Black Sun: Salvation is ready for viewing!
View in 1080p or Original at Fullscreen for the intended effect. Any less is injustice to your time spent with the video.
Direct - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSucsRDKvuU
Model showcase - viewtopic.php?f=45&t=5371
BLACK SUN FAQ
Q - What is Black Sun: Salvation?
Black Sun is emotion.
Black Sun is pride.
Black Sun is despair.
Black Sun is sadness.
Black Sun is anger.
Black Sun is at its heart a reflection of my inner conflict against psychosis, depression, and suicide.
Black Sun is loosely based on my life's work.
As it is today, Black Sun: Salvation is an experimentation in graphics and sound engineering. It is a two-act video that showcases some material inspired by my novel, created for myself and presented publicly. It is the last mod-related project I plan to create as I desire to move on to private game design.
Q - How did this project come to be?
A - Black Sun originated as a Homeworld 2 total conversion some years ago. However, Homeworld 2 is too limited and painful to work with, and its performance on ATI cards is less than acceptable. For a time the project died, but in early 2010, before Starcraft 2 beta came out, I decided to try another game - one I already had a bit of experience with. I aimed to create a total conversion in SoaSE, but quickly discovered that Sins of a Solar Empire is by far one of the most hardcoded games I had ever encountered. The limits in this game are many in number, preventing me from installing any nature of my intended gameplay mechanics into the project.
The project died when Starcraft 2 beta came out and I began casting. I had already put too many weeks of work into the project by then to let it die, though. In early 2011 I picked up Black Sun once more and aimed to create a video out of it to inspire me to work on the novel once more. The decision to release this video publicly is done so in the knowledge that everything in the video suffers immensely from my entry-level artistic abilities, the game's overwhelming limitations, and bad performance.
Although I began writing very slightly during Black Sun's production, what kept it going to the very end was my obsession to prove to myself I could finish it. I fought tooth and nail every step of the way with my software, myself, and my disabilities. Black Sun became less about telling a story or anything inbetween and more of a monument reflecting that conflict.
Q - How did you create Black Sun?
A - Most material in terms of sounds and textures are ripped from somewhere and then heavily edited or, as I like to call it, "remastered" - I use them as building blocks for new, more specific material. Some sounds are extracted from commercial cds, and a few are built from scratch. Some are recorded or generated from scratch and then mangled to submission. Sounds in particular are often very poorly designed/encoded and need considerable work to polish up and shape for ingame use. I use Adobe Audition 1.5 for my sound editing.
The models are all entirely of my creation from scratch except for a base fighter model supplied by Killer 11 for the Chimera MK2 (Anahn heavy fighter) that I edited heavily, and a Hiigaran fighter model supplied by Jade Taggart I modified for the Xy`Kranasha Horaspex. And, finally, a model you probably never see in the video - the Basilisk, a model I fixed for a guy on the hw2 forums a while back, name was Whisper2Me. He gave me permission to use it, and so I mangled it to fit my specifications. I use 3ds max for all 3d graphics work. A few models were loosely based on concept art found on the internet, but I found that modeling from concept art was far too difficult and relied almost entirely on my own designs from the ground up. The most notable model based on concept art is the Anahn Great Knight, heavily inspired by Albion from Gundam. I tried other Gundam ships but failed every step of the way.
Note that due to the game's crappy model converter and the company's decision to use XSI as their 3d platform, some models have holes in them and other anomolies occurred, like the unusual lighting/smoothing, that I could not figure out how to correct. I don't know why some companies decide to use such random applications instead of industry standard tools, but here we are...
Creating assets was only part of the project, though. The assets had to be configured, converted, brought into the game, and then set up in the game with statistics, behaviors, and particles. I created almost all of the particles shown in Black Sun, using two or three particle effects from Bailknight's graphics mod as a basis that were then mangled into infinity and beyond. Since I'm not a texture artist I can proudly say I ripped almost all of the particle textures from more games than you can count on your hands, while a handful were custom made, notably some lightning by Hunter_Killers. During this process I learned how bad most companies are at making particle textures, and it made me feel a little less stupid. Some of them I had to modify, but yeah.
