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Thread: The New Face of the Thief - a visual AI overhaul

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland

    The New Face of the Thief - a visual AI overhaul

    Hi everyone,
    I am like many others here - dragged back to Thief and Dromed after a long break thanks to the 1.19 patch. And a couple of other reasons for sure...
    I've been around for last month or so, quiet so far, but working on some stuff at the same time. And today I would like to announce the project I decided to undertake. I call it 'The New Face of the Thief' as it's all about new look of the characters in this game. I'm planning on remodelling characters to make them look like human creatures, with faces, fingers and generally more personality. Not only that, I would like to create some tools (scripts for 3dsmax) to overcome some dark engine limitations to minimize awful mesh distortions (better skinning). I would also like to investigate the possibility of creating more complex skeletons and fix some animation issues.

    Below is the video preview of a test character I have created so far. This isn't a finalised character - especially I was rushing with texturing and as a face texture I used some free sample from the website. But it gives you an idea of what level of details I am looking for. This model has 2293 polygons (4510 faces) and uses two 1024 x 1024 textures (body and head). An extra texture (512x512) might be required for characters with a long hair.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-J23lcJwxg

    In this video you can also see a number of problems which I would like to get rid of, if possible:
    - wide and sharp arms. A common known problem. It hurts eyes on female characters especially.
    - poor skinning causing mesh distortion - see his neck when he turns his head. Flat limit planes doesn't give any precision when it comes to skinning a dense mesh character, so I would like to use Skin modifier in 3dsmax, where you can paint the weights and then export those weights directly into .bin file. So this would be a replacement for meshbld.exe.
    - floating legs
    - poor looping of walking cycle
    - twitching arms (when he stretches arms, for instance)
    - weird twist of his thighs in certain animations
    - and possibly some others...
    The above issues were always present in Thief games, but were not that noticeable on lower resolution screens. Plus what was acceptable years ago doesn't look so beautiful nowadays....

    As you can guess of course, this project is quite a big task for one person, so I would like it to become a community project at some stage. The way I see it is that I would like to create a solid and consistent base for the models, textures and (hopefully) new skeletons. And also I would create tools for making it possible or just easier to achieve. And then a few people willing to help out could continue the job, so eventually we could deliver all the new AI meshes in a reasonable time space. I would also like to get some input from you guys at the concept stage - more on that in another thread.

    Let me know what you think.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    And the plan I made while ago - partially overlaps with the above, but it just has a better structure:

    The New Face of Thief:
    Goals:
    1)Replace original lowpoly and outdated AI meshes with better looking ones (hi-poly, hires textures)
    2)Create toolset for the community for easier creating new AI meshes of a higher standard for future FMs.


    Plan for the project:
    Research and Development stage:
    1) Gather all the knowledge of AI meshes modelling and animation creation process. Especially:
    - all files that are used, need to be modified or created (ie. .BIN, .CAL, .MAP, .MJO, .MC, .MI ...). Their function and internal structure.
    - all the existing tools (n3ds2e, mshbld, Motion Editor, Motion Database Editor, ...)
    2) Investigate possibility of creating new rigs or adding bones to existing ones. (ie. pony tails, more torso bones, some finger bones etc.). Find out if any changes in source code are necessary to remove any hardcoded limitations in that matter.
    3) Create new Mesh Export and Import tools for 3dsmax (Max Script). This includes alternative solution to Mshbld.exe, which would allow for better skinning meshes to bones, by using the Skin modifier in Max. This would make limit planes present in the AI Mesh files obsolete and entire process more stable.
    4) Create new Animation Export and Import tools for 3dsmax. (Max Script)
    5) Gather reference materials for the new AI look. This needs community input - knowledge of all Thief characters, their intended look, concept arts, etc.

