• MMOs

    Late to the Party: FFXIV

    It’s no secret that a lot of MMO players aren’t happy with Warcraft at the moment, and it’s also no secret that there aren’t a lot of traditional MMOs on the horizon to look forward to: too expensive to create and maintain, to balance, to create new content for. It’s much cheaper and easier to roll out survival sandboxes (“You ARE the story! Create your own content!”) and yet another battle royale than to create an AAA MMO.

    Being very strongly an MMO player at heart, this disappoints me. Being a huge FFXIV fan, though, it’s nice to see a big influx of new players. As long as the famously friendly community doesn’t change, of course – the Warcraft community having a well-deserved reputation for elitism and toxicity. FFXIV is the only game that I pug in – I simply won’t do it anywhere else.

    In any event, this is a TL;DR version of getting around in FFXIV. There’s a lot to do and it isn’t always obvious where you should go and do it. So this is going to be dead basic, for people who are new to the game. It also doesn’t address boosted characters, as I’ve never boosted one and I don’t know how much the game hands you when you do.

    Aetherytes: Getting Around

    The big, blue crystals that you see in cities and towns are the fast travel system. As you explore more areas you unlock more of them. You’ll be able to set three favourite destinations (less expensive to travel to), one free one, and your home point. Generally I set my free one to my main city and the home one to wherever I’m currently questing. Once I’m at max I’ll set my home to the new main city, so (for instance) I currently have Limsa as my free one and Kugane as my home.

    Grand Companies

    At a certain level (I think it’s level 20) you’ll be able to choose a Free Company. There are three of them, and aside from PvP there really isn’t much of a difference between them. Choose one that you like the colours of, I suppose, because you can buy gear for each.

    Hall of the Novice

    At level 15 you can do the Hall of the Novice (various locations, but you’ll find them in the inns of the major cities). This is like a new-to-MMO type of tutorial which is worth doing because you get a set of gear for doing it, nice for the level, plus a ring that gives you extra XP as you level.

    Quest Icons: Skip to the Good Stuff

    There are a lot of quests in this game, I mean a lot. The main story is amazing, some of the other quests are amusing, and there is a metric buttload of running around to run errands for people. Here’s how to tell them apart: look at the icons.

    Levelling: So Much Stuff to Do

    Aside from things such as Palace of the Dead that you’ll do when you level up additional jobs (each character can be every class, no need for alts), there are several things that you should do while levelling a new character:

    1. Quests (of course)
    2. Fates: look for the blue circles on the map
    3. Hunting Log: extra XP for killing the things you’re already killing for quests! Bonus!
    4. Instances
    5. Guildhests

    Combat Markers: How Not To Stand In the Fire

    I’m going to link to this thread here on Reddit, because it’s explained very well. One thing about AOE markers: get out of the marked area, but you can go back in when it disappears even though the target might still be casting.

    End of Part One

    I think that’s the end of the first TL;DR for new players. Next one will be on instances.

  • book cover art

    This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

    I’ve come to a decision that I’m going to request that authors that I’m currently working with don’t post rough mockups and work in progress to various groups, Facebook or otherwise.

    Previously I’ve allowed it as long as the author stated that it was a rough mockup. I’ve always said that I prefer showing more options for a cover with less finished work, rather than two or three choices that are more like finished images. I think of them a bit like storyboards, where you can get a good idea of what the finished cover might look like, but you have to use your imagination a bit.

    And then came Facebook groups. I’m a member of several, and many authors have their own private groups. Cover designers cringe and wince when talking about them (yeah, we have our own groups as well), not because we’re not up for honest criticism, but because the advice given in these groups is mostly terrible.

    I used to treat it as one of the downsides of an otherwise rewarding trade – I mean, we always had to deal with the “My mother thinks…” kind of uninformed feedback, and this is similar but taken to the nth degree.

    You know the saying about opinions being like a certain body part, and of course everyone has one. The trouble is that what you get from them is usually hot air or crap. Design by committee is never easy or productive, and when the people contributing have no actual knowledge of design or genre it gets worse.

    Currently I’m at version, what, thirteen or fourteen of a cover that has steadily gotten worse. We’ve gone through several incarnations that I loved, but the current one is going to be one of those covers that I don’t want to put my name to. And this kills me.

    So, please for the love of fluffy kittens and all that is right and good in the world, please please please don’t post mockups in these groups. I’m going to start weeding out authors who do this and not working with them again.