Once I had all of this junk in the game I had to turn on the camera and wrestle it, much like one would wrestle a bear; naked, in a pool of boiling oil, and with interns screaming into your ears. I can't even tell you how many recordings I had in terms of time or hard drive space. Enough to fill a small server, I'm sure. I have around 6 terabytes of recordable hard drive space. I routinely filled and dumped it during this project.
Out of 3 hours of recordings I usually would extract around 1-2 minutes of footage I felt was any good, which was preserved in my composition - a titanic Sony Vegas project file that had been worked on regularly for over a year. Game content and assets only became "content" for Black Sun when they were used in the composition. As one may expect, a lot of ships didn't get screen time they deserved. Most of my recordings were taken observing computer players punch each other, but the AI is about as stupid as you can get in a game, so I had to stage a few fights in the dev exe, which usually performed a lot worse than the game itself. I found that staging fights usually resulted in far less of a convincing recording/fight, though. The exceptions being the Patriarch fight in the Warlord segment and the Emperor fights.
Of course, most of the time in the project was spent being depressed and fighting my shitty modeling skills. I also had a nasty habit of being very unhappy with my particle work. The Anahn muzzle flashes saw probably 2-3 very large revisions, and each particle can take me a few hours to perfect, especially if textures give me difficulty. Simple particles can be easy for me to make but I'll still spend forever perfecting them. Most of the models took <20 hours to make but murdered the hell out of my hands, and coming up with designs within my skill level was very hard due to my depression. Xy`Kranasha in particular were nearly impossible.
SFX were comparatively very, very easy for me to do due to my experience.
Black Sun could have been a 1-2 month project if my software had acted nicely and I was a normal everyday person. I don't work and I dropped out of school a very, very long time ago, so I really have no excuse for being so slow.
Q - There seems to be some lag/some of the stock footage is not cropped correctly...?
I work with what I have. In the case of sins and its performance, it's less than stellar as the game is not multithreaded and is very poorly programmed. For example, the game has no distance-based culling and performs calculations for particles regardless if you see them or not. The AI is also constantly deactivating and reactivating on fighters. The model converter quadruples vertex counts for some reason. So on so forth. I did my best to optimize my material for performance, to the point where default particle assets and settings really showed their inefficiency, but Black Sun was still extremely demanding overall.
As for the stock footage, I can't pick and choose what I have available, and I couldn't figure out how to get Vegas to zoom into it to remove borders (zoom retained the borders). Thus, I tried to feather them out where possible. Basically I am bad at this business and should stop.
Also, it's worth noting that the game has great difficulty in updating model positions properly. Ships tend to be "jerky" even in very high framerates with nothing going on.
Also, ships sometimes "jump" around, like they're getting knocked about. This is because the game's pathing engine isn't actually a pathing engine and it doesn't "see" ships outside of a certain (small) radius, often leading to ships trying to move inside of each other. The result is fleets wiggling around for no apparent reason, especially in fights.
And, finally, Vegas did some weird voodoo to the video footage and it ghosts natively so there was a huge drop in quality despite using lossless codecs. I'm sure it has something to do with their resampling but there was no way I was manually turning it off in every individual bloody entry in the 50 minute composition when my hands hurt as much as they did.
Q - Will you release the mod?
A - No. The mod itself is unplayable, only created as a platform for recording. I've had offers from people to pick up the mod, but I do not want novel-canon 3d material floating around and, quite frankly, there isn't a person I would trust to actually finish the thing and not sit on it. My designs cannot survive in the game and I don't want knockoffs. I have released the sound effects for other modders to use in their projects provided they give me credit and that is all I will release. Please do not press the issue.
Q - Why do you put in so much work for something so insignificant?
A - Because I can. I have nothing else worth doing with my time. Pursuing a means to inspire continued production on my life's work is worth more than anything else I could be doing.
