Mar 16 2015

Thirteen Month Update

The End…

Well, I suppose at some point all good things must come to an end.

Of course I’m talking about the fact that my generous lead time has dwindled down to nothing. Why? What did you think I was talking about? ;P

Seriously though, the Mun III mission literally took me twice as long in real days as it did in game days to carry out. My first mission save file is 1/15/15 and my last is 2/17/15. That was rough – it’s the closest I’ve come to getting burnt out playing KSP in a long time. The only thing that kept me going was that I really liked where the story was headed and figured most people would enjoy it too. Yes, the “separation indecent” was a completely emergent story element – it was not planned. For shats sake I didn’t spend days on those friggin Mission Architect mission plans to have to just toss them out the dammed window! But I did. At first I thought the stage decouple was an accidental staging by me, so I reloaded the game. Then it happened again and I realized why and I was like… ohhhhhh….

But as I said, it really added some spice to an otherwise routine service mission – even if it was the first to be done in orbit around Mun. So to start taking advantage of things I made a post to reddit in the form of a “breaking news”-type thing. I honestly didn’t expect it to gain as much traction as it did, and I really hoped reddit would stay gripped to the story as things progressed. Sadly, reddit has a pretty short attention span 😛 15 real days took its toll and by the time I actually got around to rescuing and returning the astronauts it was as if a collective “meh” was issued forth, heh. Even my latest blueprint, that was tied to the mission, had a mediocre showing. Oh well. It may also have been because all that stupid stock areodynamic stuff was taking over the reddit at the time. Again, short attention spans.

Overall I’m pleased with how the Mun III mission turned out.

On the other hand…

It’s true my lead time has tanked. I’m at 2 weeks right now and I’ll be out of the country on business and thus away from KSP from the end of this week to the end of the month. So, a little over two weeks. Which means I have to make sure I have things scheduled to at least 4/1 and I’m currently at 3/29. So I’m close. But it still remains the fact that when I get back I’m going to have a few days, at best.

I’ve done two things to hopefully get me back on track. First there is just better pacing overall. Real-world missions can take days just to deploy a satellite after it’s been inserted into orbit. I can take advantage of that and stop trying to get things done as soon as possible. Duna I is over Ike taking science readings but I only allow myself to switch to the craft once per in-game day to get some new science, so it’s taking a while to gather all the data that is possible. Second is to stop doing anything on weekends. There will be an in-universe reason given for this, and one that I can rescind at a later date if I want to. But for now these two restrictions will make it easier for me to progress through day-to-day things.

If worse comes to worse, I have fall-back options as I mentioned last month. It’ll keep the account active yet give me time to recoup some lead easily. I don’t want to do that if I don’t have to though.

Flight Tracker updates coming

So last month I added the Active Vessels list and ascent streaming to the Flight Tracker, and while I’m away from the game later this month I’ll have the opportunity to do a bit more. First and foremost is I’ve had a couple requests now into the code behind the tracker, so I’m going to get it all cleaned up and posted up in a Git repository for people to be able to download, use and send me pull requests for new features. I myself will be adding two things to the Flight Tracker this month: Filters and Inactive craft. The first will let you show only a single type of craft in the vessels list on the right of the tracker, and the second will let you switch between viewing active vessels (default) and inactive ones (that have either been destroyed or recovered). Not sure at this time if I can allow the inactive vessels list to include all past vessels, as some don’t conform to the latest iteration of the Flight Tracker code.

Oh, I also this month allowed the flight tracker (and crew rosters) to load in the browser rather than as a pop-up window – although that is still an option.

Slimming down for x86-only v1.0

Rats, Squad has gone and discontinued the x64 build of KSP starting with v1.0. This sucks, because it was an excellent way to load all my mods for building new craft. I never played the game with it and it’s a shame so many people had to make a big deal about trying. But whatever, end result is in v1.0 I need to squeeze a ton of part mods into the x86 version of the game. yes, it’s possible. You start with Active Texture Management on extreme compression settings. You then completely nuke all graphical settings in the game. Remove all Flags and Agencies and anything with images from mod folders. Take all the /Spaces folders and put them outside of /GameData – those suckers can take up a lot of space. Do the same with all sounds. Maybe use Texture Replacer to load cheap low-res textures in place of the default planetary ones. Toggle on OpenGL. In the end you get a version of the game that’s barely functional, looks absolutely horrible, but can still build craft in the VAB/SPH and load up a huge amount of part mods at once. So, win. In case it wasn’t clear, I switch back to a totally awesome and hi-res version to actual play with.