    I’m begging you. :)

  • Gaming

    Quick Catch Up

    The days just fall one into the next, don’t they?

    Work has been busy, as always – not being ungrateful (quite the opposite), just a bit frazzled. The weather has been as unfriendly as it always is in February in England, but today was an absolutely gorgeous day and I really should have gone out for a walk. Tomorrow, I promise myself.

    As I always do. :)

    Other than that, we’ve been doing some gaming with the release of Anthem and quite enjoying it. I think I’m looking forward to The Division 2 more, but this is a great game for the four of us to jump in and play. I’ve been exclusively playing Interceptor, which is very fast and flashy and fun – rather like a rogue archetype except without stealth. Jump in, cause havoc, jump away. The only drawback to this is the screen-filling flame effects caused by colossi (colossusses?) on our team with flamethrowers…the world is on fire and I can’t tell right from left.

    I do have a very flashy paintjob currently, though – quite happy with this one.

  • Uncategorized

    5. Putting It All Together

    Now we’re ready to start actually putting our cover together. Below is a very basic video on how I work; I’ve tried to keep all of the techniques as basic as possible. There are so many complicated techniques that designers use in Photoshop, but for the purpose trying to put together your own book cover they’re overkill and needlessly confusing. This won’t make you a professional designer, but it will hopefully allow you to put together a better cover image for your book.

    Short disclaimer here: I think I was too close to my gaming headset and the sound is very sibilant. Sorry about that! If I do more of these I’ll try to get it to sound less irritating. I also um and ah a great deal when I’m concentrating. :D

  • Uncategorized

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Three

    Previously: Part One, Part Two, Copyright and Daz Studio

    In this last section we’re going to talk a bit about how to do some basic customisation on both figures and clothing. This just touches the surface of this software, of course – if you were creating a main character model for a series, for example, you could completely create body/face morphs and bespoke skin textures including custom tattoos, scars and so on. This is too complex to handle in a basic post like this one, however.

    Reese Gets A Makeover

    We’re going to take our model Reese from the previous two installments and change her into someone new. Select your model as usual, and then from the Content Library find a different model. Use the dropdown to find her Iray materials and double-click to apply them to the existing model. You’ll have less trouble if you use skin, eye and makeup textures from the same model, rather than trying to mix and match here.

    Reese model with Meifen textures added

    Now in the Shaping menus on the right hand of the screen you can (hopefully) see that I’ve gone to Head and dialed down the Reese head, then dialed up Pepper for a mix between the two. You can do that with bodies as well. On individual body parts Shaping allows you to change various features, adding elf ears or tilted eyes, a more lush mouth, older faces or younger ones, just as the Posing menus allow you to move parts of the body and clothing. Here she is a mix of two models and I’ve changed the body to be a bit more curvy, and added some bodybuilder muscle definition.

    In this section I’ve added some new hair, as well as clothing from several different sets: a fantasy corset armor top, along with more modern studded pants and boots. We’re going to do some quick surgery to make it match a bit better (you would have to do a lot more to anything that you actually planned on using).

    I’ve selected the top, and then in the Surfaces tab on the bottom right of the screen I’ve selected bits of the fantasy armor that I’m going to hide: bottom skirt and the armor cap sleeves. Go to Geometry, and turn the Cutout Opacity to zero. (Some clothing will have an actual Opacity setting, but it works the same way.) I’ve also selected the top level of the shirt in the Surfaces tab and darkened the base colour, which will darken the entire thing. If I wanted to change colour on just one section, I would do that in the sublevel.

    Again, there are a lot of really cool and complex things that you can do including applying shaders to various things (turn a cloth item to glass, or metal, for instance), but for the sake of this basic tutorial I won’t go into that.

    Parameters Tweaks

    One last thing before we’re done – the tweaks that you can make in the Parameters tab. As in the screenshot below, click on the Parameters tab for the item that you want to change. In this case, since she’s wearing formfitting clothing, I’ve chosen the hair.

    If you can move it around, there will be an Actors submenu with all of the parameters that you can change. Here I’ve made the hair longer, and windblown it to the side.

    And we’re done. :) Here’s a quick side-by-side with our original model and a more finished render of our customised one. Have fun!

  • Uncategorized

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Two

    Note: Part One of this series is located here.

    This is going to be a long post, as I’m doing it with images and text. Yes, it would be easier for me to just record a video, but I really hate using video for tutorials just because Wurdz R Hard. Sometimes written instructions are easier to follows when completing step-by-step actions, rather than trying to pause a video every few minutes. Plus, I’m really old.

