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Bad Habits (what to avoid while creating for the Sims)

 
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Raeven
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:45 am    Post subject: Bad Habits (what to avoid while creating for the Sims) Reply with quote

On Sun Apr 23, 2006 Bruja wrote:
I comfort myself by thinking that I'm not the only creator who learned a lot of bad habits when learning to make custom content.

I though I'd share a few that I'm trying to stop, so that other creators can learn what NOT to do. If any of the rest of you is willing to share similar horror stories, please join in.

1. The thing that has caused me the most grief is my greedy habit of opening any zip that contains a new mesh and copying just the mesh to the appropriate general SimPose folder.

I did set up subfolders by body type, which are fairly useless, since SimPose can find the body type for me. I should have set up subfolders for every creator/site.

I'm now in the process of doing that, but in the meantime, if it weren't for the encyclopedic memory of frisbud at TSR, I would have to forget any hope of using many meshes, or spent untold hours looking through my archived zips, trying to find the mesher's name so that I could ask for permission to distribute the mesh with my skins.

2. This is a combination of good and bad habits.

Following a tip from another skinner, I got into the GOOD habit of beginning every skin by opening a new image file with a transparent background. This means that every other layer can always be moved or deleted ( in PSP8, which I use).

I then routinely add the UV map of the mesh I'm working on as the next layer, and put the lgt nude on top of that. I use the lgt because it's the easiest to see through when it's made partially transparent. I always renamed the uv map layer to 'uv' and the lgt layer to 'lgt'.

For quite a while, this system worked without causing me any problems.

Recently, though, I realized that using just 'uv' as a layer name was starting to cause me real problems. I was doing a lot of 'auditioning' of meshes using SimPose.

Working on a creative high, I'd see that a partially done skin bmp had possibilities on a different mesh. To make sure that I didn't lose track of the possibilities, I was hitting Shift D to create a duplicate of the psp image, then saving the duplicate, relabelled to BxxxFA in the Bxxxfa folder.

After several days of this, when the skins I'd been working on had been finished or set aside, I went back and retrieved the duplicated and renamed files and started working on the nascent possibilites in the BxxxFA folder (and there were several folders involved!).

I spent a couple of really irritating hours trying to figure out why the bmp's didn't fit the meshes properly, until it finally dawned that the uv map I was working with was NOT, in fact, the BxxxFA uv map, but the uv map for a different mesh altogether.

In short, start your new skins with a transparent background layer, add the uv map layer, But name the layer 'uv B001fa', not just uv!


Last edited by Raeven on Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:24 am; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Mon Apr 24, 2006 mtaman wrote:
A bad habit I have is not saving often enough. It is so easy to save. When I have a project that I've spent hours working on and the graphics program decides to crash, it's very annoying.


Last edited by Raeven on Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:49 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Mon Apr 24, 2006 Ruthml wrote:
One very general tip I have is that whenever you make a drastic change to something, make a duplicate first and work on the copy. Yes, I know you can undo history, but I have been known to save & close without meaning to... so it's good to have a previous version as a hidden layer. In case it's not clear, I meant duplicate the layer, not the file :p

Another tip I found useful was a quick way to clean up resized images. You know how when you resize something, it has a heap of translucent pixels around the edges? Well you have to clean these up and it can be tedious. Well, I have found that if I duplicate the layer several times over then merge them together, that usually takes care of all the transparent pixels, except an odd one here and there which I fill in. The outline may also need a little tweaking too with the eraser. Perhaps this is obvious but as a self taught user, it wasn't obvious to me at first.

I have a bunch more useful tips but I don't know if everyone knows them already! the skinning ones were great, thank you I am guilty of dumping meshes into simpose without organising them according to user....thankfully I only have meshes from about 4 different skinners at the moment, but your organisational advice was timely.

my only useful skinning tip is more to do with organisation - I have saved all the text files that give permission into one folder, or else copied the relevant permission from the website into separate text files along with the URL. That way, I don't have to go back searching thru my downloads folders when I need that permission note.

On Mon Apr 25, 2006 Ruthml wrote:
NEWBIE OBJECT MAKING TIPS! (for photoshop users)

Tip 1.
ok, well, this is what I learnt about cutting an image up neatly if you're doing multi-tile pieces. This works well for 2 and 3 tile objects, eg a lounge. Don't know about bigger objects than that, haven't gone that far, yet.

