SET textures left. Now, if I don’t feel particularly creative but still want to make progress, I can just finish up some of the ones I have already started (template on itself) and if I do…I may just be able to finish the other 16 or so.

- Martin