I recently decided to pursue being an author and am very excited by this new passion. With that, I will redesign my website to focus primarily on my misadventures in writing. However, the plan for now is to still keep room to highlight my more visual based art too. It just won’t be the front page material anymore. It is very possible that I move away from WordPress but am unsure where or what that new page will look like (structurally). However, the URL will stay the same.
I appreciate all who followed my very niche little art blog for all these years and warmly welcome you to stick around. If you prefer to not, that’s fine too, as I did kind of pull a switcheroo.
For anyone interested, I plan to write fiction, to include science fiction, fantasy and horror. I have a long way to go and a lot a practice to get in. You can expect at least some of it will have my trademark humor for silliness (it IS trademarked, right? no? OK copyright pending).
– Martin Pinkerton (Art In Pinkerton)
256 color limitation
One of the tricky aspect of working with Arena textures is that they are only 256 colors AND that color information is indexed from a palette file. That means the image doesn’t have the color info in the file, it has a reference point to a master color file (this saved valuable space in the old timey 3 1/2 floppy days). Colors in an image have to be one of those exact colors in the palette file. To work around this, I have been only using colors in whatever image I was working on. It worked, but it can limit in being creative. I did most of the project this way.
Now, but a scant mere 9 years later, I realized to import the color palette in as a raw image similar to how I first did early in my hobby working on another project. Once imported, I could create a Photoshop swatch of all the working colors and boom. I’m blond, what can I say.
More progress on actual files next update, although you can see a preview in the image above 🙂
So, I’ve finally got my stuff together, life has settled down, and the mojo to get back to my projects. I have a lot to post on other art projects I’ve done in the past (cough) couple years, but first, I figured I’d give an update on where I am with the Arena Depixelization Project. Yes, it’s still on.
I have loaded up the textures into OpenTesArena. It allows very easy testing of levels without having to play the game. You can just select what level at the menu screen and load it. Right out the gate, I’m thrilled with the starter dungeon. No need to mess with that.
However, the wall textures in the very next main quest dungeon are too jarring. So I have already toned them down for next iteration (not pictured below).
Then I skipped to the 3rd main quest dungeon and found these round blob walls that just don’t cut it. So next I will clean those up. My will systematically go through them all until there are sufficiently aesthetic pleasing (or tolerable) then I will release ADP 1.0.
Limitations of Arena
There will be limitation right now, as the texture combination for some levels is very off. Maybe one day, OpenTesArena will allow us to edit the level files and add new textures. Then we’d be able to make matching or complimentary “tile sets” for each level, adding cohesion and variety overall. But, until then, this is what we got.
Took a self-imposed hiatus on personal hobbies (reading, modding, gaming, drawing, etc) until about fall of 2019. Real life is just very demanding right now and will let up by then.
I have not, and will not abandon ADP. It’s my fave little project. I know it’s been in the works for….ahem…many years, but I’m too close to not finish at least the base goal (of all walls, floors and surfaces).
PLUS!!! if you haven’t heard, there is an open source project called OpenTesArena. It is fairly far along and you can find out more about it at https://github.com/afritz1/OpenTESArena or
Although it won’t support hi-resolution textures out the gate, the author is considering mod support post 1.0. Hopefully at minimum, he supports a normal graphic file format. I have suggested a few things that would make graphics modding easier, so fingers crossed.
Also, anyone looking for my other Arena mods…you can find them (and a few others) at
The A to the D to the P
First up, I have been moving along nicely with the art for the Arena Depixelization Project (a name only a nerd could love). Not only have I got more new stuff done, I have been revamping the ones I don’t like as I go. I’m focusing on one location at a time in game and redoing all the wall/floor textures I find unfinished or that need a redo.
I won’t post much on this for a while, but the previously unnamed but heavily hinted project is Fallout 3. Yes, another Bethesda game….what can I say. Oh yeah, I don’t have to say anything it’s my project so pbbbbtttt. Really, I tried playing Fallout 3 and like what I played but the artwork in the game is so (intentionally) degraded; it hides the games true potential. All they did was make super crappy textures and add a bunch of “noise” (dithering and random speckling) and a LOT OF BROWN.
