[Graphics] How I Got Started Modding

Submitted By: Buster's Uncle Date: October 23, 2012, 05:04:59 AM Views: 1971

My First Faction Graphic 
or:  How I Got Started Modding

SO, I’m like a lot of people; I played SMAC for years, and eventually got curious if there were any goodies online - I think I downloaded the TNG-Picard “Federation” and the Ric Fair Wrestlers faction off The Arrival 6-8 years ago, but couldn’t get them to load/work and gave up pretty quickly. 

In, I dunno, late ‘08, I finally got Alien Crossfire.  I’d wanted it forever and played with it over a summer a few years before until the loan of the CD ended.  Finally I had my own copy.  I never thought it was much of an upgrade, but new SP movies were a lot of fun after all those years, and I loved having twice as many opponents to choose from - it lent some freshness to an old beloved game for me.

This swiftly lead to me rooting around back online looking for goodies again and to try to find out how to get the custom factions I had to work, and straight to trying out SMAniaC.

Now, Maniac’s since become a pal, and I wouldn’t dream of badmouthing, but I didn’t care for the SE changes - I guess I found the reasoning behind them too tough to follow.  But the seven custom factions he included - well, here was more variety and freshness again.  I got very interested in custom factions and resumed looking for them and information about how to install and fix.

Probably everyone who’s ever taken an interest in custom factions has experienced the same; there are a lot of custom factions out there that sound great in the description in some forum’s Downloads section, but lose a lot of appeal when they’re downloaded only find out they have no graphics, leaving you looking like Deirdre again, or have the Free Drone graphics file renamed but unaltered again, or, thanks to the antichrist of SMAC(X) modding, Facedit, the Hive or partly-customized graphics with the Hive bases and often the logo and diplomacy landscape again.

(Do not touch Facedit, folks.  It is so buggy and awful as to almost constitute malware.  There are much better ways to do every single thing it does, unless you‘re very lazy and/or stupid.)

So I had six custom factions with a full spectrum of those shortcomings downloaded - not a single full graphic in the lot.  When I finally worked out how to load them into SMAC(X) (had to fix the Wrestlers rules file first), no one but the Feminine Union had any colors to their flags or text (which was illegible that way)- and Britney's color was too hard to tell from Sister Miriam’s. It was even more annoying to have identical non-colors for the rest; something had to be done.

Poking around, I saw the difference between the Union's .pcx file and the rest- there were little color boxes in the lower left-hand corner (it’s a difference between SMAC and SMAX, which you should always do because it’s easy and vanilla SMAC just ignores it, so no harm, but essential for working right in Crossfire). After that, the fix was pretty easy.

It also bothered me that The Eighth Faction, or Mindworms With Minds, defaulted to Gaian graphics and colors.

I had an old copy of Photoshop5 that I never used, or much knew how to, because like all high-end graphics programs the interface is very user-hostile to anyone who hasn’t had a long time to become familiar with it.  It would open the uncommon .pcx format, though, and I wanted to play them Mindworms and not have them suck by looking exactly like Gaians, so I set out to “put sunglasses” on everything to at least make them distinguishable.

I think the first thing I did was paste the graphic over into MSPaint - say what you will about Paint, but it doesn’t take a PhD and six months to figure out how to do what can be done there.  I think I tackled the bases first, doing some rather inept red stippling on the bases to make them Xenofungusy.  Remember, I was new to graphics modding, not  SMAC. 

And I gave Deirdre glowing red eyes.  Something about the nature of the faction and those default graphics put the idea in my head that it was a result of a lab experiment run amok, and visually mind-controlling Deirdre was my first step into the greater area of the storytelling aspect of SMAC(X) that has been my real specialty, not just the art, since.

It was a customization that I could do in under an hour now, but took a couple of days then, what with figuring out how.  -It is the nature of telling a story well that even many relevant details have to be left out to keep the length reasonable - I was rooting around all the official art files in my AC root folder on my hard drive, and searching/figuring out answers to technical questions and doing some hardcore lurking through old threads on SMAC forums, mostly ‘poly, all at the same time.  All the stuff was informing all the other stuff I did any given day/week.

So I did the most basic of art customizations to make the Mindworms individual - a little red on the bases and a little red eye on the leader - then started fixing up the half-done, half-Gaian .pcx files that came with the Cannibis League.  Then I’d get an idea about something else to do on the Mindworms art.  I was working on both for a couple of weeks and got into fixing up the Wrestlers, who had Believer bases and needed improvements to the other elements, The Federation, which needed a real captain (named Kirk), and custom bases, the Borg, with an excellent leaderhead and logo, but Hive bases, and the Feminine Union, with its crapulent leaderhead of Britney Spears crying out to be replaced with her in her Queen of Mars get-up from the Oops, I Did It Again video - I was new enough to Alien Crossfire to not recognize the Usurper bases the Union had, and someday, I’ll have to fix that, but I did create a neat logo to replace the Firaxis spiral it had been given.

Then I commenced on my first all-original faction, the Pretty Princesses, based on/for my perfect niece, five at the time - this was half her life ago.  Custom everything, completely original, including the .txt files, and I daresay the nicest bases I ever drew from scratch, the house she lived in then.

It just kept snowballing, as did my enthusiasm - I ended up in a manic spell, getting as little as four hours sleep a night, waking up itching to get back to it.  This went on for a month.

I don’t recall exactly how I went about it, but I tracked down the native life in units.pcx and pasted a tiny mindworm onto Deirdre’s forehead.  I made her skin ruddy, as if her body chemistry was a little xenoformed.  I found the .bmp of the mindworm in the lab that’s in the SMAC(X) folder and used it in the center of a blanked-out Gaian logo silhouette as the new logo - and superimposed the worm over the diplomacy landscape.

I ultimately decided that the hue-shifting I’d done in Photoshop on the bases wasn’t enough, and carefully placed the top of a fungal tower on the highest point of the bases.  There was no missing the Gaian origins, but no chance of mistaking the two.

The final touch I later came up with was to flip Deirdreworm’s portrait left-right.  The thing was finally done.

(Note the joke in the bottom right corner.) What I did when to which faction is a complex issue, but this is the first one I set out to make, and the first I finished.  The Eighth Faction is ridiculously overpowered, but in the game?  The art hints at a story, and it looks great.

And that’s how I got started.

Rating: ***** by 1 members.


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