The same week I got my new art tablet, I had finally overclocked my computer and received my Oculus Rift in the mail. It’s not to hard to imagin that it was more of a Tech In Pinkerton than an Art In Pinkerton kind of week. For the last two weeks, I have squandered quite some time playing with my new VR gizmo which means I spent less time on other, more artsy endeavors 😉
Nerdmaggedon has arrived!
Tech Nerd Note: Years ago when I built my computer, I bought a CPU chip (I7-2600K) that was designed to be overclocked but I never bothered since it was already (and still is) very capable. I finally gave it a go and ended up boosting the speed from 3.4 Ghz to 4.4Ghz (about 25% more power) with very little change in temperature. All I had to do was change two settings in the BIOS and voila…instant faster computer.
I also upgraded my computer desk and arranged my setup so it’s much more aesthetically appealing and has space for using the Oculus Rift.
It’s not all for naught
I did find time to play with my new tablet though. I took its arrival as a cue to make the transition over to Photoshop from GIMP. I do have to say, it’s has taken a few weeks for me to adjust to how different it is. I feel like I have taken two steps back but I know I will catch up to speed pretty quickly. I just have to do a little more “google research” to figure out how to do things than I did with GIMP in a long time.
Now that I had my new art tablet, I really wanted to see what it could do and clicking individual pixels for the Arena Depixelization Project wasn’t going to scratch that itch (sorry it’ll be back on the agenda soon). I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but my favorite video game of all time is The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Atmospherically, it’s an amazing setting. However, it’s from early 2000s and a little clunky. The 3d models of the characters are blocky like those poseable wooden art figures (composed of multiple seperate 3D meshes). The textures are low res, blurry, and sometimes quite questionable in their construction. As can be seen in my Morrowind screenshot directory, I have experimented with that game before.
Segmented 3D model
What is old, is new again
I had a (kind of) new idea. I wanted to see if I could add a Borderlands style look to that game. It’s is only meant as a proof of concept rather than a full mod though. As can be seen in the screenshots for my various projects, the cartoon concept a recurring theme for me (it just takes different forms). It’s an “easy” way to turn an art direction on its head and give it a little more interest. The difference this time from the last time I fiddled with Morrowind’s art assets is that, besides having Borderlands as an inspiration, I’m not brand new to computer graphics this time. I have completed a few textures already but will save that for another post. – Martin
Can you tell I’m procastinating on the doors
Exit to Forest
Get it together man
Now that I have finished the “walls and halls”, it’s time to renovate the doors and remaining floors. I have finished almost all the ground textures though (well a few could used tweaked too). In the past, I just worked directly in the directory where I extracted the files and reinserted them into the BSA from there. However since there are so many IMG files (949 to be exact) and that isn’t the cleanest way to work from a project management perspective, I pulled all the door files out to a separate folder/workspace and created a completed folder to use for importing files back to the BSA.
Must have ran out of paint
Doors, Doors, Everywhere there are Doors
There are 112 door files not including non-doors that would serve as potential transition points (e.g. ladder up/down, stairs, etc..there are about 12 of those). These IMG files come in two variety, framed and whole texture.
I’ve been framed
The framed doors are “framed” with the texture of the building to which they belong (e.g. the Mage Guild door has a frame art that matches the building). To do these, I’ll just copy and paste a wall from the matching set file and layer it under the door so it’ll be a perfect fit with the rest of the building. All exteriors and some interior doors are framed doors, pretty much any door that transitions between outside and inside.
That’s no small wall…it’s a door!
The other type of door is the whole texture door. I have done a few of these previously as you can see in the screenshot. These doors belong to all the interior rooms and are the ones that swing open so you can enter a room. Although they are relatively simple (as they repeat the same textures over and over for different files), I’m hoping to add a little more variety to them.
First things first though, I will test to see if each IMG file is used in game (i’ll probably do them in batches). I have already found several that aren’t. I will likely still redo them just in case. Worst case scenario, if I ever can get anyone to figure out how to decipher the MTF files, I will use them to make new dungeons and buildings.
Awhile back I had posted that I had learned that I could update the font files. I never liked the font in Arena as it was too flowery for readability at such a low resolution. Each letter in the fonts was ranged from 3×3 to 8×8 pixels in size. They were all really just super small pictures.
