Greetings, one and all.
Welcome to the Hylden Dimension. A big thanks to my friend, Amber, for offering a space for me to share updates on the projects I’m working on. It’s been an interesting ten years since Legacy of Kain: Defiance came out. Many of us have grown and changed since then. Many of us were shaped by the series as much as anything else in life and it still stays with us today. My introduction to the series happened in 2002, which also coincided with my reintroduction to these things called computers, and my actual introduction to this anomaly called the Internet. It had been since High School since I had touched a PC, and we didn’t have Internet back then – I know; shocking! Somehow, though, we did survive (also shocking! :p (not)).
With my foray into the world of the NET, seeking out websites to talk about the things I was interested in at the time led me to RP (Role Playing) portions on Yahoo and forums like Nosgothic Realm. That’s where I first entered the forums of anything, period, and where I rekindled my long dormant and unused talent to write stories in RPing. I also, eventually, found my way into debating about LoK and yes, back then I was certainly a novice (I hate the term “noob” and most all Internet-spawned terms). As a novice still in both the series and in writing, let’s just say my early posts back then were not as honed as they are now. However, over time while posting on that site, then Eidos’ forums, and others like it, I basically learned typing and re-learned this thing called English to do it properly. I will always give credit to those early places I entered the Internet on for that. My last RP session was back sometime in 2006, perhaps. I had made one fanfic for the Legacy of Kain then, which I had used to start up the final RP I was on. It was a piece describing Kain’s mission after the events of Blood Omen 2: how he wound up raising his Lieutenants, and his inspiration to do so. While not fitting fully within the timeline, I had younger Kain find the Chronoplast and, via its portals and main chamber, meet his elder self. This was an exercise in exploring the dichotomy between the two stages of this character, not using the mostly one-note, vengeful and somewhat irrational Kain from BO2, but the Kain who continued on after the events of BO1 and BO2 and where he was going from there, and of the elder him he had/would become who engaged his younger self with a deeper and calmer understanding of fate. I went back and re-posted this on DA and Eidos a couple of years back. The point is that my writing improved, my voice improved for writing in general, and my understanding of the series was honed during these years.
The early journey on the Internet would prepare me for other stages in life as I’ve continued. While on the boards rediscovering writing talents, I was also continuing my artistic abilities in using Photoshop for various banners, icons, and signature images. I has been gifted in drawing since an early age and also in High School had the opportunity to briefly use an early Photoshop version for minor drawing. Now, I was learning more of the program and the changes since then, with the only caveat that I only had a mouse to interact with it. Doing fine detailing for me was next to impossible with a mouse, so I relegated to only painting over existing images, or doing photo/text manipulations. It would not be until two years ago when I finally bought a Wacom tablet, and a whole new world opened up.
So, this is the basis for things to come. In 2005, armed with refined skills in writing, and almost just as important, typing, I was able to go to college for film directing, script writing, editing, and the general college bologna essays, and various other assignments one has to do in order to pass disassociated classes. Writing scripts wasn’t too bad, with my abilities where they were. In fact, script writing is such where the minimal amount of words you can write to get your point across, you do, as time is money and heavy-handed descriptions only bring a script down. More of a blueprint for a film, the basics are all that you need.
Directing allowed me to achieve what I’ve thought about since watching movies at an early age – telling one of those great stories. I always had such playing out in my head after watching a film as a kid, that I was part of the story, engaged in, and of course, the star of it. I was able to shape it with my imagination where it would go next.
So, now I had my outlet. I entered a community college with classes that could specifically allow me to craft a reel and to write at least one feature-length script by the end of the first term. That was enough to put together a package which was good enough to be accepted by a very renowned film school out in Pasadena, CA. There, I found that I was very much at home directing scenes and story boarding/creating the scenes in the first place. The School also gave a great hands-on approach in all of the various positions needed to shoot a film.
I also intrinsically knew shot direction, and how a shot works and doesn’t, and I found that I also had a great timing instinct for editing – something that also stems from a talent I’ve also not used in far too long in music.
Anyway, so why does this all matter? Well, at this time I thought my life was all about directing films. While I did very well in college, held a 3.9 GPA, and received praise for my efforts in what I had wrote, shot, directed, edited, etc. – in the end things would take a different turn. Let’s just say trying to find work that pays the bills and the rent, and the food, out there is a tough one. I have contracts for feature scripts I’ve written for a director/actor, but even with all the “I’s” and “T’s” crossed, it doesn’t matter if the production house doesn’t want to make the films any longer. I’ve been paid partially, only, for the one. I’ve co-starred in a feature film I also co-directed, shot, and edited, but unless that’s finalized and sold, it’s basically a few paperweights in tapes and drives at home.