How To: VAB integration photos

PUGVRolh.pngThe most common question I get when I share a photo like the one above is “how?!?”. The answer is simple: image compositing. The implementation is a bit more complex, but not so bad once you get the hang of it. For tools, I use Paint.NET as my image editor, and floaty as my composite comparison tool.

For starters, you need to make sure you have your camera all the way at the bottom of the VAB. Use the Shift+mouse wheel to move the camera vertically down to the ground, until the view tilts up or down and stops. This is very important. Because of the way the mouse wheel moves the camera it is extremely difficult to find your way back to the same camera view height when loading new vessels. By having the camera as far down as it will go you have a consistent starting point – zooming and rotating from this point you can always find your way back to your original viewpoint.

Plan the entire scene before you start. I don’t sketch anything but if you think that will help you do a rough sketch of where things should appear. I just visualize and go. This will help you choose the initial angle of the picture to make sure you can fit everything in without having to do too much overlapping (and thus delicate erasing when compositing later). It also helps prevent you from having to go back and redo a bunch of image captures when you realize that one rocket piece just won’t fit in the frame fully like you wanted. The more pre-planning you can do the more time you’ll save in the end.

Once you have things planned, two important considerations to make – shadows and transparency. Shadows are hard to draw yourself in post, so you want to use the game’s shadows as much as possible. But this largely applies to shadows on the ground. You can’t naturally have the game shadow other parts as they won’t actually be in the same scene. Example: in the image above I have the boosters off to the side because neither the upright rocket or the stage being lifted cast shadows on them. I would have had to have added them myself. Transparency is the see-through elements of the part, and if you place them over another rocket section that wasn’t in the same scene you need to manually erase that part of the layer to show what’s beneath. Example: again the boosters in the image above are well off to the side so they will not be behind the launch clamps and their intricate support lattice, which I would have had to manually erase the interior of to show anything behind it.

Also, lighting: it changes near the walls and with the truck that drives around the inside of the VAB. The lights along the walls flicker slightly, and this can affect your compositing if you have two images in the same area under a light that is at different intensity between the two captures. The truck driving around inside the VAB has headlights that illuminate kerbals, the ground, the walls and any rocket parts in their way. I like capturing the truck driving around for some shots, but I have to be careful to note where the headlights are pointing – are they being directed towards a rocket part that isn’t loaded in this scene? That’s not good.

To get all sorts of rocket parts by themselves if you’re breaking down an already-built craft, simply use the root tool. It won’t work for all parts (radially-attached ones mainly) but it’ll get you what you want the majority of the time and let you delete the rest.

Moving the parts around the VAB takes some practice. Use shift+click to always ensure you’re grabbing the whole thing you want to move, and then use a combination of dragging the parts and rotating the camera to get them where you want. Zooming all the way out helps. Basically when you’re looking from either side of the VAB you can slide to/from the door moving the mouse left/right and raise/lower moving the mouse up/down. From a viewpoint in the front or back of the VAB you can slide to/from the walls moving the mouse left/right and raise/lower moving the mouse up/down. View angles in between sort of combine all these movements in various ways. It takes some getting used to but trust me you can place something anywhere on the floor of the VAB.

Once you’re positioning things and taking the screenshots, use floaty to ensure everything is lined up properly and things you don’t want to overlap don’t overlap. Setting up floaty takes a little work, you need to drag the initial image onto floaty to load it, then drag the window itself and the edges of floaty to size it to your screen (annoying there’s no function to do this automatically). Set the transparency with +/- and right-click to enable click-through. Take the camera all the way down to the floor and you can rotate/zoom as needed to get back to your original viewpoint. Use the large markings on the floor first, then use the support beams along the walls to get a sharp image, then use the oil smudges on the floor to really fine-tune the alignment. Swap the reference image you’re using as needed to make sure things are being put where you want them relative to other things – just use the Alt-tab menu to select floaty and drag a new image onto it, then re-enable click-through.

