The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

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StoneFrog
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The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby StoneFrog » Mon Dec 26, 2011 2:25 pm

Hello everyone. Most of you probably don't remember me too well, but I started the original texture replacer collab on the old daggerxl.50.forumer message boards. Between real life developments and the mass hysteria surrounding Skyrim's release, I've only been giving the new work on this forum a passing glance here and there. Well, Skyrim has proven to be a completely underwhelming RPG (I should have seen this coming, and yet I had assured myself after Oblivion it couldn't happen again).

It's time to get back to the matter at hand, working on DaggerXL which has the potential to someday be, unequivocally, the greatest Elder Scrolls game of all time!

Thankfully because we aren't really obligated by any sort of momentum from the TES community at large, both Lucius and us modders alike have as long as we need to make everything perfect. Yet in spite of this, I still am somewhat concerned as to how inconsistent and disorganized much of the work in the texture project has been. I know I'm at fault just as much as (if not more than) everybody else here, having not been actively following the project and commenting on peoples' work.

I think when I made the original texture project thread, I insisted that we all just pursue our own styles and not worry about how heterogeneous the texture pack may look. That was fine at the time, but as we have seen multiple people each making their own attempt at replacing the same assets (portraits, UI elements), it's made me wonder what most people would ultimately want at the end of the day - a single harmonious texture pack right off the bat, to which they could later make their own alterations as they see fit, or an incomplete collection of replacements for random things throughout the game, of debatable consistency and quality.

Given the scope of Daggerfall's artistic assets and how relatively few people in turn are working on it, I can't help but wonder if it would be in our best interest if we all worked together to pursue a more cohesive vision for what a graphically overhauled Daggerfall ought to look like. It's not that choice is bad - on the contrary, I love the artistic licensing people have taken in applying their own styles, skills and influences to "fill in the gaps", so to speak, in envisioning what old graphics from 1996 would look like had Bethesda's artists not been limited by space and technological constraints when they originally produced them. But they need a strong, unified base to stand on in the meantime.

So, just a few observations of mine to consider. From what I've seen, there are (more or less) two different ways that people feel a modded DaggerXL should eventually look:

    "Bethesda" style. Minimal deviation from the original graphics in mood and color. This is what the game would look like if Daggerfall's artists, like Mark Jones, uncovered the original higher resolution versions of the artwork they produced and released them to the community.
    "Realistic" style. This is the kind of look you see in games like Mount & Blade. Textures all more or less look realistic, like they're derived from photographs or other stock sources.

On top of that, people have differing views as to how dated the game should look, and what liberties should be taken with the engine's technology:

    Software appearance. The game technology is just like the original Daggerfall, except perhaps with greater draw distances and a larger resolution. As if the game were released a year or two later with the fabled 640x480 display mode, for example. Minimal/no texture filtering, no shader effects, etc.
    Updated "sourceport" appearance. Minor visual improvements added on top of the base game, like many mid-90's shooters offered out of the box for more powerful machines. Think of Build engine games (Blood, Duke Nukem, Shadow warrior). Colored lighting, maybe some shadows, particle systems. Some sprite objects may be replaced with voxels.
    Complete overhaul. 3D models, higher resolution/poly versions of everything. Possibly a non-MIDI musical score.

To me, I want DaggerXL to look as vanilla and native to its year of release as possible. The Bethesda style, the sourceport makeover. I want it to still resemble Bethesda's game from 1996, but with graphical goodies that would make sense for its time - voxels, tinted lighting, etc. DaggerXL is not a new game. It's the true Daggerfall, the way Bethesda would have wanted it to have been fully realized. When it's done, I want it to feel like Bethesda's work - even locations modded in by other players shouldn't look vastly different from what's already in the game. I imagine massive caverns, forests, and riverside harbors - but in the same low poly 3D as everything else. People have talked about modding in the other Tamrielic provinces, but if they look anywhere near as detailed as the ones in Morrowind and Oblivion, it just wouldn't feel right to me.

At the end of the day, the additions intrinsic to the sourceport such as voxel mapping and improved lighting may be more than enough to satiate me. These aren't demands or anything, it's just my opinion. But I was curious as to where the rest of you fall o nthis matter as well. What vision for DaggerXL are you striving for?

Food for thought, during our festive holiday season of debauchery and excess. :mrgreen:
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Anthotis
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby Anthotis » Mon Dec 26, 2011 3:50 pm

I wouldn't want the art style to change that much. Just alot smoother with greater detail. I really do like those 3D models that were made though,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx-OMn6Wqdg
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby Klasodeth » Tue Dec 27, 2011 2:39 am

I could actually see two separate texture projects going on at the same time--one for recreating the look of Daggerfall in greater detail, and another one that perhaps fits the look of the more modern Elder Scrolls games.