The trick is to use the magic wand and not select inverse, so that when you copy from your new whole image, it will select the alternate part, ie the rest of the image. That way you get neat pieces that fit together exactly with no overlapping areas or worse, holes, when it comes to fitting them together in Tmog.

2 tile.
Say you were making a new sofa. I'll start with the very obvious thing and say you need to work with a whole image first and to get a rough idea of size you should take the pieces of the original sofa you have cloned and paste them into your working file, moving them together so they fit. Don't merge them, keep the pieces on separate layers. The original sofa is going to be the rough template for your new sofa, so you can refer to that for the size, angles, height etc. When your new whole sofa is ready to be cut, make sure the original sofa pieces are the top layers above your new sofa. Align them so that one corner or edge lines up with some similar part of your new sofa as much as possible, depending on shape of course. Then hide one piece of the original sofa. Use the polygonal lasso tool to cut out around the visible original piece, incorporating enough room to include your new sofa if it protrudes. Copy from your new sofa and paste, and you'll have 1 half of your new sofa, providing you used the lasso tool correctly. Make sure that new piece of your new sofa is exactly lined up over your new whole sofa image, then select with the magic wand but do not inverse select. It's really selecting the background not the piece. Copy again, from the layer that is your whole new sofa, and this time when you paste you will get the other half of the sofa, and it will be a perfect match to the other piece.

A 3 tile sofa is even easier. Take the 3 original pieces and line them up over your new sofa. Then hide the 2 end pieces and use the polygonal tool to lasso around the middle piece. Copy & paste. Use the magic wand to select that, but don't select inverse, just copy and paste again from your new whole sofa layer and you'll have 2 pieces of your sofa with a big chunk out of the middle. It's then very easy to cut these into 2 pieces with the lasso tool and you will have 3 pieces that fit together perfectly.

Tip 2
When fitting pieces together in Tmog it helps to go to the control panel and turn down the resolution to say 800 x 600. Everything will be so much bigger and you can actually see what you're doing. Very helpful when checking mid & small zooms.

Tip 3
x & y coordinates can be a real pain to sort out. Burglar alarms are up high for eg, but if you've made it to be a different object, eg a painting, how do you get it positioned correctly lower down on the wall? Copying the x,y coords from a similar painting doesn't seem to work - I don't know why, but the way around this is to take a screenshot set up thus: Have the walls & floor tiles different colours, so you can clearly see each section of floor & wall. Have on the wall, something at the height you want your new alarm to be at. Next to it (in the next section of wall) is your new alarm, which is probably way up high, looking very silly. Take the screenshot, then in your graphics program, open up the screenshot bmp. copy & paste from the P sprite the image you're trying to fix. (Flip it if it's not at the right angle. ) Position it exactly over where it is in your screenshot. Then making sure the move tool is selected, nudge it with the arrow keys down to where you want it to be, using the other painting as a guide. Count each nudge, that will be how many times you need to move it in Tmog. The different wall paper shows the wall sections and helps you to align it correctly on the wall. This may take a couple of attempts & screenshots to get right. Now once its in the right place, export in Tmog to lock in the new coords and now you can check the z buffers. A tall single tiled object, eg a statue, placed in front is a good way to test the z buffer. Miffy has a good tutorial on fixing picture z buffers.

Tip 4
Z buffers
Now this is not foolproof, and I'm not an expert but what I found helpful was this general rule of thumb: Areas that are missing, that you should be seeing - make them darker. Areas that are showing that you should not see - make them lighter. For small persistent spots of bleed through, this maybe be helpful. Take a screenshot and use the marquee tool to cut out the area that has the problem. Paste it into your z buffer file and line it up with the z buffer image, either turn down the opacity of the screen shot so you can line it up that way, or else erase a particular point/edge that you can identify easily and line it up along that edge. Then erase the bad zbuffer areas from the screenshot layer. and select the erased bits with the magic wand. Turn off the screenshot layer and now you know exactly where the problem areas in the zbuffer are. The amount of lightening or darkening needed is usually small - just a few per cent. The eye dropper tool run over the area and then an adjacent area will tell you the value of the grey. If an image is reversed in Tmog, eg those display cases, then sometimes you need to flip your screenshot layer to be sure you're working on the correct side of the z buffer. I find this happens after I have tried to fix a spot but nothing seems to change - I flip the screenshot layer and voila! there's the real area I needed to fix. It still takes a lot of tiny changes and testing each change, to fix the bleeding but at least I know I'm working on the right little bits and not accidentally messing up other areas.

