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JP Schriefer

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  1. JP Schriefer liked an article by gascooker, Using Photoshop's Dodge & Burn to Fake Ray-Tracing   
    Please PM STomnibus if you have any questions about this article.
    The aim of this document is to explain some of the methods you can employ to improve your gmax textures. It should help you make your buildings appear more realistic and get them to sit more comfortably with the original SC4 style and pallette.

    Requirements and notes about this article

    You will need a copy of photoshop 4.0 or greater and the ability to squint your eyes so the world appears blurry.

    Although most of the concepts in this document are fairly obvious, there are few people making custom SC4 content who seem to be using them. Furthermore, it must be stated that this tutorial is design led and consequently any photoshop settings, decisions and values are subjective. This ain't science, this is art.

    You should be familiar with the following specific photoshop terms: tone; hue; neutrals; saturation; and highlights, shadows and midtones.

    The world is a big fat tonal gradient
    In real life, light bounces off an object onto other objects, changes colour and then gets reflected back onto your original object, absorbed, twisted and refracted and then eventually enters your eyes. The result is: what your brain knows to be the face of a pure white cube, is actually made up of a complex web of tonal gradients and colour casts.

    In 3D computer modelling this can be simulated using ray tracing. This is an advanced method of determining light interaction, such as reflection and refraction and although may yield realistic results, is highly computationally intensive.

    By understanding a few basic concepts of how light behaves you can side-step the need to use ray-tracing in gmax, thus saving you years of rendering time, but still get your textures looking more realistic.

    The white cube on the left is a normal gmax rendering but the equally textureless cube on the right shows subtle tonal gradients and colour casts that would perhaps occur in real-life due to the mechanics of light. Other than black holes and supernovas, nothing much else in our universe is made of flat colour. In terms of SC4, none of your prominent textures should be tonally flat. They should all have some form of gradient tone.

    Dodging, Burning and Sponging

    There are three tools in photoshop which will allow you to do this: the dodge tool, the burn tool and the sponge tool. Think of them as brushes or live painting tool equivalents of the brightness-contrast, HSL and Levels sliders.

    Here are the photoshop tone tools:

    Using the dodge and burn tool is similar to painting with the airbrush or paintbrush tools. Select the Dodge tool. You will notice that a set of options for this tool appear on the toolbar.

    Select the brush you want to use from the pulldown brush menu. You will nearly always need a very soft-edged brush,
    with hardness set to zero. Tip: you can alter the size of your brush with the [ and ] keys dynamically while painting.

    Depending on the texture you are working on, select the range you want the tool to effect, ie, if you want to make something dark, lighter, then select "shadows". The tool will then lighten all of the pixels it considers to be shadows. If you want to lighten the midtones or highlights, select these instead. You can see how it effects the tonal range in the image below.

    The exposure setting will give you control over the tool. Choosing a low value such as 10-20% will effect the image less, each time you paint with it. A lower setting will mean you will have to dodge the image several times to get it how you want it. A high setting will likely bleach out the entire image to white in one stroke.

    The airbrush mode button will make the brush act like an airbrush. (You should be experienced in using airbrushes if you want to
    use this tool - I recommend you use the brush tool as its more precise)

    The burn tool works in exactly the same way, except it will darken your image.

    Making a gradient pitched roof texture

    If you look closely at pitched roofs in real-life they are not tonally flat. If you look at the pitched roofs in SC4, they are not tonally flat. In real life light tends to be reflected more fom the higher points of the slope. However, depending on the material and its surroundings it sometimes can be reflected more from the lower points of the slope. The important lesson here is that it is not tonally flat.

    To create a more realistic roof, open a flat roof texture such as the standard MAXIS rooftiles file: MaxisPitchedRoof.jpg. It has no tonal gradient.

    Select the dodge tool and choose a large feathered brush. For the best results in SC4 always select highlights as the range as this will also desaturate the image and prevent any need for the use of the sponge. (This tonal-saturation effect will be discussed in greater detail in another document dealing with photoshop Levels and white-point capping)

    Move the brush back and forth over the top of the image to lighten it. Then, select the burn tool, and with a large feathered brush move back and forth over the bottom of the image to darken it slightly as shown below.

    Sometimes when the burn tool is used, the texture may become too saturated. If this occurs you will need to use the sponge tool to
    correct this. It works in exactly the same way as the dodge and burn tools, except you must choose saturate or desaturate from the range menu.

    feathering is photoshop term used to describe a the process of softening the edges of an image in the foreground so that it blends into the background image with less contrast. A feathered brush is a brush with a low hardness setting. Feathering a selection will soften or blur that selection.

    When using these methods in texture creation, the size of the texture must be considered to prevent tiling overlaps in gmax. Therefore, it is likely that textures will need to be customized for each building you create. You will need to use the UVW map gizmo to line textures up, and ensure that tiling doesn't create a repeat of the light top bit, half way through your roof.

    This roof texture has no gradient and resembles nothing like the
    intentions of the original SC4 designers' style.

    It is flat, harsh and unrealistic. Most of the user-created BATs appear like this.

    This roof texture has a subtle gradient. Already the building is starting to resemble the SC4 pallette and style. Although it still requires a bit of adjustment, the gradient brings the building to life. Even the slightest tonal difference can make a huge impact.

    This roof texture is in reverse, yet still fits into the SC4 palette. It is darker at the top and lighter at the bottom, unlike most SC4 renderings. However, the principle of the gradient tone
    is what achieves this, not necessarily its direction. In fact light is so unpredictable that anything goes.

    Using Gradient Masks to stop your walls looking like Supernovas

    If you look closely at the walls of buildings, and in particular tall buildings, they are not tonally flat. If you look at the walls of buildings in SC4, they are also not tonally flat. Once again, In real life light tends to be reflected more fom the higher points of a building.
    You can see this below:

    We can use the dodge and burn tools to create a gradient tone and simulate ray tracing, however, in this instance a gradient mask
    will also do the same trick and is better for larger scaled textures.