    Production stage:
    6) Create key AI meshes and textures
    7) Release key AI meshes and all tools for community to continue work on rest of AI, maintainig the consistency and new, higher standard.
    8) Amend/Modify existing animations (also with community help):
    - to make them working with new rigs (if these are changed)
    - fix animation issues like floating legs, twitching limbs etc.
    - create variations of animations for women, fat people etc... (to accomodate for different body proportions)
    9) Relase the complete package – depending on the pace of work – either all at once or in themed batches (player arms, mechanists, hammerites, guards etc...)

    (sorry for the long post, but I hope it was worth reading )

  2. #2
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2007
    Location: LosAngeles: Between Amusements
    Wow. You're right. This is a LOT of work. Especially on top of the High Resolution texture and High Resolution Object efforts, I worry about diluting the limited talent pool by taking on too much at once. Already I am seeing people drifting off and onto their own projects (myself included). This would be awesome. I would be among the first to use the tools and processes you envision creating (assuming that they are Anim8or friendly). But I am over-committed right now and can't promise to help at this time.

  3. #3
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2002
    Location: College Place, WA
    Wow, it looks REALLY good! Though, the guy has kind of a creepy smile...

  4. #4
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Lost in the BSP...
    Grand conceptualization, superb results already in the alpha stage. Just genius. Sheer genius. I hope someone takes this up with you and runs with it. Who knows, in just a few short months we might have a whole new Thief on our hands, almost like it had been released in 2010 or something. Bravissimo!

    Sadly, I have not the skill nor the time. My 1.2 projects currently underway are more than plenty for me as well.

  5. #5
    Looks very cool! Great work already..

    hmm..Shadowspawn is the guy to talk to about all this..but not sure if he is still active at TTLG.

    On a semi-related note (not really ) I have an old Satyr mesh i did years ago in 3ds Max (it's not built in quads..bad bad i know..i was using Paul Steed's old book) that i could donate to this or other projects (could be skinned as a Trickster minion or whatever)..it's about 900 polys from memory.
    Can't really help much more than that as this is way outside my technical knowledge, but would just like to give a thumbs up

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Lost in the BSP...
    Schwaa (Jeff Knez) did some really awesome AI skinning. Yametha (I think it was her) did one of the ones for Seven Sisters, I believe (one of the topless AI). Those two would be invaluable. But alas, not around anymore.

  7. #7
    Member
    Registered: Nov 2001
    Location: Making baby lemonade
    That is simply stunning, PinkDot. I hope you're able to make progress on this project and get some assistance.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by PinkDot View Post

    (sorry for the long post, but I hope it was worth reading )
    Well it was, but it is really a BIG project certainly for at least a few people. Heh, I hope the 1.19 patch authors can read it and see how their job influenced others!

    I don't know MAX so I don't think I could be of help. I understand you've chosen MAX because that's your 3D tool, but it's not freely available. It's a rather expensive piece of software. I know MAX is a sort of industry standard, but on the other hand it limits the number of users that could give you a hand on this project.

    I hope someone will join your team to speed up progress. Your idea is already the most interesting post-1.19 project. Good luck mate!

  9. #9
    Very impressive PD.

  10. #10
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    Thanks for supportive words everyone.
    As for the software - 3dsmax is the application I work on everyday and have some scripting experience with it. Having those tools for Blender as well would be a great thing of course, as more hobbists seem to be using it, but that might be a task for somebody else. Once the tools work in 3dsmax then I could pass on all my knowledge.
    But anyway, I wouldn't be too concerned about the software. First of all - 3dsmax always come with trial version. If you're smart enough, you can keep changing them and get on with the trials for a long while. (I'm using Max 2012, but scripts should be compatible with a few versions back, I'd say).
    After all, this is not a commercial project. I'm sure I have seen some TTLG users making models with 3dsmax for Dark engine in the past.
    And secondly - even if you don't use Max, you can still create/modify models and textures in some other software and just get some 3dsmax user to skin it and export to the engine. So collaboration is still possible.


