Friday, April 13, 2012

all signs point to yes

We're coming up on the third anniversary for Sims 3. My personal adventures in creation is nearing its second anniversary. Officially in May, but of course, I have been dabbling for a bit longer than that. I had aspirations to do more than just recolors, but I never really thought I would get to the 'next level' of creation.

While my creation skills have improved, I still don't really play the game to its fullest. I read at The Sims Daily about different games using mods to include a working university, functioning stores, the works. It's very impressive. Quite unlike my own game . . . never have I explored making a band or tried to Detective profession. I only recently went to a bar and while it was considered a 'dive' bar, it was entirely too clean and the wolf 'beer' sign was a little on the sad side.

I lived in Boston during college and many years after. It's an old city if you've never been - one that shows it's age and feels it's age in many ways. Perhaps it is landmarks like the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square that help make it feel like it will always have its foot in the past. Whatever it is - it left a profound mark on me and perhaps that explains a lot of the way I style things.

Back in March, someone at  TSD made a WCIF post asking for neon signs for a Times Square sort of feel. I had drawn up some ideas in August 2011 for what I would have loved to create for the game to improve upon my dive bar experience, save adding some passed out sims in the back alley. The problem was, I was thinking about how I wanted to create them and was stuck upon only one approach. I will confess to being rather narrow minded sometimes about a way of making something only to realize much later that I could have saved myself 40 or so steps. Live and learn. The signs, I was convinced, needed to drawn in illustrator - a program that is not the most intuitive to me - I feel like being left handed and drawing right handed with a mouse is laughable. Solution? A Wacom Bamboo tablet of course . . . or so I thought. While it's a very clever and interesting device, tracing my drawing was neither exact nor easily editable in illustrator. So, onto the back burner it went. I should mention that there are a number of ideas that I am still waiting to execute and some go back to October 2010, so this past August is really no big deal.

Hearing the request however, I realized I could simply mesh them and save myself 39 steps of the 40 I usually over take, which of course, lead to more ideas for the set. The two original drawings were of a cat and an elephant. I had wanted something like 'The Pink Pussycat' and the "Pink Elephant" The Pussycat could work for a nightclub and the Elephant a dive bar - I hadn't really sussed out uses - just had the desire for something for downtown type lots and something that spoke to a seedier side of life - a sort of anti-Sunset Valley.

The drawing is possibly more clear that the tusks are a handlebar mustache
and the cat's tail and ears are horns and a halo
I was excited to get started and after a couple of attempts (and subsequent crashes without saving) I rethought the design. Originally I was aiming for an outline and I was not entirely impressed with how it was looking. Try three, the cat was looking pretty good. I had envisioned the cat glowing, but for the sake of realism, it made more sense to make the cat a solid with backlighting - much like a vintage sign.

The elephant was definitely somewhat inspired by the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square, Boston. I wanted (within reasonable polys) neon lights across the background. I also wanted for it to have a real martini glass which again - nods back to vintage signs that were a lot more creative and fun.

The problem was that these were going to be complicated meshes and being limited to three channels for coloring would seem a little on the lame side. I couldn't really make this an overlay trick and while there are ways to add many colors using the multiplier, it would have required many multipliers and no customization to the degree I still wanted a user to have. Taking a sign from the Late Night expansion would limit who could use the sign and I realized too that while you can add a light source to nearly anything, it is still not technically a light that you can fiddle with (and yes, there is a way around that too - but it would still need Late Night to work). Sometimes creating means having a hand tied behind your back . . . or does it?

About the time I was finishing the meshes (and after already testing the Late Night method) I noticed at MTS that there were some new items that had four channels where before they were only three. How were people getting this to work? I noticed that people were thanking a program I had already tried working with - but this was a new version that allowed a fourth channel to be added to any object. TextureTweaker3 by Inge at SimsLogical is this brilliant little program that allows you to (exactly as the name would lead you to believe) tweak the patterns in a package file. Key words - PACKAGE FILE. In other words - plays well with S3PE and S3OC. Workshop would be a challenge. I asked around to the creators that I know if anyone had tinkered with the program and no one had really heard of it, so it was up to me to figure this out.

