Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Another peek into the vault of unreleased models

As requested in the comments section of the previous post, here are the rest of the civilian vehicles that didn't see release. Some of them are unfinished. The tractor-trailer, for example, hadn't been retopologized to get rid of unnecessary extra faces and vertices.

I think what I was trying to go for back then was to have one of as many different types of vehicles as possible, and I settled on 9 fairly common types. Compact car, sedan, sports car, jeep, pickup, taxi, limo, minivan, and tractor-trailer. If the project had gone ahead, I would've done a box/panel van, a bus, and some other items.

I think I mentioned before that for every one model that actually sees release, there are 2-3 that end up in the trash for various reasons. I don't usually keep those models around, but these somehow ended up being archived along with the military models in the last post.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Damn you, Adobe!

Photoshop CS1 on a 64-bit Windows 7 machine: Buggy, crashy, aggravating.

Photoshop CS5 x64 on a 64-bit Windows 7 machine: Runs like a dream.

Argh. Looks like they're still gonna get my money in the end.

On the bright side, I don't need to cough up a whole thousand anymore. Having worked extensively with the CS5 tryout for the past several days, I've found that the 3D and animation tools in CS5 Extended pretty much don't get used at all, because they're really rudimentary and lacking compared to what can be done in a standalone 3D app, so there's no sense in paying the extra premium for a half-assed set of features that I'm not gonna use. That means I can get by with just regular old Photoshop CS5.

What brought all that on? Oh, just this.

These models have all been re-developed in Ultimate Papercraft 3D, now include machine-cutting files, and have also received a bit of a texture refresh. Nothing major, I just updated the layer styles and colors to use the 2010 styles and swatches.

Currently working on:

Yes, that's a Marine haze gray scheme--I found a couple of hidden layer groups with Marine decals, so I enabled them and updated the colors for the fun of it.

I love my new machine. I have antialiasing, anisotropic filtering, and a bunch of other things enabled on the GeForce GT540M for Metasequoia's graphics profile. That means bigger and prettier screenshots with fewer jaggies and nasties.

Speaking of which, I also found a treasure trove of abandoned models that never made it to release because of technical limitations back in 2007. Even though my dearly departed desktop workstation was capable of handling textures larger than 1024x1024px, I was still using Pepakura Designer to unfold my models, which did NOT support larger textures. So, larger models required workarounds or design compromises, which frequently didn't really work out and resulted in models being abandoned and forgotten. Here are some of those lost models, which were supposed to go with the Hummingbird and the battlesuited Marines in 2007:

You can kind of see how they're related to the Hummingbird visually, as they all have prominent countergrav pods on the sides, which all resemble each other a bit as a visually unifying hook.

Since I wasn't able to do all of those models at the time, a couple of more manageable models also got axed because there just wasn't a line left after cutting all the other models out of it:

Now, all of those models also had civilian counterparts. Those civilian counterparts predated the military models by a couple of years, and were supposed to be my half of a collaborative project with Denny Unger before it got scrapped. There are already entirely too many images in this post, so I'm just gonna pick one of them, the Veloce Brio:

Denny textured a slightly older variant of that to look like a yellow space Volkswagen as a test. No photos of the prototype survived, but it was a really cute little thing, and at one point, Matt Lyon demanded that we slap an Autobot insignia on it. The project was shelved in favor of Wormhole shortly after that first test model.

Normally, that'd have been all she wrote, but Denny fished it off his hard drive recently and passed it along to Paul Senior, who re-skinned it, and now it's part of Paul's upcoming Streets of Titan release:

It was really nice to see the Veloce Brio again after all those years.

Not all of our collaborative works were abject failures, though--I also did the geometry for the original Lair of the Dragon God 2.5D dragon as a commission job for Denny. He added the frills, horns, and some additional detailing, and knocked the ball out of the park with the texturing. Things sort of came full circle again earlier this year--when the Dragon God set was converted to TerrainLinX format, yours truly was also responsible for the additional dragon color variations. My favorites are the green/yellow and black/red ones.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Office Re-Organization

We finally got a start on the second phase of re-organizing my office yesterday. We hauled several hundred pounds of unused shipping boxes and materials to the recyclers, and I recovered just under half of the floor space in my office, and we also donated the huge laser printer to the Salvation Army. I also moved the furniture around a bit so I could make more efficient use of the freed-up floor space, and re-adjusted the shelves on my workstation desk so I could move the laptop back to a more comfortable position.

