Gonzo blogging from the Annie Leibovitz of the software development world.

Month: March 2001 (Page 3 of 7)

Hi guys. Sorry for no news yesterday. My DNS server is acting up and I’m a little cut-off from the net for a bit while I figure things out. Actually, things starting going awry after I installed Windows ME. I am happy to say that blueprint runs fine under Windows ME so there are no problems there. Should have some new news for you shortly so hang in there.

Greetings! Okay, so this news post is going to be a little long. I wanted to post basically everything you wanted to know about animations but were afraid to ask. I’ll discuss the different type of object animations in The Sims, how blueprint creates them and how you can create your own animations. Some of this I’ve discussed before, but it seems like a good time to really get into the details so you can create new animations with blueprint. Okay, you can’t actually create new animations without altering the DrawGroups in the object. What’s a drawgroup? Read on.

First a little setup about how the Sims objects are put together and some terminology. Each object contains something called DrawGroups. These DrawGroups visually represent the state that an object is in. For example, the aquarium object contains 25 different states. These range from just the aquarium itself, various live fish states, feeding states and dead states (as well as each of those having a dirty counterpart state when the tank is dirty. Fish still swim, eat and die even if the tank is filled with crud). You can imagine that having 25 different images of this wouldn’t be a big deal with handle but multiply that by 100 objects and managing this becomes a bit of a nightmare. So a DrawGroup represents a graphical state of the object, but is really composed of various Sprites. When you breakdown the aquarium object you only have 14 Sprites. These are combined to form the various DrawGroups. For example, there is a sprite for the aquarium itself and this is re-used for each of the 25 drawgroups. So there’s only 14 images you have to deal with right? Not quite. You still need to deal with the fact that you have 3 zoom levels in the game. As well, some objects have various rotations that are pre-rendered (anywhere from 1-4). So each Sprite contains a number of SpriteFrames. How does this part relate to blueprint? In blueprint, you tell the program to replace the individual Sprites. It in turn, figures out how many frames (zooms/rotations) it needs to generate and builds the individual SpriteFrames and inserts them into the IFF file. blueprint doesn’t do anything to the DrawGroups so animation sequences are maintained. A future version will however, so the ability to add new animations or alter existing ones is just around the corner. In the meantime, you have to make due with the existing animations but you can replace the Sprites that are used to create those animations. Confused? Read on.

Now that we know how things work, there are actually two types of animations going on in objects. I call them static animations and kinetic animations (my terms). Static animations are where the objects generally doesn’t move around and things usually appear or disappear to simulate animation. An example of this would be the food preparation object. It doesn’t really do much, but as your Sim continues to prepare food, various things appear or disappar (and there might be some moving around but very little). The other type of animation is kinetic animation. This is where the Sprite (or Sprites) in the object are moved about the screen to simulate animation. An example of this is the rocket object, where the rocket itself zooms up into the sky. blueprint allows you to replace the Sprites in an object and since each Sprite is used for a frame of animation, you can create new animations with blueprint and a little ingenuity. For static objects, this is something that can be accomplished with the current version. The process would be to select the Sprite you want to replace, click on the “Replace this Sprite” checkbox and then select the meshes that will be used to visibly replace the selected Sprite. This allows you to have meshes in your scene that will not be visible in the final Sprite during export. For example you could create a psuedo-wall using the Plane primitive and use that for reference in creating a new painting. Then in the Sprite Editor, you just uncheck the wall so it doesn’t appear in the final output. This works fine for static animations and you could even use it for some kinetic animations. If you wanted to replace the rocket with a remote-control airplane (I’ve seen someone working on a toy plane that gave me this idea) you could import a mesh of an airplane, scale it down to the right size, duplicate it a few times and in each sprite for the various stages of the rocket, set a different copy of the plane to be visible (each copy would be in a different position simulating flight as well). This is very inefficient and troublesome however, since you need a fairly powerful machine to handle so many polygons and if you wanted to replace the texture on the wing of the plane, you would have to do it on each copy. Not a fun job.

There is hope however. On the horizon is object animation capabilities in blueprint that will allow you to have as many frames of animation as you want (in the 3D side of things). Then it’s a matter of creating one object, changing the frame number in blueprint and repositiong it and using the different frames as well as the visible list to generate your new Sprites. This is currently in testing and should be availble in a few weeks. At that time, we’ll take something like the aquarium object and turn it into a kinetic sculpture that revolves all day long (I choose the aquarium because it’s autonomous and doesn’t require the Sim to interact with it in order to make it animate).

I hope that explains some things about objects, animations and where things are going. There are also other great things happening with blueprint. I’ve taken on a new developer to handle some new functionality and there are plans for new editors and various other tools that will truely make creating and editing content for The Sims a fun thing. Stay tuned!

Hi ho,

Well, enough of the blueprint bashing. Thanks for the various letters of support. I’m just glad that I’m helping some people. Now onto the cool stuff. Pictured below is a new updated sprite editor. I’ve added the ability to rotate the preview images (both the image from the IFF file and what blueprint will produce are kept in sync) as well as a channel preview. I also addressed any problems with construction since it took me about 15 minutes to put together this rustic looking bookcase so I know the system is working fine, or at least should be. I’ll post the bookcase project for anyone who wants to download it. No books on the shelves so it’s up to you to populate it with whatever you see fit. Just a small project to get the blueprint based objects rolling. The next release will feature these changes as well as saving the sprites into the IFF files and putting the file into the Sims directory. Seeya later!

I’ve been doing a lot of surfing lately to get a feel for the response on blueprint. I’m interested in knowing what the consensus is and how the program can be improved. Software is of course an evolutionary process so the .0 release is always going to be not only a disappointment but also a stepping stone for grander things to come. Of course, the general feel out there is that it’s too complicated or that after all this time it doesn’t do what people expect. True, my own expectations were loftier about the program and given an army of programmers and 8 hour days blueprint might have become the 3D Studio of The Sims however if you really want those quality and features go out and buy the program yourself. I do try to blow off the snide remarks out there but for some reason people are just either completely misinformed about blueprint or chose not to give it a chance. In any case, here’s some myths I wanted to dispel about the program.

Myth
blueprint does not export IFF files

Fact
Really? What’s the IFF files that are in your Objects folder. They’re valid and contain all your changes except for new sprites (I know, a big factor) but still it’s a valid IFF file and if you want to put it into the game and use it go right ahead.

Myth
blueprint sucks and 3D Studio is better

Fact
blueprint sucks compared to 3D Studio, yes. If you want 3D Studio quality, then shell out the thousands of $$$ for it and then complain to Discreet that it doesn’t export IFF files.

Myth
I have to understand quantum physics to use blueprint.

Fact
I’ve made blueprint as simple as possible and for the most part, I think I succeeded. If you think there are ways to make it easier to use, please send them my way and I’ll incorporate them. There are no need to know when an electron will be spontaneously emitted in radioactive decay in order to use the program (for all you quantum physics nuts, yes, I studied it too).

Like I’ve said, if you feel that the program is lacking and can be improved then speak up. Sitting around in forums bitching about it isn’t doing anyone good. If blueprint is the big failure of the year then send me some constructive critisism about what it should have been. If the majority of The Sims community feels this way, then yes, I’ve failed and will quietly bow out of the scene. If you’re really offended by the program then don’t use it and never come back to this site again. I’m all for the free speech concept (beer, software, etc.) but cutting and pasting BLUEPRINT SUCKS a few dozen times just fills my inbasket with sillyness. It’s the well thought out and constructive letters that I keep to remind me to do better next time and benefit everyone.

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