Have I ever mentioned that I am not a tech-head? Assuming that there was some way for me to use the S3PE plugin with workshop, I inquired (after mustering up all my courage to ask [have I mentioned I am painfully shy?]) how this could work with TSRW. Always helpful, it was explained by Inge how to do it and off I went to try. Worked great - or so I thought. Once in game, the description was gone as well as the title. I make the silly assumption that this was a TT3 error. I tried again and this time it worked - well, it sort of worked. I had to edit the file one more time and now only the title remained - the description disappeared. Something was clearly wrong.

Where this was a new program, and I am familiar with TSRW, I still came to the conclusion that something was wrong with TT3. I could see the description clearly when I looked at the package file in S3PE, but it wouldn't show in game. Inge disagreed and blamed Workshop. Upon reflection, I have to agree. So, I decided to try a few tests to see if I could figure out when the problem happens.

Near as I can tell (and this is not foolproof) it comes down to timing and how 'fresh' the program is feeling. If you open and clone a new object in Workshop, change the description and title initially, export to TT3, delete the contents of the file in workshop, import the file back post tweak, save and close the file only to reopen it and make all of your edits - the chances are greater (read, not great, just greater) that you'll end up getting the description and title to save to the file. If you change just the title or description first (not both) whichever you've changed has a great chance of remaining, but the other will probably not show up. If you make all of the changes including importing your mesh, changing textures and settings and then tweaking the file, there is a 50% chance (that's a guess mind you) that your file will be borked. In fact - you may not even have the mesh still attached to the file correctly. Near as I can tell, Workshop (at least for me - though so many people talk about opening a file, making corrections and exporting it as a new file and having it supposedly work) simply does not like copies of copies. To export the file you are sending out a clone (a copy). You then import this copy back into workshop and it can either love it or hate it - Workshop is borderline personality. Then to make all sorts of changes like adding groups and changing light settings - if it doesn't crash between getting it back into workshop, saving, closing, opening and editing and then exporting (a new copy of an already copied file) - then there is only a chance that it will work correctly.

Now - as if it is not hard enough to judge scale and height, guess light and neon intensity, gauge pattern scale, to then add new groups, adjust all those settings and THEN export the damned thing - to have all that work be undone by a stupid glitch that cannot be fixed (even when it is clearly visible when looking at the file in S3PE) or even to find its source to correct it - all for the sake of a sim3pack that no one will let die gracefully and continue to cling to with a death-rattle grip? Aside from the obvious need for a sim3pack from EA official items (which can also be bypassed and made a package file) and countertops (that I have in my own game in great moderation due to my hatred for the sim3pack) - there is simply no need for a sim3pack for this game. NONE. (Don't even begin to tell me about CAP patterns)

Did I mention too that half the time, something about the footprint borks and the signs won't snap to a wall? That's an entirely different problem and one that I simply don't understand being a non-tech-head.I am assuming it has to do with the bounding box so as along as I either don't update the footprint or use a preprogrammed size like 1x3 or 1x1 it appears to clear up the problem.

So now I am left with a few options. Make these items Late Night compatible as I originally thought I would need to, lessen the number of channels to three and screw it all, or continue to try to export these files over and over again until one works correctly. Being a masochist, I have been attempting option three. I like having things be base game compatible and I like having all the channels open on these signs. However, I am at a point that I simply want to give up on this foolish set.

The amount of times that one has to load these things in game to see if anything needs to be adjusted (and about 99% of the time, something does) is just tiresome - to have all these additional problem that apparently cannot be solved all for the sake of a sim3pack seems, well, cray-cray. Never have I claimed to be not crazy, so blindly I will probably continue to try.

So the set started with the cat and elephant. I wanted to do a large magnifying glass and a fortune teller sign - I knew I wanted some sort of boutique sign that could be simple/clean - I also wanted some sort of marquee overhang and I really wanted some sort of tall three story type sign, but it was suggested to me a few signs that I had not considered - tattoo parlor, a salon, possibly something for the paranormal career (which I am calling the fortune teller sign - I hated the paranormal career and did not want to make a ghost buster-esque sign). A few pictures have been posted to twitter already, but here are just a few sneak peeks:

Based on the coffee shop down the street from my home in EAV
A salon sign - this will also include a non-neon version
The magnifying glass, the tattoo sign, the Holy Hellcat sign
From the other angle
The overhead marquee with extension side panels (one tile) to be as small or large as you want
The not as tall as I originally thought building marquee sign
While there are a few more, I don't want to give away all the set just yet. More problems - you can clearly see that the lighting is limited to the first floor. A major upset - I attempted to program in a light source well above the signs and sadly - it just made the first floor brighter. This is a problem with EA lights too so I am not too concerned about that. There are the buydebug lights that allow for wall lighting and room lighting and become invisible in 'live' mode. While it would be nice to have a shift-capable orb light that could be placed at any height - no one has made one and I doubt EA gives a rats ass about that.

