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21 May 2012

I'll Meet You at the Council Club

Mixing Drinks

For my fourth Morrowind mod, the second in the Traveller's Guide to Dining series, I decided to stay within the town of Ald'ruhn and give some personality to the Ald'ruhn Council Club, which is a small tavern with a bar and a few tables. The Council Club gives the impression of being a place for intimate meetings over drinks between friends or acquaintances, or conspirers (the proprietor is a member of the Thieves Guild). In the plain vanilla game, the club is populated with a few generic characters and there is nothing of interest to do. The player can't even buy a drink at the bar.

I decided that the Dunmer proprietor, Darvam Hlaren, should sell a variety of drinks, both local and imported, that he could provide because of his connections and distribution network. I spent a lot of time researching types of alcohol and designing various alcoholic beverages based on in-game ingredients and their effects. I took existing bottle models, recolored the textures using GIMP to make each bottle different, and even added images I found on the web to some of them to make them interesting. A few of the drink names already existed in The Elder Scrolls lore, the rest I made up based either on bits of Elven language from the Imperial Library dictionary, on the names of deities, or on the color or ingredients.

Drink bottle textures

15 May 2012

Cul de Sac - On Art and Creativity

A while back I became a fan of the Cul de Sac comic strip by Richard Thompson. The off-the-wall, quirky humor often makes me laugh, and sometimes makes me think twice (or thrice). There's a daily online strip and several books.

Cul de Sac: This Exit
Cul de Sac: This Exit
Children at Play
Children at Play
Cul de Sac Golden Treasury
Golden Treasury
Shapes and Colors
Shapes and Colors

The Mighty Alice
The Mighty Alice

A preschooler named Alice is the star of the show, but my favorite character is her brother, Petey. In the latest book, The Mighty Alice, there are a couple of strips relating to art and creativity that I really enjoyed.

Here's what Alice has to say on page 115:

The Mighty Alice, page 115, bottom strip

And here's my favorite comment from Petey on page 77:

The Mighty Alice, page 77, bottom strip

14 May 2012

Waiter, There's a Rat in My Pot

Cooking up a New Menu

After the success and fun of working on my second Morrowind mod, What's on the Menu?, I decided I wanted to create a menu for each dining establishment in the game, which was around 29 pubs, taverns, and inns. My plan was to develop a unique menu for each one, creating dishes that used local ingredients and reflected the personality of each place. The entire series would be called Traveller's Guide to Dining.

The Rat in the Pot menu version 1
My favorite place was The Rat in the Pot in Ald'ruhn. It had the atmosphere of a pub and was the local headquarters of the Thieves Guild. I did some research online, looking at the menus of pub-type restaurants to get a feel for the kinds of food that might be offered.  The first menu I created contained five items — two appetizers and three flatpies (a.k.a. pizzas). I used a curvy typeface called Radaern that I liked because the lower-case d was reminiscent of a little rat body with a tail sticking up. The corner art was a free image that I found on the web.

I didn't have any expectation that I'd be able to draw a decent rat in a pot, so I went into the Construction Set and tried to make a composite image from the in-game pot and rat objects. The low-resolution meshes and textures and the dark dull gray/brown color looked awful, so I poked about on the web and found a decent looking gray rat and black pot that I combined into the image on the menu.

07 May 2012

A Typographic Digression

Reading Between, Among, and About the Lines

The Non-Designer's Design BookAfter being lambasted for using Comic Sans in a menu texture that I created for a Morrowind mod, I developed an interest in typography, so decided to read up a bit on the subject. The first book I read was The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams, since my husband happened to have a copy of it. This book explains several simple concepts and gives plenty of examples. The first half of the book is about four design principles: contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. The rest of the book talks about designing with type. There are little quizzes throughout, with answers at the end of the book, plus a two-page bibliography, a list of all typefaces used in the book, and an index. (My favorite index entry is "crap, 14".)

This excellent introductory book inspired me to do some more reading, so I acquired two more books: Thinking with Type and Typography Essentials.

04 May 2012

Morrowind Alchemy

A Budding Alchemist

In the spring of 2010, I was replaying Morrowind from the beginning. After joining the Mages Guild in Balmora, I did several quests for Ajira, a Khajiit novice alchemist. Her first task was to bring her samples of mushrooms; her third task was to bring her samples of flowers; and her fifth task was to recover the reports she had written that were stolen by a fellow student. The rewards for doing these tasks were several different kinds of potions. It occurred to me that after wandering around in the wilds looking for various plants based on their described characteristics and then reading the reports that Ajira wrote about her experiments with them, that my character should have improved in alchemy skill. Wasn't that the point of going through these types of exercises?

This thought led to the creation of my first mod. I ran The Elder Scrolls Construction Set (TES CS) and poked around until I found the two reports. It was a simple matter to change one attribute on each report to cause each one to give a skill point when read. Thinking that other players might like this mod, I decided to upload it to Planet Elder Scrolls. I gave the mod a simple and obvious name — Ajira's Alchemy Reports. It was a big hit and that was all the encouragement I needed when I got an idea for another mod.

03 May 2012

Back Story

Greetings and welcome to my blog, which is about my life in relation to art and computers. As a child in the 1960s, I had fun with creative toys and games. As a teenager in the 1970s, I fell in love with computers and have enjoyed both working and playing on them ever since. Read on for some background.

The High School Years

When I was in high school, I had trouble deciding where to concentrate my efforts for a foundation that would take me into a job in the real world. I had always been on the creative side, but math, logic, and solving puzzles were my strong points. My first inclination was to become a commercial artist, so I took art classes. Even though I enjoyed all the drawing and craft exercises, I eventually decided I didn't have the innate talent that would carry me in that field. Rethinking my options, it occurred to me that being an accountant might be interesting and more in line with my skills, so I took bookkeeping, typing, and keypunching classes. Strangely enough, the keypunching class is what started me on the road to my first career — computer software engineer. (Well, that and being a die-hard classic Star Trek fan and devoted Spock-lover.)