    Quote Originally Posted by Hit Deity
    Schwaa (Jeff Knez) did some really awesome AI skinning
    Not sure what you mean here. Did you mean - skinning as in creating new skins=textures? I was actually refering to skinning process, which is a part of rigging, which basically is assigning mesh vertices to the bones. LGS did it in some crude (but fast) way, by placing so called limit planes inside the AI mesh file, which separtes volumes of vertices for every bone. It worked OK for some low-poly meshes they did, but it's just too limiting and not precise enough for more detailed meshes. It needs to be replaced with more standard ways of doing it (like Skin modifier in Max).

    ------
    BTW. Here's all the AI meshes from Thief II in one scene, showing roughly the amount of work necessary:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAjDg...ature=youtu.be
    A lot of them would be just variations, so it shouldn't be too bad...

  11. #11
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2008
    Location: Finland
    yay! maybe we'll finaly see women AI that really look like women (has not actually ever happened in thief universe until now lol)

  12. #12
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    Yep, pretty women in Thief world is what really gets me going in this project.
    I think it would require creating a set of motions adjusted for different body proportions, so hands don't cut through the body etc. But if I manage to get animations imported and exported, I should be able to make variations not only for women, but for fat people, old, strong, weak and so on.

  13. #13
    Archivist
    Registered: Sep 2002
    Location: Following Dr Jones
    That's an ambitious project, PinkDot! Hope you can find the help you need. It would be great to see better texturing, more polys and fixed problems for all AI

    That video is both humurous and beautiful. I remember the library from the map you abandoned back in 2006. Now that making something this detailled in dromEd is less of an obstacle, do you expect to finish this project at some point?

    EDIT: just found your old vid with the walking monk.
    Last edited by The Phantom; 19th Nov 2012 at 06:12.

  14. #14
    Member
    Registered: Jan 2000
    Location: Pepperell, MA
    Those AI look fantastic! A VERY ambitious project.

    You mentioned better joints, animations, etc. One of the huge limits we had in the Dark Engine was pre-compiled torso restrictions. (Well, we guessed they were compiled into the engine, we never found any data in a DLL or library which contained the torsos).

    So, we can't add facial animations, individual fingers motions, or in fact any new joints.

    Now, I haven't had time to look into 1.19 yet, but maybe that restriction has been lifted? That would be very cool, but also a lot of work to add more joints to existing motions (or to remake a large number of motions).

    I have so little time nowadays, I mostly just lurk around TTLG when I can. Long hours at work and long commutes leave too little time for Dromed or Thief. (I haven't played a fan mission in 3 months).

    If I can answer any questions, I'll be glad to help.
    Shadowspawn's Thief Pages
    Darkness is always faster than light. No matter how fast light travels, it always finds the dark waiting for it.

  15. #15
    Vertical Contest Winner 2009
    Registered: Sep 2002
    Location: The Great White North
    those are very nice looking, from my experience with ai models, the shoulders stretch a lot due to the crucified shape of the models when they are built, versus when they drop their arms in game. i also found that the hands holding weapons were just lumps. some original models have very stretched or overlapped texture maps in places, so a refresh is very needed. most ai in new games use a single 1024x1024 map for everything with variety in faces provided on smaller separate maps.

  16. #16
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2009
    Location: Los Angeles, 2019
    Sounds like a great undertaking. My hat's off to you, Pinky.

  17. #17
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    Quote Originally Posted by The Phantom View Post
    That's an ambitious project, PinkDot! Hope you can find the help you need. (...)
    Thanks Phantom. It is ambitious indeed. And that's probably why I have decided to do it. Simple things, with easily forseeable results are beyond my interest, for some reason.

    I remember the library from the map you abandoned back in 2006. Now that making something this detailled in dromEd is less of an obstacle, do you expect to finish this project at some point?
    Hmm... I'm not sure. First of all - Haplo had used my abandoned missions recently, including the library one. And secondly - the current project will keep me busy enough for a long while, I'd say.
    But having said that, I don't say definitive 'No' to dromeding at some stage. The fact that I'm here again after a "strong" decision of not getting back to Thief universe anymore has taught me to be more careful with what I say...