    Create a new photoshop document of similar proportions to the wall onto which it will be applied or open an existing wall texture. As you can see the texture shown below produces a flat unsuitable render in gmax.

    To remedy this we are going to create a gradient mask effect.

    In photoshop, duplicate the texture onto a new layer, by using the pull-down sub menu at the side of the layers pallette. Then, select the layer so it is highlighted and press the "add new layer mask" button at the bottom.

    The new white box linked to your new texture layer is where the gradient mask will live. It will partially hide or show the layer called "background copy", whose appearance we will shortly change. It works like a greyscale alpha channel. Anything drawn in white on this layer mask will reveal the layer, anything drawn in black will hide the layer, and anything in between black and white will show the linked layer as translucent.

    The mask/layer icon indicates whether you are currently working on the layer mask or the actual texture. The screen shot below shows the mask is currently active. A paintbrush icon will appear when you are working on the actual layer artwork itself. To work on the mask select the mask thumbnail and to work on your actual texture click on the layer thumbnail.

    Ensure you are working on the mask by selecting the mask thumbnail. Now make sure that the foreground and background colours are set to black and white and finally choose the gradient tool from the toolbar. Draw a line with the gradient tool from the bottom to the top of your image, like shown below.

    The gradient mask is now complete and can be seen in the thumbnail but nothing has changed to the texture!
    " I want my money back, its rubbish!", I hear you cry...

    To see the effects, select the layer thumbnail to return to working on the actual artwork on the layer called "background copy".
    Choose Brightness-Contrast from the IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS sub menu. You can now make the whole layer darker and because of the mask, the image will grade from light to dark giving a gradient tone to your texture. How dark or light you make it is up to you, but subtle effects will work best as fake ray-tracing and coarser effects will make the texture look dirty.

    If you drew your gradient the other way round then the top will get darker; remember black is masking, white is revealing.

    The below image shows the improvement in the gmax render:
    (no .acv colour correction or white-point capping has been used in this render - hence the yellowness!)

    There are many other applications of using gradient masks and their editability makes them invaluable, ie if you don't like the tonal gradient, just redraw the mask. You can use short ones to generate floor reflections, or radial ones to give the appearance of light-glows that gmax just can't cope with or even to apply subtle colour casts to areas of your textures.

    In summary, use some bloody gradients on your textures, for god's sake!
  2. JP Schriefer liked an article by rsc204, Slope Mods: A Brief Guide   
    I was asked about slope mods by Dreadnought today. Halfway through replying to a PM, I realised this would be better posted here for all to see. If anyone can think of something I've missed, I'd be happy to consider it's inclusion at some point. For now though, this will just cover some of the basics.

    What is a Slope Mod?
    A slope mod just adjusts the allowable slopes, at an individual network level. What does that mean?...
    Without any additional mods, if you have a big hill and draw a network, the game has a default setting for the maximum slope of each network. Maxis deliberately made this pretty unrestrictive, for ease of play. If you want to create more realistic looking cities, especially with hilly terrain, you will probably want to install a mod that adjusts the default slopes, making them more restrictive. This will help to avoid the bumpy uneven roads, that are very common when playing without such a mod.
    Each network in the game has it's own settings, that dictate how steep the slopes can be when dragging that network. These networks are:
    Street Road OWR (One Way Road) Avenue Maxis Highway Rail Elevated Rail Monorail Dirt Road (RealHighway [RHW]). It should be noted that override networks do not have separate settings. So for example, if you are using the Network Widening Mod (NWM) or Street Addon Mod (SAM), which are overrides of the Road and Street networks respectively, they will use the same settings as the base network.
    Dirt Road is so called, because it was an additional unused network left in the game's code. Whilst it has been repurposed by the NAM team to be used for the RHW mod, technically it's the Dirt Road network. From here on in, I will refer to dirt road as RHW, for the sake of clarity.
    A Slope Mod sounds just up my street...
    Hopefully if you've made it here, you'll be thinking right now about installing a slope mod. As always with mods for SC4, there are far too many options out there to go into every one in excruciating detail. They all do pretty much the same thing, but there are two important factors you should consider when selecting one.
    What networks does the mod support/change. How restrictive is the slope.  
    For example, you may decide you only want to have restricted slopes for some of the supported networks. So if a mod bundles everything together in one DAT, unless you know how to remove those you do not want, (really not very hard, even though it does require the Reader), you should be mindful of this.
    A very restrictive slope mod will totally transform how you build and terraform in game. Whereas a very unrestrictive mod, could end up looking like the vanilla experience. If you are new to slope mods, then it's probably best to try a few out and get a feel for how they affect things. Especially before you start using one in a cherished region. For example, a really restrictive slope can mean a 15m height difference, would take something in the region of a whole large tile for the slope. Obviously that's an extreme example, most of them are much more balanced for general play.
    For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm going to show the three mods I'm using:
    BRF's Tunnel and Slope Mod RHW Slope Mod BTM Slope Mod  

