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Exit: Daedalus Attack!

The month of November

November 30th, 2015 by Holy at

I know it’s been quiet here all month, so I want to explain something of what I’ve been up to. But first I was hoping to be writing about new art files going up to fix the cracks in the 3D map tiles caused by the recent addition of an anti-aliasing-like extension (this is mentioned time and time again in past months blog posts) and the holes that are in the textures, left by From Software.

However I’ve not heard from the artist who’d pledged to do this work for weeks. Last I heard from them they were working on it, supposedly (I hate to say it so publicly but this is a pattern with this artist; so I say it parenthetically.) It’s because I actually tried to take this job on for myself that instead I’ve ventured off into completely different territory lately. The troubles I ran into trying to work with the tools left by From Software were too great, and their choice of the X format for 3D model input into the tools proved the greatest hurdle of them all. I don’t think it was a bad choice, but the years have not been kind to the X format.

(Yes, artists have told me this time and again, but I couldn’t believe them, it’s a very fine format and introduced by Microsoft for use with its Direct X libraries, so I do not understand how it could so fall out of fashion.)

There is practically no support for X one way or the other. So faced with an existential crisis of sorts, and also feeling it’s time to place a premium on the art development department; or that is to make it a priority; I’ve made plans in length to completely reinvent Sword of Moonlight’s art workflow! It is an all consuming undertaking. I’ve already been at it for long hours most of the month.

I will describe the future here now. And I should add that the cracks in the 3D tiles really are an interruption in the short term that can be addressed. The other models do not feature so many cracks, but to address them in any way will necessarily entail a complete sea change…

To wit: I am working on an ambitious new project that is conceptually distinct from Sword of Moonlight. A few people know of the work I’ve done to add new animated models to Sword of Moonlight projects, but I never felt it was time to fully promote that work, partly because it was incomplete, but also because I didn’t feel like the time was right to make a priority of it. Well I am now fully resolved, and my intention is to abandon that work (although the code will likely recycled) along with the advanced artwork creation tools that came with Sword of Moonlight; which I’ve never been able to get to work for myself anyway!

It is called Daedalus. What I’ve worked on this month and will continue to work on is translating the necessary bits of the Assimp project that was used in the past but basically had long come to an impasse. So to overcome that impasse I’m doing the only thing I know how by basically taking Assimp into my own hands the only way that is available to me.

The Assimp project seems to me to be the furthest thing along toward an opensource 3D model loading effort. My intention is to radically improve upon it, but with a somewhat different mission statement. I hope that the flexibility I will gain will be able to eventually find its way back to the Assimp project (by way of someone studying my work and using it to improve upon Assimp itself.)

However Daedalus is more grand in scope than simply “importing” 3D models. In fact that is a small part of it, but one that I’ve chosen to work on first, both to get it out of the way, and so to get Sword of Moonlight’s art loaded up into it as soon as possible (by way of translating the loaders I’ve already developed for it and also some of the original PlayStations’ file formats.)

Before I can do that I will have to add “morph” style animations to Assimp’s postprocessing chain, which to put things in perspective, it’s taken me nearly a month just to translate a little more than half of it over, and only the absolutely necessary parts. This is mostly clerical work, but it is quite involved and I have to make design decisions along the way that reflect the somewhat different mission statement.

Daedalus is going to work natively with DAE files. This has emerged as a more or less common standard within a field with embarrassingly few viable standards. DAE is the file format for the Collada project, which was originally developed by Sony employees and later made a public standard by the Khronos Group. I guess Collada was too long to be a file name extension. The format itself is actually very circumscribed. It looks very much like an evolution of the standard formats developed by Sony for the original PlayStation. It is actually not well suited for non-real-time applications, like CGI. And it is actually quite well suited for Sword of Moonlight, and is only really just expressive enough to meet all Sword of Moonlights needs.

Of course the name Daedalus is taken from the DAE file extension. All of the 3D artwork on this website will be replaced with DAE files. They are text files, so they should be much better suited to version control, since Subversion can then work fully on them to consolidate for neat storage. And I believe this can be a lossless format better suited for artists to work on the artwork without real concerns. The familiar model files will not be going anywhere really; they will just become generated files, like the CP file. Stored in a cache like temporary WWW pages.

Daedalus will also be used to catalog and browse video game folders and CD-ROMs, like the original King’s Field discs, which will be an important step toward translating the PlayStation games into Sword of Moonlight games later on. My fork of Assimp is limited to Daedalus really, and I ended up calling it PreServe in the Daedalus code base, since it’s its own section. I do not see it as loading or importing models as much as preserving digital artwork, and it is modular so that programmers can independently work on preserving different kinds of files. Digital artwork may yet prove more robust than classical art, since it will be harder to hide it in big mansions and museums and collect “reproduction rights” which is just and even more insidious form of copyrighting. The PreServe side of Daedalus will also be used exclusively for browsing media, because it would serve no purpose to convert the media into DAE just to browse it. So it will be a big part of Daedalus.

DAE and Collada are XML based. So the text file looks a lot like an HTML file. So my approach to Daedalus will also include presenting a full modeling tool, and I want to expose the DAE files natively, like webpages. Like for instance, if you right-click on this webpage you are reading right now, on almost all desktop web browsers you can pull up a few of its source code, in the form of a graphical tree. I want to include this kind of functionality in Daedalus so that the files themselves will not feel like they are closed tight black boxes. Large sections of model files are simply endless fields of numbers, which are not so interesting, but still seeing the structure of the file is interesting I think. And empowering.

Daedalus will use Sony’s Collada DOM library. It is designed to work with 64-bit floating point numbers, which is not generally compatible with graphical processors. I’ve designed PreServe to work exclusively with these larger values for compatibility and future proofing sake, and to ensure no amount of precision is ever really lost. This means though that the modeling component itself must work piece-wise with these files, and so it should be interesting. It’s also nice to have just the one flavor of number to ever worry about.

Initially the focus will be on converting to and from DAE, with little need to model with it, because that can generally be done with other modelers, like Blender. But I am not impressed with Blender or other modeling software. I am bedeviled by it. It’s not that I can’t figure it out, it’s just that I have to reteach it to myself every time I need to use it from absolute beginner status. And whenever I begin to use it, it may as well be a black obelisk with nothing but straight sharp corners on either side, as if there is no way to interface with it at all. So I hate this, and wouldn’t dream of asking any artist to work under such conditions, and I fear it will absolutely stifle the growth of new artists if something is not done, so I am firmly committed to pioneering a new modeling productivity tool.

Daedalus is a good name for this project. I am very enthusiastic about it, because esthetically I can really feel it; it works well, it feels right. Wikipedia says possibly Daedalus means “To work artfully”, and that’s what I intend to become of this project. I also like this ( little facet of the Daedalus mythology. I think it will make for good icons and “primitives” to give Daedalus a real personality of its own. And I want to play on the acronyms of DAE and Collada, because I find them very cold. I want to call them Digital Artifact Editor files or something like this. And Collaborative Digital Activism. Their original meaning is very different, very possessive in the usual hyper commercial mentality that pervades our modern society (but I truly think-not for-long.)

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