I need to add here, that sometimes I use the eye dropper tool in a small area to check the grey values, comparing it with neighbouring pixels, and so can change the value by the few percent needed and just use a brush to colour in that little area. Or else, the dodge and burn tools work well, set at very low strength (5%, 8% etc). I've also cut and pasted z buffers from similar objects too. If the problem of bleeding is because you have an object placed against a wall, eg a bookcase or sofa etc, then moving the x y coord first solves most of the bleeding. Just move the x/y in the back view so the object moves forward by 1 or 2 nudges. That fixes most bad bleeding and then you only have little bits to fix. Remeber to Export again in Tmog after changing the x/y to lock the new coords in.

Tip 5
Always make sure that the background of your z buffer is PURE WHITE. If it's not, you'll have problems in Tmog. If one view in Tmog is a different size to the other views - I'm talking about the panel your image appears in, not the image itself, then that means the z buffer background is not pure white.

Tip 6
I don't know how others do A channel but this is pretty easy and seems to work for me. Use magic wand tool to select the P sprite image (work from the new bmp), Don't select inverse, you actually want the outline and background. Copy & paste into the A bmp (and you'll probably be doing the Z's at the same time, so paste into the Z also). Select again, then fill with paint bucket and pure black paint. If your object has a ton of little bits, like a tree, then I use the pencil tool at 100% opacity and set to a huge brush (like 40 or 50) just to quickly colour in everything and get all the little tiny bits, that the paint bucket might miss. Now there's 2 ways to do the A channel from here. If it's a piece of furniture or an object with lots of straight edges, then Select Inverse and fill it with pure white (paint bucket or giant sized pencil). Then select the line tool, set pixel size to 1 and make sure anti-aliasing is actually turned on this time for a change. Choose a light grey (eg 45%) and "draw" a line around the edge of your object. (the object has been selected with the magic wand first) The line will cling to the edges and because anti-aliasing is turned on, it will be blurry. Easy!

If it's something with lots of curvy bits, eg a tree, then drawing a line around all the curvy bits is difficult and tedious, so I go for this method. Once you've made the black background fill, copy and paste it so you have 2 layers of black background. Select your image with the magic wand, and fill the image on one layer with white. Now the layer with the white bit goes underneath the layer that is just a black background. Make sure the image is selected, and working on the 2nd layer underneath, use your smudge tool (set to about 3 pixels, about 45-50% strength and smudge around the edges. Great for getting all the fiddly, curvy bits. The black layer on top acts as a mask to ensure a neat edge. If you turn that off and look at the layer you're doing the smudging on, it will look a mess.

Those 2 methods were not discovered by me, but learnt from others (a Koromo tutorial and tip from Jendea of Jendea Simtecture). Sometimes I combine both methods, depending on the object's shape. It seems to make a nice enough A channel and you'll get an even better result if, once you are happy with the graphics and you have fixed all the z buffer problems, you export All Zooms, All Channels and make new A sprites for the mid & small zooms.


Tip 7
Not being an Animator user, I have to hunt out suitable images to use/modify, as well as draw little bits myself. An object made out of a photo can look pretty awful if the angle isn't correct. It's taken me ages to figure this out but an in-game screenshot is very useful to help you get the proportions right and to check the angle is right when you're skewing it. Don't resize, that resizes the whole file - ie all the layers; rescaling is better as it just resizes just the layer you're working on. My earlier tip of cleaning up a rescaled image by duplicating it lots of times then merging into one, is tried and tested here The image will usually need lots of help to lose that "photo" look. I play around with RGB curves, saturation (or de-saturation), add a little noise, sharpen (use the sharpen tool on the palette set at a low strength, not the one that's under Filter) to help it look better. The polygonal lasso tool can be used to isolate certain areas that need special attention, eg darkening or lightening, without wrecking the rest of it. I wish there was a tool that was called "Make this look instantly better NOW". Any other tips on making photo images look better - I'd love to hear them!

that's all I can think of - I'm sure others know these or do similar things. I'd love to know what you guys do!!


Last edited by Raeven on Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:04 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Apr 25, 2006 Raeven wrote:
(adding to Ruth's A channel tip if I may)
I've had varying degrees of success with this method and find it works best with objects that have a softer edge (like a plant) than a hard edge (counter) but that may be a result of my not taking enough time with it ... so am offering this idea in an "as-is" state LOL. think of it as a fixer-upper.

