Tablet 2.0

UpgradeHurion 650 Pro

Over a month ago, the pen for my trusty Wacom Bamboo tablet (see first post ever) broke. This was quite disheartening as I love having an art tablet and it’s was hard to be motivated without it.

After much research and reflection, I have finally picked up a new tablet: the Hurion 650 Pro. The great thing about it (besides the very positive ratings) is that it functions at the level of the middle tier Wacom products but only cost $79 US dollars on Amazon.  I can’t wait to take advantage of the added features it brings.

Breaking it in

After it got installed, I fiddle with my new toy using GIMP (side note: really tiring of using GIMP and it’s limitations). I was working on a homework project and had a picture of a pencil loaded. Just for fun, I attempted a very hasty and crude pencil outline of the pencil. It’s rough but I’m sentimental and it’s the first official drawing on the Hurion. I merely looked to trace the major lines and add some crosshatching…I wasn’t very attentive to keeping straight lines because this was more to test out the tablet than make art. However, I like it anyways.

– Martin

My first creation on the Hurion 650 Pro

My first creation on the Hurion 650 Pro

Doors and Floors

 

Get it together man

Now that I have finished the “walls and halls”, it’s time to renovate the doors and remaining floors. I have finished almost all the ground textures though (well a few could used tweaked too). In the past, I just worked directly in the directory where I extracted the files and reinserted them into the BSA from there. However since there are so many IMG files (949 to be exact) and that isn’t the cleanest way to work from a project management perspective, I pulled all the door files out to a separate folder/workspace and created a completed folder to use for importing files back to the BSA.

Tavern with old door art

Must have ran out of paint

Doors, Doors, Everywhere there are Doors

There are 112 door files not including non-doors that would serve as potential transition points (e.g. ladder up/down, stairs, etc..there are about 12 of those). These IMG files come in two variety, framed and whole texture.

I’ve been framed

The framed doors are “framed” with the texture of the building to which they belong (e.g. the Mage Guild door has a frame art that matches the building).  To do these, I’ll just copy and paste a wall from the matching set file and layer it under the door so it’ll be a perfect fit with the rest of the building. All exteriors and some interior doors are framed doors, pretty much any door that transitions between outside and inside.

 

That’s no small wall…it’s a door!

The other type of door is the whole texture door. I have done a few of these previously as you can see in the screenshot. These doors belong to all the interior rooms and are the ones that swing open so you can enter a room. Although they are relatively simple (as they repeat the same textures over and over for different files), I’m hoping to add a little more variety to them.

 

First things first though, I will test to see if each IMG file is used in game (i’ll probably do them in batches). I have already found several that aren’t. I will likely still redo them just in case. Worst case scenario, if I ever can get anyone to figure out how to decipher the MTF files, I will use them to make new dungeons and buildings.

– 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

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

“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

The start of the gold rush….

The tool that saved the  Arena Depixelization Project (ADP)

Last post, I covered the Arena Font Editor, 1 of 3 tools that I use to edit TES:Arena graphics (and fonts). The font editor is part of the Arena Modding Suite by Hallfiry. The other part of that suite is the 2nd (set) of the three tools I’m going to write about.

Prior to the Arena Modding Suite, I used the method detailed in a previous post that was laborious and unpractical. Fortunately, this thread popped up on the Bethesda forums. And instantly my little “experiment” became a project and grew in scope. Were it not for Hallfiry, I would have surely abandoned it ADP before it every took off.

What’s it do?

The main functions of the Arena Modding Suite come in the form of the ArenaPacker and ArenaUnpacker. Rather than being a program that you work in, they are utilities that enable you to easily manipulate the game assets directly in Windows. Both programs directly work with the GLOBAL.BSA. Appropriately enough, one unpacks the entire BSA into a set of folders and the other takes that set of folders and packs it right back up although that is a bit simplistic view of what they do.

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In reality, the programs not only work with the files but they also convert the files to the appropriate format. For ArenaUnpacker, when it extracts the files, it converts the non-standard IMG and SET files into easily edited PNG images. Additionally, it converts the INF files (map asset listings) to a text editor friendly format and SND files to WAVs (although I don’t have any interest in that part). ArenaPacker reverses the process and creates a packed GLOBAL.BSA based on files in the unpacked directory but doesn’t alter those files that were already extracted. This means I can have a working directory of all the files and my changes then “pack” my work-in-progress easily at any time to test in game.

 

All work is done from Windows

All work is done from Windows

 

Some notes about the Arena Modding Suite:

1. Quite a few of the images are compressed in a bizarro compression routine used by Bethesda and this software doesn’t have the functionality to uncompress them. No one had cracked that compression in all the years since the game was released (that is until very recently but more on that next time).

2. ArenaPacker is designed to compensate for using colors outside those available in palette file by converting non-palette colors to the nearest equivalent color in the palette. While it’s a handy feature, the images should be checked in game to make sure the colors aren’t changed to something wonky (as happened before I learned to use the palette tool in GIMP. If you stick to the exact palette (either by using a palette file or be just using colors in the actual images being edited), this isn’t a problem.

3. ArenaPacker is a little sensitive to what files are being repacked. When files are extracted, ArenaUnpacker creates a file list of all the files in each directory. This file list is used for when the files are repacked by ArenaPacker. So, if a file is missing or added that isn’t on the file listing, it will crash the program. So if I plan on “trimming” out the IMG/SET files not actually used, I’ll have to edit the file listing. However, it is very easy to fix so this isn’t that big of a deal.

– Martin