Do not fear it is “I”

Letters count?

Awhile back I had posted that I had learned that I could update the font files. I never liked the font in Arena as it was too flowery for readability at such a low resolution. Each letter in the fonts was ranged from 3×3 to 8×8 pixels in size. They were all really just super small pictures.

A little rough but it works

A little rough but it works

If I build it, I’ll build it thrice

I wasn’t satisfied with my previous attempts and decided to quickly rebuild them again. This time, I tested each one out in game to see how well the effect worked. Surprisingly, this took more time than I imagined and I ended up completely revamping each font file 3-4 times till I was happy with them. In game testing allowed me to see where I missed or added a space, what characters didn’t look right, and generally if the font looked ok when playing. As you can see in the picture, the editor lets you click each pixel, one by one. While each character font file can have the spacing and padding adjusted using the slider (thus bigger or small amount of horizontal pixels), the height of the characters was fixed for each font file. Although it would be relatively easy to just rename one of the other font files that have a bigger height setting, I think that might play havok on how the game displays text and didn’t really see the need for it.

Through some in for spares?

To determine which font affected which portion of the game, I filled in a different set of characters in each font file as a solid box. Then I just looked to see which font was being used in each portion of the game containing text. Like with the art (and probably sound files), I found that not all fonts were used. Of the 10 font files included with the game, I have only been able to find 4 of them in game. Or at best, the others are used in some obscure corner of the game.

NOTE: The screenshots were taken with a vanilla version of Arena since this mod will be released as a separate mod from ADP.

UPDATE: I released TES Arena ReFonted on the nexus. You can get it here.

– Martin

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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

 

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

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

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).

Spellbook

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

Testbed

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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