Here you can see the buydebug wall light on the left, on the right no light on the top,
but the light is being used at the bottom.
Getting the settings on the buydebug lights to be equal to the light settings is nearly impossible. While it is often close - that horrible line is still visible on some level. Part of the problem is that when programming a light it gets dimmer towards the 'floor' so even if you could set them exactly the same - the level of light is not the same at all heights on the floor you're lighting.

One more request at TSD was for Lunar Lakes which I have not actually opened to look at. I have only observed pictures of it - I will need to take photos in LL when I release the portal marker that was requested. I need to reclone it and add some additional markers for the equestrian center, subways, the movie lot, and the sky diving center.

the 'neon' can be made to be any color - one blank just in case
This portal marker hopefully helps those who don't appreciate the 20(?) unmarked portals that came with Lunar Lakes. I thought this was 'space age' enough that it would work nicely within that world. This will probably be recompiled and released on its own. While I wanted to release it at both MTS and TSR given that my little corner of the web is not especially popular with the entire sims community - I didn't want to take the chance that it would not be accepted at one over the other and appear to have chosen 'sides' in the community war of us vs. them. It's bad enough that there is even 'sides' to begin with but to appear to be on one of them was simply an unbearable thought. I need to thank Megativity from TSD/LS/BPS for locating the community lot icons. I was clueless and even though Inge tried to tell me where they were located, upon opening the UI.package, I couldn't find them? She tried. I am hopeless. I will continue to make pretty things and leave the programming to the pros.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The evolution of a design

You probably are already aware that I have been looking for a new job. After a while of searching for another frame job (and dreading it) I came to the conclusion that I need to simply step away from that field. Not only have a significant amount of shops closed their doors during this extended economic decline, I am competing for  greatly lowered waged jobs against all the displaced framers. While one would hope that talent really gets you the work, it's honestly is a personality contest and most of us see ourselves a little different than we actually project. While I consider myself 'precise' and 'detailed' these traits can be read on my face as 'aloof' and 'distant' - 'detailed' can further be broken down to 'OCD' and 'byzantine' depending on who's doing the reading. I think we're all a little layered - what is on our surface isn't exactly what lies within, but you have a short amount of time to expose yourself to a prospective employer and sweet and jovial usually get the job. For the record, 'sweet' translates to me as 'uneducated' or 'inexperienced' and 'jovial' translates to 'slacker' - see - we all judge each other. Kudos.

I had a great interview yesterday with a company I am very hopeful to join in some capacity, but I allowed the people around me to help me with some decisions. This is a job I really, really wanted and wanted to do it right. Every decision I made was questioned and I will stop here to say - I listened because I haven't actually had anyone call me back in such a long time it is staggering - I needed feedback. I ended up bringing very little from my portfolio because so much of the actual graphic work I have done gets laser copied (or worse - photocopied) onto maybe nice paper and that's that. All my hard work that I was badgered to do gets cheaply produced and often I don't even get a hard copy - my one stipulation for my often greatly discounted rates. The other items that did not come with me were from a number of years ago and I regret not bringing them. While this position is for mostly web work, I think seeing a wide range of style would have been a good thing.

One of the items I did bring a printout of one card that was done and I was very proud of (I think knowing that this was such a massive struggle to get the client to see it was a good design and 'won' that argument finally in the end). This was with a long standing client and his new venture (which, sadly, as quickly as his idea seemed to swell in interest, it deflated as quickly). I explained the evolution of the designs, but none of this was presented - I actually didn't have print copies of all the changes from beginning to end. Kind of stupid on my part, but it wouldn't even occur to me to post declined concepts - they are the things that people simply don't ever get to see so in my head that was one hell of a big job, but the results come down to one post card. In fact - the amount of work that went into this particular job went almost completely unrewarded because 'it was just a postcard' that ended up being printed. There was a banner (that was cheaply printed by Kinkos [still waiting on that photograph]) but all the variations that were tested and declined - all solid work - has never been seen.