When the money finally ran out and I could no longer afford it, I had to move back home. I had planned on driving home, but the first stop ran into a snag – namely me being run off the road, spinning out of control and crashing multiple times into the wall of the highway. Luckily, I only received a concussion, though the woman at the tow yard couldn’t believe that. I think the guy who ran me off was drunk, and the car didn’t stop at the scene. That’s alright, though, considering I got my own DUI a day before I left, where I could have injured, or killed, an entire family and myself, so a higher power was trying to show me just how stupid I was and, believe me, I’ve heard. I did get back home, eventually. While home, considering the lack of car options, or work options, I’ve looked into other pursuits. I also found out about what I have that’s causing my sleep issues, which have only gotten more severe over the years. I have sleep apnea, and with no insurance covering it, I basically have no way to treat it right now. What I do have is tons of time to work on things other than what I thought I would be ages ago, due to circumstances and this condition.
Two years ago, I mentioned that I got my Wacom tablet. It’s been a blessing. I first tried painting a picture of Batman, which turned out well enough that I finally tackled what I had wanted to for the past, at that time, 7+ years, in doing a proper portrait of Kain. I remembered Daniel Cabuco’s picture of Kain holding Raziel’s torn clan banner in his claws, menacing-like. I thought that image was pretty profound, and I wanted to tackle that from a very different perspective. We all know by now that Kain did not do what he did out of spite, jealousy, or with any malice, so I wanted to show what that image would have actually looked like, had it been seen (and if Kain was able to not have his face seen by the rest of the Lieutenants), and Kain’s Lament was born. I was very pleased that I could achieve such detail and that I hadn’t rusted out my artistic ability to draw in all of these years.
I’ve created many paintings since, and learned so much. Along the way, by last year almost this exact time, in fact, I remembered a couple of years prior when Batman: Arkham Asylum came out and the buzz right before when we had the demo and users found that you could use a program called Texmod (used for years by the Tomb Raider crowd) to alter Batman’s textures. I thought, wow, that’s amazing! I tried it out briefly and did something basic (prior to owning a Wacom, again, and with limited time whole attending college still). So, fast forward to last year, I remembered this moment while playing Defiance again. Every time I play Defiance I can’t help but note the artistic change in characters and that I wish it wasn’t so. More caricaturish and cartoony in spots than the previous realistic detailed textures seen in Soul Reaver 2 – still the hallmark of the visuals in the series, really – I had always wondered what those higher poly models of Defiance would look like with better textures. Eureka! I found my first new project in quite a long time and retexturing Defiance was born.
This was a struggle, and still is. First of all, it’s unfortunate that no-one has been able to still reintegrate new models, textures, or to mod these great games all that well, in general, as none of the assets can be replaced in Defiance and only SR1 of the series has a program that can replace the textures, I believe. So, all of this would have to be run through Texmod. That’s not so bad, until you have a ton of the packages running at once, and the files are large. The reason they were large back then is that I only could make the bitmap format work with the end-around masking I was using (I wouldn’t find out until much, much later how alpha channels worked). The second problem is that I a) could not get the models from within the game and b) wouldn’t have had a program to work on them at the time, even if I could. This meant that I had to work in only the 2D texture files in Photoshop. If anyone’s ever seen the 2D texture format on things, you can understand this is the worst way to work on textures, unless they are flatter areas, perhaps. Defiance’s textures, in particular, are chopped up so badly into little islands – Kain’s face is in like seven pieces and let’s not even talk about Raziel’s body and legs, which look like a child’s jigsaw puzzle – that it made trying to achieve what I wanted, which was to restore these characters to what we knew them to look like before, with all proper details in the right place, the hardest damn thing ever. You almost cannot ever make a line connect over those islands properly this way. Also, because you can’t see how the textures will be stretched and squished over the polygons, you cannot ever get a right brush stroke. This is why my lines were so thick on the first try at Kain’s cracks. Finally regarding the 2D texture problem: Photoshop’s look will never, ever look the same as the textures do on the model in the game, as far as lighting, color, saturation, contrast, etc.
The third problem is that I had to paint on them on my Mac, then transfer those file changes over onto the PC, and back again with pics of what needed to still be changed. This was a back and forth event all day long, in some cases. So, I’d paint them, bring them back into the game, try my damnedest to get a decent shot angle to view them at, and take pics… Rince, repeat – go insane. Vampmaster’s free camera, when I eventually found it, was a Godsend, but even it can only do so much. Lighting and other factors within the game just make that the worst way to really see what you’re doing, if everything worked, and it all just became more and more frustrating. I basically would call characters “finished” when I really had mostly grown tired of working on them. I’d show them off, get feedback, and eventually have to go over the characters again anyway… It was that often used and erroneously attributed quote on what insanity is: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Ok, it wasn’t that bad, as the characters did change for the better and progress was made, but it wasn’t professional yet, and it was taking literally forever.