Today, I spent some time de-cluttering the various tables and putting everything into its new home. As part of that process, I had to pack up all of the business paperwork, printed sales records, the Supply Depot shipping scale, and a bunch of other things. I didn't think that a sense of awful finality would hit me as hard as it did, and in some strange way, I felt a bit like I was finally laying an old friend to rest after a long terminal illness. I'd pick up some item, and it would remind me of something, and I'd either chuckle or feel a little bit sad. I guess it's something I was able to push aside in the interest of moving on and taking decisive action, so I never really gave myself the time or the luxury of thinking too hard about it until now.

I also transitioned a lot of stuff over to the new notebook and set up the other hardware to work with it, and I'm composing this post on the new machine. The keyboard is gonna take some getting used to--the spacing and positioning is different enough from my old Gateway convertible that I have to pay extra attention to spelling.

I also found some more stuff that needs to go to a good home. First come, first serve.
  • 2 packs of Copplestone plague zombies, 5 figures each. Metal, unpainted. The original buyer flaked out and never got back to me. Asking $10 plus shipping for each pack. 
  • 1 pack of Copplestone zombie troopers, 5 figures. Metal, unpainted. The original buyer flaked out and never got back to me. Asking $10 plus shipping for this pack.
  • My whole Games Workshop bitz box. I just finished culling out all the useless stuff. All plastic parts, either still on the sprue or desprued and bagged. It's mostly Imperial Guard figure parts. Also included are most of the Stupid Bitz Tricks and Colonial Marine conversions shown elsewhere on the blog, in varying stages of completion, plus a few baggies of Space Marine and Tyranid bitz. 14" x 10" x 4" box. Asking $25 plus shipping for the whole box.
I finally have my papercraft and photo tables back. I also have room for a Detolf display case next to my work desk, and the whole top shelf for models. I should be able to hit the ground running whenever I get back into making new models.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

News at 11: The World Is Still Here

3 items of interest today:

1. Harold Camping is full of bologna, as I predicted.

2. It's been 6 weeks and 1 day since I quit smoking. Yay, me.

3. I'm looking for a Mac. I need a work hoopty for a cross-platform desktop application project in the near future, so I don't need anything fancy or top of the line. At the moment, I have my eye on a Mac Mini. Comments, suggestions, and so forth from resident Mac users are welcome.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mr. Counterfeiter, part trois

Amazon gave me a full refund for that bootleg copy of Photoshop CS5 Extended that I returned. So, that part of it is over, at least. Adobe support, on the other hand, was not as pleasant to deal with. I'm glad Amazon made things right instead of leaving me to deal with Adobe.

I don't think I'll be buying any more Adobe products. No, don't get me wrong--I'm not mad at them for not being helpful or anything like that, it's more a matter of seeing how they routinely deal with support issues. My experience with them was an eye-opening taster of what I could look forward to if I had a problem with their products at some point in the future, and I didn't really like what I saw.

If I'm going to shell out $1000 on a program, I'd kind of like to not have to spend hours on the phone repeatedly and patiently explaining to some thick-accented dude named Rajneesh what my boggle is, or waiting 5 days between web support case updates. No thanks, my time is money too, and if I'm going to pay that much money for software, I'm gonna expect timely and efficient support if I happen to need it. Naive and wishy-washy? Maybe, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

So, I've installed my trusty old copy of Photoshop CS on the new notebook. I've used it for 5 years without any complaints, and I can certainly use it for a while longer.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger outage

I wasn't able to post for a while because of technical issues that Blogger was having. More information here: Blogger Buzz status update

As a consequence of those issues, they took 30 hours of content offline in the process of rolling back to an earlier stable version, so some of my recent posts and their comments disappeared. Those issues seem to have been resolved now. I nearly went into withdrawal.

