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

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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

Bring marshmellows and a stick…

For this texture set, I wanted to retain the fire/lava vein effect in the walls. Although I had mapped it out from my previous run through all the textures as covered in a previous post, I ended up making quite a few changes. Click the picture below for a closer look.

Here’s a breakdown of the sequence of events from start to finish.

1. Create an outline – To do this I selected a dark color and outlined all the rocks letting anything outside the outline be designated for the fire/lava. I followed the source fairly closely but did take some liberties to make some a little bigger.

2. Fill in the rocks – I initially selected a tan color for the rocks since the original was largely tan-ish. I colored in every rock, one by one. There are easier ways but I enjoy it so I don’t mind using the color every pixel method.

3. Make tiling template – Since any texture in the set could be next to the other, I had to make sure that they match up naturally and didn’t have any obvious seams. I copied the first 3 left-side columns of pixels in the top most texture and pasted them on each image all the way down. Next, I repeated the process but for the right side. This made all 4 textures (this SET is 4 textures in a column) have the exact same sides. Since the top one was seamless, they now all are seamless.

4. Make duplicate of image in new layer – The duplicate layer is what I used to create a uniform and consistent lava pattern. To duplicate a layer, right-click on the layer in the layer toolbox, then select duplicate layer. An exact copy of that layer will be placed right underneath the original.

5. Remove fire/lava from top layer – First, I turned off the bottom layer and make sure the top layer is selected. Then, using the eraser tool, I erased all the fire/lava and miscellaneous areas not already designated as rocks (and thus colored in). This made the lava area transparent but it is still preserved in the bottom layer which is “hidden” from view when turned off.

6. Create lava layer – First, I turned the bottom layer back on and the top layer off. Then I started with the top image and hand created a gradient covering the whole image starting with yellow at the bottom and working to dark purple(ish) on the top. Then I copied this completed lava gradient and pasted it over the 3 bottom images.

7. Merge the two images – I “turned on” the top layer (making both layers on), then right clicked on the top layer in the layer toolbox. From there I selected “merge down” so the top layer and bottom layer become a single image with both the new rocks and lava together.

8. Revise – At this point, I decided that the lighter color rocks didn’t contrast well enough or give the lava the pop I wanted. I loaded another copy of the original texture in GIMP, picked out a new brown but then decided on a slightly lighter color than the original rock outline. Using the bucket paint tool, I filled in all the rocks with the new color. In this process, I also caught a few miscolored pixels and fixed them.

9. Create depth – Next, I added a lighter faded version of the rock color to the left side of all of the rock outlines. This created a highlight and adds the impression of depth to the rocks.

10. Touchup – Lastly I offset the image 1/2 on the horizontal plane so I can see how the whole file tiles sideways. Since dungeons and interiors don’t exceed 1 tile in height, I didn’t have to worry about this texture set tiling vertically. To offset in GIMP, press Ctrl + Shift + O and in the “X” box typing 32 which is half the total width of the texture. After clicking the “offset” button, the whole image will shift 32 pixels to the right and placed the edges of the image in the middle. I scanned and fixed any mismatchs or slight errors then shifted the whole image 32 more pixels returning it to its original place.

Icy walls of bleh

A little before and after pictures. There are a total of 5 ICE dungeon texture SETS. As you can see in the below images, they are mostly just recolored variants with different symbols. SIDENOTE: I presume they are Daedric symbols commonly seen in later games.

Here are three of the originals….

It took a bit to decide how much different, I wanted each to be. Ultimately, I just decided on to make them vary enough so that they would have their own appeal but maintain the overall theme. I haven’t seen these dungeons in game yet (never played far enough I presume). Once I complete all the SET files, I will do a test run through the game to see if I can find them (and others).

And the same there afterward…

Line them up and knock them down

Start strong

As I have stated in the past, one of the most taxing aspects of editing the TES:Arena textures is coming up with a unique take on the image within the constraints of the limited pixel and color count. While I was thinking about my methods and ways to be more efficient, it occurred to me that I don’t appropriately leverage my motivation. For the last 1 1/2 I have been working one texture at a time. This would exhaust my creativity for the day too quickly. I would waste a bulk of my time “finishing” said texture after I decided how I wanted it to look. All of the “fresh mojo” that I had when I started for the day was worn away by the time I got through a few (sometimes one) SET files. This is especially true with the most of the remaining SET files that have no defined look or image (i.e. barely recognizable as any thing but random colored pixels).  Not only was that detrimental to the quantity of work completed in any one sitting, but it also deterred me altogether. There were days that I just didn’t have the energy or initiative to try and figure out a new take on what looked like white noise so I just wouldn’t decide to spend my efforts elsewhere.

