Sometimes the baby is just ugly

Wandering the land

I spent some time this week searching in-game for textures yet to be done using a pre-edited overpowered save file so I could roam unimpeded. I looked for dungeons, cities, wilderness, etc. that hadn’t yet been retextured. The side effect to this is that I found places where the textures WERE done but I had never seen them in-game or at least not in combination with other textures. From this I learned that some textures don’t work as well in-game as I hoped.

Proud Poppa

However, there are many that I feel are just right (or close enough for me to be happy). These I feel keep a unique appearance AND work well not only for their intended purpose but also with other textures. For example:

Avert your eyes

Of course, they all can’t be winners. I expected that I would have to go back and tweak later, but some textures combos were just horrible. To be fair to myself, I had two limitations: one, I was trying to make each texture unique and two, some textures were awful to begin with (one of the mage guild textures is a complete mess). These will be easy to tweak up though as all the hard work is already done.

Dirty walls and floors

I have starting tackling some of the vague pixelly mess of some wall and floor textures that I have been avoiding. The limitations on resolution and colors will probably force me to deviate from “source” more than I care but it can’t be avoided. There are so many in the DW series alone (A through S). The reason I started looking for textures in-game was so I could see the context in which the textures were being used.

– Martin

Darktone…another old (but not abandoned) texture mod

While I haven’t found my most recent version of the Torchlight mod, I did find my proof of concept file for a texture mod of the pc game Darkstone. Although all the Darkstone media assets are stored in “container” files like my other projects, Darkstone art files are a little different when extracted. Unlike Torchlight and Morrowind that have individual files for each image, Darkstone has what I call “image sheets”. I posted about it before but that was quite some time ago. Basically, it means that one “sheet” will be composed of many images fit together like a puzzle and in reality is actually a dozen or so art assets in one “sheet”.

Town building image sheet for Darkstone

Town building image sheet for Darkstone

Arena and Minecraft “sort of” do something similar. Both of them use a combination. Arena has multiple file types for art assets (some undecipherable) which include IMG files (single image) and SET files (multiple art assets stacked on top of each other in one picture). Minecraft *has/had individual files for items and such and one big image sheet for all environmental “blocks”.

*Newer versions of Minecraft are all separate image files

The difference in the Darkstone “image sheet” is that all images are not the same size. It takes a little extra experimentation to figure out where some textures start and where some end especially for textures like grass and sand that blend together naturally already as it is.  Depending on my needs, I’ll either use the solid blocks of color or shapes (number, letter, etc).

As I said, my Darkstone work was merely in the proof-of-concept stage. I had only completed 1/2 of one texture sheet. It was enough to redo some grass and road as well as the trees of only the beginning town (textures aren’t shared across levels). After finding my “sole” texture file, I fiddled with a little and worked on the rest of the grass and road for the level (which included a second image sheet) . However, it is all in the draft stage and needs major cleaning up before I would be happy with them.

I have revised the cobble stone to be less “busy”. I tried to use the same style as the other colors (outlines lighter than interior color) but the game keeps altering the colors so I think it can’t handle subtle shades of gray and black. Whenever I get back to this project, I’ll clean up the lines and make sure the grass isn’t so…squiggly.

– Martin

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!

One texture to rule them all….

In-game menu

I’ve held off on doing the in-game menu because I didn’t feel the necessary inspiration to tackle it yet. For me that texture is the face of the game; the one the player sees most often and serves as a sort of “anchor” for the player. Another factor may have been that I knew I would end up spending several hours on it to get it just right. Going in, I knew I wanted to keep the ARENA word at the top in roughly the same shape but with a much cleaner design and that it needed to be similar to the HUD on the main screen. That covered most of the core design and all I was lacking was gumption.

Once I finally found the urge to tackle it, it didn’t take long for my mojo to kick in. I knew that although I only had 75% of the design mapped out in my head, the other 25% would either come to me while I was editing or result from trial and error (that’s my favorite part anyways). Although I sped this video up twice as fast as the last one, you can still see spots where I paused to consider how to continue and where I changed my mind or adjusted on the fly (very evident with the Save, Load, Quit buttons on the bottom). In the end, I even found room for the project name!

Easy doesn’t always equal quick PART 2

Shapes

I try to stick to colors pulled from the original image. This eliminates any guesswork on making sure the colors match the palette file (really only important for older games that use palette files). Once I have a rough idea of what colors to use, I try and gauge what I want the new image to look like. For bricks and stone, I’ll usually try to draw inspiration from what I start with. In that I mean that I will try and mimic the rough shape and design of the original. I do try and give each set of images as unique an appearance as possible while being aesthetically pleasing.

Video

Since one of my main motivators for creating this website was to chronicle my artistic endeavors, I decided to make some time-lapse videos to highlight the process. The first one below demonstrates what I’m talking about for “easy” textures.

Points of interest

A couple of things to point out from the video:

1. I outlined the shapes ahead of time to create a frame when I colored in the shapes.

2. I colored in one image in the SET file to get a good feel of the colors and general appearance that I’m going for.

3. I do a lot of on-the-fly tweaking (and sometimes overhauling). Sometimes what I end up with is nothing like what I started with.

4. I have to check the image in the game in order to see if there are any issues AND to make the final decision on whether I like it or not. In this case, I ended up changing several of the other textures because I didn’t like how they looked. Note in the image below that the city wall and road are different (and in my opinion better) than in the video.

Revised city wall and road Tavern with old door art Tavern wall

 

 

 

From Darkstone to Arena

After getting the art files “extracted”, I expermented some with changing them using GIMP. For Darkstone, the art files (particularly for the ground and buildings) were a single picture composed of many smaller pictures.

The game engine would know that if it wanted image X it would have to look at a specific piece of art file Z. This meant when I wanted to change one art asset, I could edit 16 different ones at a time. To test it out, I would just draw a letter or number in a huge obvious way on top of the exisiting art for each distinct section. Then when I loaded the game and look for where that letter or number appeared in the game.

The problem I ran into with Darkstone was the changes didn’t take at first. I had to troubleshoot why. It turned out to be a issue with how the file was saved.  Darkstone required textures to be saved without any file compression. I simply had to resave the file “uncompressed” and it worked. With Darkstone, at that time I didn’t have any clear direction for what I wanted to do. It was more of a trial run to see how it all worked. Experiment done, my attention drifted away from Darkstone. It was more an issue of time since I didn’t have much so I would work on this a little here and there when I felt like it. Though later I would come back to Darkstone with a more focused purpose.