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Amateur video productions, mostly about MMOs.

So, we have been playing Final Fantasy XIV, re-released last year, a considerable time after its incredible nose-dive  into the sun shortly after its initial release. So far so good.  There still aren’t enough quests for my tastes, and some odd prohibitions that I can’t see the point of.  Why tie unrelated side-dungeons to the main questline, so you only get access after reaching a certain quest, even if you are the right level? Why can’t we take a too-low team into a dungeon?  Why can’t we try with three people?  These latter pushings of the challenge envelope are something I have always enjoyed, despite often being punished with much death for my audacity.   It’s those radical moments when you actually manage to pull off something unexpected that make it all worthwhile.

Revisiting Final Fantasy XIV has brought back vivid memories of Final Fantasy XI, my first real MMO, and doubtlessly where my rules-lawyery-ness about following “the unspoken rules” originates. (The tank goes first, let the tank pull, avoid getting aggro if you are not the tank, crowd control is sacred).  Although recent games challenge these traditionalist MMO concepts, these unspoken rules still exist in FFXIV, along with the same snide elitism about gear.  Is there something about Final Fantasy that encourages this?   ‘Cause although it is definitely present in other games, I haven’t seen (smelt?) such strongly scented epeen for some time.

Anyways, playing FFXIV did inspire me to make a new movie, the idea of which was forwarded by my good friend Guildenstern (who has been dragged, kicking and scream-emoting, from one game to another over the last few years, despite the opposition of  completionist tendencies).  Who knows how long it will last on the interwebs, since Square Enix is apparently just as rules-lawyery about copyright as it is about gameplay.

Ah well, it’s here for now.




With Reallusion’s recent update to IClone to version 5.5, new functionality has been added in the ability to edit Terrain directly within the program.  Reallusion suggests that if you wish to create entirely new terrain, you should purchase Earth Sculptor, their add-in terrain creator, to adjust the material masks for any changes you make.  If, however, you don’t possess Earth Sculptor, it is still easy to create material masks for simple terrain projects.

This tutorial assumes a basic familiarity with both Photoshop and IClone.  There are plenty of fine tutorials available demonstrating the use of each.

For this example, we will create a simple terrain with some rocky pinnacles in a desert landscape.


1.      Setting up your Photoshop document

Load a terrain map in IClone, go to the Terrain tab, and export the height map to Photoshop.  I chose the Butte terrain.  The image you export will contain a greyscale height map of the terrain, but we are not interested in this.  Exporting the file this way simply gives you the appropriate file type and size for the project.

Create five layers above the height map.  I named them as follows:  Background, Height, Green, Red and Blue.  Once you have your new layers, you can delete the original height map, or keep it as a reference if you choose.

Fill the Background layer entirely with black (0,0,0).  This layer will represent the lowest parts of your terrain for the height map, and the fourth material type in your material mask map.


 2.      Creating and exporting the height map.

The height map is simply a greyscale representation of height, rather like a contour map.  The brightest, whitest parts of the map are the highest parts of the image, and the darkest parts are the lowest.

For this example, the flat desert plain is the lowest part of my terrain, so all I need to do is draw in my rocky pinnacles as highlights. (If you were drawing a more varied landscape, you might want to start with a dark grey background instead of black, and add shadows and highlights to create your terrain).

To draw the pinnacles, select the Height layer, set the foreground colour to white, and take a photoshop brush with soft edges and a size of about 100 pixels, and draw some white blobs where you want the pinnacles to be.  The final result should look something like this:

01 White blobs

For a more gradual terrain, you might use a brush with softer edges, decrease the opacity value of your brush, or adjust the brightness of the image.  You could choose to paint in grey instead of bright white. You might paint on layers so you could adjust the opacity of each independently. The height and smoothness of the height map is also adjustable in IClone once it has been imported.

Since the pinnacles should be relatively steep-sided, the rapid change from low to high (black to white) is quite suitable.

I took a large soft-edged eraser, of about 50 pixels and an opacity of 25%, and used it to adjust the pinnacles, as below, in order to make them a little more interesting:

02 Height map

Now is a good time to save your Photoshop document.  You should also export the Height Map, by selecting “Save As” from the File menu, and selecting .png as the file type.

If you go into IClone and load a terrain into your project, you can double click on the height map in the Terrain settings, and load in a new map.  Select the height map file you just created, load it in, and you will instantly see the basic shape of your pinnacles.  Here is mine with the Butte material map texturing it.