Q - What will you do now? Will you make another mod or video?
A - I will pursue a private independent game project in the UDK if anything. I don't want to have to butcher my work just to fit the pathetic excuse of a framework for some half-eaten lard bucket anymore. But, really, I go where the wind takes me.
If I ever make another mod or a campaign it will not be in the TOA universe. My writing demands too much perfection that I can't achieve, and the psychological pressure is colossal.
Q - Why not go into the industry, or do work for Infinity or some other big indie/mod project?
A - I get asked or told this a lot. "Go commercial", "work for some other mod"... I didn't start writing so I could write other people's novels. I didn't start voice acting so I could voice act Tom Cruise. And I did not start modding just so I would end up making some other guy's project.
Additionally, modding is not a gateway into the industry. Over half the people in the industry who claim to have been modders were not actually modders, and they aren't qualified for commercial work to begin with. They are just interns used to polish the CEO's boots. There are a very few exceptions, like Red Orchestra, who worked their balls off to get anywhere with talent far, far exceeding anything I personally could develop. I got deep into a lot of subjects of modding and game design, but I am still not good enough to work commercially. Nor did I ever intend to become monetarily involved in what I do. I am fine developing private projects and that is where I shall stay.
There is no reward in doing someone else's work for them. I have no intentions of forming or joining any nature of a team. It is, plainly, a waste of time. If Valve offered me a couple million and some trained staff and told me to make my dreams come true I'd probably take up their offer. But that doesn't happen. So I'm not going to worry about it. If Blizzard asked me to join their team, I'd tell them to figure out the difference between maps and mods before asking me about anything.
Making of Black Sun ~
There are many reasons why. The first and foremost was because I wanted to bring my world to life. I wanted to see my dreams in motion. Alas, Sins cannot do this. I was constantly asked by third parties why I bothered to continue putting work into the project. The game's engine was so limited, and I wasn't even trying to make an actual mod... must have seemed so pointless to others. But, to me, it became an obsession.
When I enter a production cycle I tend to lose sight of time and things around me. In my life, there are no Mondays, Saturdays, Tuesdays... days are measured only by productivity. A day with little to no productivity is a total waste. I push myself to do at least two or three significant things a day. Any time I am not working I am usually trying to sleep. Black Sun became more than just another production cycle. It became an obsession. I was trying to prove to myself I still had what it took to create a project. Most people who know me probably don't have a very high opinion of me as a person. I have seen many comments akin to, "... I like his work but not him," or, "He makes good AI but he's dumb," so on so forth. I think the worst part of it is that I have not finished many projects in the last 6-7 years other than Armageddon Onslaught and ZAPOC, and Armageddon Onslaught wasn't exactly something to be proud about.
I sought to complete Black Sun because it is infinitely important to me that I can complete something simple and meaningless like this project before attempting something far more significant. If I can't make a video about ships shooting each other, what hopes do I have of starting up something in the UDK? I need to learn programming and so many other things if I am to even just get started. I ask of myself things I have never been able to do in 12 years of modding. By completing Black Sun I defeat a least a portion of that inner doubt. That means more to me than anything else, now. Failure here means failure anywhere else I can turn.
Last but not least of all, I hope to repair a portion of that image my youth created for me. I want to prove that I can do more than just make people mad. I want to prove I still have what it takes to bring worlds to life.
At this moment, people around the world are clicking the "play" button on Black Sun: Salvation. They are not going to see a majestic, polished production. They are going to see a laggy, unfinished piece of shit.
The production life of Black Sun, whose roots began years ago in Homeworld 2, has been long and without any notable evolutions. Eventually setting on the independent game Sins of a Solar Empire, Black Sun has at every turn been strangled by the limitations of the dead RTS modding world. My own inabilities, including the inability to texture or animate, my inability to program, and my ineptitude in production overall, have destroyed Black Sun's potential to truly shine.
