Occasionally, I like to test out games on my 4k monitor to see how they look at such a high resolution (3184×2160). For some games, that impact is less than you would expect while others look surprising good. For example, Bethesda Gamebyro engine-based games (Elder Scrolls and Fallout) look a little better but I’m not very wow’d by it. I think it boils down to the engine and lower resolution textures. Less aliasing (jagged edges around the 3D model) and more detail but not the punch you would expect.
On the other hand, Two Worlds looks fantastic. The textures are high resolution enough to make them really pop. Unfortunately, the interface doesn’t scale so it’s very “difficult” to play at such a high resolution. Visually, it’s very pleasing though.
So one day, I got a bug to try the old game Fate. It was the predecessor to Torchlight. A top-down action-RPG click fest. My boys played all but last one in the series so as usual, there is a touch of nostalgia for me. The only thing I had to figure out tech-wise was how to get the resolution desired in game. Some games work out of the box and some require manually editing “ini” text files. In this case, I had to edit the “ini” file AND disable scaling on high DPI settings. I did that by right clicking the program executable file and putting a check under that line in the compatibility tab. Viola…4K work for a decade+ old game.
Both ends of the spectrum
You can see in the screenshot (even if you don’t have a 4K monitor) that the character models are actually quite detailed. In 4K, they really stand out and don’t really need any work. Well, I could do a little but I digress…in general, they are perfectly nice. However, as you can see in the “snow/ice” texture, the non-character models are blurry low-resolution messes. Basically, they are tiled 128×128 textures. They are so dramatically worse than the character/object textures in 4K. The building are also very low resolution…which is even more boggling since they don’t blend into the background like the landscaping. That is when I got inspired…to fix the disparity.
The above (partially complete) picture is post landscape editing. For the record, I’m still not crazy happy about it but small steps.The landscapes textures have revealed the oddites of the engine. A few places where they don’t actually blend and such but not too much. The real work and most dramatic change was the building and landscape objects…but that is for next time.
Since I have limited time to focus on leisurely activities, a lot of what I do with game art falls more into the “Proof of Concept” category. I have an idea about what would be a interesting visual change for me and I merely want to see it in game. For example, for the Darkstone project, I was going for the look of dry erase crayons on a dark dry erase board.
Exit to Forest
For Morrowind, I simulated a cell shader (cartoon) effect with build in black outlines. Note: when I first made those textures, Borderlands hadn’t been released. However, I had already realized that it looked better to have the solid colors have some kind of texture behind them for visual interest.
Fast forward to Today
I was messing around with my new art tablet last month and decided to see if I could replicate the style of Borderlands in Morrowind, at least as a proof of concept. I did some research for tips on the best way to replicate the effect and found a youtube video that explained a method that a got very close to the games style.
I chose to experiment on the vanilla Morrowind face textures. In general, they are awful and look very ugly in game. My logic being that adding the “borderlands” style texturing might add enough interest to make them worthy of keeping versus using model replacer mod (may mods replace the heads). The original textures used for faces were very low resolution, inaccurate (sloppily made) and just generals ugly as all get out.
Some one beat him with the Vanilla Game ugly stick
I started by doing the heads in the order of the characters you run into when you start a new game. I redid 5 faces. It was surprisingly easier than I thought.
I’ll detail it out next time but for a teaser here’s what “vanilla” jiub looked like when I was done. I’ll explain the irregularities next time.
Editing the “easy” Arena SET files
(remember sets are several images tiled into one)
I mentioned that right now I’m “mostly” focusing on doing the easier images in Arena’s SET files. By easier, I mean contain simple angular designs that have minimal curves and diagonals. Why? The reason is that with these extremely low resolution art assets (most tiles are only 64 pixels by 64 pixels), curves and diagonals don’t look like smooth straight lines. With my Minecraft project (PinkertonCraft), I expressedly made almost ALL the art clean linear horizontal and vertical line combinations with no curves even implied.
Nether Ores – Original Minecraft 16 x 16
Nether Ores – PinkertonCraft (still 16 x 16)
Unlike that project, in the ADP, I simplified most curves and diagonal lines but did not eliminate them. My goal with this project is cleaner textures but not abstract images.
Palette Files, oh my!
The first thing I do with an “easy” texture is try to picture the rough color scheme that I want to use. Since many of these type of images are brick or stone walls, that means deciding the color of the bricks or walls. I gauge if I am going to want lighter or darker colors from sight and then decide which color(s) already existing in the image to use. I have two reasons for doing this: the first is that it helps maintain a little integrity to the original unmodified image and second, it removes the issue of colors being changed when imported and converted to the original palette colors (the import tool approximates to the closest color if one doesn’t match a color in the palette file).
The base palette of colors most Arena images use. Each image contains a single reference point per pixel to this file rather then the using the standard 3 numbers ranging individually 0 to 256.
NOTE: Arena uses a palette file for images. This means that exact colors for each pixel are found by referencing a separate file (palette). Consider a palette file as a real hand held paint palette: like a painter, Arena draws/paints it’s images using the colors from the palette. The whole reason to do this was to save space on the disk which was a concern in the early 90’s.