    And here is a comparison shot, to give you an example of how these changes affect your slopes. Each of the networks in this picture are transitioning from a 15m high hill. Even with the slope mod by BRF, the street network takes only three tiles or 48m to descend by 15m. For math aficionados, that's a slope of around 1:3. This is pretty steep, but probably not completely unrealistic in some places. The road takes 4 tiles or 60m by comparison, which is 1:4. As you can see, I've cunningly laid these out from bottom to top, in the order of the slopes gradients. From steepest, to the shallowest slope. If you are still wondering why you need a slope mod, this picture should hopefully show you how much nicer your slopes can be.
    Note: I've used Rail stubs to indicate the first three tiles that are at ground level for each network. I've also used PedMalls to help see the slopes better. As you can see, rail has the most restrictive slope of all, so much so, even with my fairly reasonable grades, it doesn't fit in the screenshot.
    Using your slope mods more flexibly
    Whilst you could have multiple slope mods for a number of different situations, that's quite a complex setup and requires you to close SC4 and move files about. Let's say I want a road to have a slope similar to that of the El-Rail network shown above. Rather than switch to a slope mod permanently with those settings, there is an easier way. Just use the El-Rail tool to draw the slope first, delete it and drag the road down your nice new slope. Using the above picture as reference, you can do this for any network which appears lower down the screenshot, than the slope you require. To put that another way, if you made a slope using the Avenue tool, but then wanted to use it for the Rail network, this would not work. Since the rail network is more restrictive. Using this setup though, you can have quite a bit of flexibility for a number of networks. Note how the Rail networks, including Monorail and Elevated Rail, have the most restrictive slopes of all. That makes a lot of sense when you think about it, since in real life, the gradients they are able to support are much less than cars and other traffic are able to deal with.
    Some final hints and tips
    Sim City 4 can be unforgiving at times, it's all too easy when making other changes, for your hard work creating slopes to become unravelled. Just as I have shown above, using PedMalls next to the slope, will lock-in the slope, making it impossible for development and other networks to alter them further.
    Of course, if you wanted a junction halfway down the slope, that now be impossible too. Here's where some planning really comes in handy. Using the four steps shown on the right, you can easily form intersections as part of your slopes.
    Drag the initial slope, here I am using the El-Rail tool for the slope. I have placed pedmalls and used a rail stub to completely flatten the tile where the junction will be. Now you can continue to drag your slope, in this case in two directions, from the stub. I've placed the pedmalls here before I built the road. As you can see, the slopes are working very well. Lastly, I've dragged the street tool, anything with a less restrictive slope would do, parallel to the new road. This makes the surrounding tiles match the slope used for the road. This is useful if you want to zone next to the road, or sometimes for blending into the terrain better. Note: I have not dragged next to the road junction, a gap of one tile must be left here. Because I've used pedmall to lock-in the slope, there would be no danger of messing up our hard work. But if the pedmalls were not present, dragging either of the parallel streets closer to each other, might mean you'd have to start over.
    Another useful thing to know, when zoning next to slopes, the game can actually alter the slope of the transit network. Either when zoning or when buildings develop. Often this is quite undesirable, but there is a way to avoid it. By holding the CTRL key when zoning, the game knows not to change the slopes in either scenario. It does require some thinking about how you zone each area, but is a very handy way to stop the game messing up all our hard work, to keep slopes looking good.
    If you make a partial slope, you can then level off areas using "stubs" as required. Stubs are made by clicking only once with the network tools, such as the Street, Road or Rail, in each tile. As opposed to connecting or drawing them in a line. I prefer to use rail stubs myself, because they do not feature auto-connect. This can catch you out on occasion, causing problems, especially when using the RHW or Streets tool.
    Leave these stubs in place whilst you are building your slopes, to incorporate many different things, that might otherwise look undesirable on uneven terrain. This can be especially useful for incorporating WRC's, TE connections and many other possibilities into your slopes.
  3. JP Schriefer liked an article by NMUSpidey, 100,000,000 STEX Downloads Interview with Glenni   
    ST: When did you first get SC4, and what do you remember about your first experiences with the game? Was SC4 your first involvement with SimCity, or did you already have a history with the sim games?

    Glenni: I bought the game around 2002, or thereabouts. I had already played SimCity 3000 World Edition, and SimCity 2000 before Simcity 4, so I was by then used to the series. My first thoughts were, “Oh my god, this is SO difficult compared to the previous!” For those of you who never played SimCity 4 without any expansions, let me just tell you, it was absoletely brutal! Everything was hard. The best I managed to get, before moving on to Rush Hour Expansion pack was 110 000 people in a city. And just that one growable high rise - that one high rise alone felt like a proper acchievement.

    Another thing I noticed was just how smooth the animations were. And the street life, wow. With SimCity 3000 I was used to cars moving at a choppy pace. Pedestrians were there, but didn't do much but walk awkwardly. Suddenly we had cars driving, stopping, going around bends and pedestrians standing, sitting at tables, walking, doing tasks and chores, people in pools, kids on trampolines. It was quite the sight for me back then.

    ST: Do you recall the first plugin you installed?

    Glenni: I don't remember much of them specifically, but i found EA's now defunct SimcCity 4 website. Simcity.ea.com I think it was? It used to have a lot exchange. I downloaded the standard EA landmarks and then tried the exchange. I just remember that one of the first I installed was some office called MSNBC. It was basically just the wren insurance, with a huge logo saying MSNBC slapped on the side. The problem is that with the official exchange, you had no way of telling what exactly it installed. So it installed that building, and a few custom versions of existing lots, with that sign popping up everywhere in my cities.

    ...We're off to a great start! One the plus side I did find Mikeseith's ( the automata dude) earlier work there, that was some of the best I found find there at the time.

    ST: What led you to Simtropolis at first? Can you remember your initial impressions of the site?

    Glenni: Having finally had enough of simcity.ea.com's rambunctiousness I began looking for other sites.
    After some googling for Simcity 4 mods, I found Simtropolis. It was amazing. Wow, good buildings, wow, cathedrals, wow, new cars! Where have I ended up?!
    I think one of the first mods I downloaded was one of Xannepan's JENX cathedrals, and some Simgoober hotels.

    ST: Describe your progression into the world of SC4 custom content. Was it a particular lot or BAT that inspired you to take the first step?

    Glenni: It wasn't as much the BATs and mods, as it was the people. I started at Simtropolis as a lurker, but eventually I started hanging out at the chatroom. From there I got help to get started, Ill Tonkso, N747 and NintendoMaster128 were some of the guys that inspired me and helped me get up and going. They helped me with textures, they shared some of theirs, taught me how to start with scale, etc.

    ST: Speaking of first steps, what was the very first thing that you modeled using the BAT? Do you still have a screen shot?

