Warm to the touch
NOTE: This kind of a rehash of a previous post from a different angle (slightly) that walks through the process more “visually”.
One of the texture SET files edited recently for ADP was a 4 texture wall set that resembled a wall with lava or fire spots. I had already settle on using a mostly flat wall color to more dramatically contrast the flames/lava parts of the textures. But in order to maintain a uniform look to the fire, the image needed to be built in layers. A good first step is to make a duplicate layer of the original before making any changes, especially major ones. That way, the duplicate can use as a reference when editing the image.
Cut it out
In this instance, the first element designed was the “wall” layer. Using the Erase function, all spots containing a decent amount of fire were erased. In GIMP, the eraser needs to be set to “hard edge” because of the technical limitations of the image format, it can’t deviate form the original palette or be partially translucent. Later on when the “fire” layer was created, it would be placed underneath this layer so that it show through only the holes.
Sticking to colors in the image, one was chosen as the new wall color. Before mass painting the “wall” (usually just by increasing the pencil/brush size to larger than the image), the “lock” transparency option had to be enabled to prevent the cutout holes from being filled in. Lastly, another complementary color was used to border the cutout sections and add a smidge of depth and interest.
Heating it up
Next, another layer was created for the “fire”. The plan was to fill the whole layer with the fire effect. If the “wall” layers transparent parts are changed (holes made bigger or moved), it wouldn’t need any adjustments. Also, it’s just easier that way. The fire is created by using alternating gradients of yellow to red and then back. This is repeated for the whole image.
Lastly, the final step is to “merge” the two layers together so that they show the wall but with spots of fire. In GIMP, you can right click the “wall” layer and just select “merge down”.
This technique is very similar to the one used on another firery wall that I completed months ago. Additionally, I used it for the lava in my Minecraft texture pack.
It’s fairly simple but still creates that fire/lave effect I like despite the limited palette.
Real life (RL) hits most enthusiast artists and game modders extra hard at some time or another, as it did me (I had the trifecta of work, family, and computer problems). Since most of us do this for fun, we have fit it into our leisure time. Some days, there is practically no free time. But more often, there is time but because of RL, the mental (and/or creative) juice isn’t there. For extended periods of “down time”, the bigger danger is that the interruption and loss of creative motivation might lead to loss of interest in a project altogether. This is especially dangerous for larger projects where the modder/artist might reflect on the enormity of the work that still needs to be done or if a newer shiny bauble attracts them.
The source of motivation plays a big factor in overcoming this kind of stagnation. In my case, the motivation is internal based (i.e. I do mods that I want to see). Additionally, I’m not modding current games so the pressure from the community isn’t a factor either. My projects are my COUNTER to RL stressors. I relax when I’m editing pixel by pixel. Each of my projects is an experiment in artistic design for me.
The Torchlight mod was my first real art mod and there are many things I look back on that showed my inexperience. However, I actually get energized at the thought of seeing how it would look now that I’m (slightly) more skilled. I guess what I’m saying is that if you do projects for yourself first and you enjoy it, it’s more likely that you’ll come back after these “unplanned pauses”. I’ve been working most of mine for several years (on and off) and haven’t ever considered abandoning them.
I originally planned to detail my work on some fire walls for Arena but this kind of just happened. Since I want this webpage to chronicle my artistic processes, I rolled with it. Long story short, sometime this week I’ll do that post 😉
Due to a fairly high RL tempo at the moment, I haven’t been able to work on ADP for a little while. I foresee having a little more time by the 2nd week of December. I don’t care for extended delays (well more than a month) so as soon as I can, I’ll be back at it. I’m eager to finish ADP and start my next (on hold) project.
Who told them?
I created this website so I can chronicle all my artistic (and design) endeavors, not just game related stuff. However, I haven’t been highlighting my other artwork. I get asked occasionally by friends to create images now and then. In that vein, I am going to create a general art section and will similarly list my thought processes and/or techniques behind how I created each image. Additionally, I want to do a retro section of old (some pretty juvenile) artwork from my younger years.
