microphoneSurely many of you have dreamed with creating a new pakset for Simutrans, but you don’t know the requirements, specially what do you need to create the less common part of paksets: the graphics.

To know more about this process, we are going to talk with James “The Hood“, the pak128.Britain manager and graphics creator.

You prefer Pixel-art or 3D?
Definitely 3D. I’m actually rubbish at drawing (believe it or not), but I can do 3D modeling and let the computer do the rest of the work!

Which are you inspiration sources for this pakset?
Anything British really. Some of it I already know about (I work in the transport industry), but for others, especially the older stuff, I use google/wikipedia to find out the history and get some pictures.

Could you describe roughly the creative process? do you use templates for different objects? do you create the textures by your own? and what about the illumination?
To start with I used templates, but now I have the hang of blender and what things will look like, I generally do things by eye. Textures are a combination of images (like brick wall textures) and ones I make myself in blender (e.g dirt/smoke).

We know you use Blender for creating the graphics. What does it provide to the graphics creation process? Does it make the process easier or faster?
definitely! As I said above, I can’t draw properly, but I can get the 3D models OK. So really blender makes the process possible, as well as consistent. If I didn’t use blender, I wouldn’t draw at all, it would take me ages and still look rubbish!

Do you use any special technique in order to improve the quality of the graphics (UV Mapping, Ambient Occlusion, External render engines like Yafray)?
I just use the blender render engine. To be honest, I’m not an expert on this sort of thing, I got into blender to help keirongreen out in the early stages of pak128.Britain development. He already had a style set up in blender so I just used the same one for consistency.

Do you use some program like GIMP or Photoshop to fix details of the rendered images?
All completed images are tidied up and aligned properly in the GIMP. This is the most time-consuming and boring part of the process, but necessary.

pak128.Britain has strongly bet for timeline in graphics. How does the timeline affect to the graphics design process?
Not sure I understand this question… The long timeline means I need to draw more vehicles! Mainly I try to get a range of vehicles for each time period, but it just depends what I can find out about the history and what I feel like drawing.

What do you think is more important: a coherent graphic style or a variety for each kind of object (vehicles, buildings, etc..)?
I think having a coherent style is very important. Pak128.Britain has only ever had two main artists (kierongreen and myself), which helps. We are both keen to make sure it all looks good together in a consistent style.
I’ve talk with some other members of the community and almost all share this thought

Why did you choose such a dark style for the pakset? looks like a little bit industrial…
Actually that was kierongreen’s decision before I got involved – maybe it’s because it rains so much in Britain that the sun never shines! Also, until around the 1950s, a lot of Britain had very big problems with industrial smoke and soot everywhere. Personally though I find the other paksets too bright (especially pak128), so maybe it’s just personal taste.

Imho, the graphical style guidelines of pak.BR are quite strict, don’t you think that may discourage some people who would like to colaborate?
They are strict, and maybe it does put some people off. I’d like more people to help, but I’d rather have a set which was very consistent in style and looked good, even if it takes a long time. After all, people can always draw add-ons in whatever style they want!

We know sometimes is hard to get a graphic style for a pakset but have you receive contributions of some kind?
Some of the pak128.Britain objects are taken from pak128 with a few minor alterations to fit the style, e.g. the signals are from fabio, but I’ve altered a couple of them to reflect some of the UK-specific signal arrangements. Other contributions I’ve had to leave out though (it was quicker for me to draw a new one fitting the style than adapt the image to fit the style), but mostly it’s just been Kieron and me doing the drawing anyway, so style problems have been minimal.

If I’m not wrong, the graphical part of the pakset is managed and develop mostly by you. Which management style do you think is better when developing a pakset: One-man-army of a group of people? for example, pak96.comic has a main artist and several managers and secondary artist, in addition to the extra contributions.
Officially kierongreen is still the boss, but he’s not had much time for simutrans over the last 2 years so essentially it’s all down to me. He is a bit like the “Hajo” of pak128.Britain – if he has any suggestions or feedback, I listen! Generally though I do the graphics with the odd contribution from others. Recently a few other people have started helping with the balancing, but ultimately it all goes through me as I put the releases together.

How did you plan the different stages of the pakset development? did you have any priority? I mean, vehicles before buildings, factories before the rest of buildings, etc…
The whole thing grew out of kierongreen’s British Rail add-on for pak128, which I was playing at the time and wanted more early trains so I got involved to draw them. Around the same time Kieron started work on the pakset and drew some citybuildings and roads/rails. So it all started from there. The plan was to use pak128 as a base and then slowly replace all of the pak128 objects with new objects in the pak128.Britain style, but to start with it was a bit random what we did. About a year ago I started a serious effort to create all the objects we would need to have a pakset that would load by itself without needing any pak128 objects, which led to release 1.00 in early summer 2009.

That meant getting all of the ways, depots, some trees, and other random objects ready, but not all the vehicles, and the industry, citybuildings and attractions are all quite limited. Now the focus is on getting more vehicles in (so I completed the road vehicles, now I’m working on boats, then it’s going to be planes etc.). Later I will turn to more bridges and more buildings again.

In your opinion, is it better to develop a pakset focusing on each part or mixing all at the same time? For example, related with vehicles: first trucks, then buses and finally barges or everything at the same time?
Developing a pakset takes a lot of effort, so the best thing to do is whatever keeps your interest levels up. If you need variety, then I’d say do lots of different things. But for me I prefer to have a list and cross things off, so I focus on one thing at a time. First buses (done) then trucks (done), now boats (work in progress), then planes (to do) etc etc.

About the style of the pakset, you prefer a change in size (pak128, pak192) style (pak32, pak96.comic or pakHD) or theme (pak.german, pakJapan and obviously pakBritain)?
I think one of the great things about Simutrans is the range of sizes and styles you can choose from. I haven’t got time for playing, but I’ve had a look at a few of the different paksets to see how they do things. I like pak96.comic because it is so different to pak128.Britain and makes a nice change, but I also like the realistic scenario type world of pak.German. Hopefully pak128.Britain will end up having it’s own feel, one more choice for the simufan to choose from and enjoy playing – especially those who have an interest in British transport!

As you say pak128.Britain is thematic. Now I’ve spent so much time on the project anything smaller than 128×128 looks small, but I think pak96 has a good balance between detail and size. Maybe if I started all over again I would go for pak96 scale, but I think 128×128 allows for quite a bit of detail so I’m happy with that.

Well, that’s all folks. I hope it has been interesting and it gives you a rough idea about what you need to carry out the graphics development of a pakset. I wouldn’t like to conclude without thanking James “The Hood” for his time and effort, and also for sharing his experience with the rest of the Simutrans community.