    Step One: Materials

    Your Daz workspace may be set up differently, but you should be able to follow along. From the Content Library tab, go to People/Genesis 8 Female (or whatever) and in Characters double-click the model that you want to use. I have chosen Reese, as per the previous post.

    Make sure that you have that model selected (as you can see in the Scene viewport on the far right). Now open up the Characters menu on the left, find your model, and apply the textures. Hopefully Iray, as you’ll get a more realistic end result. Skin, eye, makeup textures are applied to that model, but you may need to open up her dropdowns in Scene to apply things like eyelash materials, etc.

    Once you’ve added her skin textures, eye colour, makeup and so on she should start to look a lot more finished – but you won’t be able to see the final product until you render.

    Step Two: Adding Hair and Clothing

    No one wants to go out in public naked and bald (presumably sans homework as well), so we’re going to clothe our girl. Make sure you have the model selected in the Scene viewport on the right, and then find the hair and clothing that you want to apply from your Content Library on the left.

    As per the image above, you see that everything you add works the same way: double-click to attach it to the main figure, then on the right find that item in the dropdown and click on it to add materials, as I’ve added the black texture to the tshirt.

    Step Three: Poses

    Now we’re going to add some action. I’m going to use a pose from a set here, as that is the easiest way to start, and then we’ll tweak her from there. Again, select your model on the right, then go into the poses that you (hopefully!) have available. You can use a G8 character with a G3 pose, and vice versa, but it will need tweaking (I have a script that converts it for me).

    Let’s make her a caster – lord knows there aren’t enough girls in black leather and jeans with magic effects coming off of their hands on book covers, amiright? :D

    I’ve used a pose from a commercial set, and now we’re going to customise it. Note the menu on the bottom right: these are the pose controls that can easily bend, twist, or otherwise move body parts. We’re going to change the position of her head by moving her neck, have her look up, etc. There is a lot of tweaking to be done here for truly custom poses, but you’ll learn that as you experiment with it.

    Step Four: Basic Lighting

    I’m not going to go very in-depth into this (as I said in Part One, this is an extremely basic guide and lighting can be difficult because you can’t see what it really looks like until you render it. This is where some good portrait light packages come in, at least until you become more proficient. This is a good tutorial on Three-Point Lighting in Daz if you want to try doing some custom light setups.

    We’re also getting to the point where I’m starting to rethink my life choices, as a video would have been so much easier. :D I’ve chosen a light package on the left and doubleclicked to apply it. This package has a utility for turning the dome off, which will be important for the transparent background that we’ll want for adding it to a background in Photoshop. I’m skipping over tons of stuff, I know – but honestly, a lot of this just requires playing around with it.

    Step Five: Basic Render Settings

    This is the last step. As you can see on the left of my workspace, I’ve clicked on Render Settings. For this type of work I’ll set the dimensions of the image in the General tab, then open up Progressive Render to set change the settings to the ones shown here: I whack max samples up, and max time as well (so it will allow enough time to render properly). These aren’t exact settings, I just push it up high. Rendering quality I’ll set to 2 or 3, and Rendering Converged Ratio to 98% (you’ll never get 100%). I’m not going to go into what this all means, this will just give you a high quality image to work with. Also, make sure your Engine at the top is set to NVIDIA Iray. Hit the Render button, and you’re done…in a couple of hours. :D

    The result? Here is our girl in rough form, ready to be placed into your scene/background (she actually has a transparent background, no removal of background needed). Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to further customise your model, mix models together, and customise clothing.

    Onward to Part Three

  • Uncategorized

    Copyright and Daz Studio

    After writing the last post I found a discussion on a book cover designers’ group about the legality of using software programmes such as Daz, and thought it might be worth repeating my understanding (which no doubt has deeper legal issues than I am listing here, as I am not an attorney*).

    • Daz Studio models, meshes, textures are copyrighted and you may not pass them on or resell them. By this I mean the actual model that someone has created, or the original textures that they have created.
    • The promo artwork on the product store page for that product is a work of art created by another artist, and they retain all the normal rights to it just as any creator would for their artwork. In other words, even if you’ve purchased the model, you have no rights to the artwork used to promote that model.
    • Once you’ve legally purchased it, though, you can use those assets to create your own art, just as you would with any other tool that you use. You bring your unique vision to the final product, which is the render.
    • The only caveat to that would be the models on Daz that are actually on iffy ground in relation to copyright – by this I am referring to the celebrity lookalikes, the vehicles (I have a motorcycle that the vendor called a “Marley Davison,” for example) and in that case you wouldn’t risk it on a commercial project. That’s just common sense, and any sensible person knows that they can’t use Angelina Jolie’s face on their cover, no matter if it is a photograph, a 3D render, or an original illustration.