A little rough but it works
If I build it, I’ll build it thrice
I wasn’t satisfied with my previous attempts and decided to quickly rebuild them again. This time, I tested each one out in game to see how well the effect worked. Surprisingly, this took more time than I imagined and I ended up completely revamping each font file 3-4 times till I was happy with them. In game testing allowed me to see where I missed or added a space, what characters didn’t look right, and generally if the font looked ok when playing. As you can see in the picture, the editor lets you click each pixel, one by one. While each character font file can have the spacing and padding adjusted using the slider (thus bigger or small amount of horizontal pixels), the height of the characters was fixed for each font file. Although it would be relatively easy to just rename one of the other font files that have a bigger height setting, I think that might play havok on how the game displays text and didn’t really see the need for it.
But I can’t read!
What am I supposed to do with all these points?
Blue pill or red pill?
Yes…my new mod is a Battlemage. What of it?
She made it sound like it was practically around the corner
Does anyone ever use this option?
Whoa where did you come from!
Someone shut off the faucet!
Through some in for spares?
To determine which font affected which portion of the game, I filled in a different set of characters in each font file as a solid box. Then I just looked to see which font was being used in each portion of the game containing text. Like with the art (and probably sound files), I found that not all fonts were used. Of the 10 font files included with the game, I have only been able to find 4 of them in game. Or at best, the others are used in some obscure corner of the game.
NOTE: The screenshots were taken with a vanilla version of Arena since this mod will be released as a separate mod from ADP.
UPDATE: I released TES Arena ReFonted on the nexus. You can get it here.
After much wait and anticipation (more like I completely forgot to release it), TES Arena IntroFix is complete and can be downloaded here:
In this mod, I fixed three slides from the intro when you select new game.
I had completed these some time ago but forgot to release them. Unfortunately, my file managment has been less than stellar and it took awhile to find them again. When I did, I noticed that there were still a couple of errors that needed fixing. So I fixed them and now no one need ever suffer under Uriel Septim IV’s oppressive need to steal the limelight from his great grandson.
Uriel is an odd family name
Uriel Septim VII is rightfully restored.
Once I had the textures in PNG format (a common image format), fixing the slides was a matter of several well placed cut and pasting.
However, getting them to a PNG format was more of a challenge. I had to use Arena Toolbox by Dysperia. That tool is a fantastic counterpart to ArenaModdingSuite. One of it’s unique functions is that it can convert the compressed images into PNG. Before this tool, no one knew how to uncompress those images (there are quite a few).
One hidden feature of the program is that it allows you to import the palette file (where it determines color) into the image itself versus being external to the file in the root directory. To make it work though, you have to trick the program into thinking it’s a new image. Simply adding a letter in the filename sufficed. The Toolbox can also convert back to the native IMG file.
Last thing left was to test it. I dropped my 3 new IMG Intro slides into the root folder of Arena, booted it up, and IT WORKED. Awesome. Sometimes it’s the little wins that keep you going 😉
The straight and narrow
Some days I can blaze through images getting 5 or 6 done in a sitting, then other days just part of an image can take a couple days. When it comes to the Arena Depixelization Project (ADP), the easier ones are just patterns (especially ones with straight lines horizontal or vertical). The low pixel count doesn’t really muck up the design too much since there is no need for a “fine detailed” line in those cases.
It kind of looks like….
However, once lines start curving or the image becomes complex, the time required is increased, sometimes dramatically. It’s hard to get non-angular shapes to look good when you only have a 64×64 grid to work with. I find that it takes multiple revisions to get it looking just right. To make matters worse, the source material for ADP contains many pictures that are either so pixelated as to be barely discernible or they generally don’t look very good as you clean them up (such as dress thing for the “angel” in this picture).
Click to enlarge
Close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades
In that image, I had to make some artistic decisions on how “accurate” to the source material I would be. The image is generally too complex to leave unaltered for my “Depixelization” theme. At first, I didn’t even know how to tackle it. I completed all the background wall first and left the “Angel” and the “alcove” till last. The good thing about that is that it let me establish the colors for the image. Eventually, I had to do this one as I only have a few SET files left. I decided to break it up and focus on individual pieces of the angel. I really wished I had made a timelapse of this one to show how much back and forth I did on it.