Yet, at the end of the road, 11 years have passed since I first stepped foot into the world of modding. Spending most of my time with Brood War, I traveled down a dark and terrible road as I grew up in the world of creation. At the same time I struggled with deepening mental disorders, including psychosis and depression. Prescription drugs, the education system, nothing would grant me any substance. Modding, and writing - these were my worlds, and within my worlds I confided.
Black Sun is not a mod, however. It is a video. A video whose creation I originally justified with "a basis for inspiration to jump-start writing my novel once more". In the end, though, the meaning of this production far exceeded this goal. I produced Black Sun, choosing to ignore and work around the various limitations and barriers to the best of my ability, not because I wanted to continue writing. Indeed - I wrote small portions of my novel due to the visions and dreams inspired by Black Sun's work - but I wanted something greater. I wanted to prove to myself I still had what it took to create such a project. So many years of haggard, half-assed hackjobbing and corner cutting. In producing Black Sun I sacrificed a great deal. Time, much time, physical health, other opportunities including my desire to pursue an independent game project in the UDK, casting... everything. I am accustomed to long, mindless hours of smashing my face into impassible walls. But Black Sun, I would not allow such a dream to die, even though I so wished it had.
At many points Black Sun faced total destruction. Like the Anahn and the Prince of Blood, I endured many difficult times and unusual circumstances. Weeks of energy were wasted on trivial matters, like the Ruin (An Undead battlecruiser featured mostly in the later half of the video) absolutely refusing to convert with Ironclad's converter. It took forever for me to finally figure out why - the converter doesn't support single-edge vertexes, and the Ruin had two vertexes extremely well hidden on its sides that refused to be welded. Even though I fixed the Ruin, I had wasted so much time and energy on the crisis that two months went by before the project picked up steam again.
During the endless, sleepless, rage-filled nights that I endured carving my image into this wretched effigy, one thing kept me going - honor. The pride of the old mods I had lost in continually failing to finish the fight. The image I had managed to create in making a fool of myself time and time again. I sought to break the cycle. No matter the overall significance of Black Sun's completion, completing it at all was what mattered. In completing Black Sun I seal the coffin in my lineage of mods. I complete the cycle, and come full circle.
Music & design -
Choosing music was the hardest part of the composition. Music dictates emotion, which dictates flow, which dictates immersion... I think in most circumstances the average person would opt to use trailer music or something like ES Posthumus for such a production. However, that music is way too overused to have any emotional value left in it for average video watchers, and it's way too upbeat for the kind of image I was trying to portray through the audio. I ended up looking deep into eastern and European music, especially older folk, neofolk, death metal and such kind of stuff, to get what I wanted. Even then, I spent nearly a year putting the composition together and finding tracks I felt were fitting. The process took forever and I never did find exactly what I wanted. Makes me wish I was able to keep composing music.
Two parts of the video truly stand out amongst the others when it came to choosing music - the introduction, and the messy CGI/blend built area before the Feast chapter. The problem with these locations was two-fold: I wasn't sure what I wanted them to sound like, and I didn't have what I wanted in terms of music. My library is vast, and at any point I wasn't modeling or voice acting, I was searching it over and over again, seeking pieces and constantly replacing them. Even as Black Sun faced destruction's barrel during the encoding nightmare, I did not settle on the music and I was still replacing it constantly. This is why music credits didn't even make it into the video - I knew they would change after I finalized the visual portion.
The Introduction and how it sucks
The beginning of the video is incredibly important for many reasons. Not only does it set the pace for the entire production, it will be the most memorable and iconic moment to match the viewer's impersonation of the Anahn with the strongest form of energy I can provide - sound. I must define the sound of the Anahn in a difficult and demanding scene, with little more to go by other than the sound itself. The limitations of my artistic abilities were already reached during the intro, where I could not formulate any scenery at all even remotely similar to canon. The first galaxy of Anahn space is more of a series of caverns and Tiran corridors, it's not open and dark like the Milky Way or most other galaxies. You wouldn't know this if I didn't tell you just now, though. There was absolutely no way I could bring that kind of an environment into Sins, or render it.
