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Thread: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

  1. #1

    Default Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Taro's bag o' tricks

    Hello everyone! Some may know me, but most probably aren’t as I’m active in Third Age sub-mods forum. My biggest project was (and still is) a New Units for Gondor submod:

    I went a long way from start and learned a few things, about modeling and texturing, that are not describied anywhere on TWC (at least to my knowledge. So I decided to start this thread where I could share my tips with community. I will add tips as time goes on.

    NOTE: I'm NOT and expert and some of my tips may in fact be the stupid way of doing stuff. In such case please let me know, and if you have better way of doing stuff, then even better.

    Ok, let us start then!

    TIP 1: The Basics

    It is important to grasp the basics of modeling and texturing. I used few programs and let me tell you that basic principles of such programs are IDENTICAL. So if you know how 3D models work then you can use blender, milkshape or 3D Max. All those programs have different tools and UI, but basics are the same.

    Before you continue you MUST read “Unit Makers Tome of Knowledge by Alletun”:

    It is ESSENTIAL for your future work!

    TIP 2: The Toolbox

    Ok now that you read through Unit Makers Tome you can create your toolbox. You must gather all the tools that are essential to making units and putting them in MTW2. A good toolbox will make work easier and faster. I will put links to most of the stuff I use.

    1. Milkshape 3D- – the most important program where all 3D modeling takes place. It has its limitations, but even then it is a powerfull tool in capable hands.
    2. Photoshop – This is where all texturing magic takes place. Others may prefer Gimp, but I only use photoshop so I’m not to judge with is better. You will also need “Nvidia plugin” to create normal maps
    3. Model converting programs – these programs are required to properly convert .ms3d models into .mesh format that is used by MTW2. I use two of them:

      Mesh 2 ms3d beta 0.18 by GrumpyOldMan – – this simple to use program that will suffice for most of the time. Personally I use this one when I can as its quick and easy. However it does NOT support custom skeletons.
      GOAT GOAL ver1.0a by KnightErrant – – this is a powerful collection of tools that will allow you to work with models that have custom skeletons or with siege engines. This one requires Python (2.6?) to be installed. Personally I only use this one when I have to.
    4. Texture converter – this one is required to convert DDS files to .texture format used by MTW2.

      texture/dds converter by alpaca - – This easy to use converter that is all you really need. However it does require Python (again 2.6?) to work.
    5. Text editing tool – this one is for editing EDU and battle_models.db

      Notepad ++ - - my personally favorite thanks to good searching interface, ability to count characters and multi tabs and it is FREE.

    These are the basic tools that you have to have in your toolbox to do some serious work on MTW2 units.
    Also I suggest you to have all those tools in one place, main folder + subfolders for each tool (with exception of notepad ++), it is easier that way.

    TIP 3: Basic materials

    When making textures for your units it is VERY good idea to have basic materials at hand. Here are ones I use (you are free to use them as well):

    Cloth (made by me)

    Leather (also by me)

    Mail (from rusichi, but I made a few tiles from it to be usable anywhere)

    Metal (by CounterPoint391)

    Wood (from Mount & Blade OSP)

    It may not be much, let me assure you that you can do pretty much anything with these basic materials, it is just a matter of your imagination.

    TIP 4: The databases

    It is a good idea to have databases of models found in MTW2 along with screens. They are go to material when you need base for your units. Also they are great source of inspiration.

    Here are my databases containing:

    Vanilla MTW2 units – converted models and textures, with screenshots
    Rusichi Total War units - converted models and textures of most units, with ingame screenshots
    Burrek textures for MTW2 units – converted models and textures, with screenshots
    Lord Calidors Weapons – converted models and textures
    Baltic Total War – just ingame screenshots

    Additionally I have screens of items from Mount & Blade. However DO NOT DARE TO USE ANYTHING ELSE THEN OPEN SOURCE MATERIAL! You will make baby Jesus cry and scary moderators will raid your house!

    Download Databases (144 Mb):

    That’s it for now, more tips MAY come, but I’m not promising anything solid .
    Last edited by Taro_M; March 03, 2015 at 08:20 AM.

  2. #2
    Emperor of Hell's Avatar SPA-NED 1-5
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    Jul 2011

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Thanks for releasing this

  3. #3

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Tip 5: The glint (or normal maps alpha channel)

    Kudos for showing me this goes to my buddy Turambar.

