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

ADP WallA

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

WALLH MINEA MINEE WALLG

Wake up! You were dreaming.

Early on

Morrowind Main Menu (Original)

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.

Morrowind Box Art

It’s Alive

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.

Crayola version

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 this as my background on my computer for inspiration

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.

– Martin

It’s getting hot in here AGAIN?

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.

MINEB1 (original)

  • Layers in GIMP (and I’m sure Photoshop) allow you to create/edit different pieces of a picture individually but still be able to see them as a whole…like may layers of tracing paper stacked together but each having a different element drawn on it.

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.

MINEB1 (foreground)

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.

MINEB1 (fire background)

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”.

MINEB1

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.

MINEA1

It’s fairly simple but still creates that fire/lave effect I like despite the limited palette.

– Martin

“I’m not dead yet!”

Not quitting

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.

Motivation

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.

NOTE

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 😉

– Martin

Dude, where’s my post

Slight pause

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.

– Martin

tigerworking1

Time-traveling Emperor?

On Demand
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.
– Martin

No more time-traveling great grand-parents

No more time-traveling great grand-parents

Polka dot shirts with checkered pants

Interface

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.

Inventory screen (original)

Inventory screen (original)

ESC menu (original)

ESC menu (original)

Compromise

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.

– Martin

Dark green is as good as it gets

Dark green is as good as it gets

I used an alternate (unused inventory graphic) and tweaked it to add a little more character

I used an alternate (unused inventory graphic) and tweaked it to add a little more character

ESC menu (redone)

ESC menu (redone)

 

 

Sometimes it’s easier to walk around then straight through

Compressed

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.

Character screen

EXAMPLE: The character screen is two parts: stats on the left and character image/provincial background on the right. Each section is it’s own IMG file that is unfortunately undeciphered as of yet.

The “method”

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).

The screenshot version of the Quote image

The screenshot version of the Quote image

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.

Victory

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…

Now I can replace fullscreen graphics

Now I can replace fullscreen graphics

c

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.

– Martin

Picking back up steam

Silence

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.

Reenergized

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)

Pictures

Here are some photos showing some changes and things I am working or have noted.

-Martin