Edit: No, they're not resolved yet. Comments are still missing, and the timestamps were off. Guess they're still working on things.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mr. Counterfeiter, part deux

Mrs E's taking the RMA box to the UPS joint after work today, and the Amazon seller in question (RetroSoftware) got back to me a few minutes ago. My hunch about it being an innocent mistake on their part is reinforced even further by their response. They were incredibly nice about it all.

They're aware of the Chinese/Singaporean bootlegs on the market, and they actually do have a routine for spot checking and discarding bogus inventory. Unfortunately, the batch of CS5 Extended they got from one of their reputable suppliers came during a location move and accidentally made it onto the shelves. They've pulled all of their remaining inventory of CS5 Extended off Amazon for double-checking.

They've offered to source the real thing and honor the original $699 deal, even if it means a loss for them. I appreciate the offer, but I won't be taking them up on it. My inner businessman thinks they've lost enough money already, and my inner customer is pretty much in the "once bitten, twice shy" camp. I'm going to send them a nice thank-you note in response and consider all this a lesson learned.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Well played, Mr. Counterfeiter!

Surprise of the day: Turns out that I don't actually own Photoshop CS5 Extended, after all. What I bought was a very slickly packaged counterfeit with an invalid serial number. I'm talking the whole nine yards--box, inserts, shrink-wrap, stickers, everything. Normally, those people just flog the bootlegs at an obviously too-good-to-be-true price without going to all that bother, but this was packaged professionally and priced high enough to fool me. I'm normally good at spotting fishy deals from a mile off, but this one just reeled me in hook, line, and sinker. 

First, it was sold on Amazon, which is a place that I trust and have had a comfortable relationship with for years. Second, it was advertised as the full boxed deal, with none of the alarm-bells language that peg it as a fishy deal. Third, it was priced at $699.00, which is $300 less than full retail, but much higher than those fishy deals normally go for. Fourth, it wasn't just sold by a marketplace reseller, this was one of those Fulfilled By Amazon products where Amazon itself handles warehousing and shipping. You wouldn't think a bootlegger would go that far. Fifth, the seller had a good reputation and lots of positive feedback. Finally, my new notebook didn't arrive until almost a week after the software did, so the unopened box was sitting on my desk the whole time and completely passed muster with me visually.

Well played, Mr. Counterfeiter. You got me good, you sly dog.

So, anyway, I found this out when installing it on my new notebook. There's a step in the installer where you enter the serial number, and that's when I found out the serial was no good. I got in touch with Adobe because I figured it had to be a glitch in their activation system and that this was all just one big misunderstanding that they could fix with the press of a button, and after that, we could all look up at the ceiling and laugh as the credits start rolling. 

Uh, yeah, no. That would be way too easy.

Adobe's got this sort of semi-understandable "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. We apologize for the inconvenience. Sucks to be you. Next time, buy from us. For now, we suggest you contact the seller for a valid serial number." sort of attitude towards the whole thing, but they did open a support case and requested that I send in some documentation. 

I did that, not because I expected them to make it right, but because I'm hoping that it'll add one more piece of straw to the camel's back--eventually, Adobe is gonna snap and go all Raving Rabbid on somebody's ass for pirating their stuff. Heck, three people in New York got 5 years in the slammer for flogging bootleg Adobe software a while back, so apparently Costco quantities of bitching does have an effect. Alone, we are ineffectual whispers in the desolate wasteland, but united, we are a mighty hive whose earth-shaking bellows of righteous rage make Adobe's eardrums meet in the middle of its collective head! Rah-rah-rah, up with the proletariat, fishcakes, blah blah, yadda yadda, et cetera.

I called the Amazon seller (RetroSoftware) twice today, and got the runaround both times, so I decided to just use their website customer support contact form to inform them that the software they sold me was bogus. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt--they liquidate old boxed software, and it's very probable that they're a 100% legit operation that just happened to get some bad inventory. The comparatively high price of $699 speaks to it being an innocent mistake on their part--most bootleggers tend to go for volume with scams, so they don't charge anywhere near MSRP. Near as I can figure, RetroSoftware probably acquired the bootleg stuff through normal liquidation channels and simply assumed it was real. (The packaging fooled me too, so I can't say they should've known better!)

