3D modeling for Age of Empires II in Blender

Article written by Jan dc
Published on 05-16-2017; updated on 05-17-2017
Tags: Blender, Graphics Modding

3D Modeling in Blender:
» Introduction · Camera and Lighting · Proportions and Naming Conventions · Texturing and UV-Mapping · Modifiers · Tiled Roofs and Stone Walls · Rendering and Scripting

[Note: While my tutorials try to include as much as possible, their sole purpose is to teach how to adapt Blender techniques for Age of Empires purposes. Learning the Blender UI and its techniques is not included in this tutorial series and will need to be learned independently. Luckily there are plenty of tutorials for that to help you on the way.]

Introduction

So what does it actually take to create a 3D model and import it into Age of Empires II?

It is usually a long process which requires multiple programs and a reasonable amount of time, but to summarize it has more or less these following steps:

Beforehand:

  1. First you must come up with an idea of what you will be making.
  2. Second you have to do research and gather reference images to which to base your model on. Make sure that you have both images from up close, and images from afar, so you understand what the general shape/layout is, but also what its details exactly look like. It sounds trivial but it matters.
  3. Finally you have to look for textures or create the textures yourself. Bump maps and normal maps are also helpful as they vastly improve the way your textures look and add dept to your model. This step doesn't need to happen in advance, but it helps if you have an idea of what textures you want to use before starting on the actual model.

In Blender:

  1. Start blender up and load or create the basic setup, including the camera and lighting scene. Camera and Lighting Tutorial.
  2. First you must start by modeling the general basic shapes. Do not immediately start with the details because you are very likely to mess up the proportions and its much easier to adjust basic shapes than complex ones.Proportions Tutorial.
  3. Once you have the proportions right (you can do a quick render to compare), improve the model by adding more details and refine the geometric shapes further. For human models this can be sculpting its shape further, or adding belts or weaponry. For buildings it can be adding doors, windows, decorations,...
  4. When you're satisfied with your work, create the materials and textures in Blender. Here it is important to get the colors, diffuse and specular intensities right to mimic that Age of Empires look.
  5. Then do the UV-mapping of all the planes so the textures apply properly. If you want your textures to look good, this step is very important.
  6. Create the animations of your model (if included).
  7. Add the finishing touches (like indoor lighting or smaller eyecandy).
  8. And finally render the different layers and/or frames as png files.

In Photoshop (or Gimp):

In Photoshop you can use actions, batches and scripts to automate the following processes. I might add more information about this at a later stage.

  1. Open the rendered images and convert the images to the right palettes (Player color for the player color, grey for the ground shadow and the main palette for the rest.)
  2. You can further edit the images here but usually this is not necessary.
  3. Merge the images into one and save it as an 8 bit .bmp file.

In SLP Editor:

  1. Import the graphics into a new or an existing slp file. Make sure the player color and palette is correct before doing this (Hint: if you're having issues with player color, try rendering a purple player color instead.)
  2. Crop the image and adjust the anchor (if your Blender camera was correctly placed you don't have to change the anchor.)
  3. Save the image as a .slp file.

In DRS Editor (or DRS Build):

  1. Import the .slp files in the drs file your mod or game uses. This can be graphics.drs or gamedata_x.drs.
  2. Save the .drs file under the same name.

What You Need

Useful Blender Tutorials

That is about it. If you have questions, feel free to post them in the modding Q&A or in my blender thread in the modding section.


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3D Modeling in Blender:
» Introduction · Camera and Lighting · Proportions and Naming Conventions · Texturing and UV-Mapping · Modifiers · Tiled Roofs and Stone Walls · Rendering and Scripting