Up to bat
I have two non-game related projects in the works right now: an logo and an emblem. The prototype of the logo is below but I only have the concept for the emblem mapped out right now. I’ll detail my work on the logo below soon.
Per request, I made a fixed text version of the intro in the original style of the game. I just have to convert it and then I’ll post a link to download it. Of course, ADP will feature the corrected version in the new style also. All I needed to do was a little cut and pasting in GIMP to move the “V” left. Then I copied the “I” and pasted it twice. Voila.
The tool that saved the Arena Depixelization Project (ADP)
Last post, I covered the Arena Font Editor, 1 of 3 tools that I use to edit TES:Arena graphics (and fonts). The font editor is part of the Arena Modding Suite by Hallfiry. The other part of that suite is the 2nd (set) of the three tools I’m going to write about.
Prior to the Arena Modding Suite, I used the method detailed in a previous post that was laborious and unpractical. Fortunately, this thread popped up on the Bethesda forums. And instantly my little “experiment” became a project and grew in scope. Were it not for Hallfiry, I would have surely abandoned it ADP before it every took off.
What’s it do?
The main functions of the Arena Modding Suite come in the form of the ArenaPacker and ArenaUnpacker. Rather than being a program that you work in, they are utilities that enable you to easily manipulate the game assets directly in Windows. Both programs directly work with the GLOBAL.BSA. Appropriately enough, one unpacks the entire BSA into a set of folders and the other takes that set of folders and packs it right back up although that is a bit simplistic view of what they do.
In reality, the programs not only work with the files but they also convert the files to the appropriate format. For ArenaUnpacker, when it extracts the files, it converts the non-standard IMG and SET files into easily edited PNG images. Additionally, it converts the INF files (map asset listings) to a text editor friendly format and SND files to WAVs (although I don’t have any interest in that part). ArenaPacker reverses the process and creates a packed GLOBAL.BSA based on files in the unpacked directory but doesn’t alter those files that were already extracted. This means I can have a working directory of all the files and my changes then “pack” my work-in-progress easily at any time to test in game.
Some notes about the Arena Modding Suite:
1. Quite a few of the images are compressed in a bizarro compression routine used by Bethesda and this software doesn’t have the functionality to uncompress them. No one had cracked that compression in all the years since the game was released (that is until very recently but more on that next time).
2. ArenaPacker is designed to compensate for using colors outside those available in palette file by converting non-palette colors to the nearest equivalent color in the palette. While it’s a handy feature, the images should be checked in game to make sure the colors aren’t changed to something wonky (as happened before I learned to use the palette tool in GIMP. If you stick to the exact palette (either by using a palette file or be just using colors in the actual images being edited), this isn’t a problem.
3. ArenaPacker is a little sensitive to what files are being repacked. When files are extracted, ArenaUnpacker creates a file list of all the files in each directory. This file list is used for when the files are repacked by ArenaPacker. So, if a file is missing or added that isn’t on the file listing, it will crash the program. So if I plan on “trimming” out the IMG/SET files not actually used, I’ll have to edit the file listing. However, it is very easy to fix so this isn’t that big of a deal.
Letters from long ago
After the recent work on the user interface, I decided to take a hack at changing the fonts. Arena fonts are stored as DAT files (the file extension that a lot of the text tables use). There are 9 separate font files and the game using them each in the game in different places (I.E. the character stat numbers are different than the travel menu summary). However, some of the text in the game isn’t from a font at all but part of a texture or image already premade (e.g. in the spell book, only the spell specifics is actually a font and not part of the image).
Click the font away
Thanks to Hallfiry’s Arena Modding Suite, I had the tools necessary. Hallfiry’s suite includes a separate program for editing fonts, called the Arena Font Editor. While the program isn’t the most elegant design, it does allow for editing of fonts in a fairly simple manner. The font editor allows for simple pixel checking and unchecking. Blocks checked will show and blocks unchecked wont. The size of each font letter can be set separately and while that size can be changed with the slider in the upper right corner of the editor, it should be noted that the game itself may not look good if the font size is too big.
