[Graphics] Miscellaneous

Submitted By: Buster's Uncle Date: October 11, 2012, 04:38:52 AM Views: 847

AC Palette

If you're going to mod SMAC(X) graphics, eventually you'll run into the "blue (or pink) box around my bases" problem...

Do this. Load palette.pcx. That's the color guide the game uses. Save it as a palette your graphics program can use. In Photoshop5, that's done through Image>Mode>Color Table. Choose the Save option on the right of the pop-up. In the pull-down beside Save As, choose Microsoft Palette (*.PAL) and save.

To create a GIMP AC palette; open palette .pcx from your SMAC(X) root directory (any untouched faction.pcx should do, but with this one you can feel sure).  Windows>Dockable Dialogues>Palettes.  Right-click on the background of the Palette box>Import Palette.  Check the Image option at the top>Import.  You should now have a palette called something like palette.pcx at or near the top of the Palette box. 

Whenever you save a faction .pcx, first Image>Mode>Indexed and in the Indexed Color Conversion pop-up, click Use custom palette, uncheck Remove unused colors from color map, and click on the colorbox under Use custom palette to load your palette file.  Hit Convert, then save the .pcx as you normally would.

Load that palette always before you save your work- some color manipulation alters the default palette, and stuff doesn't always display the same in-game. Doing this can head off a lot of problems.

By the way
The sun in Alpha Centauri is always to the right at a late-afternoon angle.

Remember this when you're lighting your bases- they WILL look subtly wrong if you get them turned the wrong way. I have seen others do this with otherwise excellent bases. Do not flip my nice Deadlock bases horizontally, and then credit me like it was MY fault.

(Do not forget to credit me when you steal adapt my stuff, either. I don't mind being ripped off- I’ve done it to others in the past, but I did credit them.)

Signing your work

It was very hard work you did; take pride, man, and take credit.

What I'm talking about is putting some text into the empty spaces of the .pcx files claiming responsibility. Network Node often did this. I always do it.


Because I'm proud of my work. I can't speak for you, but I often don't bother to have a look at any text files included with other people's art, and you ought to make it easy for me and others.

So why should you do it?

Because I might rip you off for one of my projects. Not wholesale; but for instance, Darsnan has designed several faction graphics by telling me to take the bases from Network Node faction Y and the logo from faction X, and- you get the idea. We all poach from each other all the time, (that's just the way fan creative endeavors are) and it's a good idea to stick your handle in every file you've worked on that you can.  (DO be aware that not everyone shares my relaxed attitude about stealing repurposing, and respect the wishes of those who don't want to be robbed, should you become aware of them.)

Try to give credit when you rip me someone off. It's cool; I'll credit you when I poach from your work. Take it as the complement that it is when your stuff is worth stealing- but be sure to have signed it...

[All these passages were written a long time ago, when I'd recently done a few factions that involved punching up someone else's work, and I'd been collaborating with Darsan, doing it the way described above once or twice.  I stand behind my remarks, but haven't adapted another SMACer's art in years.  It's an even prouder thing to do all-original work, especially as you get a body of work under your belt, gaining skill and confidence.  It's not a bad way at all to get started, though.]

A thought on cropping leaderheads

When you have any choice- the shot you're working with is a different shape than you need, for instance, or when the diplomacy sizing comes out a pixel wider & taller- about the positioning of the leader's face, I'd suggest going for whatever tend to center the leader's eyes in the box. Sometimes there's a reason not to do so, but basically it's a video conference, and we're assuming they've got something better than a webcam over their monitor.

The leaderhead, ideally, is looking straight at the player in most cases. Get those eyes as close to the center of the box as possible.

Network Node Factions

I've mentioned poaching from Network Node's work. Network Node was a SMACer and an associated website that is now defunct. There was an amazing quantity of custom factions there, many if not the majority, I gather, by NN himself. It's a wonderful source of material to poach from. For me, not least because I don't feel as comfortable with generating bases from scratch as most of the other elements.

Maniac, who isn't completely helpless with a graphics program but is no artist, patched together several of the original faction graphics for SMAniaC from NN factions and used others wholesale (later, I came along and made him the replacements and improvements used in the latest release, but his patchwork creations were quite servicable.)

I’ve posted a giant .zip of all the NN factions -originally provided by Maniac- in our Downloads: http://alphacentauri2.info/index.php?action=downloads;sa=view;down=102

No faction artist should be without it.