Mr. Potato Head
I started with the more clearly defined shapes, to include the arms, head, and the key. Those came into place with minimal fuss. Then, I tackled the wings. It took me awhile as the initial version (closer to the source) just didn’t look very good. After a couple of iterations, I ultimately decide to make the wings bigger as if they were more full body sized. Next, I attempted to do the feet. However, they just did not look good, especially when I started working on the weird “billowed” dress/robe. I decided to put the feet off and do the clothing. I touched up the sleeves to improve the “hanging off the arms” appearance. I made my first rendition of the lower part of the robe very close the source version. However, it looked terrible because the source version is kind of ridiculous looking, as if someone tucked an oversized shirt into a skirt. I played with it a little before I decided to just alter the design. I revised it to look more like a regular robe. Unfortunately, the feet still looked awkward, so I removed them and lengthened and curved the robe as if they were hidden by it and it was floating.
Click to enlarge
Who’s down with ADP…yeah you know me
After a substantial hiatus for real life, I’m back. My schedule has a lot more free time in it now and I should be able to make substantial progress on the Arena mod in the next few weeks. As of now, I am just 2 or 3 SET files away from reaching ALPHA! Once that is complete, I will be setting up a MODdb page and probably trying to host it on the Nexus mod site.
The project will stay ALPHA until all door and ground files are done. I do hope to have all the font files and interface done too, but that is more of a nicety (most are already done though). Once ALPHA 2 is out that I will be going back and reevaluating each texture. I started this so long ago and have come quite a ways that some of them are not to my standard or vision anymore. As it is already, I occasionally retool one here and there but I plan to do a comprehensive review.
Taking the plunge
I finally gave in and purchased Photoshop (well subscribed really). I don’t anticipate being very proficient in it for awhile since I have been using GIMP for years and it’s so different. For the Arena project, this isn’t really a problem. It doesn’t require fancy functions. I am literally coloring individual pixels from a 256 palette. The biggest obstacle their is my creativity and not the tools.
Some recent work below (really like how the first one turned out)…
Morrowind Main Menu (Original)
Back about 4 1/2 years ago, I had just gotten into computer graphic design. I spent the first 1/2 a year experimenting and learning how to use the editing software (GIMP). One of the games I messed with was Morrowind, my favorite game. It wasn’t really meant for any project. I decided to make a desktop wallpaper of the main menu.
At that time, I didn’t know much about GIMP or how to use it effectively. Additionally, I had just gotten my Wacom tablet and hadn’t become comfortable with it quite yet. To make it easy, I used the original Morrowind main menu texture as the base. Because of this, the end result was (and still is) useable in-game. I even went as far as retexturing the New/Load/Save buttons to match the theme.
I decided to use the box art as a supplementary inspiration when I began working on it. There were some key differences between the two; the major one being the border that framed the box art. I really liked the border and the “daedric” lettering on it. Unfortunately, my source copy of the box art wasn’t very good so I had to guesstimate when recreating them.
I did have a couple goals in mind with an overarching theme of applying a cleaner more art-lik
- To boost contrast, the border was darkened and a similar color was used for the middle triangle.
- The center was lightened with a complimentary but vivid color to liven up the image.
- The “daedric” lettering was lightened up to look more dramatic and almost “glowing”.
- A spot of white was placed on each “letter” and then the smudge tool was used to stretch that white color into highlights.
- A level of depth was created by adding width and darkness to the inner edge of the frame. The “Morrowind” lettering was giving a simple perspective by adding a drop shadow angling to the lower right.
- The dragon emblem was subdued so that it didnt’ overpower the wording. This also gave a subtle layer of interest.
- Lastly, it hard to see but the entire image was given a paper texture filter to create a painted canvas feel.
I use it as my background on my computer for inspiration
You never forget your first
Most of these effects evolved through experimenting with the software and various visual styles that I had in mind. However the whole picture was hand drawn/partially traced using my art tablet. It’s not without it’s flaws and a level of crudeness to the picture shows my inexperience at the time. Despite all that, it is one of my favorite personal pieces because it’s the first complete computer graphic design work of mine.