Wait, the city is built from a crashed plane?!

The A to the D to the P

First up, I have been moving along quite nicely with the art for the Arena Depixelization Project (a name only a nerd could love). Not only have I got quite a bit of 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 that I find unfinished or that need a redo.

Brownout 3

I won’t post much on this for awhile 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 did play 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 WHOLE LOT OF BROWN.

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Original heaping pile of…..muddy desaturated textures

Cellout implies the wrong message

I know what your 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 own 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).

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When I was feeling out how I wanted the style to look

So much brown

It really struck home when no one realized that Megaton (the first city you reach in 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 figuring 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 as well as 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 quite a bit 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.

– Martin

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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

 

Prodigal Blogger falls down well, not seen for months…again

WTF

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 did work on it…ummm…some but I got distracted. Between the dreaded real life or RL (yes I do 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):

Starting dungeon

Starting dungeon

 

ADP 123

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 it’s 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…..

AIP Oblivion Overlay Map NG+ experiment-Recovered

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?!

MorrowLands 2.0

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 own 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 actually 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:

ScreenShot8

Let’s have some fun again – 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

 

Cork on a fork

This is Jiub. Jiub is the first person you see in Morrowind. He also has a fairly unique head so it was fitting to use him as my first experiment. Easy to test. This Jiub, being my first attempt, is a little crude compared to the later images. The transition as I refined the style is apparent. So here’s what I did.

 

55fiqg

I was watching you sleep

Resize

The initial resolution was 256 x 128 pixels. That’s not a lot of room for sharp lines and clarity. Additionally, it’s a good idea to work big and then shrink as needed so I resized the image to 2048 x 1024, keeping the aspect ratio but increasing the size by 8 times. As the fine lines of the borderland style are important, a higher resolution is preferable.  (I tested it when done and shrinking down to 512 x 256 looked OK but 1026 x 512 was ideal for size vs detail).

Create layers

I duplicated the image into two additional layers. I do this so I can have a pristine backup, a working copy and high pass copy (if needed). The high pass allows me to see the areas needing outlines more clearly. I don’t always use it but it’s handy if needed. I created a new layer that is transparent to be my actual canvas for the black outlining. Showing but underneath the active layer would be the working copy or the highpass copy to use as the base reference.

Outline

tx_b_n_dark elf_m_h09

Jiub 1.0…crude untapered thick lines

Like the video linked in my last post, I started creating outlines highlighting particular feature areas that stood out for change in shape. My  variation on this style leans more to outlining surfaces with changes in height but not color fluctuations (e.g. later on when I get to tattoos, I likely won’t outline the tattoo.) I looked for distinctive wrinkles and natural feature as well as abrupt marks like the scar.

As you can see in Jiub 1.0, I failed to refine the lines after I finished outlining. I didn’t use shape dynamics or taper and thin out the lines. Crosshatching was also minimal.

Check

Jiub Vanilla Base to Borderland

NifSkope and Jiub 1.0

I used a program called NifSkope that lets you see meshes rendered with textures and animation if applicable. It was there that I saw how odd the texture stretched due to the 3d model’s crude animation and UV texture mapping. The eyes looked really weird as the mesh just stretched down a single point to mimic blinking but the texture stretched the area above the eye down with it. The mouth opened up very much like the canadians in South Park. Because of that, I had to go back and adjust the lines to minimize the line bleeding when the textures stretched.  You can also see where the original texture has errors such as the red eye’s inner lower corner bleeding onto the eyelid.

Tweak

Because this is a more cartoon-like look, I experimented with using an unsharpen filter on the working copy of the original image to exaggerate the colors and then a smart blur to blend the blemishes away some. Additionally, I added shadows and highlights by drawing on a new layer black and white respectively at 50% opacity and then blurring it to look like light smudging.

Next time, I show the other, more refined textures I completed AND Jiub 2.0.

– Martin

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He fell passed out drunk and the guards found a Sharpee

Experiments in Art Style

Art Concepts

Since I have limited time to focus on leisurely activities, a lot of what I do with game art falls more into the “Proof of Concept” category. I have an idea about what would be a interesting visual change for me and I merely want to see it in game. For example, for the Darkstone project, I was going for the look of dry erase crayons on a dark dry erase board.

Exit to Forest

Exit to Forest

For Morrowind, I simulated a cell shader (cartoon) effect with build in black outlines. Note: when I first made those textures, Borderlands hadn’t been released. However, I had already realized that it looked better to have the solid colors have some kind of texture behind them for visual interest.

MGE Screenshot 2

Fast forward to Today

I was messing around with my new art tablet last month and decided to see if I could replicate the style of Borderlands in Morrowind, at least as a proof of concept. I did some research for tips on the best way to replicate the effect and found a youtube video that explained a method that a got very close to the games style.

I chose to experiment on the vanilla Morrowind face textures. In general, they are awful and look very ugly in game. My logic being that adding the “borderlands” style texturing might add enough interest to make them worthy of keeping versus using model replacer mod (may mods replace the heads). The original textures used for faces were very low resolution, inaccurate (sloppily made) and just generals ugly as all get out.

Ugly Vanilla

Some one beat him with the Vanilla Game ugly stick

Morrowlands?

I started by doing the heads in the order of the characters you run into when you start a new game. I redid 5 faces. It was surprisingly easier than I thought.

Jiub Vanilla Base to Borderland

I’ll detail it out next time but for a teaser here’s what “vanilla” jiub looked like when I was done. I’ll explain the irregularities next time.

– Martin