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Area creation: An overview


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In this tutorial, I would like to give you an overview of how to add areas to Infinity Engine games.

There are in-depth tutorials for two editors that I will mention later. In this tutorial, I would therefore like to focus on the first steps in creating an area.

What is an area?

An "area", as the player can access ingame, consists of seven different files in most IE games, all of which control different aspects of the gameplay. In detail, these are (I always link to the entry in the IESDP here):

- are-files: They contain information about the actors, the sounds, the area-transitions - in short: everything the player can interact with. Are-files are the only files used in area-editing that are saved in the savegame. This means that you cannot edit an are-file and load a previously created savegame. This is however possible for all the following files.

- wed-files (“world environment description”): They are the link between player interaction and the graphical representation of the area. They determine which image is displayed, how open or closed doors are displayed, where the actor is covered by a wall and where animated water can be seen.

- tis-files: This file contains the actual area graphics. One of the strengths of the old Infinity Engine was that very good-looking graphics could be displayed on fairly slow systems. This was due to the tis-files. The old engine did not load an entire graphics file, but only small, 64x64 px tiles. For us, this still has a significant effect today: All images that you want to use for areas must be a multiple of 64x64 pixels in order to be displayed correctly.

- mos-files: This file is no longer required for the newer EE versions. In the classic version, this file displayed the minimap of the area.

- search maps (******SR.bmp): This 8bit palette bitmap file controls the searchmap, i.e. the area that regulates where the player can walk, where there are walls through which he cannot see and everything else.

- light maps (******LM.bmp): This bitmap controls the lighting that is projected onto the sprites. If the character is in a darker part of the area, he or she is darkened. Theoretically, these files can be created and saved in 24bit, but  crashes may occur if this file is not converted to an 8bit palette bitmap. I therefore recommend creating and testing the lightmaps in 24bit, but switching to 8bit in your image editing program before publishing your area.

- height maps (******HT.bmp): This bitmap controls the height, i.e. whether the sprite is raised or lowered when climbing stairs. I personally hardly ever use the heightmap.

There is another file group in the Enhanced Edition:

- pvrz-file: These files replace the old tis graphics files in such a way that the specific tis file refers to a group of pvrz files that control the actual graphics. This saves a lot of data size and processing power. The nomenclature of pvrz-files is a little difficult to get used to, so I recommend choosing a suitable name when creating your area to avoid incompatibilities with other files later on. Four or five letters and one or two numbers have worked well for me. Bear in mind that an are-file can only be named with six letters, because two letters (SR,LM,HT) are added for the search-, height- and lightmaps.

- If you want to create an alternate night graphic of your area, there are more files to add. However, I will not go into this in detail in this first tutorial.

 

What tools do I need to edit an area for IE?

There are three tools that are important for editing areas. You will need to use all three for different aspects of area creation in order to achieve a satisfactory result, as all three editors have different focuses.

- IETME (Infinity Tileset Map Editor): Only works with the classic version. Very powerful for creating an area for the first time, editing search-, light- and heightmaps and inserting doors. Sometimes creates artifacts when rendering tis files for the first time, which is why you should switch to the following tool (DLTCEP) in the next step. I recommend that you always test the first steps of area editing on a classic oBG2 version of the engine and switch to the EE at a relatively late stage.

- DLTCEP (Dragonance Total Conversion Editor Pro): Great for adding all aspects of an area. Debugging using the "check area" button is very helpful in the event of unexplained game crashes. DLTCEP will probably be the main tool when editing and creating areas.

- NI (Near Infinity):  Great for viewing and fine-tuning areas, changing resources within the area files, and converting old .tis files to new pvrz files.

 

A link to a good tutorial for the IETME can be found here: http://www.shsforums.net/topic/28080-cuvs-area-making-class-tutorial/

A link to a good tutorial for the DLTCEP can be found here: Area Making with DLTCEP (simpilot.net)

 

How do I get started with area editing?

The prerequisite is a finalized image file that you are ready to add to the game. Creating good-looking graphics can of course be very difficult. You'll need to deal with art and image editing to produce a good-looking area graphic. That takes time. I recommend starting by modifying existing areas of the IE games.

I want to point out that in most cases it is not allowed to simply copy and paste assets from other non-IE games (e.g. Diablo) as this would be a violation of copyright regulations. Check beforehand whether it is permitted to use the chosen asset. Nexusmods provides an overview of which publisher has which regulations: https://wiki.nexusmods.com/index.php/Porting_content

Back to area-editing. It is very likely that this image file will not have a size that can be divided down to 64x64 pixels. You will have to fix that first. If it is an indoor area with a black border, I first divide the dimensions of the area by 64, round up to the nearest even number and then multiply this number by 64 to get a multiple of 64 in x and y values. Then I create a new, black graphic with these values and paste the existing graphic into it, export and then have an area with the correct proportions. Of course, you can't use a black border for outdoor areas, so I divide by 64 again, but then round down to the nearest number, multiply by 64 again and crop my existing area by this amount.

I recommend that you save the created area graphic in bitmap format so that you can use it in IETME.

Open the IETME and load the graphic checking “Open”.