    A well made glint will make units that have leather or metal armor look much more natural. For a long time I followed the advice I found on forum and just changed brightness and contrast of whole image. So I got this:

    Making alpha the wrong way

    Do you notice the problem with what I did? If not then let me tell you how does alpha channel work on normal maps: the brighter the alpha in some section the more reflective that section is. As you can see my old alpha had metal pieces reflect light only in some parts that were brightest before I messed around with brightness and contrast settings. Also faces would reflect light with made them look rather weird ingame.

    When was working with Turambar I noticed that he did alpha different way: all metal parts were simply solid color. It is a simple, but very effective solution, because that way all the metal armor reflects light same way with makes armor look much more natural and well... metal. Here is how I make my alpha channels now:

    Better alpha channel

    I expanded that technique a bit to include leather pieces as well. I spied that one in Mount & Blade. You see, if you give leather very slight glint it will look more natural. Unfortunately MTW2 has different shaders then M&B and achieving that soft glint is impossible. However very slight glint still adds some life into leather clad units.

    Now I add glint to ONLY 3 materials: metal, leather, chainmail. Rest is simply left completely black. To make things easier I prepared small palette that you can use:

    Glint palette

    Making better alpha channel for normal maps takes a few minutes, but is not a hard process. Here is my system.

    You take diff texture (one with colors) and create 3 new layers:
    *base – completely black
    *metal – you simply use selection tools to select all the metal sections in your texture, then you just fill them with metal gray from my palette
    *leather – same as with metal, but you select leather parts and use leather gray

    I use different technique for mail. If you use mail I provided, then you do this:

    1. Select all the mail from diff texture (only mail)
    2. Create new layer via copy
    3. Desaturate that new layer
    4. Got to “Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast”
    5. In dialogue window that will show up check “Use Legacy” checkbox
    6. Now set settings to this:
      *Brightness -90
      *Contrast +70
    7. Click “OK”

    If you do it this way mail will nicely glitter in sunlight without looking like a solid piece of metal.

    After you finish all layers, then you merge them (black base on bottom) and you can paste them into alpha channel of you normal map.

    It may seem like a lot of work, but after making it few times it gets really easy and it will only takes couple minutes.
    Last edited by Taro_M; March 03, 2015 at 08:23 AM.

  4. #4
    Paleo's Avatar Miles
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    Apr 2012
    Leyland, lancashire

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    hey taro just wondering if you could put some more recent tutorials on as i really want to get into modding ... thanks

  5. #5

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Quote Originally Posted by Paleo View Post
    hey taro just wondering if you could put some more recent tutorials on as i really want to get into modding ... thanks
    The tome of knowledge is still relevant, not much changed.


    Tip 6: WARNING! Apparently here is a limit on path length in battle_models.db!

    This a quick warning about problems with long paths in model.db. I run into this problem quite some time ago, but only few days ago I was able to solve it with help of wicked_lester. I cant give much of solid information as I did not have time to properly look into the issue, but I will tell you what I know.


    (this numbers is NOT solid info, paradamned informed me that paths with 106 characters seem to be threshold, still try to keep it under 100 for safety)

    This problem isnt very evident, but if path is too long then MTW2 may crash when loading battle with no info in the log. The crash is like when you forget to put mesh or texture or when you point game to non existing files. Units with long paths DO appear to work in custom battles, but they crash the game if used during siege in campaign (as well as some custom sieges). For me it's the custom settlements in Third Age.

    I have no idea what exactly is wrong, but my theory is that game cuts off long path and therefore cannot load resources, so it crashes.

    I urge the community to do some !!SCIENCE!! to better understand this problem, Im only giving heads up.
    Last edited by Taro_M; June 30, 2012 at 09:30 AM.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Taro_M, thanks for the tips. Mostly done text/script modding, but I'm learning how to make my own units rather than have to ask permission to work with other folks stuff. Are the models and textures posted in your database free to use?

  7. #7

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Yes they are free to use as long as you give credit to original creators. Also I would like to tell that there is nothing wrong with using ready material, it saves time and it is great crutch if you are just starting modding.

    Tip 7: Stuff painted on stuff

    Today I will tell you how to make very nice looking textures that contain stuff painted on other stuff along with coloring. There is a bit of a trick to make it look very natural, but not everybody may be aware how do do so.