    Glenni: Oh lawdy. Well, what confused me with Gmax/BAT at first, was that I was used to BAP/Ba+ from SimCity 3000, BAT's predecessor. So I thought that all I had to was make a basic shape, and then texture that. Boy was I wrong. I learned the hard way that Simcity 4 had some simple, but rigid design rules:
    - Detail the building.
    - Maintain a general 4 metre floor height.
    - Exagerate the vertical scale.
    - Exaggerate the scale of ornaments
    - Textures are what make and break the models.
    My first attempts were truly dreadful, but here's a shot of one of them:

    ST: You have a very wide range of buildings in your list of BATs. What is the thought process behind choosing what to create?

    Glenni: For most part it's the desire to create realistic, and non descript buildings. The stuff people tend to forget about, the non-shiny or glassy every day buildings. High rise 1960s residentials, down and out tenements, etc. But of course, I have made some non-grungy stuff too. Another reason was to create more Norwegian and Scandinavian content in general, content that there isn't all that much of.

    ST: Many of your BATs have been released under the BLaM and NDEX banners. For those of us (including myself) who may not know much about BLaM or NDEX, can you elaborate on what you guys were about/how you were organized and what your role with them was?

    Glenni: BLaM and NDEX were, and are two teams devoted to creating content under a common banner for SImcity 4. In the past, NDEX and BSC were the two main teams - you could say rivals if you wanted, but I never saw it that way. NDEX has a special interest in big, bold, and spectacular skyscrapers, made by people like Dusktrooper, Eburess, N747, Superstar, and in later years me, Ill TOnkso, and Dragonanime, whereas BSC focused more on game beautification, mansions, chateaus, vinyards, that sort of thing.

    BLaM was founded by Mike Dixon Kennedy, alias Onlyplace4, who sadly is no longer with us. (God rest his soul.) He was a very good, competant leader for the team. I forgot the exact names on some of the other founding members, as I lost contact with most of them, but Mightygoose and I held somewhat central positions in the team.

    In both BLaM and NDEX, I was and am just the BATter, all though I did and do for most part my own lotting, because I have more of an actual interest in it, whereas other BATters just wanted the damn things out, and not have to worry about it.

    ST: Since this is a sort of hobby (in the sense that custom content creators are not paid for their work), what keeps you motivated to continue releasing new creations for the SC4 community to enjoy? How much do comments in the download section mean to you? Is it exciting to see your models used in the CJs of others?

    Glenni: For most part I just like sharing, and knowing that someone actually has a use for something you create does feel nice sometimes. Comments are generally not a neccesity, I don't need comments just to keep on making and releasing stuff, although I should admit, that If I've had a bad day, and see rude or nasty comments, it does of course affect me a bit.

    ST: Has your experience BATing had any influence on your personal or professional life? Are there any skills that you have developed over your BATing career that have helped you beyond the world of SC4?

    Glenni: They haven't had all that much of an influence other than making it easier for me to step into the modding community for other games, such as GTA, Mafia, Cities XL, and SecondLife. Those games are where I have dabbled since.

    ST: What advice would you give to a new member of this community who was planning on creating their first BAT?

    Glenni: Start simple. Don't go for the tallest, most detailed, and most spectacular skyscraper you can find. Aim low. Make a small house, or a store. Maintain a general height of 4 meters per floor. Detail it with air condition vents, pipes, and chimneys, etc on the roof. Model the actual window frames, set them back in the walls like in most buildings real life. Make the walls 0.3 m thick at the minimum. But first and foremost, have fun, and enjoy what you are creating!

    ST: Simtropolis is organized into ‘player’ and ‘builder’ categories. Regarding the ‘player’ section, do you have any favorite CJers that you enjoy following? What are your favorite SC4 ‘scenes’ (i.e., towering metropolises, urban sprawl, rural landscapes, etc.).

    Glenni: I must admit that I haven't had a very close watch on the latest CJs, but the ones that I remember, and particularely liked were as follows:
    Thames by Frogface: A little piece of the UK, the first serious attempt at a proper British CJ, and boy was it good!
    An old CJ made by the Swedish member SAS: I forgot the name, but some oldtimers might remember it. Wooded hills, huge bridges spanning gorges, impressive lot work, etc!
    BurroDiablo's Sakhaliyan Peoples Republic: This one was a killer, dark dinghy soviet style, with his neat photoshop skills made this a fun CJ to look at, it made you want to pop some anti depressants just looking at it, and that's a good thing!
    Ilikihotdogsalot's World CJ: This was a CJ, where he would recreate one city per post, and then move on to the next one. Some of them got freakishly close to the originals!
    There were a few others, but it's hard to remember the exact titles of the CJs and the members behind them.

    ST: On the ‘builders’ side, do you have any favorite BATers that you enjoy following? If you still play SC4, what was your most recent download from the STEX?

    Glenni: Yep, most of my favourites are the ones that did good down to earth buildings, Odd From Sweden, Erdmoebel, Ferox, Ill tonkso, Jestarr, Simhottody, Jasoncw to name a few.

    I haven't played simcity since 2011, and therefore have not downloaded any buildings, but I plan to go back to this. I really want to get myself a desktop for it, though. Laptops are a bit awkward and jerky to play Simcity 4 on.

    ST: SimCity 4 has been out for over 12 years now. Are you surprised that this community is still going strong all these years later? What do you think is the secret to its longevity? Do you think there will still be new content being created 12 years from now?

    Glenni: I am a little bit surprised, yes. The fact that new buildings get uploaded every week even after the game was released 12 years ago is actually pretty amazing. Part of the success is because of the blatant failure that SimCity Societies and SimCity 13 were, though. If anything, it just brought even more fans to SimCity 4. The reason for the success I'd wager would be the wide variety of stuff you can find for this game, just the STEX alone has 14 000~ uploads. And then there's SC4Devotion, and several other sites that add their own content to the game. One good example would be toutsimcities.com if you are interested in French buildings and mods. I ventured a bit into simcity.cn, too, a Chinese SimCity fansite. I managed to find some gems there, too, that are not found anywhere else. I'm pretty confident that this game still has a lot going for it, but if it will be around in another 12 years we'll never know. But at this point it doesn't seem too unlikely. Grand Theft Auto 3 was released over 13 years ago, and that's also going strong in its mod community.

