I had a couple people ask where to find the tools I’m using for the Arena Depixelization Project. So here are the links…
Windows to the soul
Recently while playing around with “vanilla” (unaltered) Arena, I noticed that the windows turn on an off for day and night. I believe this is based on the window color being pure white. In quite a few of the SET files, I had made the windows yellow breaking the on/off effect. It’s an easy fix though.
Caveat: I’m a hopeless tech nerd.
I like trying out software and technology. Things like text-to-speech, software debugging, emulators, etc. are like candy to me. Why is this on an art blog….err i mean…collegiate journal? Because sometimes I mess stuff up. This time I was trying to get a Windows XP/7 program that doesn’t like Windows 10 to install on my computer. In doing so, I borked my login so that it wouldn’t accept my password. From that point started a chain of events (all my own doing) to fix it that made the situation worse and worse. Finally, I couldn’t even boot my machine. Seriously, I’m pretty good with tech but on this day I rolled a “1”.
Long story short, I recently had to wipe my boot drive (no important files were on there but the OS) and install a clean Windows 10. I tried to cold turkey eliminate using GIMP since I already have Photoshop. That didn’t work too well. Photoshop is different enough that some very common things I was used to doing all the time in GIMP didn’t work. I’ll probably start watching some intro videos to see how Photoshop works before I try that again.
All in all, not my proudest tech week (or two).
I did some research into the MAP files for Arena. However, I want to compile it in a cohesive manner so that post will wait till I feel it is ready enough. My hope is that the information that I have uncovered might help others if they decide to “crack” the format.
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.
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.
I know, I know. I have been away for some time. 2015 was a very difficult year in the non-digital realm and some things had to slide to offset the stress.
Came back again
However, despite my my absence on this blog, I was actually quite busy on the graphic arts side of the house. I either oversaw or personally completed several projects for coworkers and friends. One of which, I am extremely proud of (more on that hopefully in a future post…i.e. one that isn’t written late at night when I should be sleeping).
It’s all fun and games
While I didn’t really work on the Arena Depixelization Project too much (it had to slide too), I was involved with design aspects for a couple of mods focusing mostly on 3D layout & set design and got some interesting practice on cooperative project management as a graphic artist/designer. I even every so slightly fiddled with 3D modeling.
Accelerate to 88 mphs
I have Photoshop now, guess I should actually work on learning how to use it.The problem is that I’m so used to GIMP, Photoshop seems downright alien to me. I imagine my warm up period will probably not be the speediest.
I want to experiment a little with my art projects. I am thinking of “remastering” some of my very very early and juvenile (i.e. decades old) artwork. I don’t know how it will turn out but at minimum, it seems like a interesting experiment.
Another similar idea I read about was to take kids artwork and reimagine it. I have a lot of that lying around from over the years and that just seems like a fun concept.
I guess we’ll see what the year brings but overall I feel healthier happier and more like my old self. I miss my old blog…and I seem to hear a certain collection of 64 x 64 pixel sprites calling my name ;
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)…
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.