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Topic Subject: Modding Buildings with 3D Models Easily and for Free (Approved)
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posted 08-07-10 09:36 PM CT (US)   
This article has been approved and can now also be read at the University. - Felix36

Recently I've become involved in modding again after a brief absence from the scene. I used to mod my buildings like most everyone did, with cut and paste AoK

graphics or imports from other games. And while those graphics can look great, there are 3 major drawbacks:

1. They take absolutely forever to make
2. The variety of architecture, color, and texture is very limited.
3. It's about impossible to get the perspectives, shading, and, shadows perfect, and the more complicated the building, the more impossible it is.

So upon my return in interest to modding, I've been doing 3d modelling instead. Jorgito and I are using predominantly 3ds Max to do the buildings for the Tales of Middle Earth mod. It's a great powerful program used by a lot of professionals. Of course, there's a couple issues with it... Like the facts it isn't user friendly and it costs about one small fortune. So if you don't have access to it already, going out and buying it is not a real option. If you do have access, it may have too steep a learning curve for you to bother with.

This is where Google Sketchup comes in. It's free, unless you are determined to get the Pro version, in which case get that small fortune ready again. It's extremely user friendly, and pretty powerful as well. I've been using it alongside 3ds Max to make a lot of shapes or structural pieces quickly and easily. Jorgito told me he did as well, and suggested I should write up a tutorial. So here's a really basic intro to a basic program that will have you making high quality building graphics faster than before, and it's pretty fun to use along the way.

What You Need
Google Sketchup free version
Adobe Photoshop or another image editing program (Paint will work for most things).

Step 1: Installation and setup
Install google Sketchup (duh). Your program will look something like this. Okaaaaay, maybe not really.

I've cutomized mine, so there are some toolbars you won't see, and the baclground is neon pink in mine so the model stands out more. You can fool with your options to find what suits you. Also ignore the circled stuff for the moment.

First you will need to add a few toolbars and setting I have though. Go to Windows->Shading like this. Set the time to noon, the date to August 1, and check both the 'display shadows' and 'use sun for shading' boxes. Adjust the light and dark sliders as you wish for each model. Mine are set at 80 for light and 25 for dark atm, but I change them to get the correct look a lot. Seeing as you have no model, use 80 and 25 for now.

Next you will want to add some toolbars. Go to view-> toolbars and add these toolbars:
Getting Started

Some of those are probably already up. You will add others later probably, but that's fine for now. One last thing. You need to set the camera. Click Camera->Standard Views-> Left, then go back and click Camera->Standard Views->ISO. Also make sure Parallel projection is selected and not perspective under the View tab. You can change the camera as you mod, but always come back to this one as the one to render on. That's all. Onto the modding!

Step 2: Basic tools
Right, back to the circles in the first screenshot. The green circle is the basic drawing tools. Your circles, squares, and polygons are here. If you need a shape not exactly present, you'll be making that with the line and arc tools. Standard stuff, let's try it out...

Start with a square in the x-y plane. It's the same idea for any shape. Click that square button in the draw toolbar, and make a square or rectangle like


Simple yes? Remember it's the same idea for any of the drawing tools in the drawing toolbar. Click once to start a shape, line, or arc, drag to chosen size, click to stop. For the arc we will need to drag and click a third time to specify the arc radius.

Now, notice the two little red circles in that first screenshot? That's the seclect and erase tools. They do exactly what you think they do. Copy, paste, drag selection, they all work as you would imagine. It's all very intuitive.

The yellow circle shows the camera changing tools, you can zoom, orbit, pan, etc. You will need these as you mod to view your model from different angles, to zoom in for details, you get the idea. More simple stuff.

Now we'll get to the actual 3d stuff

Step 3: Making 3d shapes
The last toolbar circled in that photo is circled in blue, nd these are the tools you will do the cool stuff with. There's move, rotate, and scale tools; again the names tell you all there is to know. The three other tools is what we will use to turn our square we made into a building.

The second tool in that bar is the push/pull tool, and it might be your most used tool. click on any surface, then move your mouse to push that surface in or pull it out, then click to finish. Lets pull the square we made to make it into a box like this:

Now we have a 3d shape which can be modelled with. We can use the drawing tools to draw on all faces of our box.