Cellout implies the wrong message
I know what you’re saying “I sure wish he would give it a cartoony makeover”…. ME TOO! See great minds think alike. In reality, I’m using it to perfect my take on the Borderland (game for the computer) cell shading style. While inspired from that game, my style deviates in many small ways from it (besides my not truly knowing how they did it).
So much brown
It really struck home when no one realized that Megaton (the first city you reach in the game) was built with pieces of a plane. There are pieces all over but the textures were so bad, you never realized that you were walking on pieces of a wing or that the shed above was part of a fuselage. Oddly enough, despite inspiring to make this a full project, I really not happy with how the jet pieces turned out and plan to eventually redo them. I used them to learn how textures in FO3 worked and struggled to figure out the strange multiple way alpha maps were used along with normal maps. For the longest, I couldn’t get them to be selectively reflective of light. They were all shiny or no shiny at all, regardless of light. I worked it out (more when I actually talk about the project).
It just needs a good scrubbing
Ultimately, I want to remove the noise, define the textures better, add visual interest and color: all while trying to maintain the feel of a world in decay. I still haven’t honed the process down completely, but I am learning and pushing my developing Photoshop skills to the limit (TAKE IT…TO THE LIMIT…ONE MORE TIME). I want to perfect them before I return to my favorite game of all time, Morrowind. Oh yes, I’m not done with you yet, sweet Morrowind (too creepy?). Here are some more before and afters (note: some are still early prototypes or have already been reworked to be smoother and cleaner):
I’m gonna focus on ADP for now and honestly, this Fallout 3 project is going to take years since I’m just working on it sporadically until I have enough free time to hit it hard.
Pixels so sharp they will cut you
For anyone who reads this blog (all 3 of you), it’s no secret that I favor a more cartoonish and abstract style when editing game artwork. With the Arena Depixelization Project (ADP), this was mostly a necessity since I was looking at simplifying images because of the extremely low resolution and terrible graininess (grain E ness?).
Textures so muddy, they have to take their shoes before coming inside
However, with Morrowind, it was more of a desire to undrab (not even a real word, I’m pretty sure) it some. The individuals textures were unimpressive but all together they worked (for back in 120 A.D. when it was created). With my early experiments, I used the cartoon method to add interest to the individual textures, but it was crude.
“You know my name is Simon and the things I draw come true”
From here, I had a detour with a little experiment. For all the games I work on, I have a soft spot. Darkstone was one such game. Its low resolution blurry textures begged for me to edit them. It was a challenge just figuring out how to access them and understand the file structure: there are odd duplicates, art sheets (many art assets on one texture), and strange encryption. I wanted to create a chalk-like art style. It was a side diversion and never meant to be a full project, though. I really liked the results, though.
STOP CHANGING THE DAMN FORMAT ALREADY!
I had very little experience back then, and it was before Borderlands captured what I desired so well (ICE CREAM…wait no…CELL SHADING!). So I switched to working on Minecraft for my sons. I finished not only the main game but several of the most popular modification. However, Mohjang (the makers of Minecraft) changed the texture format and naming several times over the duration I was working on it; breaking my texture pack (Grrrrr!) more than once. I never released it as by the time they completed it, they had added so much more that I hadn’t done. However, it gave me time to work on learning the graphics software (GIMP…not the one from Pulp Fiction).
But the name almost begged it!
I’m not sure how I started working on it, but the next project I worked was Torchlight. I think I had just wanted to see if I could do it. During this phase, I dedicated quite some time experimenting with different styles and the software. Eventually, it turned into a full-blown project which I called “Toonlight”…I am so clever…so damn clever. Looking back, I think I lamented how little the backgrounds “popped” and though I could smooth and outline them to make them defined. My biggest failing on it (beside the wee-bit of amateurish work…cough cough) was that I was so focused on the individual textures, that I didn’t account for the whole picture and scene. So much detailed “polluted” the screen. This is relevant for when I get to my newest endeavor. Toonlight was never finished (I had illusions it might be). I didn’t like the results on a game level and didn’t want to start over. The creatures looked nice, though.
