Hellcat cockpit in the WC2 style

Discussion in 'Fan Projects & Editing' started by Howard Day, Oct 7, 2013.

  1. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    Faaaaantastic! Brilliant! Maybe if this ship importer stuff expands a bit in scope, we could finally realise that life-long dream of adding new ships into Privateer? ;)

    In the meantime, since everyone else is throwing stats at the Hellcat, let me propose mine. Like HCl above, I'm basing these not on what the manuals say, but on the in-game stats from WC2. Let me also explain the rationale here - the way I see it, the Hellcat is not significantly more powerful than the Rapier. I figure that it's slightly newer, but basically a contemporary craft that fulfills a slightly different role. The Rapier is a pure space superiority fighter, while the Hellcat is more general purpose. All in all, it's kind of like a Scimitar, except that it's modern, and therefore heavier than the Rapier. The other consideration is that in the event this ship should ever be seen alongside the Wraith in the same mod, it can't be completely inferior. Yes, the Wraith is a supership, but come on - given its huge speed advantage over any WC2 ship, I figure that it must have sacrificed some armour compared to more ordinary medium fighters. On the other hand, while the Hellcat can have better armour than the Wraith, it can't possibly have armour anywhere near as good as the Morningstar (a heavy!), and its shields shouldn't be so great either.

    So...

    F-Something Hellcat V
    Shield Recharge Rate: 2
    (halfway between the Sabre's lighting-fast recharge and the Rapier's; this may need to be brought down to a 3 if it proves too good)
    Acceleration Rate: 3 (comparable to a Sabre)
    Y/P/R: 8/8/8 (this is controversial, right? Why does it have better manoeuvrability than the WC3 version? Because if it had 6/6/6, it would be clunkier than a Sabre OR a Morningstar! We can assume that the changes made between WC2 and WC3, while granting the ship better armour and shields, resulted in poorer manoeuvrability. Besides... can't very well have a Hellcat turn slower than a Scimitar, right?)
    Shields (Fore/Aft): 14/14 (better than a Rapier, but worse than a Morningstar or a Wraith)
    Armour (Fore/Aft/Flanks): 12/12/12 (better than the Wraith, but worse than a Morningstar or Sabre)
    Missiles: 3 HS / 3 IR / 2 DF / 2 Chaff pods (whoa, eight missiles? Yep! Because in WC2, it's common to have external hardpoints on fighters; besides, the Hellcat needs to be better armed than a Rapier in this regard)
    Guns: 2 Mass Drivers / 2 Neutron (this is different, isn't it? Why no ions? Because this ship was designed in the WC2 era, when ions clearly were not in fashion - let's stick to that, especially since it saves us from coming up with WC2-era ion cannon stats. So instead, we end up with the equivalent of a WC1 Raptor, which is not bad, really; the armament is actually slightly inferior to the WC2's Rapier, but that's ok - this is not supposed to be an ideal killing machine, and it's fine if it's a little more reliant on missiles than the Rapier)

    With these stats, we can see clearly two general lines of progression amongst medium fighters - one line, the general purpose medium fighter, leading from the Scimitar to the Hellcat and eventually to the Tigershark, while the other line is the space superiority fighter, leading from the Rapier to the Wraith and eventually to the Panther.
     
  2. Triple-B

    Triple-B Commodore

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    All this could end up in an smal campaign playing for wc academy plaing between false armistice and wc 3, while the storyline could be written as simple textfiles for each mission.

    would be a nice new game with little effort :)
     
  3. c0mc0

    c0mc0 Commodore

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    Wow. Very cool HCI and Howie! It integrates so well when I saw the front page images on CIC today I at first wondered what the big deal was showing screen shots from Academy...Then I noticed the ship... :cool:

    I'm interested to know...Is the process and file formats similar between Academy and Privateer? I can envisage a very cool mod to Privateer to add a whole bunch of new (familiar) ships...
     
  4. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    I don't think WC Academy is really well suited for any sort of interesting campaign - the mission editor is too limited. Personally, I keep hoping that one day we get to work on the campaign files and the like. But that's a pretty difficult area, because no one has ever really done any research on it.

    They're certainly similar, using the same methods to encode the images. The structure of the file is somewhat different, of course, but not a huge lot.

    If you're thinking about importing WC1/2 ships into Privateer, though, bear in mind that Priv's sprites are more high-res. I think they might also have more sprites per ship, though I don't recall for sure. In any case, the best way to import ships from WC1/2 would be to re-render the sprites from the original 3d files (well, in the case of WC1, from fan-made 3d files, since the originals are lost).