At first I didn’t understand how to use the editor. It turns out that in order to edit a font, the DAT file needs to be dragged and dropped onto the Font Editor. Additionally, there was no clear explanation on what the slider did. I eventually learned that it allowed resizing of each individual character in the font file (e.g. changing it from 5×5 to 6×6). I had already completed half of the font files when I discovered it’s purpose. The slide proves handy so that you can control the spacing between letters. In other words, you can have it one extra space wide so that the letters don’t touch. I did notice that not all letters were properly aligned to the left side of the box.
I have somehow broke one of the fonts (my guess is that it’s out of range of what the engine can handle or maybe it just got corrupted). I have been using the same copy of Arena for a testbed since I started this project back before there were any tools or this website. There are errant files and folders all over the place in the Arena directory (too include early BSA upackers, WinArena, and other crud). With this latest erratic behavior, I have decided to spend the grueling 5 minutes to download and install a clean copy. This way my efforts will match the end-user’s experience more accurately. Then it’ll be time for the second run through on the fonts to tweak the letters (and fix the broken font file).
One item that bothered me was that the interface elements didn’t really match. It seemed as each screen had it’s own style, particularly when you compare the “esc” menu and the inventory. Once I knew I could edit the inventory backgrounds, I wanted to make it match the other screens. However, I discovered that they use different palettes and I couldn’t find the right color that was on both palettes.
I ultimately had to settle on as close as a match as I could get. Additionally, I tried to port over a few of the stylistic elements of the ESC menu into the other GUI elements to tie them together better.
Quite of few TES:Arena IMG files are compressed in a crazy-wack-funky format that only the executable can decipher. No one has successfully found a way to decompress them. I had, quite a long time back, experimented with trying to replace them with uncompressed images but didn’t succeed.
I picked the “QUOTE.IMG” texture to edit because it was quick to find in-game and had clearly defined dimensions (full screen at 320×200). I loaded Arena in DOSBOX and waited for the quote to load (it’s the second screen after loading). Then I took a screenshot and since DOSBOX already uses native resolution, I didn’t need to alter the image. However, when I replaced the “compressed” version with the new one, it didn’t show up in game (it stayed black until the next screen loaded).
Wait there’s more
However today, Hallfiry (the maker of the Arena mod suite I use) revealed to me that it was indeed possible to do what I had attempted. Reinvigorated, I retried my previous method and almost instantly found a flaw in my method involving his program. Basically, his program translates uncompressed image files from Bethesda’s non-standard image format to PNG files for easy editing. When it does the conversions it creates two additional files, .MET and .PAL, containing color and format information to be used when reconverting back to the original format (repacking the archive). I failed to accountfor his program needing these files to successfully convert back the image. So this time I copied a .MET and .PAL from a similar “uncompressed” fullscreen image and renamed them both to match the “QUOTE” image.
This time it worked although it looked normal because I hadn’t edited it’s appearance. What this means is that all full screen IMG files could easy be redone using the “improved” method above. However, I wondered about partial full screen images such as the character screen. Using DOSBOX debug, I quickly found that the character screen images and made a screenshot. NOTE: Dos debug shows what images are loaded so I also knew which image to replace. The character screen is composed of two images. On the left is the blue-ish stat background and the right is the province background with the character image overlaid on it. I chose the stat background due to simplicity. Using the method above, I only had to add one step. Knowing that the CHARSTAT.IMG covered only a portion of the image, I had to crop the DOSBOX screenshot to just encompass that side. I did some messy edits to test a few things and the results are below…
NOTE: I confirmed my suspicions that not only were the DONE and NEXT PAGE buttons were just part of the background, but the stat names and other misc “yellow” text was too.
Basically, this means I’m one step closer to a complete retexture. Fullscreen and partial fullscreen graphics are now replaceable to include: the title screen, the quote, all the image scrolls (yes this includes the text and I CAN fix the Uriel Septim typo), character sheets and backgrounds and what ever else is full screen. The only one I’m not sure about is the MAP. I’ll save that experiment for another day.