Ready-made projects for the faction artist...

Are you an artist in need of a project? Go to Apolyton and search the AC archives - there were about 10 million custom factions posted in the old days, most of them without graphics. In fact, if you're like me, you've downloaded a few custom factions from various sites' Download section only to find them artless, or with an existing faction's art, or graphics half-customized, but with Hive bases.

Well, make some of those poor things some proper full faction graphics. (That's how I came to do the Texas faction art to be found on my factions page.)  It'll keep you as busy as you want to be for quite a long while...

Managing all your files

If you're like me, you're going to end up with a god-awful pile of files related to graphics projects- other peoples' factions you've downloaded, pictures you've used or thought you might use, your finished faction graphics, .zips of your finished graphics, saves of crucial stages in something you worked on- stuff like that.

In one of my SMAC(X) directory copies,  I have it mainly divided into three sub folders I created: Factions, Web page, and Graphics. I dump factions by people I don't know in the Factions folder, which has many sub folders. Because I maintain a web page for my custom factions, I try to put any .zip files in one place there, (and also any thumbnails and screen shots for the page,) and the Graphics folder started for general stuff in progress, and has evolved into my main workspace/storage in the SMAC(X) folder. It has numerous sub folders, too; A lot of my work these days involves multiple factions as a set, and increasingly I need to dump all related files somewhere together to help me keep track.  I have an AC2 subfolder for forum icons and forum-business  art in general.  I have a (bulging) avatars sub; I have folders named after various people I’ve collaborated with, where I keep stuff related to those projects.  Many of the subs have subs.

My system has evolved as I went, and I cannot urge anyone just getting into this hobby enough to not dump stuff into the root folder like I sometimes did at first. That's where blank.pcx.pcx and my blank shields file, shields.pcx reside to this day [writing a long time ago] - two files I use in making almost every new faction graphic- and while I was thinking about it, I just moved those two to Graphics where they'll be slightly easier to find when I want them.  [It’s saved a lot of time, since]

And BTW, I have another graphics-related folder: Official Factions. See, for graphics play testing, it's quicker to replace, say, the Gaian graphic in the root folder and have a look at an old game save. This increasingly resulted in it being a pain when I needed an original faction for something -I’ve done a LOT of modding, and had to do a LOT of play testing; before I did something about it, it got where I had virtually every faction spanning three copies of SMAC(X) replaced or altered- so I finally broke down and made a backup folder for all the official factions; the text files, too, and I get a lot of use out of the folder and save a good deal of time having them where I know they'll be waiting unaltered.

Your mileage may vary, and you'll want to develop a filing system that you're happy with, but I daresay that any modder of any flavor will back me up on this: you need to keep your modding-related files organized, or you will be sorry. Dedicated folders are your friend.


I think the merits are probably highly variable according to your nature, but I recommend getting into collaborations when you can. I’ve found that, having put so much work into a graphic, it bothers me very much when I post one and get little or nothing in the way of comments.

A month or so into my first SMAC forum, someone eventually told me he loved my stuff, but generally didn’t have anything to say about it. That’s a big reason that I go to so much trouble to engage new artists when they pop up; I know how sad and infuriating the sound of crickets chirping in response to good work is.  Believe me, I know from extensive bitter experience.   Knowing that it probably has more to do with (especially) the text modders -and SMACers in general- just not having the visual vocabulary to express their reactions does little to mollify your inner child.

I fell into my first collaboration when I glanced over someone’s scenario- it featured splinter factions, but was all text. I offered to do some graphics and put a face on it- and we were off to the races. There are a lot of things I like about working with a partner on a project- kicking around ideas is fun- but the thing I liked best was having someone not only take, but express, interest in my work.

The ideas discussion of the work can inspire you to is wonderful, too. Have a look at any of the many threads in which I worked on collaborations, scattered over four AC forums, including here at AC2 - I think it shows what a good time we're having almost every time.   The play of ideas and different perspectives is wonderful.  Over very many collaborations over years, I've only had one fail to complete because of creative differences (Don't tell your artist how to crop portraits when you're not an artist and he insists the difference is important.)  It's grand fun when it's working out right.

Also, I became friends with modding giants like Darsnan and Maniac through collaborating with them.

Now, collaboration may or may not be for you. Larry Niven likes to say that in a collaboration, both sides have to do 80% of the work. A certain amount of time has to be devoted to reconciling your respective visions. Outright arguments can break out.

