[Graphics] Faction Bases: Making & Placing

Submitted By: Buster's Uncle Date: October 05, 2012, 08:31:41 PM Views: 1381

Faction Bases: Making & Placing

[See also this closely related how-to, Cutting Bases from Screenshots.

This one is posted out of order because a new friend was looking for help with bases.  References to transparent background and Montezuma will make more sense when I post the previous two or three tutorials -ASAP- as I've skipped to my latest technique, and several previous posts followed making this same faction.]

Bases can be pretty difficult to generate - I’ve drawn a few bases from scratch -though I feel weakest at that- cut them from helicopter shots of real buildings and even made one of Buster’s house from a photo taken from entirely the wrong (ground-level and way too low) angle; (that last was a lot of work and involved a lot of drawing and carefully selecting and distorting bits to get the angles right).  The best source tends to be structures found on the internet -whether from someone’s computer-generated art or another game.  You can also cut them out of screenshots from other games yourself, as I did with most of the 8 bases sets I’ve posted in Downloads (check those links for loads of bases ready to drop into you custom faction, as-is; three or four more base set files are in progress).

Bases must be lit from the right, and must be at roughly a pseudo-3D 45 degree angle.  You could make a base out a photo/image of a trashcan or a shoe if it met those qualifications and if you wanted a stupid-looking base.

For the Astral Jaguar Cult, Alexander posted a picture of a base made from the Tikal pyramid, alongside a photo of the original.  I haven’t the foggiest what game it was from [it was Age of Empires 2; that's the Mayan Wonder, as I've since cut out directly from the game and posted at full size recently], but that there’s definitely a pseudo-3D game base, so it MUST be from a game.  It’s unfortunate that someone chose to put it against a mottled background that isn’t all one color, but it’ll be easier to cut out than a game screenshot, anyway (all the terrain details, figures and other buildings can be a huge pain to tell from what you mean to keep while you're zoomed way in [and it really was, too]).

So, I opened the file I’d saved of it and Layer>Add Alpha Channel.  The first thing I tried was to Fuzzy select the whole background - sometimes you get lucky.  Not very lucky this time -the dark side of the structure & background didn't want to toe the line- but I deleted this bit and than moved on to trimming it zoomed in with the Eraser Tool fairly small Scaled (.10) and with Hard Edge checked (for many things you'd want the fading of pixels you get without Hard Edge checked on the Eraser -edges blend in better that way- but the indexed AC palette doesn't do semi-transparent pixels and is going choose all the way on or off for each, so you want to pick which now).

A minute or two erasing left this bit of edge ragged and uneven, so I used the Smudge Tool scaled to one pixel and at 100% Rate to fill in a straight line(while [Shift]ed, you can make a straight line, just like with the Pencil Tool) then reduced the Rate to 50% to do a little randomizing of the shade/color of the pixel.

Then I went back to cutting a transparent zone out of the background - once I had cleared a border out of the background around the edge of the base, erasing the rest would be easy.  When I got the entire dark side cut out, I reduced the Scale of the eraser to one pixel and cleaned up what the Fuzzy select missed (you'd rather Fuzzy Select too little than too much - it can easily eat into parts of the structure you're working on, and erasing more later is less work than trying to redraw missing lines and such)

Eventually, I had this to show for my efforts:

Alex wanted the light-glow from the door changed to blue to match the diplomacy landscape picture, which wasn't much trouble.  We'd also talked about silvering up some of the ornamentation on the sides of the base, which was a lot more trouble: 

But eventually, I got what I wanted selected - nothing like as much trouble as Montezuma's cape, though still a lot of work - and hue-shifted the results to a sort of pale blue with the Color Saturation turned low enough to look not-quite gray, but not too blue; I also did a little careful smudging of the headdress-looking bits, because some smoothness is essential to achieving a metallic look. 

That got me this - which looked pretty good (notice that I'd improved the outline on the dark side since two pictures ago, right after I'd finished cutting it out) and was finally ready to drop it into the graphic.  Again, as tedious as some of the work was, writing and reading about it is more tedious than doing it.

So, after copying, back in the assembly copy of the whole graphic, I measured the size of the box with the Rectangular Select Tool, pasted and resized, then positioned the first base (the big stage four one to the right) and deselected. 

You want the base placed with the bottom cheated upwards if there's any room, and centered left-right.  SMAC(X) is very forgiving about placement, luckily, so don't kill yourself getting it perfect. 

If it looks okay in the game when you playtest, you placed it well enough.

When I had all of the first row placed, I selected the entire first row and pasted in the next five rows (Note that somewhere in there, I made a subtle goldening of some bits on the largest base - the official bases sometimes have some special element to them to let the player know at a glance that a base has grown to its ultimate stage):

Notice that the edge of the select fills the row exactly - each stage of base is placed exactly the same as the row above/below - which is for a reason and about to save you some work in the next two steps.

So for sea platforms, I do a very simple thing; I use the Ellipse Select Tool to draw an oval lined up with the bottom corners of the base:

And flood the select with a blue-green-gray shade with the Bucket Fill tool (with most bases I have to erase the bottom of the base do a clean flood fill and then repaste the base back over it, but these skinny pyramids saved me a step).   Then moved to the next base and did the same, then the next and the next. 

This is a crap way to make sea platforms, yes; for my very first all-original faction graphic, I spent a lot of time drawing a raft to place Buster's house on.  Since, I've usually just skipped the platforms entirely, so at least doing this is better.  I followed up by drawing a darker edge on the bottom of the platform to at least make it look real, if not very detailed - you can see it a little in the screenys below; it'll make a difference in the game.  (I WOULD go to more trouble for an aquatic faction, of course, and you may/should choose to be less lazy about it in general.)

I only had to do that four times to complete one row, then I copied and pasted it over the other two seabase rows.

Now, time to place the shields; I opened my Bare Shields file, transparencied the background (so I could crank up the Fuzzy Select Tool Threshold real high and not have it select anything but the shield I was wanting, all in one click) and started pasting shields OVER bases.

(I'm using the alien shields on this project for two reasons - they are so much better-looking and easier to work with than the human shields, and these factions are a set, from a different background than the official factions.  You'll want to use the alien shields for everything, but for consistency, try to restrain yourself if your human custom faction is going to be played alongside the originals, and use the fences unless you can think of a story reason your faction would have the alien tech.)

This is over halfway through the shield-adding process.  Once I had dropped in the shields centered on both rows of the land bases, I selected the upper part of the bare top row and pasted the top over the shielded ones, to cover the shields where they go behind.  Notice the difference in the lower row with the stage two shields, as they have the shields dropped in, but haven't gotten the top pasted back in yet.

Note how the yellow edges of the pasting match the inside of the box edges - this is why you copy the first row over and over - as guides and because that way, every stage one (stage two, and so on) base is placed the same so you can do easy paste-overs a whole row at a time.  Much easier to do than describe for teaching it.

Notice in the above shot that the sea platforms haven't the dotted lines around them - that's because I only shielded the LAND bases, and now I've copied them and am pasting them over the platforms.

Now, everything is done on the faction, except the Diplomacy Landscape, which is like working with the portraits except for only having to do it once at one size, and the faction colors at the bottom of the file, which is like children coloring with crayons - but I'll do a short post about it soon, as there‘s still many ways you can go wrong…

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