2016: Year in Review

korver
By korver in True Earth,
  So give or take a couple of days, it's now been exactly one year since I decided to seriously get involved with SC4. To celebrate the occasion, I've decided to do a retrospective entry on some of mine and the community's favorite pictures from this CJ in 2016, with some commentary as well. Additionally, I'll be expanding upon various tips and techniques I discussed in 2016 along with adding some more as well. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone once again for your supportive comments and likes in 2016 - they really kept me going, even when motivation was running low at times. Additionally, I apologize for the lack of updates recently. As you might expect, the last two updates of 2016 (Sydney and South America) were extraordinarily time consuming and draining - so some time off was in order. I'm still slightly burnt out.. but I am finally starting to finish up a couple of updates, so I will be unveiling those shortly.   Lake Bogoria   For my first entry in True Earth, I wanted to make a big entrance - so what better way to do that than a 10,000 pixel tall mosaic? Key pieces in Lake Bogoria included SE Asian slummy houses from nihonkaranws + Heblem tiki huts in the villages, various trees by SimFox, Heblem, girafe, and CP, Flamingo generators from SC4Devotion, and geysers from Craig-Abcvs.     Journey Through The Sahara   I've always loved the idea of an ultra crowded market, so Djenne, Mali was one of the first urban scenes that I created for this CJ. Generally, my rule is simple when it comes to these scenes - keep on adding more and more props in LE until I hit the prop limit (1,200 or so). nbvc's bazaar and Asian street market was vital here - but perhaps most important was Uki's stalls. It's amazing what you can find after doing a little digging around on various Japanese SC4 sites. For anyone interested in this lot, it's available on the STEX here (slightly trimmed to cut down on a massive dependency list).     The sweltering small oasis town of Bardai, Chad. Given the small amount of desert-looking buildings readily available on the STEX and other sites, I had to get creative, utilizing a a little bit of everything that I could find. This included a mixture of kevinman houses, frogface slums, Wallibuk slums, Heblem tiki huts, and others. But perhaps the most interesting was the SimMars buildings that I used that fit surprisingly well. To finish off the scene, careful usage of the Poseidon terrain brushes was instrumental.     Conquering Mount Fitz Roy   Patagonia's mountains are impressive, but just as impressive is its fall colors. The Rio Fitz Roy dramatically cuts through the landscape - a mixture of brown Murimk MMP rocks and the brown boulders included in nbvc's Rock 'n' Stones (just don't drag them - click over and over until you get the big ones) did a great job of achieving that mountainous feel.     Now we come face to face with the majestic Cerro Fitz Roy. Mountainous terrain mods are difficult to perfect in SC4, but I felt the one I made for this update did a pretty nice job of bringing out the imposing nature of this mountain.     Myrtos Beach   One of my favorite updates I made during 2016, Myrtos Beach was originally planned as the final piece to a massive Greece update. However, it quickly became apparent that it deserved an update of it's own. I got things started off with this simple yet beautiful sunset picture - it's amazing how small details such as photoshopped lights on the boat, house, and cars can make a big difference, making the picture feel much more alive.     We move on to the overview of the beach. For this scene, it was vital having the right portion of various MMPs working together - which included Girafe Parasols + Cypresses and Heblem plop rocks + Chihuahuan flora.     Greece - Part II   I've always liked ruin scenes - there's always seems to be something magical about them. Bringing the Tholos of Delphi to life in the SC4 world meant lots of Aubrac walls, nbvc stone paths, and an assortment of random rocks and plop sands. After getting the hang of this technique quickly, I further explored the idea of SC4 MMP ruins with my Great Zimbabwe pic in my "Scenes From Africa" update.     Athens - my first true city scene. Once I saw some of swi21's great Athenian buildings I knew I wanted to make an Athens recreation - but the lack of Greek urban buildings was an issue. I ended up finding some pretty close replacements on SimCity Polska - check the "After 1920" section.     Meteora, Greece. The trickiest part to this picture was definitely the mountains and how to make sure they didn't look stretched. Vortext gave me a great tip - make sure you check the 'TerrainTexTilingFactor" property in your Terrain controller (If you're using a terrain mod - just search "controller" and you *should* find it in your plugins. Some are named differently though - so you might need to do a little looking around.) The terrain tiling factor is set at 0.2 by default - which generally produces stretched rock faces. Increasing this number to say, 0.25, 0.3, or higher will give a more realistic look on steep surfaces, but it will look a bit more tiled as a slight trade off. It's still a big improvement though over the default.     