RETRO POST : The long road to Arena

Why Arena?

*This post was originally drafted in 2012 but never submitted. I have revised and updated it.

The next brief diversion was an even older game called The Elder Scrolls:Arena. It is the first game in one of my favorite video game series and I did play this one a lot when it first came out in ’94.  I found a website that packaged it (and it’s sequel) in a neat, easy to install package. But, the low resolution graphics (320 x 200…trust me it’s very low) were so pixelly that it was hard to play and enjoy for me, particularly in the cities where anything in the distance was just a blob of small blocks.



After some quick checking, I found that there were NO graphic altering mods out there. No one on the forums seems to think it was even possible. I found that hard to believe and felt the “challenge bug” nibbling at my toes. I wanted to find out how to do it. But I only got as far as checking how the files were stored (container file ending in .bsa). I did find that someone attempted to remake the game (didn’t get finished).  It claimed to allow you to extract the art file out of the BSA file for you. BUT in actuality, it converts them to a common image format that the original game can not recognize and thus was not a viable option. Due to real life busyness (yes I mean busy-ness), this too faded to the background. Eventually, I did come back to it later (much like Darkstone) and succeeded in extracting all the files (using a old program).

You did what?

Even though the image files were not in any common standard format, I figured out how to open them in GIMP (free editing software). This involved loading the images as RAW images with a offset header of 12 (think “ignore first 12 bytes of file”) and then loading a special palette files.  I could then save it as a RAW image. The drawback to this method was that for images that had the 12 bytes that needed to be ignored (all the IMG files), the saved image wouldn’t have those bytes. That meant that I had to (BRACE YOURSELF) open the file in a hex editor (think super nerdy ), copy all the bytes, then open the original file and paste the copied bytes over starting at byte 13.  Then, I tossed that file in main file directory as the game. The only way to see how it worked was to load the game and look for the texture.  It was a overly cumbersome process that eroded my enthusiasm and by the time my “interest” (i.e. attention span) waned, I only completed 8 textures.  Although I moved on to a different project, I came back once in a while to do a texture or two. I deluded myself in thinking that over time (probably decades), I would eventually finish it.

Progammer in Shining Armor

It wasn’t until Hallfiry released his “Arena Modding Suite” that the project took off in a major way. His tool not only unpacked the entire BSA resource file (BSA = Bethesda Softworks Archive) but converted most of the textures into PNG files for easy editing. Afterwards, it could be used to “repack” the BSA easily without destroying the “working folder” and converting the files back to the original format. Besides some textures that used a funky compression, it had removed the technical barriers to changing images in the game. Now to date, I have completed 126 of 172 SET files (wall texture sets) with 12 additional ones that aren’t even used in game. The two biggest challenges for me now are: making unique interesting textures that work well in game (after having already made 126 of them) and figuring out how to do some of the more organic textures to match my style (since the pixel dimensions are very limited). 64 x 64 does limit the amount of creativity I can use.


One thought on “RETRO POST : The long road to Arena

  1. Pingback: The start of the gold rush…. | Art In Pinkerton

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