I talked to Amazon customer support a little while ago, and they were really helpful and understanding. They've given me a return merchandise authorization form and a shipping label, and they'll issue me a refund once they receive and process the return. We'll see how that goes. It's all boxed up and waiting for a trip to the UPS store tomorrow.

I'll post an update as things develop.

I'm a bit dizzy...

My new notebook arrived yesterday, but I didn't really have a lot of time to play with it. It arrived pretty late in the day, I had work to do after it showed up, updating new machines usually takes hours, and I had to get to bed early.

It's a midrange Dell XPS 15 with a second-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a nVidia GeForce GT540M GPU with 2 whole gigs of video memory all to itself.

To stay under budget, I only maxed out the components that I couldn't upgrade myself later on (the GPU and video RAM). It ships with 4GB of RAM, I plan to upgrade that to 8GB when we're a bit more financially healthy. The processor is also upgradable, and the cheapest Core i5 option was still a huge improvement over what I had in my old workstation, so I didn't max that out either.

Anyway, I've been loading my work software on it for the past hour or two, and I couldn't resist the temptation to see how it handled. On my old notebook, rendering stuff took a pretty long time. Only one tile (a 128x128 square portion of the rendered image) is processed at a time. The new notebook renders four tiles simultaneously (2 cores x 2 execution threads each), and it powered through a 2400x1800 box art render in 1 minute and 19 seconds. It's just nuts, and it left me feeling a little light-headed and dizzy.

It also handles much larger textures during realtime rendering--4096x4096px using the default Intel HD Graphics 3000, and up to 16384x16384px if the GeForce GT540M is used instead. That's really good, because it means I can work on large paper models at full print resolution. Really large ones.

What little I've seen so far impresses me. Compared to my old desktop workstation, the new notebook is a monster.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dear Automotive Industry: *raspberry*

Highlights of my day: $24,000 truck failing to start. Rolled out of bed without coffee, straight into hours of driving from auto parts store to auto parts store. Several misidentified causes. 50-cent piece of broken plastic. Regrettable meal from McDonald's. It's 9:32PM at this minute, and my morning coffee is finally brewing right now.

Okay, long form. Sara, my stepdaughter and landlord, set up this neighborhood event today where everybody living on our street comes together to clean out the alley behind our houses. Brush removal, garbage pick-up, tree clipping, and stuff of that nature. 22 people showed up, and they did a great job cleaning up the alley. Of course, being the night owl, I was out cold all day. Mrs E was doing dump runs in her truck (a 2007 Nissan Frontier pickup), and she stalled it on the last trip. It failed to start. Fortunately, this was like right down the street, so she didn't have to walk more than 50 feet to the house.

She rolls me out of bed and asks me where the jumper cables are. I tell her they went with her old truck when she gave it to my other stepdaughter Gloria. She tells me her Frontier is dead out front. I crawl out of bed, brush my teeth, get dressed, and I see Sara in the living room, who tells me Mrs E is out front getting her truck jumped. Mrs E and the neighbor got her truck running again, so I put my shoes on and we left to get a new battery. Guess what? Battery's fine. The lube monkey at Wal-Mart (we went there because that's where we bought the battery) was really insistent that the culprit was the front blower relay, because it was hot and clicked when starting the engine. He also tested the battery, and swore up one wall and down the other, and on his sainted grandmother's grave, that the battery was still good.

That didn't really make any sense to us, but the guy works on cars for a living, so whatever. He knows what he's talking about, right? We went to 3 different auto places, and only one of them had the right kind of replacement relay. So, I pull the old one, install the new one, and what do you know, the truck starts right up. Of course, I don't trust my automotive repair skills one iota because my daddy was the grease monkey in the family, and he steadfastly refused to show me the ropes out of some misguided fear that teaching me how to fix cars would doom me to following in his footsteps. As a consequence of my dad's irrational fears, yours truly is not mechanically inclined when it comes to cars, which tends to result in me standing next to a busted vehicle with the hood open muttering "Thanks a lot, Dad" and paying somebody else a king's ransom to fix whatever broke.

