I had a couple people ask where to find the tools I’m using for the Arena Depixelization Project. So here are the links…
So little time
I have been wanting to write my 2nd post on my Fate 4k texture experiment but I haven’t had the time to get it all together. Well, really I was messing with Morrowind again and use what very little time I had with that. Anyways, I will wrap up my Fate post next week once my classes end (yes, work, family and more college doesn’t not a boy with a lot of free time make).
Drawing the line
For now, here is a little peek at my next round of faces in Morrowind. I have a process down and will detail that once I get it all written down. And yes, there will be a Jiub 3.0
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.
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.
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.
Jiub has competition
The first texture for my Borderland’s Morrowind experiment was Jiub. Jiub turned out merely OK. The lines were too thick and not well planned. Below you can see the other six textures I did for the original “vanilla” Morrowind head meshes.
Evolution in style
I think these pictures show how quick I progressed. They also show how I tried out different styles (such as #1’s beard and then #6). I felt I had reached a good grove. I drew the lines, smoothed the face texture out and added minor highlights and shadows. Another thing that evolved over time was the eyes, the original ones were indistinct and dead looking so I tried to add some highlights to make them pop a little better. If I hadn’t stated it, I’m taking artistic license with the Borderlands style and adding my personal touch.
I used a program called Nifskope to aid my in visualizing the changes I was making. Nifskope displays the 3d models (meshs) from Morrowind with the textures overlaid. This way I could see how it would look without having to tediously check in game. It allows rotating and zooming in/out.It is also where I discovered that the ears portion on the main textures was not actually used. Apparently at some point in development, Bethesda Softworks decided to make the ears actually 3D meshs that attach to the head and have their own texture.
Here are some of the heads in Nifskope:
Coming of Jiub 2.0
It was after the sixth, which I was pretty proud of, that I decided that the vanilla heads were just TOO terrible to continue with them. I did a quick refresher on the most popular mesh replaces (Morrowind has quite a few after 15 years). I waffled back and forth between the classic mod Better Heads and a more expansive mod that provides unique faces for every NPC. Obviously the every face version would take some work but the real reason I chose the mod Westly’s Pluginless Head Replacer is that it’s closest to the vanilla experience. I also figured, if I every wanted to go all the way with this, doing the faces was already down to 1/2 hr at the end of just 7 textures so it wouldn’t hurt to do the rest in a different face pack. Westly’s mod directly replaces the old model and doesn’t require a ESP MOD plugin activated to make it work (as vanilla friendly as possible).
Westly’s mod ups the polygon mesh in the head models and has much higher resolution textures (4x as big, if I remember correctly). Higher resolution textures allows for better detail and finer smoother lines. My main complaint is that the heads all similar sizes/shape where the original heads had a few that had unique structures (narrow chins, deep eye sockets, etc). I only did one head in this new pack….Jiub. As you can see it’s a dramatic difference from version 1.0.
Overall, I have to say that doing these textures in a borderlands style is actually EASIER than the tiny pixel by pixel editing of Arena’s textures. I will probably come back to this some more. I’m still curious how I would apply this technique to objects and architecture in the game.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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.
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