Shotgun effect

To better capitalize on that “creative fronted”, I tried an experiment. I loaded up 18 SET files in GIMP. Then one by one, I worked on just getting the look I wanted for a small portion, enough to establish the look. I didn’t waste time completing the whole texture as that is really the easy and mostly mundane part. It worked quite well. Using this method, I was able to solidify my design for 16 SET files in just one day (really just a couple of hours). As I said the design is the hardest part with this project, and I wiped out almost half of the remaining SET textures left. Now, if I don’t feel particularly creative but still want to make progress, I can just finish up some of the ones I have already started (template on itself) and if I do…I may just be able to finish the other 16 or so.

– Martin

Kicking down the door

Interior doors

 

Last week when I was lacking of motivation to work on the walls sets, I decided to fiddle with the interior doors and more specifically the wooden doors. Those are the ones that connect rooms and hallways and not ones leading out of buildings or dungeons. These particular doors are one single texture that is a door (the entry exit ones have borders that match the interior walls). That door occupies one square of dungeon space (all dungeons are square chunks of one texture). While in-game it appears that there are only two or three different wood door textures, there are actually over a dozen. It’s just that there are only 3 different  textures among them. Here’s a sample of one image among multiple IMG files:

5 Doors don’t have to equal 1

What I don’t understand is why Bethesda used multiple files with the same IMG when space and memory was a concern back then. They could have easily used one file through the INF files (the ones that decide what textures to use on each level). However, this does give me an opportunity to add some variation to the ingame art. As such, as with walls and etc., I will make each door appearance different.

 

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)

 

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:

WALLC

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.

Ummm…what

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.

-Martin

RETRO POST : The long road to Arena

Why Arena?

*This post was originally drafted in 2012 but never submitted. I have revised and updated it.

The next brief diversion was an even older game called The Elder Scrolls:Arena. It is the first game in one of my favorite video game series and I did play this one a lot when it first came out in ’94.  I found a website that packaged it (and it’s sequel) in a neat, easy to install package. But, the low resolution graphics (320 x 200…trust me it’s very low) were so pixelly that it was hard to play and enjoy for me, particularly in the cities where anything in the distance was just a blob of small blocks.

ArenaBox

Mods?

After some quick checking, I found that there were NO graphic altering mods out there. No one on the forums seems to think it was even possible. I found that hard to believe and felt the “challenge bug” nibbling at my toes. I wanted to find out how to do it. But I only got as far as checking how the files were stored (container file ending in .bsa). I did find that someone attempted to remake the game (didn’t get finished).  It claimed to allow you to extract the art file out of the BSA file for you. BUT in actuality, it converts them to a common image format that the original game can not recognize and thus was not a viable option. Due to real life busyness (yes I mean busy-ness), this too faded to the background. Eventually, I did come back to it later (much like Darkstone) and succeeded in extracting all the files (using a old program).

You did what?

Even though the image files were not in any common standard format, I figured out how to open them in GIMP (free editing software). This involved loading the images as RAW images with a offset header of 12 (think “ignore first 12 bytes of file”) and then loading a special palette files.  I could then save it as a RAW image. The drawback to this method was that for images that had the 12 bytes that needed to be ignored (all the IMG files), the saved image wouldn’t have those bytes. That meant that I had to (BRACE YOURSELF) open the file in a hex editor (think super nerdy ), copy all the bytes, then open the original file and paste the copied bytes over starting at byte 13.  Then, I tossed that file in main file directory as the game. The only way to see how it worked was to load the game and look for the texture.  It was a overly cumbersome process that eroded my enthusiasm and by the time my “interest” (i.e. attention span) waned, I only completed 8 textures.  Although I moved on to a different project, I came back once in a while to do a texture or two. I deluded myself in thinking that over time (probably decades), I would eventually finish it.

Progammer in Shining Armor

It wasn’t until Hallfiry released his “Arena Modding Suite” that the project took off in a major way. His tool not only unpacked the entire BSA resource file (BSA = Bethesda Softworks Archive) but converted most of the textures into PNG files for easy editing. Afterwards, it could be used to “repack” the BSA easily without destroying the “working folder” and converting the files back to the original format. Besides some textures that used a funky compression, it had removed the technical barriers to changing images in the game. Now to date, I have completed 126 of 172 SET files (wall texture sets) with 12 additional ones that aren’t even used in game. The two biggest challenges for me now are: making unique interesting textures that work well in game (after having already made 126 of them) and figuring out how to do some of the more organic textures to match my style (since the pixel dimensions are very limited). 64 x 64 does limit the amount of creativity I can use.