So I tell Mrs E to turn it off and try again. My self-distrust is justified! The thing doesn't start. I pull the new relay and put the old one back on. It starts! I tell her to try again. No dice, it doesn't start that time. Okay, obviously, it's not the relay at this point. And I've just about exhausted my automotive abilities, so I suggest we have the store test the battery, just to confirm the Wal-Mart results. Good battery. I'm flabbergasted. We have the starter and alternator tested. Guess what? Nothing wrong with either one of them.  I need a photo of Saul Tigh going "What the hell?" for moments like this.

Turns out that the culprit is a little 50-cent piece of plastic. It's a grommet, actually. A frigging grommet on the clutch pedal that lets the clutch pedal ignition lock close the starting circuit when you push down the clutch all the way. The old one broke in half, so it was basically a 50-50 chance of the truck starting or not. That's it, a broken 50 cent piece of plastic stops a $24,000 truck from working.

R.C., an employee of the AutoZone store at 9509 Manchaca, is awesome. He's the one who found the problem and fixed it. Turns out the grommet is a dealer-only part (Really, Nissan? Really?) which Mrs E has to visit the dealer to get on Monday. He whipped up a MacGyver fix to hold the truck over until then. People like him go a long way towards restoring my faith in the human race and the retail sector.

And on that note, I'm going to go have my first cup of coffee.


I just discovered, completely by accident, that I had a $28.00 gift certificate to DAZ's store. I don't visit their website/storefront very often because I'm not interested in 98% of their catalog, which consists of 3D people models and props for their flagship software, DAZ Studio. I was looking for updates to Carrara 8 (the software I use to render most of my promo shots and instructions), and logged into my account to check my downloads, and there it was, a gift certificate for 28 bucks.

I didn't think there was going to be anything I would actually want to buy with that unexpected windfall, but I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 packages of HDR images, for image-based lighting in Carrara, at $9.95 each. Some of 'em are kinda neat:

This one seems good for a post-apocalyptic mood.

This one sort of reminds me of shooting day for night in movies.

I normally hide the HDR backdrops with a solid color or a composited background image, but I left them visible in the images above so you could see how the colors and brightness of a particular HDR image contributes to the lighting on the model itself.

Edit: Oh, I forgot--I mentioned in a comment on another post that I wanted to reproduce a certain photo of a Mi-24 Hind gunship. I first saw this photo in, I think, an issue of Soldier of Fortune when I was a kid, and I was quite taken with the photo. I found it on Google Image Search:

And this is my take on it with the Despoiler:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Photo gallery added

The Lounge has a new section for image posts here: Build Photos

You can upload directly from your computer, no need to worry about hosting or anything like that. Make sure you hit this example post first, for some important pointers: Example Image Post

Photoshop CS5 Extended first impressions

Photoshop CS5 Extended and the external hard drive arrived yesterday!

Still waiting for the new computer, but curiosity got the best of me. I installed the CS5 Extended tryout on my old notebook because I didn't want to waste a product activation on the old hardware. I had a bit of a play around with the new 3D features--as expected, the poor dear doesn't have the graphics horsepower to make full use of these new features, but it wasn't completely unusable.

That image above is 100% Photoshop--I didn't even fire up Carrara or anything like that. I imported the Despoiler as a 3D layer, set it up to use image-based lighting, and then grabbed some cheesy overcast sky background off the Internet and dropped that into a layer below it. I'm actually surprised it turned out okay. I still prefer Carrara 8's renderer for box art and promos, but Photoshop's renderer is easily good enough for instructions and Workbench snapshots.

I did another quickie test to see if PSD files with embedded 3D content would still load in OpenOffice.org:

And they do! That'll simplify instructions quite a bit. It'll be nice not to have to fire up Carrara just to do instructions.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Speaking of that big project...

Back in February, I announced that I'd taken on a programming contract for all of March. It takes a lot to get me to agree to do contract work, but this particular contract was an easier sell for me than any of the other requests I've received over the years.