If you have miscalculated with the 64x64 calculation, IETME will tell you right away:

02-ietme02.jpg.7115a90e5b52b58cb6ce129cbd7e564c.jpg

After loading up the correctly sized graphic, select “Create New / Switch to area-editing” to open up the area editor.

01-ietme01.jpg.7aee10aab018fd56990d8946080189f4.jpg

There, on the left-hand side under “Area Properties”, assign your area a six-digit name for wed and script file.

ietme03.jpg.59711e70592ca051f71934932952eac2.jpg

Save the area using this name, check “Yes” for “tis-file”, “minimap” and “search-map” and all files for this area have been created by IETME. It sometimes happens that IETME does not convert the tileset graphics correctly, in which case you will have to correct this later using DLTCEP.

However, you should have 8 files created by IETME in your directory:

ietme06-02.jpg.1e399b5a9805d9bd53dc74e1975a2cea.jpg

Wait... 8? Yes, and that's why I always work with the IETME. IETME creates another file that is extremely helpful: An .slh file. This saves search, light and height maps in such a way that you can change them at any time. This is extremely practical, because editing searchmaps in DLTCEP is extremely tedious. Do not delete this file! I install it with all my mods in case I want to change something later. Just in case you decide to add this super-cool boss dragon to your area only to realize the wyrm gets stuck in a not-fitting searchmap corridor.

At this point I start my classic-engine oBG2-ToB and take a look at my area ingame. I walk around and try to get a feeling if everything seems right.

ingame.thumb.jpg.12edc4335935d1f3ac918deda2784b05.jpg

 

You can then create your searchmap using IETME: Draw a polygon on the map, right-click and check add as a searchmap. You can specify exactly what the search-area should do in a drop-down menu by right-clicking again. Do this for each region that has an impact on the character's movement. I usually start by filling the entire searchmap with black. In the next step, I draw the zones that the player can enter. Then I mark the small things like column, containers and the like.

Finally, your searchmap in IETME should look like this:

ietme07.thumb.jpg.5a6c19d6afd0141a0931883afc276077.jpg

After this step, you should switch the light and height maps to “gray”.

ietme08.jpg.80a779bf1f28ec18b6e8c0d64284810a.jpg

Save again and don't forget to select “yes” to save your searchmap!

Check again ingame to see if you are satisfied with the results.

In DLTCEP, you should first reload your original image file by selecting “edit tis” and “load external tis”. Select “create minimap” to easily save the correct size of the minimap. Save your image again as a tis-file to eliminate any artifacts caused by IETME. Now you can edit all other aspects in DLTCEP.

Let us focus on the wallgroups, which can be edited selecting "Edit wed". This determines where the character is covered by walls, trees and the like.

For your own benefit, you should take care to keep the number of wallgroups as low as possible, because creating them is extremely time-consuming. My advice here is to pay attention to this as early as when you are creating the initial area graphic, and to place trees in such a manner that players ideally are not able to walk behind them. This will save you a lot of work. You can, however, export and re-import wall polygons that have already been created and move them to a new place selecting “Move”. This avoids a lot of work, too.

There is one issue I would like to point out: When creating new wallgroups, you should make sure that you create the lowest section first. You will notice that the first line created is blue. This is the lowest point used by the engine to determine whether a character is in front of or behind the wallgroup. Everything that is “below” the blue line in 2D is in front of it, everything that is “above” it in the 2D view is behind it and will be hidden.

12-dltcep-02.thumb.jpg.6cf52dce2d03f9bb36905e15bdbade79.jpg

Regarding further wallgroup editing, I recommend Yovaneth's excellent DLTCEP tutorial.

I usually copy animations (e.g. torches) and ambient sounds from existing areas. I select the original area, select “Copy”, create a new animation or ambient entry in my area and then paste the resource. You just have to adjust the position.

For fine-tuning, you should edit your search map using DLTCEP. However, you should be aware to not open the file in IETME anymore, as IETME takes the slh file as a reference and overwrites the searchmap created by DLTCEP

13-dltcep-03.jpg.98cbfdd7791c8817c9380e9b3901e446.jpg

When you have finished everything, you will probably want to adapt the area for the Enhanced Edition. To do this, open your tis file in NI, select “export as pvrz-based tis” and save the tis file.

 

I hope this gives an overview of all aspects required to create a simple area. I've described the area-editing process as I found it to work best for me, but I'm sure there are many other - perhaps better - ways.

The tutorials mentioned above are suitable for delving deeper into the subject.

As with all aspects of modding, the really difficult part is putting the different parts together - for example, the parts where a character is hidden behind walls, adding shadows and all the other little things that make the original areas look (and feel) “real”.

In case you want try editing an area immediately- here is the very simple area I used for this tutorial that I created in 3DS Max a long time ago. It was for a mod that was never released. Feel free to use it for whatever you want, but please credit me if you use it in a mod.

AC#TU01.bmp

Finally, there is a cool and insightful article by Marcia Tofer, the Art Director of Baldur's Gate 2, about the complex process of area creation for the game itself:

https://www.ign.com/articles/2000/01/14/developer-journal-baldurs-gate-ii-pt-4

Cheers!

 

Edited by Acifer
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