South Pacific   Anakena Beach, Easter Island. Here, I experimented heavily with MMPed grass - my technique was to work in layers. I got started off placing a base of PEG grass/moss for a lush, tropical look. After that, a random assortment of girafe seasonal flowers were plopped down, acting as areas of tall grass. Finally, I sprinkled in some of ChrisAdams' green rye grass to make certain areas thicker than others. One last thing I did was also sprinkle in some brown rye grass, light straw, and regular straw from ChrisAdams - these acted as areas of dead grass, and provided some much needed color variation. Small girafe bushes, berries, and feather grass were added too, to break up the landscape a bit. Also, an important note for anyone ever planning on using Moai in SC4 - make sure they have their backs facing the ocean. The locals believed that this signified the Moai were watching over them from intruders. I had to re-do the pic because of that     Adamstown, Pitcairn Islands. For scenes like these, I wanted to place MMPs right around the buildings - which meant shrinking the occupant size down to 1x1x1. Additionally, I wanted them to blend in perfectly with the landscape - which meant deleting any existing base/overlay textures. (note: before making any edits, please note that plopping lots stripped of textures on steep surfaces may result in a visual glitch where the texture turns black instead. If you are considering placing these lots onto steep surfaces, one workaround is to place the already shrunken to 1x1x1 prop/building (if it's the latter, you'll need to convert it into a prop via Plugin Manager/PIMX) onto the the default Pz1x1 Grass lot in Lot Editor and delete the textures on that lot instead - small filler lots like these do not seem to suffer from the same issue.) Your lot will of course now function as a park, but it will allow you to plop it where you want without base texture issues. (One additional note - sometimes the .sc4lot and .sc4desc files will be bundled into a .dat file. In that case (and if you're able to track down the .dat file), you'll need to do some searching around for the right files - clicking the "entry" tab at the top will sort them, so that should make your job easier). The first thing you need to do is shrink the occupant size so you can place MMPs around the perimeter - open a lot's associated .sc4desc file in Reader, choose exemplar file on the left, click the Occupant size category, and shrink it down to 1,1,1 (pic). Click "set", "apply", save the file and you're done. As deleting all base textures is not possible in the Lot Editor, you'll need to instead find the .sc4lot file associated with a lot and open it up with Ilive's reader (make sure this is set up with the correct options/property files first) From there, navigate to the "Exemplar file" category on the left (there might be multiple "exemplar files" - the one you need for will say "LotConfigurations" at the top") and scroll down the list of "LotConfigPropertyLotObjectData" entries. Any entry beginning with 0x00000002 will be a base/overlay texture - deleting all of these (pic) will clear the lot of any and all textures (make sure you right click again after doing any deleting and choose "Reindex LotConfig" too)     Scenes From Africa   The chaotic African capital of Lagos. Continuing on with the trend of crowded cities, I don't think I'll ever make another one as packed as this. A mixture of Motokloss cars and cars from the massive LBT prop pack 1 fit the mood nicely - especially the yellow vans from the Motokloss pack which matched the infamous yellow Danfos buses that crowd the streets. As for building selection, you can't go wrong with Walibuk's South American buildings + his African slums too. Some of Glenni's buildings + the Hong Kong themed buildings in the Dong He Night market pack fit surprisingly well too.     Majestic Victoria Falls. I once saw a pic a long time ago in @_marsh_'s legendary CJ "Royal Gansbaai Kingdoms" featuring an awesome photoshopped waterfall and it blew my mind. I knew it was something that I just had to try out.     The Amazon   Deep in the heart of the jungle lies Manaus. I really wanted to portray a city that truly felt like it was in the jungle - so I went a little heavier than usual with the editing. Mist/cloud brushes, a levels adjustment to really bring out some of the yellows/oranges, and a soft white diffuse glow all gave the the feeling of a hot Amazonian city.     Now we move into the jungle itself with one of the Amazon's many stunning tributaries. My favorite part to this picture has to be the sand bars. To get them perfectly razor sharp, a technique that I employed (both in this picture and others) was to combine a water mod with an MMP such as JRJ dirty ploppable water or PEG grass/clover on the edges. Make sure the two are of matching colors - and you will be able to use the MMP to sculpt razor sharp lines along the borders. It generally should blend together perfectly (but you might need to tweak your water opacity, look here for a guide on how to do that).     Scenes From Europe   Pisa was the first time that I experimented with creating a completely customized texture for a city scene. It was tricky though, because the footprint of the buildings I used in this picture didn't match real life, so a perfect 1:1 scale recreation would look off. So I had to do a different technique for this picture. What I did was plop the important buildings in the game first, closely aligned to real life. I then turned the grid on in game and created a checkerboard pattern in Photoshop like this, outlining the placement of the buildings in the game. I'd then overlay the checkerboard from time to time while constructing the texture, with the final result turning out like this. From there, it was a matter of simply creating a flat plane in 3dsmax (I believe it was 10x13), placing the texture on it, and rendering it for use in game. The simple scene that I initially made in the game was then reconstructed in the Lot Editor, placing the main buildings on top of the big flat texture prop I made, along with lots and lots of detail work.     Ronda was one of my absolute favorite pics I made. The lotting was especially tricky for this picture however, with the jagged cliffs causing issues. Because you can only make square lots in Lot Editor, this meant that some of the base textures would be overhanging over the edge of the cliffs. To remedy this, something you can do is place the base textures (I recommend choosing different textures - and also noting their texture ID) you want deleted as the very last thing you do before saving. You can then open up the .sc4lot file in Ilive's reader, and the textures/props placed last will be the very last "LotConfigPropertyLotObjectData" entries. To confirm you're deleting the right ones - any textures start off with 0x00000002 and their texture ID will be visible as the last value in the 13 rep entry. Delete the textures you want gone and you can now have a lot in pretty much shape you want (although, it will still "technically" be a square. This is more of a visual trick.)     