When capturing images don’t just capture the craft pieces – capture the workers and the vehicles in the background in various poses and actions to give you options later when putting it all together. Example: in the above image I made sure to get enough bare floor space to erase anyone from standing beneath the stage being lifted on the hoist. In other photos I have scientist kerbals staring upwards in awe at a large rocket segment, or I at least make sure one is standing nearby a piece of rocket like he’s assessing it with his notepad. Kerbs are running around and looking busy, but none are actually running into/through each other. Nor are they running through rocket pieces. All have their shadows properly cast by the game.

Getting rid of the 4 gizmo icons and staging icons? Simple. I try to remember to do this after taking my initial viewpoint screen capture. First switch to Actions mode, that will remove the gizmo menu from the screen and give you a blank space to composite later. Then just make sure you have a part that doesn’t use any staging and get a screen cap to have empty space on the right you can use to cover up any large staging lists for other shots. If you are using the Action Groups Extended mod, you can actually increase the usable space of your image. Toggling that mod on will remove the sidebar from the left of the screen entirely, just move the AGX windows off to the right and you can composite the left side of the screen over the normal VAB build menu to show what is normally underneath it.

Be creative, there’s a lot you can do if you plan things right ahead of time. Example: the hoist in the above image. Most people would think I attached the clamps upside down. That doesn’t work – the red clamp heads will rotate but the supports themselves will always stay rooted in the ground. So okay then I attached the clamps normally and rotated the heads upside down, then flipped the supports in Paint.NET. A good thought, but can you imagine how tedious it would be to remove the VAB floor so you could see the background sky between the support structure?? Instead what I did was get a blank shot without the craft there at all (when I took images of the vertical rocket, for example). Then I got a shot of the hoisted stage with the clamps on upside down. Then I raised the entire stage upwards out of view (did this with the mouse wheel so the craft moved up but the camera did not) so just the support structure was showing. Now I could just put all three images atop each other in the proper order and simply erase the supports underneath the red clamps and not worry about any transparency issues. I also get proper shadows on the ground.

The final stage of loading all the images into Paint.NET layers is where the real work begins. I like to just dump them all in at once, unselect them all from view and then go through and show them one-by-one to get a sense of what elements are in what layer, outright deleting any I find don’t fit well (of the multiple shots I generally take of one piece of craft). Once pruned, I decide what layer goes best atop another – the least amount of erasing you need to do the better. Using the Selection tool (S) if you press the key twice you’ll get lasso selection to really control what to select. Use Ctrl+A to select the entire screen and then in the menu bar at the top select Subtract so that any areas you lasso become unselected. This way you can select the entire image, lasso any segments you want to keep, and easily Delete the rest, then move in with the Eraser tool for any fine tuning. I find if you need to erase part of a layer to show something underneath, you should actually uncheck to hide the layer itself, but keep it selected in the layer menu – this way you can now see what you want to reveal and “trace” over it with the eraser tool, actually erasing on the hidden layer above. Make sure to erase in short strokes, not long ones because that means when you screw up and accidentally erase too much the Undo tool doesn’t screw you.

When you’re done just crop out all the extra menu stuff, flatten the layers and save as an image. I haven’t spent much time on what compositing actually is, but there’s plenty of information on the web about the concept of layering images and cutting out what you don’t want, adding/removing elements of a picture, etc. It takes practice, and the more you do the better you’ll get at it.

Moving on…

Needless to say this next month will be interesting. Not sure at all where I’m going to be at the start of April. I feel like if I were to hit some sort of big wall – the game consistently crashing, some weird error on my Flight Tracker upgrades I can’t figure out – it’s going to kill off any desire to play KSP. I’m actually quite near a breaking point but as I’ve been continually making good progress overall on the things I’m working on I’ve mostly been okay. But if April comes around and I have a good shot at a decent lead time I might still just throw a story curve to let myself take a break from KSP for a while. It would kinda be nice to do anything else for a while… but then again I’ll be away from the game for over two weeks this month doing something different so we’ll just see what happens…

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