    So, I hope this clears up some of the misinformation and misunderstanding involved. Legal matters are tough for creatives, as plain information regarding complex legal issues is sometimes difficult to reseach and most of us aren’t legal professionals. And as the whole ridiculous “Cockygate” issue taught us, even with legal advice you can still get it wrong. :)

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models

  • Uncategorized

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part One

    I’ve always been good with colour and shading in my art, but my actual freehand drawing skills? Good enough for my mom’s refrigerator, but nothing that would lead to a professional career. It was a revelation when I started using stock photography as a base for a finished image in Photoshop, working with layers and textures and overpainting with a Wacom tablet to finally be able to create the concept in my mind’s eye that was so let down by my stupid, untalented hand.

    Working as a book cover artist brought a new set of challenges (the limitations of existing commercial stock) and a brand-new solution: 3D programmes, specifically Daz Studio. Daz offers a world of models at your fingertips, to be dressed and posed exactly as you need them. Hallelujah!

    This will be a three-part series that will tie in with https://ravven.com/portfolio/designing-your-own-book-covers/ my (long-neglected!) series on designing your own book covers. This post will cover some basics, and then the next post will cover customising your models and getting the best renders possible.

    Basic Requirements

    I am going to make an assumption (as I will in the main series) that you have a certain level of kit. This will require a Windows PC with an Nvidia graphics card and a certain level of oomph. You can do renders without an Nvidia card, but Iray is vastly superior to 3Delight and the quality of the image will be better. Daz Studio is free and comes with base models and the ability to do your own lighting, but if you can afford a few packages you’ll get much better (and easier) results.

    Choosing A Model

    For book cover art you’ll quite often replace a CGI model’s head with a photo model, and you’ll usually always have to redo at least part of the hair. In the Daz shop, look at the models – you’ll be working with either Genesis 3 or Genesis 8, nothing below that. Look for not only the right look for your specific project, but also look for a realistic skin with texture and flaws. The eyes should look real as well, without the white. unshadowed look that older models have. There are many, many models with perfect skin but they look less realistic – and it is that “doll-like” look that people think of when they object to Daz models.

    This is Reese, one of the models that I purchased recently. I’ll be using her as an example.

    Good lighting is also essential, and can change the look of your render massively. I happen to absolutely suck at doing custom lighting setups in Daz, so I have a set of lights that I use a lot for portraits. These are some of the light packages that I use:

    Add a hair and clothing package, and you’re ready to go! Of course, all of this can be very expensive if you don’t shop smart. Much like the way I track books that I want on Amazon, I tend to add things to a wishlist and wait for sales. The Platinum Club membership can save you a fortune if you shop smart.

    Remember: clothing, hair and poses for a Genesis 3 model may not work on a Genesis 8, so be careful when buying assets – mistakes can be expensive.

    Working With Daz: Initial Steps

    I’m not going to go into the basics of actually using the software here, as there are tutorials which will do a much better job. For our purposes, Shannon Maer has some wonderful video tutorials about rendering a model in Daz and then overpainting in Photoshop for some truly unique looks.

    Next Post: Creating a Custom Look

    For the next post I’ll cover customising models and doing a render. After all, that is why we’re doing this – the idea is to create a truly custom look for your renders that you can’t get with commercial photo stock models. Have fun until then!

    Related information: Copyright and Daz Studio

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Two

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Three

  • book cover art,  featured

    Free Cover Giveaway 2018

    I’m going to continue this contest again this year: email me a short description of your project (something that will be published within the coming year, please!). Rules, background and a description of the type of book I’m looking for are located here.

    Now more than ever the world needs diverse books and characters in all the glorious range that human beings exist in, and I think it is important that that diversity is represented visually on the cover. Everything we see contributes to our perception of the world, and that representation has been narrow in past years. It needs to change, and this is why I try to do my very small part to make the world a better place.

    This is NaNoWriMo month, and NaNo projects are welcome. Open to all fiction genres.

    This is the type of information that I would need for the winning covers: https://ravven.com/book-cover-art/

    Click here to enter