Then came Borderlands. It perfectly encapsulated what I was going for. I loved the art style and now I had an inspiration to study and evolve my style. It was here I learned about rim lighting (making dark lines pop with a lighter line near it) and ways to make larger blank areas look less dull (hint: random lines and squiggles). I didn’t try it for some time as I was working on finalizing ADP (which is….sigh…not done yet). When I finally took a break, I experimented with Morrowind again…this time on the faces; trying to capture that Borderlands style. Ultimately, I realized that my style was Borderlands-inspired but had my flavor added.
Brown…so much grainy awful pixel-y brown
I finally had enough experience to move forward. I had a few other side projects not “cartoon” style related (such as the FATE mod..so I can have all that crunchy 4K resolution…mmmmm tasty). Moving on, I had just the project in mind to hone those skills even further and put them to the test. Eventually, I’ll return to Morrowind and complete a full artwork overhaul once I’m done.
By then, I should have most of my style and workflow on lock (see I’m cool…I said “on lock”…like a boss). More coming next post……. (oohhhhhh a teaser…what can it be…).
I meant this blog as a history of my art endeavors, not a graveyard. But I had this idea that I would wait till I finished the TES:Arena project before releasing my next post. So….about that. I didn’t finish ADP yet. I worked on it… um… some, but I got distracted. Between the dreaded real life or RL (yes, I have one of those) and other projects (including some for friends), I just never finished. I have worked on several disparate things since then. I am susceptible to what I call “Shiny Key Syndrome”. Despite not being a rabid blogger, not posting actually demotivated me. Weird. Well, here’s a pic to fill the space (it’s my first project related pic on this site):
But first…yes Virginia, I will finish that Arena mod if it kills me….I mean maims me….or how about slightly vexes me…yeah lets go with that. No time lines…I think I proved that I’m terrible at that. I have finished doors but still need to do the framing to match the walls they are associated with. I hate to say this, but the extended time away has let me look at it with a fresh eye (no, no, no…. figuratively). I think I want to make some changes…BUT first I’ll finish what I have. It’s only fair for those who have stalked this project like an Ex on facebook.
MAP or Monster
Caveat: I know WAY too much about how Bethesda codes its mod files. I’d actually argue that I have a Master’s degree level of understanding for Morrowind and Oblivion (from Nerd University, Dork Campus). I find it more fun to make the “perfectly modded” game than I do actually playing it. Now that I’ve scared all the ladies away…why do I mention this… well, because this is my mega WIP…..
This insane Frankenstein monster of map, it a comprehensive guide to where mods overlap each other. Using modding tools, I’m mapping out every cell from each mod I use plus a few uber popular ones I don’t. It’s insane, OCD, and insane. I love it…my analytic brain can’t get enough of making order where there is only chaos. What’s that look for?!
Remember when I did lined faces for Morrowind. Yeah…that’s back….but better. I already have learned more subtle techniques. Not really a project as much as a continued experiment to perfect the style I’m trying for (hint: it rhymes with Borderlands) mixed with my vision. I’m still not completely feeling I have it how I want…I’ll come back around to it eventually, I’m sure.
What’s behind door #3?
The last project is the one I’m eager to finish (besides ADP) mostly because I think the game will most benefit from it. I’ll leave it a mystery for a little longer, but here is a hint:
Let’s have some fun again – Martin
So I’m back after my extended work “vacation”. The inevitable has happened, some of my files were lost. Almost a year’s worth of work on the Arena project. I spent the last 2 weeks scanning hard drives and every USB key I could find, but to no avail. I honestly don’t know what happened. DOOM GLOOM DOOOOMMMM! Well, not really. I was delinquent in working on ADP over the last year, so I really only lost maybe 5 to 10 set files and a few very easy to create doors. I probably wasted more time looking for the files than it would have taken to recreate them. Added bonus is the last set file I posted on this page is the one I dreaded redoing… that’s what my kids call a “Free Ticket Booth”.