Designing a logo is in my opinion one of the hardest things to do for someone (think of Coke and then think about when they changed their logo and people were utterly pissed - this might live with you for the rest of your businesses life, so a logo has to be solid), it has to start somewhere. Taking the name and typing it out in different typefaces is usually what I end up doing. I am trying to see what catches my eye and where patterns start to form. The company name was Coco Creamery. All natural coconut frozen dessert. For those of you who are also lactose intolerant, this stuff was so much like ice cream you'd cry (and I did) trying it for the first time. So even the name had a good sound to it and the Coco in my head being a set of redundant letters formed a pattern immediately.

The very first designs for the company - I even thought I would include a 'cap' design that could also be adapted for the front of the container. Not the most creative idea, but still - something in the direction of where it could go - an idea that could be built upon. Logo great!  Label - hate it. What is that - it looks like a turd.

Okay. It was just some image I found off the internet of a coconut, clearly we'd need to photograph something but you get the idea, right? No . . . I still hate it.

They can't all be winners and clearly there was nothing to build upon for the client so back to the drawing board. What would the flavors be - that might inspire me some.

Take two. So much of the stuff being presented to me was tropical sounding, so I decided to go with palm trees. Being a white boy from New England - if you said 'tropical' I think Palm Tree. Call me stupid, but I go there.
Okay - we're a little closer - this wasn't such a venomous response this time. Looks a little weird but we're getting there. Looking at it today - I think it's a lot weird and I still like the first one better, but perhaps I am desensitized to turds being a dog owner. So, back to the drawing board.
 
Now - this . . . this was solid. Not only was the design liked, we went through and designed every flavor. There were I think six flavors at this point - soon to be nine. While universally, everyone liked the designs, there was a new problem. There was a new rum on the market and they had a logo that was sort of the same. In researching it, I did find something that would put you to mind of it, but this was so different that it should not have been too big of a concern. No, no - let's scrap all this and go with something else. Let's start with a new logo.

Right.

At the time I was kind of fascinated with the periodical chart. Solid simple design. Efficient. So - I proposed I be allowed to just go a little coocoo for coco and present a completely different idea - no tropics involved - just the science.
I first presented the new logo idea and it was a passable design for the moment contingent on the whole look. I liked this new concept - it added the coconut as a subliminal in the O's and it felt contained and like a brand.
The concept was actually that the containers be completely white with this narrow little label on the front and a similar nutritional breakdown label for the back - possibly even smaller - we never got that far. This . . . now THIS was exciting. This is definitely what we are going to do. Went through the whole process of photographing everything for the business plan - bowls of icy goodness and the pints with labels.
Nearly everyone was on the same page - everyone was excited and then the little voice of doubt stepped in. Is this a chocolate product? Coco - most people think of cacao when they see coco. Maybe this isn't the best name for a company after all.

Back to the drawing board.

By this time this was actually being produced here in Atlanta at a known ice creamery. Won't get into the politics of this at all - I will never quite understand it, but that company said that they wanted their logo on it if they were going to serve it. Their logo was a train wreck that attempted to have the same sort of carefree nature of Ben and Jerry's - a stupid airplane that made no sense when it comes to frozen dessert. We're changing the name to NiceCream and it needs to use this truck full of ugly incorporated into the look.

I was frustrated and the client has a friend who does really big name designs (like a Kill Bill website et cetera - highly sought after) and he liked the name and started trying different typefaces and suggested a few but really expressed an interest in one particular typeface. He also added three dots above the 'I' in Nice - so see - even a big name wanted a subliminal towards the coconut - I am not a dunce after all.

Version 5 comes along. Back to a round label for the lid of a pint.
I decided the name needed movement to mimic the foolish banner the airplane was carrying and then a new slogan was added. I decided to create a lemniscate (the infinity symbol) to continue that motion. Not a great layout, but it was getting there - I was feeling a little refreshed.

Version six and seven was a play on this. I also softened the horrible airplane design by removing the black outline and making the outlines a deeper shade of the shape they were containing.
I added the enjoy forever myself - I thought why have a subliminal when you can just point it out - enjoy this product forever - it's better for you. So, with seven being the tightest of the designs we moved forward with that look in concept. There were so many upsets behind the scenes and each step needed to be approved for logo trade marking, name trade marking - the works. Each step needed these graphics for the approval process. So many steps were rushed just to get an idea into the appropriate offices. 