Then, the marvel: I found a print screen method for capturing 3D models in any 3D model application, or game. I also found a great program for texture painting directly onto 3D models, also with links with Photoshop and back, where I could actually achieve the perfect angle, in the perfect lighting, and therefore, achieve every exact change I was trying for. This has been the next step, and yet as rewarding as it’s all been and I completely appreciate every kind word on the changes I’ve made over the year to the models and other ingame assets, or the critiques (as they’ve especially made all changes that much better for it), there’s always been the nagging realization within the back of my head. We all know that a game is not fully modable until you can alter models, and even the world. We’re not there yet, so as the models do look far better, they’re still the 2003 low poly models we have, and the textures, as great as it is what I can achieve with just those maps, are only the diffuse/color maps. There are none of the bells and whistles available that truly make a game start to blur the reality between realism and ingame, and those are the texture maps beyond that allow for depth, reflections, and spacial, ambient-true lighting and shadows.
I began to think. I began to ponder what else can be achieved and what I could strive for. I began to get a crazy, possibly totally insane ambition in my head. I would not know if any of it could be done until I knew if I could actually handle modeling a game character from scratch.
It turns out that I can. This opens up all sorts of new what-ifs now. My ambitions might far exceed what time, or other hindrances, allow, but I want to see if I can use the UDK kit from Unreal, and possibly even the RED kit engine from CD Projekt, to create my own world with my own 3D models of all the characters. What world? The actual world of Nosgoth. I began to think, if remaking BO1 is too much, people say, because it would be so huge, why not think of it differently? The games all happen within the same world, within the same map, essentially (if you look at the comprised maps made by fans of all of the games, anyway). Why not try and make the world of Nosgoth, and use portions of it to build the games individually within. You change a portion of the world in sections for different time periods, most notably the huge differences to it from BO1 to SR1.
It’s truly a lot to try for, especially because I have never programmed a game before, built a height map before, or animated a character before, ha! I haven’t modeled anything before, until I just did one now, though, and I was able to achieve a nearly, and I mean in the 90+ percent close, a recreation of a certain self-crowned king we all know and love. I’m going to be working hard to texture him up and animate him. I have a program that allows the piepline of animation to be greatly lessened in difficulty. It’s able to use the Kinect for Windows to capture your actual body movements and relay them as key frames to lay on any armature for a character. That can be transferred to 3DX Max, and also to UDK afterward. It also has the ability to play any spoken audio and transfer the speech pattern into information to animate the mouth of a character, so there are these options and there’s me learning all that I can. I am self-teaching myself (redundancy is so redundant, heh) all of this stuff, so I hope I can do so. I recently came upon some bugs and snags doing the detailing on the mentioned model. The forums for the program I use have helped a lot. If it weren’t for that, I would not have wasted last week about 4-5 days, but even so, it’s still not too bad and I hope that only all going forward will have such work-around available.
I have so much in my head, though, that I have to try. I mean, I have the ability to make music, too, and I have updated score possibilities running through my head. There’s so much in this noggin, that I have to get it out, somehow :p
We’ll see. This section aims to be an outlet for me to give progress reports. Perhaps in addition to my crazy thoughts, I will also go back into the Defiance texturing and report on that. Going forward, I hope not to write so much, as I can’t imagine you want me to relay my ever moment of the day, but this is an intro to what’s come before and how it’s laid the groundwork for the now. Basically, I’ve turned my quest to tell stories from one medium to another, and with this new format, I’m seemingly able to create an entire world from my head, if I so choose. This is the breakthrough I’ve undergone and one I hope will lead me on a path to where I can make it work.
Note that this in no way is meant to step on the toes of projects long in the works now, such as Blood Omicide, or Raina’s Soul Revenant. Indeed, both are trying to be as faithful to just recreating/improving the source games and styles as possible. Were I to be able to do the above, my goal would be to fuse the world into one whole, and would be its own beast, updated with an entire world to explore in different time periods, depending on the game section being run. I am not sure what can be achieved with it, fully, but we shall see.
I will also be using this all to put together portfolio packages which I hope gets me actual paid work one day. That would be lovely. The issues with my sleep and, ironically from doing this labor-intensive artwork – my back (which feels so compressed and in need of a chiropractor most days from all the sitting down and never moving I do now) might get in the way and need to be corrected. I have to gamble to work hard now in the hopes that I can prosper from it later, though. Through this journey, the ups and downs, I’ll try and keep this updated – possibly weekly, or bi-weekly – and will be showing images and, hopefully, video to come of what progress has been made.
No pics yet of things, as I want to finish everything first, but know that it’s going to be worth it when I do 🙂
Thank you for reading this all, if you took the time, or for stopping by here in general. I hope to report back with more good news and updates soon.
“One day, we shall return!”
~ The Hylden