    By the way, HCl, a question - would it be possible to hack the WC2 engine to display higher resolution sprites? I'm pretty sure the average PC today has a little bit more memory than back in 1992 ;).
     
  5. c0mc0

    c0mc0 Commodore

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    I was wondering the same thing. That would be very cool. And as for models...There are indeed a lot of great fan made designs that could be used...Wow...Now I'm imagining a high res sprite pack of the Tiger's Claw using Howard's Claw model...That would be sweeeeet.... :)
     
  6. Evan

    Evan Rear Admiral

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    While we are at it: Are asymmetric ships a possibility? Let us just dream a little bit =D.

    This Hellcat-Import is quite gorgeous!
     
  7. c0mc0

    c0mc0 Commodore

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    Unless I'm missing something...Looking at the sprite pack they're using, it looks like it should definitely support asymmetry...
     
  8. Death Angel

    Death Angel Rear Admiral

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    Well, judging from the sprite pack it's unfortunately not possible because only a 180 degree rotation is rendered. The other side are the same images, just mirrored.
     
  9. HCl

    HCl WC EXE archaeologist

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    Hey,

    Quick reply for now, i'll comment a bit more on the stats when i leave work.

    It should be possible to adapt the scripts i have to support Privateer as well, the same RLE compression is used. No problem there! I'm guessing i'd be able to reuse some 90% of the current script. File packaging, stats, etc would need to be slightly tweaked, but it shouldn't be much of a problem :)

    Slightly higher resolution sprites should be possible, yes! However, even if your average machine has 8GB RAM (or more) these days, WCA is still a DOS game and therefore still limited to DOS constraints. The upper limit, i think, is around 64kb of RLE data per ship angle. A rough estimate would suggest that it would be possible to have a 2.3Mb ship file, with more detailed, higher resolution sprites, since the game will try to use Expanded Memory whenever possible. I'm definitely going to try upping the resolution at some point, and see what limits I hit! Beyond that, only with EXE hacking.

    The initial Hellcat import attempt, by the way, used sprite resolutions compared to already existing ships, so I could tune my importer without worrying about memory issues.

    As for symmetry, sorry WC2 does not support asymetric models as is. That won't stop us from importing asymetric ships, such as the Darket, but it may end up looking strange without hacking the game to support additional angles...

    Thanks for all the comments!
     
  10. Dyret

    Dyret Super Carrot!

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    This. The cockpit also looks better than the original, much more defined. Limited graphics aren't always a bad thing.
     
  11. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    Yes, it does look far better. Not because it's limited, though, but because it's not limited - if you look at the WC3 version, the cockpit is all dullness and shades of gray. Even the legs and the hand are gray, as if the designers wanted it all to be boring and molten together. Merely having the blue legs and ungloved hand changes the balance of the whole picture by adding a strong visual accent in the middle of it.
     
  12. Dyret

    Dyret Super Carrot!

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    Yeah, I meant limited purely in terms of colour palette. It seems that when someone can do something in 400 shades of the same colour they tend to, presumably because it's supposed to look more realistic and gritty, but more often than not it ends up looking like homogeneous goo, especially after a couple of years.
     
  13. Dondragmer

    Dondragmer Commodore

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    To my eyes, most games that used MCGA (320*200 pixels, 256 colors) have aged better than those that used SVGA (640*480 pixels, 256 colors). There just weren't enough colors to spread around all those pixels. In the case of WC3, this was also the early era of 3D rendering. While the WC2 cockpits were drawn by hand (which does give many of them a slightly awkward 2.5D look), the WC3 cockpits appear to be rendered. There's nothing automatically wrong with that, but it can be hard to choose color and lighting settings for the 3D model that will be properly mapped to your 256-color palette. The easiest response is to make the 3D cockpit model mostly gray, and add a few colored buttons by hand afterwards.

    As for the new cockpit, I'm tremendously impressed. How on Earth did you make it display the various readouts (speed, shields, etc.) where you needed them? Can you also make custom damage elements?

    For editing WC1 and WC2 missions (and the associated briefings, debriefings and mission tree), is it permissible for someone to read the WC1 source code and find out just how its mission files work? I am aware there may be legal objections here. You definitely can't make that code public, and the FreeSCI project (an emulator for Sierra games from King's Quest IV onwards) got into a hole, where some of its functions were built by decompiling the executables. However, FreeSCI was a replacement for the original executable. All you can do with internal information about the WC1 file format is make more files for WC.EXE to read.

    I'm also assuming here that the WC2 mission format has some similarity to the WC1 format. It can't be identical - WC2 supports in-mission cutscenes that WC1 does not.
     