    ST: Are there any games you play besides SC4? What other hobbies do you have away from BATing and SimCity?

    Glenni: I play a few games, like Garry's mod, Cities XL, S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl, Grand Theft Auto V, Mafia II, and Tropico 4 is what I play the most. I don't have many hobbies, I sometimes enjoy hiking, photography of urban landscapes - and I recently picked up an interest in making some models devoted to Secondlife.

    Interview questions by SimCoug and NMUSpidey (but mostly SimCoug), MandelSoft interview conducted by NMUSpidey
  4. JP Schriefer liked an article by plasticboy, Interview with JasonCW   
    Midnight Taxi

    The Front Seat: Jason Wagner

    Hello, Jason. Pleased to be doing this interview. In your own ingenuity, kindly tell us more about yourself.
    I’m a 19 year old architecture student from Detroit, Michigan.

    How will you introduce your work to anybody who’s new to it?
    Most of my BATs are older buildings. I also have some modern buildings in the pipeline. Some of my BATs are recreations of real buildings in Detroit.

    What are the steps in your creative process?
    Of course, I’d like to BAT everything. I have a lot of projects I’d like to do, but I don’t have time for all of them.

    The first thing I do is I consider how difficult and time consuming the modeling and texturing will be. I also try to keep the strain on my computer in mind, since the more complicated things get, the more my programs will lag when I work on it. I also consider how hard it would be to lot and mod, although T Wrecks does almost all of my modding. And I consider how useful the creation will be in the game.

    Real buildings are more difficult to recreate. Most of the time the building’s dimensions don’t fit nicely on a SC4 lot. For example, the David Broderick Tower in Detroit is about 22 meters on two sides, but 28 and 24 on the other sides, since the building isn't square. tiles in Sim City are 16x16 meters square, and this building is a wall to wall building in real life. The building could be modeled the same size as the real thing, but then it wouldn't work be as useful in the game. It could be changed to fit into the game really well, but then it wouldn't be as accurate. For this building, I'd have the choice between making the building square, and making it fit snuggly on a 2x2 lot (best for SC4 purposes), or keeping it a trapezoid, and fitting loosely on a 2x2 lot (keeping the building itself accurate).

    Perhaps to start with some questions on your work, tell us one of your
    favorite pieces from your STEX portfolio and explain what it is about and how you came to create it?

    Every BAT I make has a story to it. Some of their stories are more interesting than others. I'll tell a little bit about my more popular projects.

    Wagner Hotel
    Right now, Wagner Hotel is my most downloaded BAT. I started working on it in March of 2005. It was vaguely based on the Wrigley Building in Chicago. I started it because I felt that there weren’t enough diagonal buildings, CS§§§ buildings, and buildings for the New York or Chicago tile sets in the game and the STEX.

    Before I started texturing it, the building was going to be a crisp white. The first texture I put on it turned out a lot darker and browner than I wanted, but it looked so good that I left it like that, and that texture is what you see on the building today.

    At the very beginning, it was planned to be shaped like a triangle. After that, I decided that it should be longer, and it became a long (5x2) U shaped building. 5x2 is an unusual lot size, but I figured that it was ok, since the building would need to be manually plopped anyway, because of the diagonal part. However, the diagonal part ended up being more work than I thought it was worth, so I reworked the building into a 2x2 H shaped building.

    Eventually I finished the building and uploaded it to the STEX in November of 2005. It took me about nine months to complete it.

    Regal Theater
    I started Regal Theater in April of 2006. Originally it was supposed to look like the smaller buildings in the Rockefeller Center landmark from the game. It was also an experiment to test out my ideas with LODs, and random props. I also wanted more theaters in the game, as well as more CS§§§ buildings. However, as I started working on the building, it shifted away from the original Rockefeller design, but other than that I stayed true to my original ideas.

    The marquees on the building are props, which aren't randomized through prop families, but through a more advanced method that I don't know enough about to describe. The model for the entire theater was made and exported with its own LODs. Then I deleted those LODs and made new ones that only surrounded the marquee titles. I changed the titles on the marquees and exported them for each theater attraction. Because of this, part of the theater building appeared in the marquee props, which made the transition between the marquee props and the building smoother.

    For some reason, the Bladerunner and Weezer marquee props didn't work right, so they weren't included.

    I think the building tuned out really well. My only regret is size of the building. The proportions of the theater part are completely unrealistic. The theater would have fitted better if I had made it a 3x4 instead of a 2x4.

    I uploaded this building to the STEX in July after four months of work.

    The Detroit Free Press Building
    I started this in March of 2005, and it was uploaded in February of 2006, taking almost a year to finish. This was my first recreation and my first project for the Barry Sanders Project. It took a long time to create a good compromise between what the building looks like in real life, and what kinds of textures would look good in Sim City 4. The building’s complexity made my computer lag, which made working harder.

    Jason's BATs from left to right: Detroit Free Press Building, Fisk Insurance, Regal Theater, Audubon Building(created in collaboration with Don Miguel), Wagner Hotel, Mary Hotel.

    And what would be your most substantial project that has left a meaningful

    impression? Why is that?
    Wagner Hotel was my first big release, and is the most downloaded one today. I also learned a lot while making it.

    What makes a BAT creator a good one?
    There needs to be a good mix between caring and not caring. You need to be caring enough to make sure that it’s done well, but at the same time you can’t care so much that you’re too eager to finish something, or so that you don't give up from being too sensitive when something isn't working right. All in all though, patience is the most important trait.

