Saturday, August 2, 2008

Prefabulous!

"A man's gotta know his limitations."
- Clint Eastwood, Magnum Force, 1973


When Dirty Harry speaks, one would do well to listen. Having worked with the Electron Toolset for some time, I've finally accepted the fact that while I can churn out decent outdoor areas, none of them is going to win any awards. On the other hand, my module isn't doomed to have second-rate exteriors. Thanks to the easy availability of area prefabs at the Vault, modders with little talent in area design can still have stunning exteriors in their modules.

I wanted to create another desert area for my module, so I did a search for desert prefabs at the Vault. I soon found one that was perfect for my needs -- Just Add Encounters - Wastelands by SGK73. I still had to modify the prefab considerably, but the work that I put into this area was small compared to what I would have done if I had started from scratch.

The first thing I did was to extend the area by a few squares. This task was easy to do, thanks to Tanita's TerraCoppa plug-in. I also imported the lighting from the other desert area that I had previously made.

Next, I had to change the terrain to provide elevated ground for a castle, as well as a walkway leading up to it. Changing the terrain elevation was easy. What was difficult was repositioning the height of the placeables that came with the prefab. Changing the elevation usually displaces the nearby placeables, causing them to appear as if they are levitating a few meters above the ground. It's a hassle to try to find the placeables that were affected and to bring them back to Mother Earth. If one is not careful, a few placeables are liable to be overlooked.

Then I had to create the castle. It wasn't enough for me to use one of the castles from the toolset. I had to change the castle's texture to something more appropriate. I can't reveal my reasons for wanting to change the texture of the castle. Suffice it to say that I needed to do this to maintain consistency with the D&D setting.

Finally, I positioned the castle in place and added Nihlar's Cloud of Bats VFX over it. I also added a few more placeables and some grass around the castle. When I was done, I had created my best outdoor area thus far.

Not bad for two days' work.

9 comments:

Jclef said...

Awesome work, once again, Elysius!

Phoenixus said...

Wow,
Ok I admit that is pretty sharp there friend. The redish tinge to the buildings really brings out that rusted kind of metalic feel that I think you were going for. Very impressive. There's so much detail in this one (And even your other ones) it's impressive.

Anonymous said...

First time reader, long time fan of anti-Wall sentiment.

Is there a newletter I can subscribe to? I'd like updates on progress as I'm eager to play *something* that lets me tear down that stupid Wall!

Please feel free to contact me, jbrunnings on that Google mail thing you've probably heard about.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Frank,

Good job! The view looking across at the castle is very cool. And the castle itself looks like a very exciting place to visit.

Do you mind if I ask a couple of builder questions? I am trying to learn how to design outdoor areas, and while I understand the mechanics (just enough anyway), I currently lack skills in artistic design.

1) It looks as though you can walk right up to the castle in your area from the distant view (without another transition jump in between). Is this correct?

2) Assuming the above to be the case, can you walk "behind" your castle, or does the castle stand on the edge of the "scene" (area), leaving the player to enter or turn back?

And here are a couple of custom content questions if I may:

1) How did you re-texture the castle? What tools did you use?

2) Did you design the new textures, or were they something that comes with the tool used?

I hope you don't mind me asking these questions, but it is good to learn from somebody who has managed to achieve a result like this.

I am asing quite a few questions of designers of late. :) Hopefully, I will be able to return the favour one day.

And thanks for your comments on my own blog. They are much appreciated.

Lance.

Frank Perez said...

Thanks for all the encouraging words, everyone. :)


@anonymous (jbrunnings),

I sent you an email just now. In case I got your email address wrong, here's what I wrote:

Hi,

Thanks for your interest in my module. :) I don't really have a newsletter, although I make it a point to post something new in my blog once a week (more or less). At the rate that I'm going, it will still be several months before Faithless is ready for release at the Vault. I was hoping to release it within 2008, but it looks like an early 2009 release is more likely. In the meantime, you're welcome to drop by my blog any time.

Cheers,
Frank

Frank Perez said...

Hi, Lance, it's great to see you here. I'm always happy to help out fellow modders in any way I can. Here are my answers to your questions regarding the area shown here.

1) You are correct. PCs may walk right up to the castle door from the initial location shown in one of the screenshots.

2) The rear of the castle is not accessible because it is in the non-playable region of the area. Nevertheless, players may explore other parts of the surrounding desert. I'm planning to put other points of interest elsewhere in this area.

Regarding your custom content questions, here are my answers.

1) To retexture the castle, I used Photoshop to edit the original textures. I also used a program called DDS converter to convert textures between DDS and TGA format. I used RunnerDuck's MDB Cloner tool to create a copy of the original castle model but with my new textures in place. I created a modified version of the placeables.2da file using Microsoft Excel to add the new castle model to the list. Finally, I packaged everything into a hakpak using Tani's NWN2Packer, which is also available at the Vault.

The MDB Cloner is available at the Vault. If you need a tutorial on how to retexture placeables, I can recommend Barrel of Monkey's Armor Reskinning Tutorial (http://nwvault.ign.com/View.php?view=NWN2Tutorials.Detail&id=60). Although the tutorial is really about reskinning armor, much of what is explained is also applicable to placeables. As a bonus, the tutorial comes with the DDS Converter and an older version of the MDB Cloner, although I recommend that you use the latest version of MDB Cloner instead.

2) I downloaded the textures after googling them, although I edited the textures a bit using Photoshop.

I hope this helps. :)

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Frank,

Thanks for that info ... :) Actually, I managed to get some of this info from one of your earlier blogs as well, but the extra bit you mention here goes a long way to point me in the right direction as well.

I found that armour tutorial earlier as well, but had not checked it our yet because (as you say) it sounded like for something different. However, now that you mention it again, I will take a look at it.

I had also downloaded the MDB toll (with no idea how to use it), but since you mention that again, I guess I was on the right direction.

I had done something similar to this with my NWN 1 module, but NWN2 does it slightly differently and confused me somewhat. think if I can mast how to use the MDB tool and make the correct type of model files for the textures, then I will, hopefully, be OK.

I was pleased to hear the download comes with a DDS converter. I had tried to find a DDS viewer, but I think the ones I used (from NVidia) had a program error that messed with my Windows. :(

By the way, is is DDS>TGA or the other way around, or both ways? Could I use TGA files instead of DDS files in this process?

Cheers!

Lance.

Frank Perez said...

Hi Lance,

The DDS Converter can convert from TGA to DDS or DDS to TGA. I understand that you can use TGA textures with your models, but TGA files are larger and may come with a performance hit during gameplay. I've never actually tried using TGA since I don't like the prospect of having unnecessarily slower frame rates with my modules.

Have fun with your model conversions. If you have any questions, just give me a holler. :)

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Frank,

Ah! That's why DDS is used. I did not know there was a difference. Now I know, I guess I will be doing more converting. ;)

Thanks for giving me the chance to "holler". It's certainly appreciated.

Lance.