  14. HCl

    HCl WC EXE archaeologist

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    A few more related thoughts:

    I actually like Q's stats for the Hellcat, the arguments are sound and it looks like those stats could work. I'm almost finished adapting my scripts to handle stats so i'll start playing with some numbers soon :) Another argument in favor towards a MD/NEU Hellcat is actually the difficulty of editing guns without EXE hacking. Everything is hardcoded on the EXE. The idea was to try to replace the Reaper with the Ion in WCA, in order to keep complexity to a minimum. This will work for WCA, but there is no Reaper gun slot in WC2, so once you try to get the ship into WC2 it's going to be a problem. So the WC2 version at least is most likely going to have MD/NEU.

    WCA vs WC2: WCA is great to test-drive the new ships. I agree that the WCA mission editor is limited, but it's ideal in order to try out a few scenarios and see how the ship feels, or even to work out some issue (either related to the ship importer, or balancing issues, etc). It's always possible to build small campaigns with sim missions and attached text files, of course (that's how WCP editing started back in the day!) … but ideally, we'd want to use the WC2 engine, with full gameflow features, talking heads, and so on. This is actually where i'm headed, long term. But until we have the necessary tools to build such a campaign, WCA is a great environment.

    (Also, i'm currently entertaining the idea of an additional ship-set for WCA. I think it's going to be a lot of fun, especially if used along with a couple old patches I made back in 1997 or so, which allowed you to have friendlies and Drakhai on the various nav points)

    As an aside, one thing i'd like to do once WC2 gameflow research starts is actually to encode new animations, such as the landing animations. The same RLE algorithm is used to encode the differences between consecutive frames, so decoding these animations is already possible, and the RLE encoder on the current ship importer could handle animations with a few tweaks. Research into integration of these animations into WC2, plus triggering music / sound effects at certain points, and so on, is still necessary though.

    Lots of trial and error, experimenting and documenting the cockpit format, in order to define cockpit areas for the gauge information in a format that the game can understand :) Damaged elements are possible yes, but at this stage were limited to the radar.

    (which reminds me, still gotta figure out the engine exhausts... better get back to that for a bit!)
     
  15. Dondragmer

    Dondragmer Commodore

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    Once again, I'm wondering if the WC1 source code can provide any hints. Its MIDGAME graphics files appear to define their own text and animations. If you swap these over, you can even make SM2 cutscenes (MIDGAME.V07 to MIDGAME.V09) play during WC1 (MIDGAME.V00 to MIDGAME.V04).

    I was going to agree that this wasn't possible, but there already is an asymmetric "ship" in WC2-SO2. It's "Ayer's Rock", with all 62 glorious frames stored in SHIP.V48. Other capital ships only have 37 frames.

    WC2 Uluru.gif

    WC2 would have to be told that a given capital ship has images from all angles, but at least this gives a file to test with. The Concordia graphics are stored in SHIP.V18, so if you swap SHIP.V48 with SHIP.V18, you can experiment with modifying the Concordia data to make it display all its orientations.

    SHIP.V48 actually contains 65 images, while most other capital ship files contain 40. This is because all ships come with 3 images for the VDU (Green armor quadrants, Red armor quadrants, and the background). Shield images are generic and stored elsewhere.

    Many of the fighters also come with images for a rotating piece of debris. The only capital ship with one is the Confederation Supply Depot in SHIP.V24.
     
  16. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    That's very much true. In general, the mid-90s are a bad time for games from today's perspective - a lot was lost in the transition to 3d, and while later 3d games obviously blow away the earlier stuff, those games of the transition period combine all the disadvantages of early 3d with none of the advantages of later 3d.

    I'm certain it would be possible for a modder like HCl to quietly be given access to the code archived by the CIC. However, there's one obvious reason why such a discussion is a non-starter - the condition would be that no one ever breathes a word about it, which means that this discussion can bring no visible result. For all we know, HCl could be looking at the code already, and we'd be none the wiser about it :). I doubt it, though, and I doubt he'd even be interested - the very reason HCl has been researching WC games for almost two decades now (wow!) is because it's fun to discover things, uncover the inner workings of the games and so on. You don't need the source code for that - in fact, it would rather spoil the fun :).

    Well, I guess they must have been similar to some degree, since back in the 90s HCl had put together basic mission editors for both games. In general though, WC2's overall structure was much more complex and better thought-out. We often have this false impression, based on how the two games look, that the engine really didn't change much from one game to the next. In fact, it underwent enormous changes under the hood. So enormous, that in some ways WC2 is closer to WCP than to WC1. There's much less hardcoding, the gameflow is far more dynamic, you can add new characters and scenery without having to produce a new executable (although the one room that serves as the user interface might still be hardcoded), and the basic groundwork has been laid in the missions for scriptable events (at this stage, of course, limited mainly to cutscenes triggering when a particular condition has been met).