    I will describe how to do so using CoA painted on wooden shield I made few days ago. Also I assume that you have shield modeled and UV mapping is prepared for texture.

    1. You start with base of you shield texture in my case it is wood texture I provided earlier, it is cropped to the shape of my shield's UV map. (figure 1)
    2. Copy the base as new layer and desaturate it (ctrl+shift+u). (figure 2)
    3. If it has to be colored then: create new layer, select only the parts you want to color (in my case it's just whole shield). Then “Fill” new layer with the color and set its “blending mode” to “overlay”. (figure 3)
    4. As new layer, place your pattern where you want it (in my case it's coats of arms with two white and crossed axes). (figure 4)
    5. Now here’s a bit confusing part: use magic want tool to select ONLY your pattern area ( on layer with your pattern just use magic wand and click anywhere beside your pattern and press: ctrl+shift+i). Now go to desaturated layer and create new layer via copy. After that change layer order so copied desaturated is on top of colored layer, BUT under the pattern pasted in step 3. (figure 5)
    6. Now you can switch your pasted pattern (one used in figure 4) “blending mode” to “overlay”. And voila! You have nice texture of coat of arms painted on shield with shield texture showing on it. (figure 6)
    7. One last step to make it look good in game. This is a bit counter intuitive step: when creating normal map for your shield make sure you use either base or desaturated layer. If you do so then normal map will only have wood showing up. If you leave your pattern it will be bumped as well with would spoil the effect ingame. Make sure that your normal map looks similar to (figure 7).


    And that's it, just seven easy steps. Also while I used wooden shield as an example this technique can be freely used on all surfaces: cloth, leather, metal etc. Nothing changes.
    Last edited by Taro_M; March 03, 2015 at 08:25 AM.

  8. #8
    Slaxx Hatmen's Avatar This isn't the crisis!
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    Feb 2005
    The Living End

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    OMG! Thank so much for this thread Taro!! You don't how long I've been fiddling with my shield UVs trying to get a good painted pattern on them that doesn't look like crayon! Thank you so much for these step by step tips!
    Last edited by Slaxx Hatmen; November 30, 2016 at 05:05 PM.
    Under the patronage of Basileos Leandros I

  9. #9

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    you really do work your magic taro, and these tutorials are beyond excellent, but i think more than just mtw fans could learn from you, perhaps you could put these tutorials on , i think everyone could benefit. Or i could do it for you if you like?!

  10. #10

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    If you want to forward this then feel free to do so, after all there is nothing secret about this .

  11. #11
    Heathen Storm's Avatar Where's my axe?
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    Jun 2010

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Incredible tutorial! I was having trouble skinning shields, and you made it easy. +Rep!

    Proud mod leader, modeller and public relations officer of Heiðinn Veðr: Total War

  12. #12

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    thanks for these tutorials, I decided to take the shield tutorial one step further a little. I made this in Gimp, check out this celtic shield I made using your tips.(I did not make the shield boss in the middle.)

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Last edited by warman222; July 22, 2012 at 04:37 PM.

  13. #13
    Soreal~'s Avatar Laetus
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    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Thank you so much. Awesome Tutorial !

  14. #14

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Tip 8: Making unit icons with constant style

    Today I will tell you what do I do to make unit icons so they have nice constant feel. I will not beat around the bush and say up front that I simply have animation file with poses that I merge with units I want.

    Note that this may be really retarded way of doing this, but I wanted to share anyway.

    These animation utilities are very much like GOAT tool I posted in first post, as this also requires Python to be installed. Here's download link to them:

    Ok, so I assume that at this point you have successfully installed animation utilities and you can run them. So I will describe the whole process using my new unit as an example.

    First you need to download my “unit_icon_anims_modified.cas” file. It contains poses I made, nothing special, but it can get the job done. After downloading that .cas file put it in folder where you installed animation utilities to make your job easier.