I haven’t had a lot of time this summer but I have made tweaks here and there. There are a few textures I’ve done on another computer that I have yet to transfer over to my master files. Things have settled a little and I should be able to refocus my efforts on finishing the SET files as soon as possible.
For me, one benefit of extended “down time” on a project is that when I finally am able to return, I have regained a lot of my motivation. Additionally, I come back with “fresh eyes” and see ways to do things differently or better. While it’s a bummer to have to delay working on a project, I know I will always return because I love doing it and to me it’s very relaxing (even when I’m replacing every @#$% pixel in 1994 game with only 256 colors, 64×64 image dimensions and cryptic/bizarre file formats)
Here are some photos showing some changes and things I am working or have noted.
For this texture set, I wanted to retain the fire/lava vein effect in the walls. Although I had mapped it out from my previous run through all the textures as covered in a previous post, I ended up making quite a few changes. Click the picture below for a closer look.
Here’s a breakdown of the sequence of events from start to finish.
1. Create an outline – To do this I selected a dark color and outlined all the rocks letting anything outside the outline be designated for the fire/lava. I followed the source fairly closely but did take some liberties to make some a little bigger.
2. Fill in the rocks – I initially selected a tan color for the rocks since the original was largely tan-ish. I colored in every rock, one by one. There are easier ways but I enjoy it so I don’t mind using the color every pixel method.
3. Make tiling template – Since any texture in the set could be next to the other, I had to make sure that they match up naturally and didn’t have any obvious seams. I copied the first 3 left-side columns of pixels in the top most texture and pasted them on each image all the way down. Next, I repeated the process but for the right side. This made all 4 textures (this SET is 4 textures in a column) have the exact same sides. Since the top one was seamless, they now all are seamless.
4. Make duplicate of image in new layer – The duplicate layer is what I used to create a uniform and consistent lava pattern. To duplicate a layer, right-click on the layer in the layer toolbox, then select duplicate layer. An exact copy of that layer will be placed right underneath the original.
5. Remove fire/lava from top layer – First, I turned off the bottom layer and make sure the top layer is selected. Then, using the eraser tool, I erased all the fire/lava and miscellaneous areas not already designated as rocks (and thus colored in). This made the lava area transparent but it is still preserved in the bottom layer which is “hidden” from view when turned off.
6. Create lava layer – First, I turned the bottom layer back on and the top layer off. Then I started with the top image and hand created a gradient covering the whole image starting with yellow at the bottom and working to dark purple(ish) on the top. Then I copied this completed lava gradient and pasted it over the 3 bottom images.
7. Merge the two images – I “turned on” the top layer (making both layers on), then right clicked on the top layer in the layer toolbox. From there I selected “merge down” so the top layer and bottom layer become a single image with both the new rocks and lava together.
8. Revise – At this point, I decided that the lighter color rocks didn’t contrast well enough or give the lava the pop I wanted. I loaded another copy of the original texture in GIMP, picked out a new brown but then decided on a slightly lighter color than the original rock outline. Using the bucket paint tool, I filled in all the rocks with the new color. In this process, I also caught a few miscolored pixels and fixed them.
9. Create depth – Next, I added a lighter faded version of the rock color to the left side of all of the rock outlines. This created a highlight and adds the impression of depth to the rocks.
10. Touchup – Lastly I offset the image 1/2 on the horizontal plane so I can see how the whole file tiles sideways. Since dungeons and interiors don’t exceed 1 tile in height, I didn’t have to worry about this texture set tiling vertically. To offset in GIMP, press Ctrl + Shift + O and in the “X” box typing 32 which is half the total width of the texture. After clicking the “offset” button, the whole image will shift 32 pixels to the right and placed the edges of the image in the middle. I scanned and fixed any mismatchs or slight errors then shifted the whole image 32 more pixels returning it to its original place.