Pinnacle height map applied to Butt terrain

 3.      Creating the material mask map

This is the part that Reallusion would like you to purchase Earth Sculptor to do.  I have never tried Earth Sculptor.  It does look like a convenient tool, with a “what you see is what you get” style interface that allows you to paint textures directly on the terrain.  Using Photoshop requires a degree of back-and-forthing, but seems reasonable for simple projects such as this one.

To achieve a material mask with Photoshop, we will colour in the areas that correspond to four different materials that will be present in the final terrain.  It is possible to set what these materials are within IClone later.  For this part of the exercise you only have to consider which parts of your scene will use different materials.


Green layer:

Lets start with the green layer.  We will use it for the rock face material for the pinnacles themselves.  Select the Green layer, and choose a large soft-edged brush (the same one you used to draw the pinnacles is fine).  Use a pure green colour with the RGB value of (0, 255, 0).

Now, simply colour in solid green blobs covering the pinnacles on the height map you drew before.  The result should look something like this:

03 Green layer


Red layer:

Now for the red layer.  This is going to be the stony ground immediately around the base of the pinnacles. Select the Red layer.  Take a slightly smaller soft edged brush, set the foreground colour to Red (255,0,0) and draw some rings or semi-rings of red to show where this material will be.

There is no need to fill the interiors of the rings in,, although you can if you like–they should look like strange irregular doughnuts.  The edges of the red and green should overlap at least a little.

Once finished, you should have something like this:

REd Layer 1

Blue layer:

This layer is going to be some cracked ground areas in the main flat area of the landscape.  If you were working on a detailed project, you could consider including these depressions as part of the terrain map for added realism.  Here, let us simply make them a different material, for interest sakes.

Select the Blue layer, and set your brush to Blue, with RGB colour settings (0,0,255), and draw some blobs in an empty space where they don’t overlap with anything you have previously drawn.

It should look something like this:

Material Map 1

Exporting the Material Mask Map.

Export the file as a png file.  Now you can go into IClone, and load the Material Mask layer you have just created.

Pinnacle material Map applied to Butt terrain

 4.      Tidying up:

Not bad – you can see the terrain and the material map do match up – but the edges between the different materials are too blurry, especially around the base of the pinnacles, where the Red and Green layers meet.  Let’s adjust that a little.

To fix the problem above, I went back to myPhotoshop document, and increased the size of the green blobs a little.  I also positioned the green layer on top of the Red layer, instead of underneath, so all the green is showing.

Here is my material mask after tidying those edges.  It doesn’t look very different – the green area is just a little larger.

Final Map 1

After tidying, make sure the three colour layers and the background layer are the only ones visible, and export your material map again.  You may want to save it under a different name, in case you want the original one later.

Import the new material map into IClone.

Here are the results of my change – much better!

Adj Pinnacle material Map applied to Butt terrain

 Of course, your material map may require you to make slightly different changes to your material borders, but I’m sure this demonstrates how easily it can be done.  You can go back and forth between Photoshop and IClone and many times as is necessary to adjust your material map to your satisfaction.


5. Applying textures:

You can read about how to change the materials of terrains and adjust the settings in the IClone help files.  It is straight forward enough, and if you have already used IClone to change textures of props or characters, you should be familiar with the process already. With the Butte terrain, the material names correspond to the colour layers we used as follows:


Height Map 01 = Red

Height Map 02 = Green

Height Map 03 = Blue

Height Map 04 = Black

Here is what my terrain looks like after playing with the terrain settings and quickly applying some new textures to the map:

Terxtured pinnacles

Obviously better results could be achieved with a more detailed height map and  fine adjustments to the material map.  The purpose of this tutorial is, however, to demonstrate that adjusting the material masking layer is certainly possible using Photoshop and well within the capabilities of users familiar with materials, textures and layers in Photoshop and IClone.

ArcheAge is an up-and-coming sandbox MMO which has been in production for some time.  It floundered about for a good long time, having difficulties finding a company to bring it to the west, but Trion Games eventually took it up.  Even now, only vague snippet of information are forthcoming regarding it, although what has been promised is enticing – ships, wagons, player-built housing, large-scale battles, player-judged legal system, prisons… I wonder if it will actually all come to fruition, and not be the vast disappointment previous games (Vanguard, for example) that have promised such wide-ranging systems have been.