    From this perspective, by the way, it would actually be far, far easier to produce an editor that would allow us to make new campaigns for WC1. We know everything about the mission format, no problems there. Figuring out how to seat different people at the bar and how to script conversations and briefings would be done in a flash. All fine and dandy, you'd be using the engine to its fullest potential - except that no matter what you did, even if you replaced all the graphics, you'd always have the same basic storytelling structure, with two people sitting at a table and one guy at the bar :).

    Wow! You're absolutely right. I wonder if this is something that would work in generic WC2, or only with the SO2 executable. When you tried swapping Ayer's Rock with Concordia, were you able to view it in WC2? Or, for that matter, in Academy?
     
  17. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    Ironically, the biggest limitation that WCA has stems from its nature as a pseudo-mission editor with an interface that visualises everything. If, for example, the game didn't have buttons for each separate ship, but instead had two arrows to cycle through the available ships, it would probably be relatively trivial to extend the original list and add more ships without replacing any existing ones. Were that the case, WCA would be an excellent environment for mods, even with the very limited mission design possibilities.
     
  18. HCl

    HCl WC EXE archaeologist

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    (Quick reply while i'm at work :p)

    A good point indeed Dondragmer, i haven't thought about that. Thanks for pointing it out! :)

    All we need to determine is if the game logic for using the full angles is dependent on some flag on the ship file, the ship number (the Vxx file extension number, which is also stored on the stats chunk), or something else. Once we figure this out, adapting the conversion script itself is a simple matter, i left my code pretty generic on that regard. Then all we need is an asymmetric ship as our test subject, something like a Darket, Paktahn, or maybe a Kilrathi capship from WC3, to see if it works as planned.

    (Howie, if this does work out, would you be interested in coming up with some Kilrathi art at some point?)

    Exciting stuff!
     
  19. Dondragmer

    Dondragmer Commodore

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    Yes, I should have tried that. If rename a SHIP.V?? file from another ship, the affected ship vanishes. It doesn't get a blip on radar and I can't target it. (This is bad if it's the Concordia). The one time I copied over my own ship, the game crashed. Weird. I'm sure I remember doing this two decades ago without such immediate ill effect. While I mostly swapped out ships in WC1, I did do it to WC2 as well.

    For anyone looking for the orientation system, there are a few other image sets that are unusual because they have less images. SHIP.V23 (Terran Starbase), SHIP.V24 (Terran Supply Depot) and SHIP.V26 (Kilrathi Starbase) are rotationally symmetric, and only have 3 images where other ships have 7. However, because the Supply Depot has 7-fold symmetry on the ring (except that two of its spokes have white tips), and 4-fold symmetry around the hub, it doesn't rotate smoothly if you look too closely.

    WC2 Terran Starbase rotation.gif WC2 Terran Supply Depot rotation.gif

    Also, the Kilrathi Supply Depot has 3 little spheres, making it slightly asymmetric. I'm pretty sure I noticed this in play once, and spent a while flying around it trying to work out if it had pictures for every angle, or if it was being mirrored. (I never was able to detect when the switch happens in flight, but it does happen.)

    WC2 Kilrathi Supply Depot rotation.gif
    All very true. I suppose I just want a WC1 mission editor for nostalgia's sake.

    Even the main interface screen can change. The Concordia is blue, while most other starbases and ships are green:
    WC2InterfaceConcordia.png WC2InterfaceStarbase.png

    And, between Series 2 (Niven) missions 2 and 3, or between Series 9 (Ghorah Khar) missions 1 and 2, you get a planetary surface screen with a unique set of hotspots!
    WC2InterfacePlanet.png

    That was a lot of work to make two missions special, guys. I confess, when I first played WC2 this made me expect visits to several more planets, and I was disappointed beyond all reason when they never appeared. I was aware that I'd never get to fly in the planet's atmosphere, I just wanted to see some different landing animations and cutscene backgrounds.
     
  20. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    Good memory! I did remember the green/blue versions, but since it made no difference in hotspots, I didn't think that was evidence against hardcoding. With the additional alternative used for planetside bases, though, I guess in this aspect WC2 was a big step forward as well.

    All things considered, it's kinda odd that the space station graphics are the same as the Concordia's, just coloured differently. Had they arranged the room some other way to highlight its different appearance, players would have found the transfer to the Concordia even more dramatic.
     

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