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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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

1 step forward 2 steps back…

Several years ago when I first started messing around with computer graphic art, I tested out visual concepts on a PC game called Morrowind (the third in the Elder Scrolls series that Arena started) . Although Morrowind was where I tested the waters, it was another game called Torchlight that became the focus of my first big project I “cleverly” decided to call Toonlight. Initially, I tried to change the art assets in bulk by using the various filters built into the GIMP software. However, while the end results were interesting, I didn’t find them very pleasing aesthetically.

So I took those results and experimented a little more by testing different tweaks and changes. Eventually, I narrowed down the look I wanted to pursue. Since I found the game art interesting but bland, I decided my goal would be to make it more vibrant and add cell-shading style lines. Surprise, Surprise 😉 I just felt that the WOW-esque muted coloring made the environment less interesting, washed out and a lot of detail.  So I started adding “black outlines” and redoing each texture by hand. Then I would test them in-game. Each art set for the various types of levels were already separated into individual folders labeled “levelsets”, so I worked my way from one levelset to another. I was even close enough to completion that I thought I could beat Torchlight 2 being released. I had reworked almost all the level artwork and many of the monsters and props. However, I was in the midst of moving and my motivation waivered and the mod drifted down the priority list.

Recently, when I started recollecting all my data from various hard drives (including 2 that were on their deathbed, CDRs and memory sticks, I discovered my art files for Toonlight and my other “on hold” mod, Darktone, were missing and the only thing left was a very early version of my Toonlight mod. Although this is a tragedy for most, I had learned so much from working on that project (and had so much fun) that I don’t consider the time wasted. On top of that, upon further review, I found myself not overly satisfied with the few levels I did recover. The initial mine levelset now seems too sloppy for my tastes, the crypts are a little too green and non-descript in a few areas, and the sunken temples levels are a TOO busy. Only the lava level still pleases me but some of it didn’t get recovered. I’m still searching for them but worse case scenario, I have enough recovered to springboard myself back into the project. With that said, I’m focused on my Arena mod. Once I have gotten as far as possible, I will resume my other projects.

So where does that leave me…same as before. I still plan on completing it. One aspect all my art mods have  in common (except Minecraft) is that they are older games that I’m doing for my personal enjoyment. I don’t feel the need to adhere to a timetable before the games become “irrevelant”. Arena was released over 20 years ago!

Where have I been?

Over a year without a post. Whoops. I have a plan to redesign my site slightly to more suit what I want to do with it. Right now the information I want to convey doesnt’ flow naturally or intuitively. I’ll fix it.

Till then, let me layout what projects I have in the works on the mod scene. These are only listed in chronological order from when the game was released.  Each will have corresponding links to the right for their particular projects in the short future.

1. Arena

That’s Elders Scrolls 1 for those of you in the know.  1994 game that hasn’t really been modded since it wasn’t a common activity back then. I have a texture pack in works with the aim of making it easier on the eyes.  I don’t have a catchy title yet so it’s just “Arena Depixelization Project“. I have all the processes down and have completed several textures (SET files) and tested them in-game.

2. Darkstone

This is another game that I have a soft spot for. And this is another texture overhaul project. This one will be titled “Darktone”. It’s kind of Tron/neon inspired…sort of.  All the file structure sleuthing stuff is (long done) and I have already had a proof of concept test run and It turned out better than I hoped.

3. Morrowind

Unlike the others, my Morrowind projects are not texture (art) based. They are more of design projects. I’m basically taking old mods and renovating them with a complete overhaul: new terrain, added clutter, dialogue, expanded quests etc. I’ve gotten quite good at the Morrowind file structure and using the editor. PMR stands for Pinkerton’s Mods Renovated…to kind of brand name it.

  • PMR-Sea of Destiny: Phase one is released. It’s basically how it all started. I was “cleaning”, merging, and moving one mod but realized how much work it needed. Now I have plans to terraform the entire mod and add a sense of history and purpose.
  • PMR -Dragon Perch: This one is almost completely redesigned but still needs dialogue and more/better quests.
  • PMR-Tusar: The very first mod I tried to monkey with was “Island of Tusar”. I actually ended up doing alot to it but haphazardly because I was learning/experimenting. So I plan to start over and now it’ll come after PMR-Dragon Perch.

4. Torchlight

This project is also a complete texture overhaul that I’m calling “Toonlight“. I had already completed every level set in the game but this was the one I learned how to use GIMP (can’t afford Photoshop yet) and its many options. So by the time I finished the last set, I was unhappy with all the others. Now I have a good idea of what I want and one levelset completed. Since Torchlight 2 came out, it gives me breathing room to get it exactly how I want it (i.e. who knows when I’ll finish it).

5. Misc

There are some miscellaneous projects I am working on (or did work on) that aren’t major. I’ll have a category for those too.

I’m going to try to have one update a week probably on Sunday.

-Martin