Wait, the city is built from a crashed plane?!

The A to the D to the P

First up, I have been moving along quite nicely with the art for the Arena Depixelization Project (a name only a nerd could love). Not only have I got quite a bit of new stuff done, I have been revamping the ones I don’t like as I go. I’m focusing on one location at a time in game and redoing all the wall/floor textures that I find unfinished or that need a redo.

Brownout 3

I won’t post much on this for awhile but the previously unnamed but heavily hinted project, is Fallout 3. Yes, another Bethesda game….what can I say. Oh yeah, I don’t have to say anything it’s my project so pbbbbtttt. Really, I tried playing Fallout 3 and like what I did play but the artwork in the game is so (intentionally) degraded, it hides the games true potential. All they did was make super crappy textures and add a bunch of “noise” (dithering and random speckling) and a WHOLE LOT OF BROWN.

Fallout 3.2017-10-24.20.50.45.085

Original heaping pile of…..muddy desaturated textures

Cellout implies the wrong message

I know what your saying “I sure wish he would give it a cartoony makeover”….ME TOO! See great minds think alike. In reality, I’m using it to perfect my own take on the Borderland (game for the computer) cell shading style. While inspired from that game, my style deviates in many small ways from it (besides my not truly knowing how they did it).

Fallout 3.2017-10-16.23.10.15.440

When I was feeling out how I wanted the style to look

So much brown

It really struck home when no one realized that Megaton (the first city you reach in game) was built with pieces of a plane. There are pieces all over but the textures were so bad, you never realized that you were walking on pieces of a wing or that the shed above was part of a fuselage. Oddly enough, despite inspiring to make this a full project, I really not happy with how the jet pieces turned out and plan to eventually redo them.  I used them to learn how textures in FO3 worked and struggled figuring out the strange multiple way alpha maps were used along with normal maps. For the longest, I couldn’t get them to be selectively reflective of light. They were all shiny or no shiny at all regardless of light. I worked it out (more when I actually talk about the project).

 

It just needs a good scrubbing

Ultimately, I want to remove the noise, define the textures better, add visual interest as well as color: all while trying to maintain the feel of a world in decay. I still haven’t honed the process down completely, but I am learning quite a bit and pushing my developing Photoshop skills to the limit (TAKE IT…TO THE LIMIT…ONE MORE TIME). I want to perfect them before I return to my favorite game of all time, Morrowind. Oh yes, I’m not done with you yet, sweet Morrowind (too creepy?). Here are some more before and afters (note: some are still early prototypes or have already been reworked to be smoother and cleaner):

I’m gonna focus on ADP for now and honestly, this Fallout 3 project is going to take years since I’m just working on it sporadically until I have enough free time to hit it hard.

– Martin

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Previously, on ArtInPinkerton Blog (dun dun!)

Pixels so sharp they will cut you

For anyone who reads this blog (all 3 of you), its no secret that I tend to favor a more cartoonish and abstract style when editing game artwork. With the Arena Depixelization Project (ADP), this was mostly a necessity since I was looking at simplifying images due to the extremely low resolution and terrible graininess (grain E ness?).

Textures so muddy, they have to take their shoes before coming inside

However, with Morrowind, it was more of a desire to undrab (not even a real word I’m pretty sure) it some. The individuals textures were unimpressive but all together they worked (for back in 120 A.D. when it was created). With my early experiments, I used the cartoon method to add interest to the individual textures but it was crude.

 

 

“You know my name is Simon and the things I draw come true”

From here, I had a detour with a little experiment. For all the games I work on, I have a soft spot. Darkstone was one such game. It’s low resolution blurry textures begged for me to edit them. It was a challenge just figuring out how to access them and understand the file structure: there are odd duplicates, art sheets (many separate art assets on one texture), and strange encryption. I wanted to create a chalk-like art style. It was a side diversion and never meant to be a full project though. I really liked the results though.

STOP CHANGING THE DAMN FORMAT ALREADY!

I had very little experience back then and it was before Borderlands captured what I desired so well (ICE CREAM…wait no…CELL SHADING!). So I switched to working on Minecraft for my sons. I finished not only the main game but several of the most popular modification at the time. However, Mohjang (the makers of Minecraft) changed the texture format and naming several times over the duration I was working on it; breaking my texture pack (Grrrrr!) more than once. I never released it as by the time they finalized it, they had added so much more that I hadn’t done.  However, it gave me time to work on learning the graphics software (GIMP at the time…not the one from Pulp Fiction).

 

But the name almost begged it!

I’m not sure how I started working on it, but the next project I worked was Torchlight. I think I had just wanted to see if I could do it. During this phase, I dedicated quite some time experimenting with different styles and the software. Eventually, it turned into a full blown project which I called “Toonlight”…I am so clever…so damn clever. Looking back, I think I lamented how little the backgrounds “popped” and though I could smooth and outline them to make them defined. My biggest failing on it (beside the wee-bit of amateurish work…cough cough) was that I was so focused on the individual textures, that I didn’t account for the whole picture and scene. So much detailed “polluted” the screen. This is relevant for when I get to my newest endeavor. Toonlight was never finished (I had illusions it might be). I didn’t like the results on a game level and didn’t want to start over. The creatures looked nice though.