    Cas file:

    My animation contain poses for:
    Frame 1: swords, spears, both with shield
    Frame 2: bows
    Frame 3: pikes and swords, spears, but without shield
    Frame 4: two handed weapons like axes or large 2H swords
    Frame 5: one handed axes and shield
    Frame 6: mounted with melee weapon
    Frame 7: mounted with bow

    To make unit icon I go through these motions:

    1. Run “” and select “animation merge”. Now navigate to .ms3d file you want to pose, select it. Now select .cas file I provided. You will be asked to state how many FPS you want to have, just enter 20. Wait a moment and you should have new .ms3d file named “[old .ms3d]_animby_unit_icon_anims_modified.ms3d”.
    2. Now open that new file, hide all the model parts so you only have one variation showing. Click “Anim” button in right lower corner. Now you can use “Go to previous (next) frame” buttons to select pose you want.
    3. Now here's the hard part: you need to take a screenshot (just press “print screen key and you have screenshot you can paste) in with unit has the right proportions and size. I really dont have much tips on this one, but I do use a .PSD file with some old unit icon, with inverted colors and “Fill” set to 50% (base.psd in attachments). You can then just paste your screenshot UNDER it and move around that new layer to position your screenshot so your unit is more on less in same place as the base, check the proportions and if everything is fine then: use “Crop tool” and select the whole picture, this way you will remove all the needless stuff from your layer, now select what left of that new layer copy it and create new file.
    4. After creating new file paste your new icon-to-be, it should be perfect fit as photoshop creates new files with size matching whatever you have stored in memory. Now you can use magic wand tool to select ALL of the background color on your pasted layer. Delete it, now you can still use that selection to create alpha channel, just press “ctrl+shift+i” to inverse selection and select only the parts you want to see, with that selection on alpha channel, just press “ctrl+i” to invert colors and area where your unit is should be white.
    5. Now important part that you may not know abut: make sure that the background layer is BLACK. In MTW2 alpha masking isnt perfect and background will shine through. The standard blue from milkshape is very visible in such cases and will spoil effect in game, but if background is black the “halo” around the icon is not noticeable.
    6. Now go to: “Image > Image Size”, check “Constrain Proportions”. Now you can either put 64 in height OR 48 in width (final image has to have 48x64 size). Click “OK” and now you have properly scaled icon. Now you can use “Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask” with settings:
      Amount: 50%
      Radius: 1.0
      Threshold: 0
      (kudos to Araval for showing me this one)
      This will nicely sharpen your icon, if need you can adjust brightness and contrast.
    7. Save picture in .TGA format and you are done.

    Here's how I did that new unit of mine. I did use different base as that one was closer to my new unit, with made fitting easier.
    Icon making

    Warning! If you want to make mounted unit make sure that: horse is merged with the unit model BEFORE applying animation AND that it is rigged to pelvis bone. If you do something wrong then you will not get new file.

    I do realize that this is very complicated way of doing unit icons, but final effect is worth it IMHO.
    Last edited by Taro_M; March 03, 2015 at 08:24 AM.

  15. #15
    smoesville's Avatar Vicarius
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    Dublin, Ireland

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    There doesn't seem to be a link for the animation utilities?
    Were there but a tree in this godforsaken place i would have hanged myself.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Quote Originally Posted by smoesville View Post
    There doesn't seem to be a link for the animation utilities?

  17. #17

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    Having a bit of trouble at steps 2 and 3.

    I assume when you say "Now open that new file" you mean with MilkShape? If so, how does one take a screenshot? I did press the "print screen key" but there are no files to be pasted.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    The new file in question is the one created by animation utilities (it has "animby" in name). When taking a screenshot make sure that you click "maximize" in 3ds viewport. To take a screenshot you just need to press print screen key. Once you do create new file in photoshop (PS should ask about size and should automatically set your window resolution). THan just ctrl+v to pa sate your captured screen. If this doesnt work then try out Fraps: it captures active viewport.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    first I have to admit that these tutorials are wonderful, reading them helped me very much.
    I just started modifying some models using milkshape and this converter. Now I wanted to create the uniticons by following the steps mentioned in the tutorial above.
    And now I have a problem: When I try to merge my Unitmodel with your animationfile as you recommend in your tutorial, it fails. In the box of the animationtool there is an error showing up, it is like this:

    "error: byte format requires -128 <= number <= 127"

    Does anyone have an Idea how to solve this?
    Or is there any possibility to create good uniticons without using this animationtool?

  20. #20
    Araval's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: Taro's bag o' tricks (tutorial + some recources)

    I don't know about the animation files but you can animate the unit yourself.

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