The following is in photoshop:

For A channels that I do not piecemeal together using Maxis' A's I have been using the layer effect Inner Glow. On a layer I have the object's outline in pure white (mimicking the shape P sprite as Ruth described) and apply the layer effect to that layer.

I change the glow color from the default yellow to black,
I change the blend mode from Screen to Multiply
I change the size from the default 5 to 2 and
Then I fiddle about with the Range slider and Opacity slider

My old bad habit was to eyeball this sort of thing and concentrate on making it look good in photoshop. Now I always keep a Maxis A sprite open from a similar object and try to match it's look rather than getting a nice blur. What looks good to me in photoshop can frequently translate into ick! in the game environment LOL

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Tue Apr 25, 2006 mtaman wrote:
These are great tips, Ruth.

Something that will tie in with Ruth's tips 2&3:

The x/y co-ordinates in T-mog are figured from the lowest left-most pixel in the p sprite. As long as your new image has it's lowest left-most pixel in the same spot as the old image you won't have to move it around much in T-mog. Or if your new image is smaller, make sure you have a pixel in the same spot as the old image. Then when you do your a sprite, make that pixel as close to black without actually being black as possible instead of white. It will magically fade away during the game because the a sprite controls transparency; the darker, the more transparent. With multi-tile objects make sure as least one side uses the same pixel positioning as original object so you won't have to move it. This is especially useful in making objects that the sims interact with like sofas and beds.

Tip 4:
I do it pretty much like Ruth. I have PSP. For me the darken and lighten tool makes things too dark or light, so what I have been doing is making a new raster layer, filling it with black or white as needed, cutting away the parts I don't need, then bringing the opacity down to a very small number like 4, and then merging it down with the z layer.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Apr 29, 2006 Ruthml wrote:

well I have discovered a new bad habit that will be corrected at once cos it's cost me a lot of frustrated hours!

When you're making thumbnail bmps (which is the final thing you do as any Tmogging after that will strip the new thumbnail out again), I have learnt that it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to save the bmp wthout checking that Compress- RLE option (in Photoshop). It should be left unchecked. Otherwise the new thumbnail will not show up correctly in programs like SimCat etc which is why you're going to the effort of making the thumbnail in the first place. I had posted this problem a little while ago and the only clue I had was the file size of the thumbnail bmp, those that were not working were smaller than those that did work. Ha! I had somehow turned on the Compress - RLE option when saving, so of course they were going to be smaller files...... Today I discovered the real reason for my thumbnail problem and I'm very happy I did because I was reduced to begging others to run them in their games for me to get the thumbnails to save correctly.

And further to my tip about the background of Z buffers being pure white - the bad habit that produced that tip is that after you paste the new outline from the P sprite bmp into the Z bmp, because the Z buffer is worked in grey scale, the foreground/background duo on the tools palette changes into something that LOOKs like black and white. Don't be fooled into thinking you can now go and use the paint bucket to fill the new background with white. That "white" isn't pure white. You have to make sure it's set to the default black & white before doing anything else.

And in case you're wondering why it's so important to have the z buffer background always set to pure white, when all it seems to do is make the panel bigger in the relevant view in Tmog, well, I guess if it happens enough times you get this interesting error happening - see the 2 pics of mistakes I made last year - the 2nd shows the error and what it looks like in Tmog - an oversized view panel, the 1st pic shows what happens if you continue to ignore that and you have a multi-tiled object with more than one z buffer bmp containing this error. Those big black blobs were only visible in the neighbourhood screen. Weird, huh?!
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Sun Jul 09, 2006 Annettebrks wrote:
Here's one I've driven myself batty with on a far more frequent basis than I like to admit.

You've made your shiny new object, but now it needs some tweaking - some touching up on the graphics, maybe a bit of Z work, and a little shifting of those X's and Y's. You've been around the block a few times, so you know the process. Simple enough for someone like you, right? Sure it is - when brain is engaged.

But picture this. You've exported it, done a few of the changes, then gone off to do something else for a bit. Then you come back in and decide to fix the X's and the Y's in T-mog. That done, you go off and play for a bit, eat dinner, or do some laundry. You go back in, finish up tweaking your graphics or those dreaded Z's, and then re-import it. What the heck? You know you fixed those X's and Y's - why do they look like you haven't?