 

Nailed it….

Then came Borderlands. It perfectly encapsulated what I was going for. I loved the art style and now I had a inspiration to study and evolve my style. It was here I learned about rim lighting (making dark lines pop with a lighter line near it) and ways to make larger blank areas look less dull (hint: random lines and squiggles).  I didn’t try it for some time as I was working on finalizing ADP (which is….sigh…not done yet). When I finally took a break, I experimented with Morrowind again…this time on the faces; trying to capture that Borderlands style. Ultimately, I realized that my style was Borderlands-inspired but had my flavor added.

Brown…so much grainy awful pixel-y brown

I finally had enough experience to move forward. I had a few other side projects not “cartoon” style related (such as the FATE mod..so I can have all that crunchy 4K resolution…mmmmm tasty). Moving on, I had just the project in mind to hone those skills even further and put them to the test. Eventually, I’ll return to Morrowind and complete a full artwork overhaul once I’m done.

By then, I should have most of my style and workflow on lock (see I’m cool…I said “on lock”…like a boss). More coming next post……. (oohhhhhh a teaser…what can it be…).

Martin

 

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

State of the Blog 2016

Went away

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 ;

–  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

Where is Bob Ross when you need him?

 

Color balancing

After wandering around in the game, I started feeling a need to go back and tweak some textures. I was just not happy with some of the combinations. Sometimes it’s just best to strike while the inspiration is strong. So I have spent quite a bit of time adjusting colors, cleaning up some of my more “questionable” decisions, and generally making them all play a little better together. I especially tried to tone down the floors and ceiling so they don’t clash or draw away from the walls. Some of the texture combos are much easier on the eyes now. For some of them, I removed the splotches or other weird marks that I had left to stay close to the original…the resolution/texture sizes are just to low to be that craz…er creative.

Breaking away

I have stopped trying to adhere strictly to the source material in interest of keeping the textures unique and fun. Additionally, I plan to add some “detail” to the wall sets that are just a group of plain walls  (e.g. a small object on the wall). I want each wall image in a set to be unique but I’ll be sure to keep unadorned walls too to balance the aesthetics.

 

Floors darkened to not match the tables and added minor definition to the ceiling

Floors darkened to not match the tables and added minor definition to the ceiling

 

Removed splotches and added shelves

Removed splotches and added shelves

 

Floor tamed, darkened walls and trim at top to better see the gold (now just need to do the ceiling)

Floor tamed, darkened walls and trim at top to better see the gold (now just need to do the ceiling)

 

1 step forward 2 steps back…

Several years ago when I first started messing around with computer graphic art, I tested out visual concepts on a PC game called Morrowind (the third in the Elder Scrolls series that Arena started) . Although Morrowind was where I tested the waters, it was another game called Torchlight that became the focus of my first big project I “cleverly” decided to call Toonlight. Initially, I tried to change the art assets in bulk by using the various filters built into the GIMP software. However, while the end results were interesting, I didn’t find them very pleasing aesthetically.

So I took those results and experimented a little more by testing different tweaks and changes. Eventually, I narrowed down the look I wanted to pursue. Since I found the game art interesting but bland, I decided my goal would be to make it more vibrant and add cell-shading style lines. Surprise, Surprise 😉 I just felt that the WOW-esque muted coloring made the environment less interesting, washed out and a lot of detail.  So I started adding “black outlines” and redoing each texture by hand. Then I would test them in-game. Each art set for the various types of levels were already separated into individual folders labeled “levelsets”, so I worked my way from one levelset to another. I was even close enough to completion that I thought I could beat Torchlight 2 being released. I had reworked almost all the level artwork and many of the monsters and props. However, I was in the midst of moving and my motivation waivered and the mod drifted down the priority list.

Recently, when I started recollecting all my data from various hard drives (including 2 that were on their deathbed, CDRs and memory sticks, I discovered my art files for Toonlight and my other “on hold” mod, Darktone, were missing and the only thing left was a very early version of my Toonlight mod. Although this is a tragedy for most, I had learned so much from working on that project (and had so much fun) that I don’t consider the time wasted. On top of that, upon further review, I found myself not overly satisfied with the few levels I did recover. The initial mine levelset now seems too sloppy for my tastes, the crypts are a little too green and non-descript in a few areas, and the sunken temples levels are a TOO busy. Only the lava level still pleases me but some of it didn’t get recovered. I’m still searching for them but worse case scenario, I have enough recovered to springboard myself back into the project. With that said, I’m focused on my Arena mod. Once I have gotten as far as possible, I will resume my other projects.

So where does that leave me…same as before. I still plan on completing it. One aspect all my art mods have  in common (except Minecraft) is that they are older games that I’m doing for my personal enjoyment. I don’t feel the need to adhere to a timetable before the games become “irrevelant”. Arena was released over 20 years ago!