    Your work is a source of inspiration for many. Where does your inspiration come from?
    My original inspiration was some of the BATers (good and bad) from when I started. The lack of old American buildings, midrises, small buildings, and detailed buildings made me want to make some. Don Miguel in particular did a good job, and his BAT quality was my initial goal.


    You specialize in creating exact replicas of the prominent Detroit buildings, is there something that you will not do?
    No, but there are some buildings that I would do before others, and some buildings are so far down the list that I would work on anything else before working on them.

    Shown on the photo: A replica of The Olde Building in Detroit created by Jason as part of the Barry Sanders project

    Detroit has always been a perfect playground for some of the most affluent architects in the US such as Albert Kahn, Charles N. Agree, and Philip Johnson that laid down a foundation for Art Deco, Georgian Revival, and postmodern architectural tradition of the city. Did the city's great architectural legacy played a major role in your decision to apply to an architectural school?

    It probably started with LEGO, which is an outstanding toy. There, I made things that looked good, had an imaginary purpose that had to be accommodated (for example, a car needs to resemble a car), a real purpose that had to be accommodated (the wheels need to be able to turn, the doors need to be able to open, etc.), and it had to be structurally strong (so it doesn't fall apart). So LEGO is similar to architecture. I mostly made sci-fi type stuff, and normal buildings, that generally looked like what Spa makes today.

    Then there was Sim City, which has an obvious influence. And recently there has been BATing, which isn’t very realistic, but has the same kind of creative thinking as architecture.

    When I was younger I liked to draw buildings and cities and maps (and I still do today, but now they’re for an actual reason), and the built environment and how people interact with it has always interested me.

    By the time I was in middle school, it should have been clear to me that I should pursue architecture, but it took until freshman year in college to decide to actually do it (before then I was an animation major).

    I only lived in Detroit for the first few years of my life, and after we moved, my family stayed involved with the organizations they were involved with (Girl Scouts for my sister, for example). But interestingly enough, in my mind, Detroit was still big scary Detroit, where you go to get your car stolen, even though I was regularly there for things. Only until a few years ago have I been going downtown.

    So I think that I could be from any large city, and I would have still ended up in architecture. I do think that Detroit has great architecture though, and I’m very happy with where I live and how I grew up.

    What do you think are the main attractions of Detroit and which is your favorite?

    There’s sports, music, theater, museums, and art all the time. Aside from that, there are several big festivals every year, and I think a visitor should plan their visit to coincide with one of those events. There are also restaurants and casinos to supplement those events.

    Something that I think should draw people to Detroit is the atmosphere. Other cities are a lot more touristy, and you feel like everyone is pushing you to spend money at their attraction. Detroit is a lot more laid back.

    Once described as the largest factory town ever built, Detroit's population has halved since its 1960s peak. As a Detroit native, do you believe that decades of intensive capital investments into the city development helped to improve the situation? What would you do differently? Elaborate.

    Unfortunately, many of those huge urban renewal projects ended up doing just as much harm as good. Or maybe even more harm.

    I would have focused the money more on services, like the police, and on infrastructure, like mass transportation. On parks and community centers as well. Those are the types of things that enable the citizens and businesses of a city to be productive.

    But funding is a complicated thing. There are grants from the government, private investments, tax breaks, and so much more. I don’t really think that when people say “why are you building that, while this is in disrepair” is fair, or realistic, but those are the things that I would have done differently.

    If you are allowed to turn back the hands of time, at which age/areas of Motown's past would you like to repeat/change?

    Well, the depression first of all. If the prosperity of the 20’s would have lasted a few more years, the city would have been stronger, and would have fared better against some of the hard times that would follow.

    After that, I’d change the 50s, 60s and 70s, since the city was definitely hurt in those times, by the freeways, and other modernization projects.

    Skeptics argue that many revival projects have failed and Detroit will never be the same again. For instance, they use an ambitious effort to turn Detroit into a gambling city that led to a dramatic increase in personal bankruptcy in Michigan as an example for the their reasoning. What is your response to them?

    Most of those revival projects failed because they were bad projects. They were planned around ideologies that didn’t apply to real life. Aside from that, some of them failed because there wasn’t enough money or political support, and some of them succeeded.

    I don’t think casinos are good for economies, but I also don’t think that the ones in downtown Detroit were the cause for that increase. I think local, state, national, and global social and economic trends are more responsible.

    I think that it’s possible for Detroit to be as successful as it once was. Cities last for thousands of years, and in the long run, the last 40 years have not damaged Detroit enough to eliminate that possibility. I think in the next 40 years Detroit will improve, and people will compare it positively with other large American cities.


    Is the word “impossible” in your vocabulary?

    Some things really are impossible, and a lot of things are really unlikely. It applies to both good and bad things too. For instance, it’s possible for Detroit to become the world’s greatest city, but it’s not likely. It’s also possible for Detroit to become a ghost city within the next century, but that’s not very likely either.

    How important is music to you? And what CD that never seems to be found
    outside your stereo system?

    Music is important to me. I listen to it a lot, and I play the guitar. I don’t want to pick a CD though, since I’d feel bad about the ones I didn’t pick.

    Describe THE perfect weekend. A milkshake, a cup of tea or plain ol' coffee?

    The perfect weekend would involve a lot of dessert, skyscrapers and money. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee though.

    It has been great talking to you, Jason. Before you go, if there's a TAXI in front of you right now, where will you be heading to?

    The taxi will take me from my computer to the TV. I’ll eat some ice cream and watch something before I head off to bed.

