Previously, on ArtInPinkerton Blog (dun dun!)

Pixels so sharp they will cut you

For anyone who reads this blog (all 3 of you), its no secret that I tend to 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 due to 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. It’s 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 separate 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 at the time. 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 finalized 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 at the time…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.

 

Nailed it….

Then came Borderlands. It perfectly encapsulated what I was going for. I loved the art style and now I had a 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…).

Martin

 

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The madness of Fate

What are they doing? Seriously, some one tell me.

I mentioned that Fate converts the textures added at install from PNG to DDS. This conversion happens upon 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 very 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 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 it’s 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 it is made or relates to the model. It’s not just another variant of the boat texture but rather more like a piecemeal palette of portions of the 3D model.

boatcompletemap

I assume the 3D software creates the mapping on this texture…If anyone knows, please enlighten me

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 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 it’s “completemap” is mostly shades of red.

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Smelter walls should be light brown.

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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.

– Martin

 

 

 

No Fate but what you make

The inspiration

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 really good 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).

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Blurry structure but detailed characters/ground

Alpha 1

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 uses a hieroglyphic style from some ancient tablet. I don’t actually like this one that much any more but it did help with seeing the impact in game.

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Now with detailed stone work

Tricksy hobbits

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 what is known as “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…

– Martin

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Why is it doing this?…I found out

Fate: The Tortured Texture

Technomancer

Occasionally, I like to test out games on my 4k monitor to see how they look at such a high resolution (3184×2160). For some games, that impact is less than you would expect while others look surprising good. For example, Bethesda Gamebyro engine-based games (Elder Scrolls and Fallout) look a little better but I’m not very wow’d by it. I think it boils down to the engine and lower resolution textures. Less aliasing (jagged edges around the 3D model) and more detail but not the punch you would expect.

On the other hand, Two Worlds looks fantastic. The textures are high resolution enough to make them really pop. Unfortunately, the interface doesn’t scale so it’s very “difficult” to play at such a high resolution. Visually, it’s very pleasing though.

 

2005 called

So one day, I got a bug to try the old game Fate. It was the predecessor to Torchlight. A top-down action-RPG click fest. My boys played all but last one in the series so as usual, there is a touch of nostalgia for me.  The only thing I had to figure out tech-wise was how to get the resolution desired in game. Some games work out of the box and some require manually editing “ini” text files. In this case, I had to edit the “ini” file AND disable scaling on high DPI settings. I did that by right clicking the program executable file and putting a check under that line in the compatibility tab. Viola…4K work for a decade+ old game.

 

Both ends of the spectrum

You can see in the screenshot (even if you don’t have a 4K monitor) that the character models are actually quite detailed. In 4K, they really stand out and don’t really need any work. Well, I could do a little but I digress…in general, they are perfectly nice. However, as you can see in the “snow/ice” texture, the non-character models are blurry low-resolution messes.  Basically, they are tiled 128×128 textures. They are so dramatically worse than the character/object textures in 4K. The building are also very low resolution…which is even more boggling since they don’t blend into the background like the landscaping. That is when I got inspired…to fix the disparity.

Getting better….

The above (partially complete) picture is post landscape editing. For the record, I’m still not crazy happy about it but small steps.The landscapes textures have revealed the oddites of the engine. A few places where they don’t actually blend and such but not too much. The real work and most dramatic change was the building and landscape objects…but that is for next time.

  • Martin