It was an opportunity to work with my friend Denny Unger on the new website/storefront for WorldWorks Games. We've worked together in the past on other, smaller projects, and he's a lot of fun to work with. It wasn't exactly a "You had me at hello" thing at first, I admit, but the offer of up-front payment and the fact that Denny's easy to work with sweetened the deal enough to break the ice.

So, we've been working together since March on WWG's new home on the Internet. Denny handled the graphic design and artwork, and my job was to turn his static compositions/mockups into living, breathing webpages. Here's a little teaser that should bring a smile to your face:

Yes, that's a product page for one of my models.

As for the rest of the project, I can't really discuss any technical details or anything of the sort yet. That will all come in due time, when WWG begins to post teasers and announcements of their own. What I can tell you, however, is that this is a pretty huge project, and I'm doing the whole codebase from the ground up.

There's also a second half to this big project: adding my old stuff to the WWG storefront. A bit over half of my catalog didn't make the cut because it was just too old and stale. Specifically, anything from before 2007 is gone forever. Out of the remaining stuff, about half needs some touch-up work, a bit of a makeover, or reformatting for machine-cutter compatibility. As an example of minor touch-up work, stuff like the Sandmaster V will be getting new store graphics, like the promotional render shown below:

In the case of makeovers and reformats, stuff like the Itoyo 950 are getting new store graphics, a bit of a texture refresh, and reformatting to support machine-cutters:

As one final bit of teasing, I want to show off the catalog thumbnail format that Denny and I put together for my stuff:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Finally, it's upgrade time!

I normally schedule major upgrades for my hardware and software every 5 years, and I was overdue for a major upgrade for months. Just didn't have the money or opportunity to make it happen earlier in the year. The fact that my desktop workstation, which normally handles everything that my convertible notebook didn't have the graphics horsepower to handle, died a few months ago added a bit of uneasy panic to the equation. 

I wasn't able to work on any models that had textures larger than 1024x1024px as a result of that hardware failure, and my large paper model output dropped sharply as the amount of time needed to work on models increased. That was a crippling blow to my already weak sales, which really didn't help matters any when tax time rolled around. It was also another reason I took a programming contract for all of March--there just wasn't any feasible way for me to crank out enough small paper models to make the bills.

I had resigned myself to not being able to upgrade my toolset for the foreseeable future, and I sort of came to terms with that after closing down all direct sales. Of course, fate has a funny way of going about things. I finally had an opportunity to upgrade my hardware and software the other day. There was a catch, however--the timing really wasn't good, because of our financial situation, and it was a very limited window of opportunity that I couldn't pass up.

I had a chance to get the full boxed DVD version of Photoshop CS5 Extended at a really steep discount from a software liquidator. My current convertible isn't up to running CS5 Extended (it can just about keep up with plain old Photoshop CS!), so in order to make the most of that acquisition, I would have had to replace my computer. And wouldn't you know it, there was a promotion for the kind of laptop I wanted from the hardware supplier that I had a line of credit with. Oh, I was torn. I went out to talk to a singularly unhelpful Mrs E, who was of the same indecisive mind that I was. Sometimes being on the same wavelength 90% of the time isn't necessarily a good thing!

In the end, I pulled the trigger. If I had let that opportunity slide, I'd never be able to get back on my feet with my existing, aging toolset. On the other hand, going for the opportunity would make an already tenuous financial situation go from bad to worse. Yet, on the third hand, not doing this now could easily mean waiting months or years for a similar opportunity to arise. So, I just took a big leap of faith and did it.

As of this moment, I'm the proud, excited, terrified, and even more broke owner of Photoshop CS5 Extended, a new 1TB external hard drive, and a much more modern laptop with more graphical horsepower than my old desktop workstation and convertible notebook combined. The laptop will ship sometime in the middle of the month after it's been assembled and tested. Photoshop and the external hard drive are supposed to arrive sometime this week. It was a good bargain, but one that I really wish had come during better financial times.

For you, this means I can actually work on the huge, bill-paying paper models once again, after the big coding project is wrapped up.