One of the largest and continuous wishes of our community, is to enjoy Neocron with a fresh and updated look. Today, I want to explain to you, at what point we are in this matter. As some of you may be aware, there has been an AssetDev team for some time now, responsible for the look and feel of Neocron and has just finished it's vacation in Neocron's sunny beer gardens. The AssetDev team is responsible for game assets and also creating graphics for our internal tools and/or the website. In the past, we threw out a screenshot on our various twitter channels or the forum, and someone may be wondering what they are about.
Construction-Site Tekktonic or: Neocron in Single-Pieces
With Patch 187, we will ship the first batch of new textures. This part will be limited to the so called "decals". Decals are textures, that are not part of a baked map or any model and being placed afterwards. For example, these are graffiti's, all Holographic-Displays, poster and fake lights, shadows and dirt textures as well. Some of you may ask why we start with these kinds of textures, instead of re-designing new models or levels. For the answer, you need to know what parts Neocron is made up of. Firstly, there are the main levels, also known as sectors. These levels contain the basic geometry like walls, floors or doors. There is not just geometry but the textures, and the illumination and lights of the map. Afterwards, the map needs to be compiled, which can be quite a time consuming process. The creation and editing of levels, in short: „mapping“, wasn't technically in a productive state in the past. While we are able to edit and create levels for now, there are still alot of issues, preventing a nice quality output. There may be a blog for this on it's own.
In the next step, we use our Cryton's World Editing Tools, also known as Editor of Doom, to place and edit those Decals, NPC's, Spawn-Points or Static Actors. Editor of Doom, because it's not like luxury tool-set's from UDK or Unity that you may be aware of. If Crahn isn't with you, it may take up to 20 minutes to place and scale a shop table holo-display. Where those programs give you management features that, lets say, show you how often and where a texture, a model or a sound is used in any level of your entire project, we have to track all that manually, by hand if we have to. All in 1024x786 window without a „play now“ button. Neocron contains around 400 decals, of which ~150 where overhauled and re-created. The major part of our decals like Faction-Logos is now available in resolutions up to 1024x1024 pixels, which is sometimes an increase of 8 in resolution. Because we lack some of the original working files, but we want to beware the look and feel of Neocron, a lot of decals had to be created from scratch. This sometimes included the creation of every single letter by hand for some decals, because of missing original fonts or files. Additionally, the currently used texture format allows for a much bigger color space. The original textures where often limited to 255 colors. In some cases, you may experience some blurry or pixelated parts in holographic textures, originating from the use of texture compression and can't be avoided right now. While a lot of bug-fixing and improvements already made it in our tools, we will continue and see what improvements can be made in the future.
You may wonder, why there are only ~150 new textures in a rather big timeframe so far. Of course, there is more, but you won't enjoy them in the first graphic-batch yet. Aside from the re-creation, that took quite alot of time due to the new resolutions, each texture has to be placed and edited in the game. While we where able to replace a lot of the original textures as a batch, every holo-frame, graffiti or logo is a single placed object in-game. Because there has been the need for some adjustments in size or alignment, we where forced to adjust every single piece of them by hand. A prominent example is the YO's Pawn Shops logo, and as already mentioned we have no convenient content management features currently for the game editor. That means we had to look into each sector of the wastelands and Neocron City personally and note how and where are those decals used. A lot of textures now consist of transparency masks, also known as alpha channels, which are part of the texture. After being replaced, the old alpha usage had to be deactivated or the new one activated, because the way alpha channels was handled, changed. Miss anything while doing so, results in black or missing decals with a poor white spot. Along with this, many textures where combined to new texture-atlases. We also used the re-creation process, to create some new and modified versions of original textures, to have more variation and places where they can be used. Additionally, we fixed hundreds mis-aligned assets and textures.
Bit by bit we planned, to change the majority of old decals through new or overhauled versions. Are you a talented artist and want to contribute your bit to Neocron? Feel free to contact us on IRC or send your application to firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you may have gained a little insight into behind the scenes of the AssetDev and to say goodbye, I will leave you with this screenshot.
This blog is also available in a german version on our forums.