Bare-chested male toons fishing in boats and riding donkeys?  No problem.



My recent obsession with making the first chapter of my Star Wars fan fiction story, Aronoke, into a short film has been highly time consuming.  Who knew that 3d modelling software like 3ds Max could be so complicated?  Well, I did, but on this occasion I have made more progress than on my previous forays, and I am pleased with the results.  Why, two months of steep learning curve and mounds of texturing has given me over two minutes of film!

Walking in

At this rate I should finish by the time I am eighty.  With any luck.

Admittedly I have managed, with considerable help, to also install a stack of kitchen cupboards as well, but most of my other projects have been left wandering, lost and alone.  Even my MMO activities have been largely neglected.  Save for the latest Secret World update.

When your character's name is Rainier, the Zombie T-shirt from the Funcom store becomes even more appropriate...

How could I possibly resist Action Adventure combined with tasty fedora-imbued goodness?






Latest video effort.

Chris noticed a theme in most of my MMO related videos.  Seems like they are usually about the NPCs – the background characters who we don’t really consider as individuals in the game – orc grunts in LoTRO, imperial lackeys in SWTOR, and now Orochi goons in The Secret World.

The underdogs in MMOs are always more interesting from a story-telling perspective than the super-powered heroes, because the heroes are what the game is already about.  There is more space to make up a story about the background characters  In games, the minor NPCs seldom have characters at all – if they’re lucky they have some lore to back them up.  I don’t much like creating fictional works around “other people’s” characters.  Even my Star Wars fan fiction, Aronoke, doesn’t have any characters from the game or the movie in it.


So when I borrowed my dear friend Jenny’s Secret World account to make my latest video, “Orochi Corp“, I told her I would be sure to go through her character’s underwear drawer and post videos of her in her lingerie on Youtube.

I would hate to disappoint.


Lord Komo is machinima based on the MMORPG SWTOR, which I am still playing at the time of writing this.  I am a sucker for story-driven games so this was right up my alley.  SWTOR was also a source of inspiration for Aronoke, the Star Wars fan-fic flotsam I am currently addicted to writing.

Lord Komo originated when Jord and I were adventuring on Taris, wreaking destruction and havoc and generally getting quests done, when we happened on the NPC Lord Komo.  And with one thing or another, we were soon singing that Beach Boys song, Kokomo…

Everyone else in Universal Exports refused to sing it.  I considered hiring someone, but decided it was too bothersome.  And so, a terrible exercise in self-torture and vocal expression was born.  Especially since Kokomo is not happily inside my vocal range. It is far too squeaky.  I can’t watch the video now, it makes me wince too much.  *hides under pile of MMO subscriptions*.

Since making the movie I (and the rest of Universal Exports et al) decided to swap servers, due to the dwindling popularity of the game, so some of the characters involved in the film are no longer named the same thing.

My second attempt at LoTRO machinima.  This one still has some IClone4 models in it (Sauron’s milk herd, anyone?) and lots of IClone effects, but it is heavily based on snippets of movie taken directly from the game.  It was inspired by an excellent (dreadful, by most people’s standards, no doubt) pun made by Wingwoz (who stars in the film).  This one was a great deal of fun to make, although I did have the song stuck in my head for about three months during and afterwards.


This is a much more recent video project, one I made when I first got IClone4.  I learned  lot of things while making it.  Mainly that realistic looking animations are really hard to create without expensive equipment.  Now I have IClone5 and some other cool stuff to record animations from live actors, I will have to make another animated movie, although at the moment, I feel a bit wilted at the thought of how much work that would be….

Anyway, Orcs is a short screenplay based upon the MMORPG LoTRO which I played for far too many years, and will probably play again.  You will probably not get some of the jokes if you have not played the game.  The IClone characters are made to try and look a bit like the LoTRO toons they are based on.   Which was hard for a nooblet like me, since all the armour and things had to be modelled and built in IClone or adapted from existing things.

Another The Movies video I made.  This one was much harder, because it is a music video for the Spit song of the same name.  Took a long time, if I remember.  It turned out rather surreal, and the (simple) plot seems not too clear now I look back at it.  Of course, the Spit song had nothing to do with people in Cowboy hats, but hey, there were lots of good props for that sort of thing in the game.

I tired to make the main characters in the video look like two members of Spit, as they looked at the time the song was originally recorded.  So, yes, I guess they are based on people living or dead, in this case.