Jumping forward a bit - we were going to have a social to official introduce the product. Now a person involved in inviting the right people needed to be called in. We're sending out a postcard - I just need something by tomorrow - just make this text look good.
The text was the least of everyones problem. WTF? What is this? Powerpoint stock art? Ug! And, when someone says just throw something together it's deflating. I am not a copy editor - I don't write jingles - I make pretty things. So making this painfully dry text look interesting is not always the easiest thing, but magic can happen and I try to do my best. Something happens while I am working on it. I come up with a new way to present the logo - as though it's being dragged by the plane too. So in playing with the logo for the bowl photograph, the text just takes a back seat for version one
 The client loves the bowl idea. Now to work on the text.
So now the design has become completely different. The colors are easily acquired from the mandatory logo and THIS is eye catching. (as an aside, it was suggested that I could get work doing this sort of thing by the promoter who cringed when I she heard by hourly rate wasn't minimum wage). While I could barely afford the suggested donation, I even attended the event and people were gobsmacked at how good this stuff was and how fun.

Business cards are designed and while the cursive text was a major sticking point with the client as being 'too feminine' everyone loved it so it stuck. We also needed labels for the case and each needed some sort of slogan.
address/names blurred for this


So things were looking really up from here, until - there is another company with a similar name. Nice Creme out of somewhere on the west coast. I say - it's a completely different name. Not only is it two words, but the spelling is completely different. Nope - we have to change it. We're going with Bella Creme now (sounds like crem, not cream). Really. Great. Let's keep this feel though.  

There comes a point when you just don't feel something anymore. I tried to find a nice way of saying I'm done, but I also wanted to help - I was promised that for the ride, when this took off I would be rewarded - but I was kind of done at this point.

New logos. New Labels. I will quickly say too, Bella is the name of the clients dog, so I had an idea for a label, but I am not an illustrator by trade and I need to take time to get my drawings to a place where I want them. At the time of this I was very much influenced by japanese anime. Not that I watch a lot of it, but when someone is excited or sad, the animation style changes significantly to a very caricaturist style and eye highlights can become a little whacky looking. This has now become quite a popular style on shows like Adventure Time and Gumball on the Cartoon Network - so excuse the crappy drawing - we probably would have hired someone if this idea was a hit (instead of 'this is absolutely scary - I hate it).
little Bella just wants some Passion
Going for that farm stand look - another direction
trying to bring back the magic of the post card as instructed
Further downward spiral with the postcard ideals
Then playing with the logo a bit . . . .
Lord and Taylor anyone? Gah!
OH! This one looks promising!
I felt very strongly about the last one. I wasn't saying this was the best idea or the correct typeface, but my gut told me that a play on the B and the C would be the best design - it was just a matter of finding the correct typeface and this was sort of close, but not really. It severed the ideas from the past and moved forward in another direction for a fresh start. No - he couldn't see the scoops of ice cream or the bowl - no - go with the first one. The second one was hard to read and the third one I guess looked like a turd.

In regrouping, so much of this was starting to change - even the names of the flavors (notice it's now Dave's Chocolate).I just wasn't feeling this anymore and while I felt attached, I needed to be unattached from it. I asked that a new designer be brought in to carry out the rest of this project. I knew that by leaving it, I would be giving up my rights to any sort of end reward, but taking a project from its humble beginning and adding in so many upsets - it's hard to re-conceptualize that which has already been completed. 

Ironically, things really fell apart and a great idea simply never got off the ground with the company either. So many good ideas out there simply get steamrolled. As of now - you can find a coconut milk ice cream at Whole Foods that tastes a little bit like wall paper paste. Perhaps some day this product will have new interest, but until then, it seems frozen desserts will continue to try to be something they are not.

Back to design - and you can apply this to most of the things that end up being seen - there are so many steps to getting that final look correct that can often make one job seem like you've done so much work when everyone only gets to see the one printed item. It's kind of sad actually. 

Speaking of graphics, I am working on a slew of items for a new shop opening in Hapeville by my friends Jim and Carter. I'll probably mention more - grand opening is slated for Monday - after a series of (go figure) upsets that have pushed the date back from November to March to April. Fingers crossed - it's a beautiful shop and I think it will be wildly successful. 

As for sim stuff. I have a post that I have been editing together now for a month on the trials and tribulations of the Community Sign set. What an utter nightmare it's been. So much for my foray into the world programming.