Above is a montage of six screens because I got tired of taking screenshots. I'll be referring to it from now on. Notice how I've gone ahead and drawn on two different faces in the first image. Also, I've added a half circle along the edge at the bas of the box. All I have used for this step is the line and arc tools discussed above.

In the second screen of that image, I used the push/pull tool to raise the semicircle to form a balcony and to push away the triangle to make a roof. Done the same way as making the box was.

The third part of the storyboard shows the Offset tool, which is the last tool in the modification toolbox. I used it to make a larger semicircle on top of the balcony, and a smaller doorway within the door I drew on the other side of the building. Same click to start, move the mouse, click to finish method for this tool as well. Step four shows how I pulled the larger semicircle up to make a ledge and pushed the door in and the frame out. Again, same Push/Pull tool.

The only other modification tool we haven't used is the 'Follow Me' tool. This is just like the push/pull tool, but it can follow any drawn path instead of just going straight. In step four I drew another smaller smeicircle on the floor of my balcony and drew an arch along the wall that starts at the center of my little semicircle.

Using the Follow Me tool, I click on the semicircle, then follow the arch to make the round arch seen in step 5.

And that's about it, those are all the major tools. Much like how the AoK editor is a few simple triggers combined in countless ways, Sketchup has just a few tools conbined for countless shapes. The more fluent you get with it the more shapes you will learn to make.

Step 4: Texturing
In the last segment of that storyboard I've gone ahead and added some textures to the faces of the model. Click the little bucket icon on the getting started toolbar to access Sketchup's textures. There's quite a few, but you can add your own or ones you download. Just choose to create a new texture and import your texture map in jpg format. You can adjust how your texure is used by choosing to edit a texture, then adjusting brightness, color, and sizing.

Step 5: Rendering and Bitmap Conversion
Now the simple stuff-well, it's all been simple so far. Zoom in or out until your model is the desired size. You can just use window's snipping tool if you are really lazy to grab the image, or you can save as a few different 2d image file formats.

One last hurdle remains. Your image is not in 256 color format, which AoK requires. You can convert it with any image editing program. If using paint, just copy and paste your building into an AoK bitmap. Be warned paint is garbage for palette conversion and will probably ruin your image.

If you use Photoshop, here's a quick method:
1. Load an aok bitmap such as one exported from MPS
2. Go to Image -> Mode -> Color Table...
3. Save the palette as 50500.act or name of your choice
4. Load your new building into photoshop
5. Go to Image -> Mode -> Indexed Color.
6. For palette select custom and then load your saved .act file.
7. Set the diffusion % to the one that looks best. Often this is 100% but not always.

Now you have your building in 256. Try not to cry that it doesn't look as awesome as it did in 24 bit color. Only thing you will need to do is recolor the whole shadow to black. Paint works just fine for this.

Tips and Suggestions
>>>Fiddle with the shadow colors to get the building looking just right. I originally didn't think rendering in sketchup could ever look right, but here's an old tower I did a while back re-rendered in sketchup. The lighting seems about right to me.

>>>Watch for reversed faces. if a face is reversed, it will show up a different color than the usual white of an untextured face. Typically it will be a bluish color, depending on what your style settings are. Fix reversed faces by using the select tool, right clicking, and choose the reverse face option.

>>>Make a square about the size of one aok tile in your model. For towers and walls, use this square. For houses, use a two by two block of these squares. Barracks and Archery ranges use a 3x3 square, etc. It makes proportioning and designing arcitecture easier.

>>> Copy and paste architecture. AoK modellers reused pieces of architecture within a building set, and you can too. Copy a tower you put on your monastery and use it on an archery range. Save time and keep consistency all at once.

>>> When first learning the program, go to Window->Instructor. A little window will come up that shows you how to use each tool as you choose it.

>>> I don't render in this program much anymore, but I think the ISO camera may be a little bit off. Check your buildings against AoK ones, and if you find the angle is a touch out of whack, use the orbit tool to manually adjust it a little.

>>> Paste stuff like barrels or weapons that you cut out from AoK graphics onto your 2D graphics to add an 'AoK' feel.

>>> If you have any questions, feel free to ask here!