    Learn More about Jason:

    All of Jason's BATs on Stex

    Official BAT Thread

    Barry Sanders Project
  5. JP Schriefer liked an article by NMUSpidey, 100 Million STEX DL: An Interview with MandelSoft   
    ST: When did you first get SC4, and what do you remember about your first experiences with the game? Was SC4 your first involvement with SimCity, or did you already have a history with the sim games?
    MandelSoft: SimCity was not my first introduction to the simulator genre. I once got two sim games for my birthday: Rollercoaster Tycoon 1 and Transport Tycoon Deluxe (yes, the original DOS game). Back then, RCT was already hard to install 135MB on a 4GB hard disk on a Windows 95 PC (boy, those were the times). I had many hours of fun with Transport Tycoon (including the chiptune music in all its glory) and I still play OpenTTD today. More people on this website are familiar with OpenTTD, but I don’t think many have played the original game.

    My first introduction to the SimCity series was SimCity 2000. Since I never really got track of that game (I was really young then, probably 6 or 7 years old), I ditched it aside pretty quickly. SimCity 3000 felt a lot better and I enjoyed that game, though I made some quite beginner mistakes.

    Then SimCity 4 came along in 2003. I had the vanilla game, but I didn’t got the hang out of it at the first try and I ditched it aside. Yes, a fan like me ditched aside SimCity 4 once for quite a while. But I was just 11 years old back then, and I was probably not old enough to really “get” the game…

    Then 2006 came along. I picked up the game again and I finally got how the game works. And I have loved the game ever since! In 2007 I bought Rush Hour (second hand, best purchase ever!) and in October 2007, I discovered Simtropolis. Since then, SimCity 4 has never been the same for me...
    ST: What aspect of SC4 do you enjoy most – what keeps you coming back?
    MandelSoft: SimCity 4 offers you a toolkit not just to make any city, it offers you the tools to make YOUR city. There are so many ways you can construct a city, how to design the layout, what services you offer, what style of infrastructure and architecture you're going to use and more. With the amount of custom content we have today, the possibilities are endless! I can see that most familiar SimCity 4 players have a distinct style.

    ST: Do you recall the first plugin you installed?
    MandelSoft: I think it was either the Streetlight Colour Mod or the Network Addon Mod, I can’t recall…
    ST: What led you to Simtropolis at first? Can you remember your initial impressions of the site?
    MandelSoft: The custom content, of course! I was searching for more possibilities, and especially to make my cities look more Dutch. At first, I only was here to download, but after a while I started browsing the forums. I never could have imagined that I would ever become such an integral part of the community. Everybody has to start somewhere.

    ST: Describe your progression into the world of SC4 custom content. Was it a particular lot or BAT that inspired you to take the first step?
    MandelSoft: Pffft, I don’t know anymore. I think it was the possibility alone that adding custom models to the game was enough inspiration for me to do my own work. I had some troubles getting gMax to start BATting, though.

    ST: Speaking of first steps, what was the very first thing that you modeled using the BAT? Do you still have a screen shot?
    MandelSoft: My first BAT was my own house. But it looked horrible, and for a few years I tried to clear them from my cities. My first serious BAT was a Dutch signage pack (and this was released, and deleted again). This one was overscaled quite a lot and poorly modelled. I don’t have pictures of it anymore, but it took me another three versions to get the proportions right.

    ST: Your list of uploads is populated by a large number of road mods. Are there any particular reasons for choosing to direct your efforts in this direction, beyond just general roadgeekery?
    MandelSoft: Most of these things are easy to model. Most signs only use basic geometry, especially boxes and cylinders. By combining them in a clever way, you can still get a large variety of shapes. One thing you do have to take care of is texturing, which is important with signage. Streetlights are a bit harder to model, but these things are small props, so one model is not really that complex.

    However, I didn’t do just easy stuff. Road texture sets are a lot of work. Not because it’s hard, but because there are so many textures to modify. It took me three and a half months to prepare the RHW Euro Texture Set for the RHW 3.0 ready. The Ontario Texture set took me a month (because I had the basic set ready in vector format).

    ST: What do you find fascinating about roads and their signage, lighting, etc?

    MandelSoft: It’s hard to explain. I just have that odd twitch in my head

    ST: What is the thought process behind choosing what to create next?

    MandelSoft: There is not much thinking about it. I just choose whatever I like to do next, whatever I can motivate myself for. In some cases, it’s about what I feel missing in the game and what I am able to make.

    ST: I think most custom content creators would consider their work a hobby, but like anything in life, some parts are more fun than others. What do you consider your least favorite part of the BATing process? Your favorite?

    MandelSoft: Some would say rendering is the least favourite part of the BATting process, but my least favourite part of the process is the finishing of the lots. This means getting the lot descriptions right and adding icons to the lots. Keep in mind that I usually make signage packs of dozens of signs, which means a lot of icons. This becomes a huge pain to make everything look right.

    My favourite part is the modelling itself. Just like in SimCity 4, I like to create stuff, to see things come from the mind into reality, regardless if this reality is virtual or not.

    ST: Since this is a sort of hobby (in the sense that custom content creators are not paid for their work), what keeps you motivated to continue releasing new creations for the SC4 community to enjoy? How much do comments in the download section mean to you? Is it exciting to see your models used in the CJs of others?
    MandelSoft: I really like to see my stuff coming back in other people’s CJs. Then you see that other people really appreciate your work, and that gives me satisfaction. This is also what motivates me to make new stuff, other than the fact that there are some things I really like to see myself in-game.

    I usually don’t read many comments, but I do want to take action if somebody comments on a bug.

    ST: You released your first file in 2008. Is there any one of your creations that you are particularly proud of? Are there any fun stories or facts relating to some of your works that we don’t know about?
    MandelSoft: The thing of quite a few of my creations is that no one really took the effort to do something similar. The Light Replacement Mod (not just replace the light cones, but the lamp posts themselves too) , the Stoplight Replacement Mod, the ploppable streetlights, the Highway Re-Styling Mod. No one has ever really tried and released such a feat. Also, there were a few signage sets in the past, but I really expanded the choice with a lot of European signage styles. I’m also very fond of my NAM creations, but that’s pure teamwork and I never got that far without help of my wonderful team mates.

    I’m also particularly proud of the Pactagon building. It is a funny looking building, but not too unrealistic. It is a quite original building design to fit on a roundabout center. A worthy headquarters for the NAM Team!