But here's the thing. Any large-scale project is going to need a defined goal with some amount of peer review. This means that the people involved need to agree on an overall style, as well as on certain technical details. There needs to be a known standard that work can be compared against, and work that doesn't measure up must be rejected. Without direction, the project is doomed to fail. Letting people go in their own various directions isn't going to work, because the end result will either be a random patchwork of various styles and levels of detail, or a lot of work will have to be thrown away and redone in order to achieve consistency.
I'm frequently online in the #xlengine.projects channel at irc.freenode.net as Klasodeth, Klaso, or KLA.
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby jet800 » Tue Dec 27, 2011 4:00 am

When we were on old forums there were some attepmts for "artists guidelines", but as for now there's no point in them actually, as current usage of such assets is highly limited.
When DXL would reach beta stage it would become mandatory to have some styling restrictions(some separate branches of assets with different styles). But IMHO it would be better to have one complete set, than 5-10 sets for different parts of the game, that do not match each other.
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby StoneFrog » Tue Dec 27, 2011 11:39 am

Klasodeth wrote:Without direction, the project is doomed to fail. Letting people go in their own various directions isn't going to work, because the end result will either be a random patchwork of various styles and levels of detail, or a lot of work will have to be thrown away and redone in order to achieve consistency.

That's basically my sentiment. I know there's no great hurry since DaggerXL is nowhere near finished, but I'd rather our project be a consistent and cohesive one - not only to set standards for those to follow, but also so that it can serve as a faithful "base" for people to install additional replacers on top of - kind of like the MVP and Connary's for Morrowind.

I'm assuming, once people start producing unique assets (for custom weapons, locations and whatnot), most wouldn't want to do themselves a disservice by making their artwork look vastly different from that of the original game. They'd want their mods not to look too visually jarring to people who are using them on an unmodded installation of DaggerXL with no replacers. So I feel that the best we can do is to remain true to Bethesda's original assets as well, so that the texture pack will always remain "current", if you will - instead of being so incredibly stylized that it forces others to compromise their own work in the hopes that it will look the part for players who use the texture pack.

Anthotis wrote:I really do like those 3D models that were made though,

I'm a fan of those too, because they mesh well with the original graphics. Whether it's inserted into the game as a 3D model or used to produce a set 9f (higher resolution, more fluid) animated sprites, it still looks like a logical progression from the original graphics. Also by keeping the outrageous cyan/green clothing worn by the originals, we may be able to use palette swap effects in order to give these enemies different-colored clothes. That's what I think Bethesda wanted to do with them in the original game, at least. All of these things would be dropped entirely if we simply decided to use some gritty stock model of a skeleton that looks like it belonged to, say, Morrowind.

jet800 wrote:But IMHO it would be better to have one complete set, than 5-10 sets for different parts of the game, that do not match each other.

Yeah. The mixing doesn't annoy me as much as lack of modularity does. There was a short-lived attempt on the other forum, for example, to make new, higher poly models of all the buildings in Daggerfall. They should have used the original textures (even if this required some really fancy UV mapping), that way the models could be used even by people who wanted to preserve the original look of the game's graphics. At the same time, people who used the high resolution textures could use the models as well (especially if they looked similar to the original graphics and lined up in the same way).

However instead of this, they decided to use their own stock textures to make the UV mapping easier. Which I could sympathize with, but it largely rendered their work incompatible with everybody else's. That's what I don't want to see happening, at least this early in DaggerXL's life where there isn't a plethora of complete replacers to choose from.
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby StoneFrog » Tue Dec 27, 2011 12:00 pm

Another thing I was curious about - what do you guys think of non-NPC sprites, such as barrels, bottles, lanterns and the like? Should we make voxel models for them, or higher resolution versions of the sprites?

I think that voxel models would be an improvement over the current sprites in any case, for both vanilla and high resolution texture users alike, but as sprite-based objects don't have collision in the original Daggerfall I'm not sure what sort of implementation would be used if we replaced them with voxel models. Walking straight through voxels would just seem weird. :P
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby jet800 » Tue Dec 27, 2011 12:33 pm

My vote goes for... sprites! Love them since Parkan: The Imperial Chronicles :) So big game with such stunning graphics! All made possible due to proper use of sprites instead of models!
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby C.H » Tue Dec 27, 2011 12:41 pm

Was meaning to post this the other day, but my computer almost died.

From what I've seen, there are (more or less) two different ways that people feel a modded DaggerXL should eventually look:

"Bethesda" style. Minimal deviation from the original graphics in mood and color. This is what the game would look like if Daggerfall's artists, like Mark Jones, uncovered the original higher resolution versions of the artwork they produced and released them to the community.
"Realistic" style. This is the kind of look you see in games like Mount & Blade. Textures all more or less look realistic, like they're derived from photographs or other stock sources.
Ah, yes precisely. I am unable to decide which one I would prefer to see. It has to do with the simple graphics and details in Daggerfall, that content makes the game what it is- too much deviation from the design and I am afraid the atmosphere/"spirit" will fade away. Yet, a major overhaul should be exciting and definitely considered in my view, the idea gives me strange butterflies in my stomach and definitely has potential.
Given the scope of Daggerfall's artistic assets and how relatively few people in turn are working on it, I can't help but wonder if it would be in our best interest if we all worked together to pursue a more cohesive vision for what a graphically overhauled Daggerfall ought to look like.

