Rolling a critical failure

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.

Revised city wall and road

The most exciting screenshot EVER!


Borked Windows

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.


Doors and Floors


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.

Tavern with old door art

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.

– Martin


Is that 80’s fashion?

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).

WALLA Untouched

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.

– Martin


Click to enlarge


Picking back up the brush

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)…

– Martin


Alphabet Soup in Tamriel

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).


Only the spell specifics are a font

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.

Hallfiry's Arena Modding Suite

Hallfiry’s Arena Modding Suite

Hacking away

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.

Pop-up text

Pop-up text


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).

– Martin

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Strange times at Septim High

Ingame appearance

As I have worked on several games, I have noticed various oddities. I have covered one before: unused assets. However, there are a few others. In the game TES:Arena, most SET files are reserved either for walls or for floors. The exception is this one:


Which gives us the below separate ingame dungeons:

So far, it’s the only SET file to do that. Not sure what happened or why it’s like that. The main challenge with is that while I liked it on the floor against the dark walls, I don’t care for it as a wall texture. I’ll have to go back and tweak/balance it later.  In theory, with further modding of the INF files (they determine which art files each level uses), it can be made so that a different file is used but I’m not inclined at this time to do that.


Right off the bat, I’ll admit that my “working” copy of TES:Arena has been in use since I first started this project (several years now). It is now a Frankenstein-mess of my experiments. I expanded that executable file with an ancient program, expanded all the resource files, installed “WinArena” over top, fiddled with the INFs, etc. So I don’t know if the weird things I see in the game are my fault or not (easily enough to verify but I don’t really care that much).

I even had a very odd problem of an Imperial City textures completely changing from one style to another. I just walked into a mages guild and came out to a completely different looking city. I wished I had made a video of that weirdness.


Big blocky buttons


For the HUD (that shows at the bottom of the screen when playing), I fiddled extra long on how to redesign the buttons. I wavered back and forth on keeping the original art or replacing it with words or a different picture. I considered removing or subduing some of the more garish design aspects such as the yellow squares pinning the corners. However, unlike my other projects, ADP is quasi-purist in it’s attempt to keep the “feel” of the original artwork. I ultimately decided to just clean up the buttons but keep the art as close to the original as possible (making minor modifications). The only exception was the USE button; That one was a pain in the butt. Nothing I tried seemed to work well AND convey to the user that it was meant to be the “USE” button. In the end, I settled for a “U”.  Not overly inspired but I wasted a lot of time on it and we have to pick our battles sometimes.

Starting dungeon


You can see above the original HUD and below the new one.  I used one sword for attack to keep it simpler and clean and I changed the journal parchment to a book which I feel better conveys it’s purpose while differentiating it from the map directly above.

NOTE: While I did the background around the players head, in game it must use a different texture since it’s the same as the original. Also, I experimented with making the HUD partially transparent but as I suspected, the game doesn’t render below the start of the HUD and it just turned out  black.


Starting dungeon