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowspawn
    You mentioned better joints, animations, etc. One of the huge limits we had in the Dark Engine was pre-compiled torso restrictions. (Well, we guessed they were compiled into the engine, we never found any data in a DLL or library which contained the torsos).

    So, we can't add facial animations, individual fingers motions, or in fact any new joints.
    Could you go into a bit more details on the "pre-compiled torso restrictions"? I definitely don't have as much experience in this topic as you do, but I thought (hoped) that MAP and MJO files are what defines the joint structure.

    Now, I haven't had time to look into 1.19 yet, but maybe that restriction has been lifted?
    To whoever did the 1.19 patch - I hope you're reading this and plan on releasing a next version....!

    If I can answer any questions, I'll be glad to help.
    Thanks Shadowspawn! I definitely will have some questions to you. And I already use a lot of your knowledge, which you had shared over years with the Thief community.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ottoj55
    from my experience with ai models, the shoulders stretch a lot due to the crucified shape of the models when they are built, versus when they drop their arms in game.
    Yes, that's one of the reasons for sure. If they were at 45 degree, the distortion would be smaller (but those bloody limit planes would be more awkward to work with!). But I believe another thing is the crude vertices weighting. I managed to get more smooth shoulder, but then his armpits looked ridicoulous. I might actually post some screenshots of different versions I came through. Being able to transfer manual weighting from Skin modifier into .bin file should help in that matter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Albert
    Sounds like a great undertaking. My hat's off to you, Pinky.
    Cheers!

  18. #18
    Vertical Contest Winner 2009
    Registered: Sep 2002
    Location: The Great White North
    i'll send you the guards i did, you'll be able to see the improvement in the hands.

  19. #19
    Member
    Registered: Jan 2000
    Location: Pepperell, MA
    With the pre-compiled torsos, you'd have to go to the base of an AI class, and see what torso is assigned to it. ONLY AI whose joint map (MAP and MJO files) exactly match the torso can be connected to the game. (Really, Dromed has a fit and crashes). If you try and change the torso of a human to Constantine, it gives a warning about the joint map, then usually crashes.

    I'm working from memory, but frogs and burricks share the same torso. The Constantine torso is a biped torso with a tail. The spider torso is pretty unique. I believe craymen were just plain bipeds, like most everything else in the game. Guards with swords, Hammerites, and regular humans all use the same joint map. The end of the weapon counts as the RFinger joint, but in an unarmed human, its on the right hand. But they all have the same joint map.

    So, I don't know if the torsos were expanded in 1.19. I'll have to try and get a chance to look at it. If there is a way to expand it, then we could add joints to AI and create more motions. If not, we'll be somewhat limited in what we can do. But your project to beautify the AI is still worth doing (and it'll probably be plenty of work in its own right).

    On a note to save yourself headaches - I created a bunch of pirate meshes for a mission that never went anywhere. I made sure the faces and hands were mapped to the same texture name, another texture for the body (even if they come from the same texture), and had the weapon mapped to a texture name.
    Then I could go in Dromed and remap the textures per AI. So, I could change the faces and hands of all the pirate meshes to any texture which has the face in the same place. (Nice to have standard texture layout).

    So, with making one mesh, I had about 20 pirates I could create. Some also had shiny swords, other were rusty. All by simply remapping the texture in Dromed. (I think it's the texture remap function under Renderer - but I can't quite remember).

    That could save time if you can arrange the mapping that way.
    Shadowspawn's Thief Pages
    Darkness is always faster than light. No matter how fast light travels, it always finds the dark waiting for it.

  20. #20
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    Quote Originally Posted by ="Shadowspawn"
    With the pre-compiled torsos, you'd have to go to the base of an AI class, and see what torso is assigned to it. ONLY AI whose joint map (MAP and MJO files) exactly match the torso can be connected to the game. (Really, Dromed has a fit and crashes). If you try and change the torso of a human to Constantine, it gives a warning about the joint map, then usually crashes.
    OK, I get what you mean now. BTW. I think there are two ways the term 'torso' is used in Dark Engine - similar but not the same. One, in the MJO file, it referes to joints which have limbs connected to it. For example biped has two torsos - jabdomen and jbutt (names from the top of my head).
    But there is also word 'torso' used in the motion data files and it referes to overall joint structure type. (= creature type). I just saw a property in Dromed called Creature Type, which basically has the list of all joint structures, but as you're saying it seems to be hardcoded. I can't see any external file, which Dromed reads this from. So that would be a part that needs some work for the next patch - giving Dromed ability to of adding new set of joints.