Let’s see if I can be a little more diligent in my goal from now on AND make a decent backup plan to prevent any actual loss next time.
What are they doing? Seriously, some one tell me.
I mentioned Fate converts the textures added at install from PNG to DDS. This conversion happens upon the initial run of the game, but also again if any of the converted textures go missing (which I use when I tweak textures and such). In addition to the main texture (or diffuse map), some textures had an alpha map (for transparency such as making the black on the sails below invisible). Then there are the “completemaps” that funk up the textures in game and honestly, aren’t well done in Fate. Such as the one I posted last time. It was supposed to be a burned down building, but it looked completely black despite the original texture having detail and actual color. After I rebuilt the texture, it still looked dark in the game. There was a peculiarity with the coloring and shading/highlighting with several of the textures. It was clear my changes were in place, but something was distorting the image.
(CLICK THE PICTURES TO SEE THEM LARGER)
You can see in the image that my version of the boat is much cleaner (and detailed). However, when I loaded the game, my textures showed but were muddied with blemishes shown in the first texture. I thought maybe it was an engine thing (e.g. when building levels you can “paint” shadows and marks on the 3D landscape like Morrowind).
I didn’t know what I don’t know
Then I discovered there was a third texture related to the boat image. However, its structure is very weird. This texture does two things that I can discern: 1. highlights or darkens areas on the model and 2. adds color tinting. So my amateur status here doesn’t know what this layer is called or how the heck they made it or relates to the model. It’s not just another variant of the boat texture, but more like a piecemeal palette of portions of the 3D model.
Trying to make it work
The lighter the color is, the brighter on the boat and the darker creates shadows. The hue tints the image of that color. But the mapping is crazy…I had to experiment just to get the white on the boat to be even. I plan to minimize my efforts on those files unless one (such as the boat) really needs it. The smelter (as it’s labeled in the filename) stays mostly red due to how its “completemap” is mostly shades of red.
After some trials, I at least got the ship to a reasonable spot. I’m not sure if I’ll come back to Fate or not, but it was a fun bit of messing around.
This first picture shows the detail disparity between the building textures and most of the other ones. As I mentioned before, on a 4k monitor, most textures look great for being such an old game. However, the buildings look like crap. I attribute this to them using the same size texture files despite the much larger size models…that and poor planning. I could, maybe, buy that it was for frame rate purposes: lower sized texture = less needed memory, etc. However, that doesn’t explain why both Fate 2 and Fate 3 continued the same practice when the games by then hardly taxed computers. (NOTE: Both Fate 2 and Fate 3 have the areas from the previous games included).
Even at lower resolutions, this blurriness is crap. So I tried to replace one texture with a high resolution one. I loaded it in Photoshop and found a semi-suitable replacement from online photos. For this mini-stone henge, I use a hieroglyphic style from some ancient tablet. I don’t actually like this one that much anymore, but it helped with seeing the impact in the game.
First try failed. I changed the texture, but in game; it had no effect. After trying a few things to see if I had the wrong format, I remembered that the game creates a cache file of the textures. Why? I know what it does, but I have no reasonable explanation on why they chose that method. What was the gain over just using the PNG files? All the textures that get installed with the game are in PNG format. Easy to edit, so that wasn’t a problem.
When first running the game, it creates a cache of the textures CONVERTED to DDS format and stores that cache in a folder in the ‘Program data’ (usually on the C drive.) You can either edit the DDS directly (it’s another image format), or edit the PNGs, convert and then delete the conversion if you need more work. Believe it or not, I chose the latter. DDS files are “lossy” (loose detail as you save and compress them) and I rather have the masters in PNG files. It doesn’t really make sense because if I released this, I would use the DDS files, but I feel it somehow keeps me more orderly.
There is another even more vexing graphic trick they use that I’ll cover next time…