    One fact people may not have known before is that one of my mods was inspired by a mod that turned out to be a hoax. There was a project called the M25 Project. Basically this was a quite beautiful looking reskin of the Maxis Highway. At one point, development just stopped. I decided to start over again and make my own set, the Highway Re-Styling Mod. Later, it turned out that my inspiration was a Photoshop hoax. The member who pulled that off has made such a bad name that it may never be mentioned ever again. The same member also worked on a streetlight mod which inspired my Light Replacement Mod. So two hoaxes were eventually realised “properly” by me.

    Some other fun facts about some of my other downloads:
    Everything in the Frickinhuge Signage Set is either a pun or a reference.
    My latest release, the Carthamia Imperial Tower, was made for a friend.
    There is a brony advert on the Pactagon Building, as well as a PacMan advert.
    ST: Has your experience BATing had any influence on your personal or professional life? Are there any skills that you have developed over your BATing career that have helped you beyond the world of SC4?
    MandelSoft: SimCity 4 had one big influence on my life: I became a Civil Engineer because of SimCity 4. I completed a Bachelor degree in Civil Engineering in 2013 and I’m getting my Master’s degree in the specialisation Transport & Planning this year. Thus far I’m the only NAM member with a degree in the field

    ST: What advice would you give to a new member of this community who was planning on creating their first BAT?
    MandelSoft: I would give three important points to remember:
    Start small. Before you can make full-scale buildings, it’s best to start with small stuff like props. This will let you get to know the tools better. If your first project doesn’t succeed, you are more likely to quit. Larger projects often have a larger chance of failure than smaller ones. Therefore, start small.
    Never cease experimenting. Change some settings and see what it does, try something new, or just do things without knowing what you are really doing. Experimenting is an important way through which I learned all the skills I have. By experimenting, you get to understand the tools better.
    Failure is an option. Yes, you will fail quite a lot along the way when experimenting, but that’s all right; failure is an option. Each failure brings you one step closer to success, since you know what works and what doesn’t work. You have truly failed if you didn’t learn from your failures. So try a lot, fail a lot, but eventually learn a lot.
    ST: Simtropolis is organized into ‘player’ and ‘builder’ categories. Regarding the ‘player’ section, do you have any favorite CJers that you enjoy following? What are your favorite SC4 ‘scenes’ (i.e., towering metropolises, urban sprawl, rural landscapes, etc.).
    MandelSoft: My favourite SimCity landscapes are old cities and night scenes. I have a weak spot for both. In SimCity 4, it’s quite hard to make a city look centuries old. People who pull off that trick earn my deepest respect. These old cities have a very strong own unique character, I like that. I also like night shots, since this shows how the city is alive at night with all the pretty light effects.

    I don’t really follow CJs; I usually look around at the “show us your …” sections. I have some people that have inspiring creations. McDuell is completely mad when it comes to building interchanges; he builds one mind-blowing interchange after the other. Haljackey’s “Building a City from Scratch” is a huge undertaking that helped with popularising SimCity 4 again. Both of them should get a lot of respect, but let’s not forget all the other CJers out there that make great and unique content!

    ST: On the ‘builders’ side, do you have any favorite BATers that you enjoy following? If you still play SC4, what was your most recent download from the STEX?
    MandelSoft: I still have huge respects for the NYBT. The team still produces some high quality BATs for everyone to admire. I also respect Reddonquixotte’s work a lot. Each release of his is a masterpiece!

    ST: SimCity 4 has been out for over 12 years now. Are you surprised that this community is still going strong all these years later? What do you think is the secret to its longevity? Do you think there will still be new content being created 12 years from now?
    MandelSoft: I think the secret of the longevity of its community is its general attitude. From what I’ve seen, the SimCity community is highly tolerant, intelligent and respectful. Everyone respects each other, mods are rarely stolen, people have intelligent discussions, not a lot of people ask obvious questions answered hundreds of times and aside from members who have really misbehaved, no one is really hated here and there is always someone there to help you if you have a problem. This is what keeps our community strong. The custom content for this game stretched out the life span of the game too, and the creators are backed up by such a great community!
    I still would like to come back to SimCity 4 one day…

    ST: Are there any games you play besides SC4? What other hobbies do you have away from BATing and SimCity?
    MandelSoft: I haven’t played SimCity 4 lately, due to my work at ProMods for Euro Truck Simulator 2. I’m still building cities and roads, I’m still modelling streetlights and signs, but just for another game. The good thing is that this game offers you a completely different perspective, namely of a driver. This is a quite relaxing game, and I’d recommend to play this game with the ProMods map mod.

    I’m also a music producer in the trance genre. I have quite a passion for music making. My work can be found on YouTube and Soundcloud under the name MandelSoft. I have quite some tracks I’m proud of. I can most definitely recommend “Aurora Borealis”, “Moonrise”, “Day of Pi” , “Waves” and “Drifting in Dreams”.

    I’m also working on Geofiction projects. Geofiction is the art of creating and maintaining fictional countries. I’m part of a Dutch geofiction-community who share a geofiction-world together. I can use my InkScape skills for various aspects, like drawing maps, flags, infographics, etc. It’s an unusual but interesting hobby. I have met these people in real life and we are a fun group.

    ST: What question have I not asked that I should have?
    MandelSoft: Maybe what “player” project I participated with I’m the most proud of? That would be the NORO Co-operative. This is a huge multi-player region on SC4Devotion.com with the crème de la crème of the SimCity 4 building community. It’s a high-quality region with a lot of challenges. I’d recommend everyone to take a look over there. You’ll find some great inspiration how to make your cities look a lot better!

    Best regards from your head-banging NAM-Pony,
    Maarten (MandelSoft)
    Interview questions by SimCoug and NMUSpidey (but mostly SimCoug), MandelSoft interview conducted by NMUSpidey