The worst part is the waiting. When you’re all fired up and wanting everything now, no matter how great your collaborator is to work with, he’s not going to post instantly to answer your questions or whatever. You have to live with waiting a day or more sometimes.

There are compensations, though. -I’m just sayin’.


I see that I've only addressed logos in one specific case that isn't helpful in cases of making something completely original.

Logos are usually the easiest part of a faction graphic, barring faction colors. All you need is a simple symbol that looks like something at the size you need. If you know what sort of thing you want, Google will almost never fail you; when it does, logos aren't that hard to draw from scratch. (And I can't draw worth mentioning.)

A couple of notes, though. I feel it's important to follow the example of the originals in having the lower report and council logos dimmer. It's just a nice effect when they light up while mouse-overed, and you want them to match the official factions when played together.

This is very easy to do. Reduce the contrast for the box it's in around 50%, then put the background color back. Simple. (Watch out for isolated bits of background enclosed within the logo, though.)

Now, making the at-rest small report logo conform to the official style is a bit more complex. I reduce the contrast about 75% (depending on how much color that leaves), then in Photoshop it's Image>Adjust>Color Balance, and bring up the Cyan, Green and Blue levels 50%, then Image>Adjust> Hue/Saturation and bring the color saturation back down 50% to compensate. If the result is a dim greenish-blue, you're probably done. If it still has some color left, more fiddling is in order. I like the at-rest logos to pretty much match the look of the official ones; otherwise, they're sort've a sore thumb to my eye.

A deviation from the official style I always use (because I think it's an improvement) is to make the bottom small report logo full color, and the middle, (mouse-over) one reduced in contrast 50%, plus lowered a single pixel in its box. That causes it to seem to light up and leap forward slightly when your mouse passes over it, then move back into place and light up more when clicked on. I think it's a neat effect, myself.

Good art modding requires pedantic attention to trivial details- and I'm still learning as I go.

Sources for Portraits and Diplomacy Landscapes

Unless you’re a rare bird like Kilkakon, who draws well enough to generate his own leaderheads from scratch, when you don’t have something too specific in mind, Google Images is your friend.  Google “portrait” and spend some time poking around.  Google “painting” and “portrait painting” to find a lot of stuff that needs a lot -and I really mean a lot- less work to get SMAC(X) compatible than a photo.  I even made a good leaderhead from a black and white drawing once, which saved me no work, but was a fun artistic exercise.

Here’s a leaderhead gold mine that I haven’t begun to exhaust:  http://www.coverbrowser.com/covers/time/21

That’s a specific page (in the 40’s) of a Time magazine cover gallery - they started with the full-color paintings in the 20s or 30s, and only switched to photos in the 50s or 60s, I seem to recall.  Some are more suitable in style than others, and all the important people portrayed dressed like they were in the year they were in, but it’s still a wonderful source of leaderheads.

Also look for painters’ websites.  Some of them watermark everything and ruin it, but they’re not as prone to that as photographers are, and are another good source for images of people that need far less work to produce leaderheads in an AC-compatible style of painting at the right level of realism.

Here is an example of  the sort of things to be found on an artist’s site:
I’ve pretty much mined this particular site out, so go find your own painter to rob.

Likewise, architect’s sites are sometimes a good source of  futuristic base and diplomacy landscape fodder, sometimes from the same shot, sometimes you can luck out and get something good from very different angles.

Just the diplomacy landscape shots is ease itself if you only want a generic futuristic cityscape.  Try googling “futuristic cityscape”, for instance.

Deviant Art will require wading through mountains of crappy scrawls and stuff so cute it would turn even Kilkakon off, but also has tons and tons of wonderful stuff to repurpose, too.

Also, don’t forget the Network Node factions and/or my Custom Factions page, and that I’m not very proprietary as long as I’m properly credited and you’ve never done me a bad turn.  Both are important, IMO, and that's not entirely a joke.

(Now, I've talked about how important giving credit within the community is.  I honestly see no ethical problem with adapting something from a total stranger who will never be affected at all in any way by a limited-release non-profit fan project, and see no point in detailing what outsider I lifted my starting-point material from - and I take my ethics seriously.  It's textual poaching, according to a dissertation I once read, and fandoms do it.  Don't play about due credit within the SMAC(X) community, though.)

There's a lot of stuff out there, so just google it, man.

Good hunting.

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