I see your point and agree. While the mod-factor is there to let users make Daggerfall look like what they want, we should perhaps try working together more to give a satisfying 1st impression. ?
My 2,5+ GB of photos and textures donated to this project can probably not be molded to something resembling Daggerfall's style, and I suspect it would come of use in a "realistic pack" only. :| I would like to see something not too "flashy" and "gloomy" that is struggling to cope with the graphics hysteria nowadays.- I think the engine should be stable and optimized, being able to deliver in performance and aspects such as on-screen objects count and view-distance.
Having said that, my feelings are mixed and I do not see where the lines go between the original Daggerfall design, lesser upgrades like 3D trees etc. without hi-res anything, and a larger overhaul. One thing drags another along in my head, and I hope it all delivers a sweet Daggerfall-experience in the end. :?
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby Gez » Tue Dec 27, 2011 2:17 pm

StoneFrog wrote:
    "Bethesda" style. Minimal deviation from the original graphics in mood and color. This is what the game would look like if Daggerfall's artists, like Mark Jones, uncovered the original higher resolution versions of the artwork they produced and released them to the community.
    "Realistic" style. This is the kind of look you see in games like Mount & Blade. Textures all more or less look realistic, like they're derived from photographs or other stock sources.


Beth-style. Definitely Beth style.

Imagine a quaint little cottage. In the real world, I mean. The most realistic it can be because it is actually real.

Now that you have that house in your mind's eye, let's give your imagination a work out. Flatten the walls and floor perfectly. Orthogonalize them. The glass on the window is flush with the wood, and with the wall. The handle is flush with the wall, too; it's perfectly smooth. But there's more work to do still! Empty it of all the clutter! The candles near the fireplace. The broom in the corner. The newspaper on the little table near the armchair. The coil of rope and walking sticks by the door, below the hat rack. The books and cups and knick-knacks and all the other things everywhere that makes the home seem lived-in, all that disappear, leaving only emptiness behind. But it's not over! Get rid of the furniture, too! Well, most of it. Keep just, say, a table. No need to bother with chairs or benches.

Now, how does that look? Terrible, simply terrible. Uncanny valley as hell. It's not a photorealistic textured wall: it's a flat wall on which is pasted a giant poster of a real wall. It looks faker than a painting, because the very realism of the texture only emphasizes, by contrast, the abstraction and simplicity of modeled environment itself.

Games like Mount & Blade are designed from scratch to work with photorealistic textures. The textures inform every design decision when creating the game world and filling it with stuff.

Then there's the aesthetic/nostalgic aspect. If a texture pack makes Daggerfall looks like Daggerfall; great. If it makes it look like a different game with a different design direction... Great maybe, but for a TC or something. I'll never be interested in using it to play Daggerfall because Daggerfall has to be Daggerfall in order to be Daggerfall.

It's a criticism I would also make to most models of the hi-poly model projects. I understand it's generally easier to recreate something from scratch along the same general idea rather than try to refine the low-poly shapes from the game. But... If it looks like a different object instead of a better-defined copy of the same object, I personally won't want to use it.
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Re: The future of graphical mods for DaggerXL

Postby StoneFrog » Tue Dec 27, 2011 2:33 pm

C.H wrote:Having said that, my feelings are mixed and I do not see where the lines go between the original Daggerfall design, lesser upgrades like 3D trees etc. without hi-res anything, and a larger overhaul. One thing drags another along in my head, and I hope it all delivers a sweet Daggerfall-experience in the end. :?

I can't decide if I prefer the notion of using sprites, voxels or low-poly 3D models. The original Daggerfall already has a strange mix of the two (wheelbarrows are 3D, but barrels of all things, the classic RPG clutter items, are sprites with no collision at all?).

One deviation I'd love to see from the original Daggerfall is in actual dense forests - and low poly 3D trees would certainly work best there. An example of what I have in mind can be seen in the trees from Hexen II (which may be brush-based, I don't know).

The only issue is that, and I imagine this is why all the original sprites in the game lacked collision as well - Bethesda didn't want any randomly generated trees or lampposts blocking off buildings or anything like that. Seeing as Lucius said he wanted to add roads to the wilderness though, the new terrain generator could simply place little/no trees along them.

Gez wrote:Games like Mount & Blade are designed from scratch to work with photorealistic textures. The textures inform every design decision when creating the game world and filling it with stuff.

This is very much why I was never one to use model/texture replacers in games like the original Half-Life. Because these high-definition replacements clash against what is a low-definition environment.

And certainly for a game like Daggerfall (this may be nostalgia more than anything), I've always found a certain charm in how flat and abstract everything is. Only the necessary details for conveying the nature of a place are used, without being tastelessly meticulous in decals and other superfluous "visual noise" modern games rely on. These old games are so moody and surreal feeling, in how they do not strive for any idealized representation of anything.

I feel drifting towards the more realistic end of the spectrum would only further exemplify this dissonance - a bare wooden wall can be tiled down an entire hallway, but once you start adding photorealistic scratches and other unnecessary details to it, it becomes sloppy and less believable than the original.

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