You've fallen victim to the plague of creators everywhere. You got on a roll and neglected to think everything through. Easy enough to do, when you just want to fix those darn Z's once and for all.

When you export from T-Mog, the X and Y information is included in that .xml that results. When you fiddle with the X's and Y's in T-Mog, you're making changes inside the object's .iff file, but those changes don't ALSO get recorded in the .xml file that you already exported. So when you go ahead and tweak those graphics and re-import, you're overwriting the new changes you made to the X's and Y's with the old ones that you exported earlier.

I could have avoided that little problem if I did my changes in T-Mog independently from changes to my graphics. If I change those X's and Y's, I need to re-export BEFORE I change the graphics (unless I'm saving those coordinates some other way, like exporting them to a safe place through Iff Pencil). And vice versa - I could have re-imported the graphics changes and THEN fixed the X's and Y's.


Last edited by Raeven on Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:05 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sun Jul 09, 2006 Raeven wrote:
Annettebrks wrote:
And vice versa - I could have re-imported the graphics changes and THEN fixed the X's and Y's.


In my version of this problem does not involve taking a break from the graphics work. Instead what I do is
-Tweak graphics,
- View them in Tmog or the game,
-Spot X or Y adjustment is needed so make them
- View again and spot a graphic needs more tweakage
- Fail to re-export like I should
- switch back to graphics program,
- make said change to the graphics I was just working on a moment ago

and import resulting in the object "reverting" to the old X and Y positions, as you've describe.

It just always seems (seemed) easier to continue working on the files (bitmaps) that I already have available rather than making new ones and it ALWAYS causes some problem or another.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Sun Jul 30, 2006 Annettebrks wrote:
Recently discovered bad habit - not saving previous versions, or not keeping them long enough.

I was doing fine on my counters when I noticed the bleedthrough when Sims reached for something on top of them. THAT's when I should have saved a copy of the iff I had, before embarking on further changes.

Instead, I was in the habit of just shifting the .xml and graphics folder over into a "safe" subfolder after finishing major changes. Each time I did that, it overwrote the old one.

So I was handling one section of bleedthrough and saving that over my old copy before moving on to the next section. Seemed to make sense at the time.

But then I realized that what I was trying to do was impossible, given the limitations of the game (it turned out the problem wasn't the counter Z's, it was the fact that the animations made the Sims step onto the same exact space occupied by the object, so it can't be cured).

That's when I realized that I'd have to go back to the way the Z's were before I'd started that bit of fiddling. Except... I no longer had copies from that far back. I had to start those Z's alllllllll over again.

So now I'm saving zipped copies of the .iff files before or after any major changes, especially if I'm about to do something I haven't tried before. I'm adding the date to the end of the zip file's name.

And Raeven suggested something further - stick a little text file inside it with any notes about it that would come in handy. That's especially handy for me, because I tend to be rather cryptic in handwritten notes. But when I'm typing, I tend to explain things more clearly, which is helpful if I need to read it after some time has passed and memory is foggy.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On Mon Jul 31, 2006 bruja wrote:
annettebrks wrote:
So now I'm saving zipped copies of the .iff files before or after any major changes, especially if I'm about to do something I haven't tried before. I'm adding the date to the end of the zip file's name.

And Raeven suggested something further - stick a little text file inside it with any notes about it that would come in handy. That's especially handy for me, because I tend to be rather cryptic in handwritten notes. But when I'm typing, I tend to explain things more clearly, which is helpful if I need to read it after some time has passed and memory is foggy.



I've fairly recently started to do the little text file thing, and it's a wonderful sanity saver.

When we're travelling, I have only the laptop, but when we're at home, I far prefer to use a desktop for graphics work.

I keep all my skinning in subfolders by mesh number, and take an up-to-date copy of all the folders on a backup medium when I travel, and load onto the laptop when I want to work on a specific mesh. Putting a small text file in each subfolder, named b001mc 060731, for example, means that I can have those notes along with all the other material I need, in one folder.

I have also learned from sad experience to put a copy of any texture jpg right into the subfolder, especially if it's one that I modified in some way before I used it in the skinning process.

I keep all my unfinished skin versions in those subfolders, and too many times I've gone back to one, seen what I needed to do, then found that I had been working with a modified texture and been unable to recreate whatever I'd done to the original 18 months earlier, at 3 a.m., 3000 km away!
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