Heblem's dam set is one of the more underlooked BATs out there. The first time I saw it I knew I had to put it to good use - so I recreated one of the most impressive dams in the world, Switzerland's Contra Dam.     Sydney   The day overview of the Harbour city. Laying out the roads wasn't too horribly difficult - just remember that each SC4 tile is 52.5 x 52.5 feet when measuring in Google Earth while doing a recreation. The diagonal sections were tricky if only for the fact that there's not a lot of buildings to choose from. Glenni's buildings are usually my go-to here. The most challenging aspect to this picture was the highway system. As there's no elevated FARHW, it would been impossible to construct it using NAM components. I ended up getting creative, cutting off pieces of this Habour Bridge model and rendering them for use in game as modular pieces, as highlighted in this picture. It ended up working surprisingly well, though the long rendering times were a pain.     My first venture into MMPing an entire urban park, Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens. ChrisAdams' paths were crucial here - I discovered that simply creating paths using the asphalt or concrete ones and surrounding it with a line of the dirt ones (or light dirt) creates a very nice layered effect. You can even use some of the smaller nbvc Rocks n' Stones to create the illusion of slightly terraced grass along the edges of the paths. The grass selection was pretty much a bunch of girafe seasonal flowers, but with some spots left barren to expose the terrain mod underneath. This had the effect of not only making the scene look less "busy" - a positive in my book, but also gave a little extra color variation. My usual strategy of using ChrisAdams brown rye/straw/light straw in various places was employed as well, for more color variation and to make it look like there was the occasional patch of dead grass.     We now move on to Sydney at night. One of my favorite pictures of the year, I love how it turned out - full of energy, just like the city itself.     South America   Buenos Aires and it's world famous 9 de Julio Avenue + Obelisco. The textures made for the streets turned out really nice and it ended up being a gorgeous scene. Simple, small details such as illumination added to the street lights in Photoshop (inspired by the style of @MilitantRadical) can add a lot to a scene.     Santos, Brazil. Whenever it's December, I always seem to visit @Bastet69008's and @elavery's great CJs to take my mind off the fact that it's 5 degrees outside and snowing.  So I think it's pretty clear where the inspiration for this picture came from      One last photoshopped waterfall. For a waterfall as truly epic as Iguazu Falls, I felt it certainly deserved it.     Itaipu Dam was one of my bigger projects, and demonstrates the possibilities of importing sketchup models into the game - bringing to scenes to life that you thought would never be possible. I already did an extensive tutorial on the process of getting this behemoth into the game - you can check it out in the tutorials section of my last entry here. I'd also recommend getting acquainted with some of the basics of 3dsmax - a good guide on that can be found here.     I normally don't like using Sketchup models to entirely create a scene (generally low quality) - but the Paramaribo house set I stumbled upon had some really excellent modeling. The building textures though weren't the best in-game, so some rain and a touch of extra grime added in after the fact really helped out.     Bonus Pictures   The cradle of life - Ngorongoro crater. As a whole, the spawnable flora from Xannepan's animal generators found on SC4Devotion are greatly underused. Outside of obvious choices like the African safari type scenes shown below - there's plenty of uses. Even just a couple plops of the buzzard generator over a natural habitat can help bring a scene to life. Even after making a number of wildlife related pictures in 2016, there's still many possibilities left over - something I intend to explore more this year.     While I was pleased with how the Lagos scene turned out, I really wanted to make a nice grid buster scene. For Yaounde, a variety of techniques were used. For starters, I did the entire scene backwards then flipped it horizontally once I was done to give it a fresh perspective while remaining true to real life. As for the actual scene itself, the FA 22.5 and 67.5 cars included in Orange's prop pack were vital. Additional techniques were used such as slightly offsetting orthogonal buildings along the edges of FA roads and hiding the rough corners with flora. Custom content creation was extensive for this scene - not only did it require custom textures for the roads but it also marked my first serious venture into BAT, as I created the Yaounde Cathedral from scratch (although it's still very much a WIP).     My first snowy city scene, Prague, required me getting creative. Essentially, my strategy was the following: since a number of the buildings in this picture were custom imported BATs, I had control in 3dsmax to give them snow textures on the roofs. Since all the other buildings didn't have snow - I pretty much copied and pasted the snow from the models that had the snow on them to the ones that didn't have any. The base textures didn't need any photoshop work as I designed the texture to be snowy from the very beginning. At the time, that strategy worked decently, but it was incredibly tedious. Since then, I've done a little experimenting and I think the best way forward would be a method such as the one used by pingpong. I would only suggest playing around with the "Selective colors" adjustment to make the whites a little more whiter.     NOTE: All images on True Earth are hosted from dropbox, which seems to have more issues than other image hosts unfortunately. If you are unable to view any of the pictures in this journal thus far, I have dumped everything from 2016 into an imgur album here.   Don't forget to comment, like, and follow True Earth if you haven't already!

-korver   --- Replies for "South America + Bonus Pictures":
     
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