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.


  1. This is a tough call Bau. I'm sure it can be hard to bring features to all version of the game. I really hope you can fix any of errors because the signs are just gorgeous! Especially the halo cat one and the retro cup one and the extravagant marquee sign! You've really outdone yourself with set! Personally, any version you release will be fine will be fine with me, and I'm sure many other simmers.

  2. I had to step away from working on them. So many other time sensitive projects in RL as well as starting two new jobs (finally!) that I decided to take a step back while I consider the options. Sometimes when you beat your head against the wall, all you think about is the wall and not the path that brought you to it. I could also offer a base game version that simply has three channels. That would solve a lot of this very easily. I wish there was a program that simply creates a sim3pack from a package file (there is one that will package a sim3pack from an unpacked package file but it needs a line of XML at SimLogical) - if I can't figure it out this time, I am sure there will be a program somewhere along the way that I will be able to do this no problem and they can be re-released.

  3. Congrats on the jobs! I bopped over here to see how things were coming along (belatedly), and I'm glad you haven't totally trashed the project, even if it's on the back burner for the moment. I had no idea you drew the elephant and cat sign from scratch -- I'm even more impressed, if that's possible! Good luck with everything, and I agree with Migolia -- any version you release will be welcomed by many of us!

  4. Thank you! I am excited. The job I applied for and spoke of in the previous entry worked out - it's a great thing to finally FINALLY be working in graphics. Hopefully I will never see another picture frame in my life! HA! As for the set - I love it too much to abandon it, but my god I think I have twice as much grey now by comparison to when I started it. I hope to focus again on it after the garden is finished (that's a whole other post!)

  5. I hope you release them as I have been beating my head (virtually, of course!) against the wall trying to find anything like this for Sims 3! I'm on the Sims Daily forum and I saw your fortune teller sign and went gaga for it!

    I would love to have them even if they aren't perfect! I would gladly take them even if they are only three channels or even not recolorable!

    You know it's bad when you want signs for your community lot so badly that you almost jump ship and go back to Sims 2 (where I can find tons of neon signs to download)!

    Anyway, congratulations on the new job and I hope you get everything sorted soon with what happened to your content on Mediafire! If you don't mind, and if these are functional aside from the lighting issues, would you consider releasing them for someone who wants them desperately? : )

  6. Hi Amy - thanks for all of your kind words. I hope to give this set some attention soon - I had hoped that would be this weekend coming up, but - the whole mess with mediafire alone is going to take up a good chunk of time. I cannot in good conscience release them unfinished. When I think they are ready, I will be asking for testers to try them out and give feedback. My last call for testers was to the kind folks of TSD so keep an eye open - if you'd like you can be one of the first to see them in game :)

  7. You are awesome - I will keep my eyes open!

    P.S. I showed them to my dad (he loves signs and such like this) and he was amazed at what you've accomplished already! : )

  8. Just popped in to see how you're getting on with this set. That marquee sign is amazeballs - I hadn't seen that picture before. Nicely done. These signs are going to be used and abused in my game when they're released. :)


  9. I've been doing a huge rearrangement of my game and it's actually just today that I am able to take some pictures in game - in Lunar Lakes - of just the portal marker. I hope to return attention to the sign set soon. Honestly - taking so much time away from it, I think that I have a few things I want to address on at least one of the signs. Sadly, I think it will be a set (at least in part) that will require Late Night. I may go back at some point and release a set that is package only that will work for base game. TT3 is such a cool program and there are so many pieces that I have made in the past that have been hindered by the three channel option that I want to release something that way it was intended.

  10. I totally understand! I have a few unfinished projects myself which, frankly, I'm not sure are ever going to be completed.