    So it seems like currently there's not much I can do about that. I think I'll stick to the joints structures we have for the time being and do as much as I can with them.

    So, with making one mesh, I had about 20 pirates I could create.
    Yes re-using is the way to go on a massive scale, but I don't know if I want to take such a shortuct in this project. Because of the higher amount of detail in the models, we can't get away easily with having loads of identical models and just swapping textures. I mean we could but it would be a bit of wasting the possibilities, which higher details bring. So even if I re-use the same model for let's say every guard, I will still modify it slightly, so no two models are identical. Especially faces. Then people can create variations of these models and textures for their projects, if they want to.
    Also - for the faces I think every one will have to have slightly different UVs. I'm going to use photos as base for the textures, and I find it much easier to adjust UVs to match face features in the texture rather than photoshopping the texture to match UV layout.
    But let's see how it goes in practice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ottoj55
    i'll send you the guards i did, you'll be able to see the improvement in the hands.
    Thanks Otto - I'll have a look at them tonight.

  21. #21
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2007
    Location: LosAngeles: Between Amusements
    If you want, I can send you my Keeper Elders (T3 style) and skeleton AIs. The Keepers are no great shakes, but The Skeletons aren't half bad, and now that the textures can be high res, the the numbers used can be reduced. Let me know if you want them.
    Last edited by LarryG; 20th Nov 2012 at 13:30.

  22. #22
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2001
    Location: Ireland
    One thing which you need to bear in mind when making replacement models is that some FMs only supply new textures without supplying the associated model.

    If the FM's textures don't map correctly onto the new replacement model, then you'll have a problem.

  23. #23
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2009
    Location: Los Angeles, 2019
    Yeah, and although FMSel's FM loading system may alleviate that somewhat, it'll require more HDD usage on the player's part. Well, not an insane amount, but the number of custom characters based off the old vanilla models is pretty big, at least.

  24. #24
    Member
    Registered: Oct 2004
    Location: Ireland/Poland
    Quote Originally Posted by LarryG View Post
    If you want, I can send you my Keeper Elders (T3 style) and skeleton AIs. The Keepers are no great shakes, but The Skeletons aren't half bad, and now that the textures can be high res, the the numbers used can be reduced. Let me know if you want them.
    Hi Larry - yeah, if you could send them on to me I'll be happy to have a look at them. I can remember some hipoly skeleton model seen on this forum while ago - it must be your one.
    The first phase of the project would be just a replacement of the native characters however and I don't think there is a skeleton in there, but it might be useful for the haunt or some zombie or just serve as an inspiration in some other way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nameless Voice
    One thing which you need to bear in mind when making replacement models is that some FMs only supply new textures without supplying the associated model.

    If the FM's textures don't map correctly onto the new replacement model, then you'll have a problem.
    For this reason I am not going to make this replacement pack backwards compatible with all the FMs. It's just impossible to have brand new models with the same UV layout. Of course, technically I could try to fit into the standard AI texture layout, but quality wise there would be a little benefit - lots of stretching, duplicated legs and arms, no room for extra details etc. So this is going to be a replacement for the native Thief II characters only plus something that can be used by FM authors for their future FMs. New skins and model modifications will be possible of course.
    I would imagine, that because of the size (mainly due to high res textures), entire AI replacement pack would be a separate download and FM authors would have to specify in readme file, whether it's necessary or not.
    Last edited by PinkDot; 21st Nov 2012 at 03:20.

  25. #25
    That looks ace! Excellent work, sir.

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