"And Matt is a prolific lurker, watching over the forum from afar in silence, like Batman. He's the president TC needs, and possibly also the one it deserves." - trebuchet king

[This message has been edited by Felix36 (edited 03-06-2013 @ 12:44 PM).]

posted 05-02-13 02:36 PM CT (US)     51 / 64  

Wall and tower from aok Texture, rest is Sketchup, but i far away from the aok look.

Mr Wednesday do u want to share with us a tut for rendering with 3ds max!?
posted 05-02-13 02:49 PM CT (US)     52 / 64  
I'm not sure that Matty uses 3DS Max...
posted 07-20-13 05:20 PM CT (US)     53 / 64  
I got SketchUp made a building (Teutonic themed bridge) and got Turtle pack as a image editor. However, it only can convert bmp files, and my building is saved as a skp. Any suggestions as to how I can convert it so it can be used in AoE ii?

[This message has been edited by Artur Hawkwing (edited 07-20-2013 @ 05:21 PM).]

posted 11-10-13 08:50 AM CT (US)     54 / 64  
posted 07-01-14 12:39 PM CT (US)     55 / 64  
Would you be able to do a tutorial for 3ds Max and Photoshop? This is the only Age of Empires 2 building retexture tutorial that I have found.
posted 07-01-14 07:06 PM CT (US)     56 / 64  
I have found that in 3ds max (but Im sure this applies to 3d programs in general) that you tend to get better results by letting the geometry make the texture in most cases, with a combination of very basic maps. Most of the detailed brick textures for example do not jive with the aok style. If you closely at the buildings in AOK you will see that there is not a lot of texture there, this is clear when you look at the wood portions of buildings for example. Long story short, try not to worry about the texture too much, it is games where the polygon count matters that texture is most important.

If you look at my thread here you will see that in the beginning of the tread I was relying on detailed maps and it wasnt looking too good, but then I decided to do the stone structures brick by brick, this gave a better result and made the texturing easy (its just a mostly grey base material), and now using this method I have more control because I can manipulate the "texture" via the geometry. Hope that helps, good luck.
posted 07-02-14 10:59 AM CT (US)     57 / 64  
Would you be able to link me to your thread? What you have just told me though has drastically improved the look of my buildings. Thanks.
posted 07-02-14 02:55 PM CT (US)     58 / 64  
posted 07-05-14 04:32 PM CT (US)     59 / 64  
I am sorry if I am exploiting this thread as it is a tutorial on Sketup, but I have 3ds Max questions. This thread has had little activity recently so I can't see any harm.

I am VERY new to 3ds Max, a couple of hours. I got the student version for the purposes of making 3-D models for Age of Empires 2. Is it possible to put a .png image of a terrain texture on the grid in 3ds Max in order to size up models? So, for example, could one import g_bch_00_COLOR.png (a terrain .png) into 3ds Max and have it flat on the floor in order to represent the size of one in-game tile?

Lastly, how does one create a lighting and camera setup that parallels that of Age of Kings?

Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks.
posted 07-06-14 02:32 PM CT (US)     60 / 64  
For a new user, it will probably be a painstaking process getting a a perfect AOK template for 3ds max. There is a template in the blacksmith that is far from perfect, but it does have the correct scale. I suggest downloading and playing with that. I also plan on putting out a template in the coming days.
posted 04-10-16 04:01 AM CT (US)     61 / 64  
Can someone tell me how do you manage to convert your rendered building image into 256 format without loosing quality?
My building end up like this
It is made in Sketchup and rendered in Kerkythea.
posted 01-02-17 01:23 PM CT (US)     62 / 64  
But does Sketchchup has a bump mapping? And also is it to possible to model buildings like Portuguese Wonder or Tzontlimixtli's Indian castle where individual bricks are visible in the facade?
posted 02-24-17 10:35 PM CT (US)     63 / 64  
I finished my own 3d design few days ago. It was converted to BMP format with the correct palette but when I took it to the turtle pack the player color did not change. How can I fix it?
posted 01-05-19 09:02 AM CT (US)     64 / 64  
Images please

-\\ Legendary Edition //-
Total conversion coming soon
Enhanced Interface Edition
Sounds of Empires
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