On top of this, I had no way to show the "foundries" or "industry" that the narration speaks of. I wanted to make cgi animations for this but had no idea how to even attempt to portray what was inside my head. On top of this, there are no planets in the first galaxy. The creation of the Black Sun and the Tiran caverns obliterated every star, planet, and other stellar body. So, immediately into the video, Black Sun breaks massive canon with the writing, which is why I say it's "loosely" based on the writing. Thus, it falls entirely onto the music to give the Anahn the feeling I want to give them.
I longed to locate a militaristic, industrial-style track with epic gothic elements and a strong arabic vibe. This would trail into the Warlord section, which uses a piece by Bear McCreary, whom I'm sure most people are familiar with from BSG. But I could never find something like this, even though a friend sent me a large amount of really good instrumental stuff. I just could never find what I wanted. I ended up having to substitute with much less than I wanted, making a frankenstein out of a Lair track and some others.
Ultimately, the intro is a mess and I wish I wasn't bad at graphics so I could have made it not rely on the music so much.
The Warlord Segment
The Warlord segment uses a SOCOM 4 track with strong similarities to BSG music. I made a conscious decision to use this track for several reasons. First of all, it's similar to BSG music. I wanted that similarity to ease viewers into the concept of the Anahn which would somewhat reflect a Colonian civil war if it was galactic in scale and had TTGL levels of scale. The SOCOM 4 music portrays scale better than BSG, and it's not likely to be something people have heard before. I bring in a familiar element to help ease people into a totally unnatural, alien world, for what little it's worth. Also it sounds awesome.
Unfortunately, the Warlord recordings, for how many I took, suck. The one recording at the beginning is incredibly laggy but I was never able to find a suitable replacement. The video make no mention of the gas giant-sized battlestations that littered the second galaxy like a giant wall and got shelled to oblivion by Royal forces. This is because I couldn't model them and the game would never support their weapon counts. Oh well.
The Lost Fleet
The Lost Fleet used a TSFH track for the longest time, but I wanted to distance myself from trailer music, even if it was exceptionally hard to find albums. This is because youtube flags the music in 99% of cases, and I can never be sure when I will lose my only recently acquired unlimited upload length. With 1400 videos on youtube and only just recently getting this ability, I had to be extra careful. Instead I eventually chose a Nox Arcana track. It doesn't fit as well as the TSFH track, but it gets the point across. The latter half of the Lost Fleet, with the memory voices, was a semi-recent addition near the end of the project. I called up discarded recordings from my last Adashim lot and used those with some extra material. I think this is a part most people won't understand very well, so I'll explain.
Adashim is highly sensitive to psionic movements on certain levels, allowing him to "foresee the future" in some cases. It also makes him a potent beacon for the Undead and, specifically, the Fear, an enormous Undead battleship that hides in subspace and taunts Adashim throughout the Anahn's lifespan. The Fear chooses to show Adashim memories of mortals it has sucked up like a sponge. Adashim also often sees reflections of himself talking to himself, making a mockery of his pride in his individuality and having survived the fall of his race. The Fear, is in essence, toying with Adashim by playing with his foresight. Adashim makes an effort to see through the Fear's machinations, as sometimes the Fear intentionally gives away valuable information, for it enjoys playing with Adashim and doesn't want to see him die and get consumed by Hell instead.
Of course, explaining this kind of stuff in a 50 minute video that glazes over two novels worth of material is unrealistic.
The Hell segment preluding Feast is the most trying and difficult of the entire video. Finding music for it was impossible, the content was impossible, and the overall feeling still escaped me. At the end of the road it is a trainwreck of what it once was, not even a shadow what it could have been, and achieves nothing.
"Hell is shaped by the dreams and nightmares of those it consumes. Whatever your version of Hell is... it exists."
Hell in Black Sun is, literally, a physical entity. It resides in the Abyss, an alternate dimension, and far outscales Creation (physical space). But hell was mostly "asleep", chaotic, random. Adashim's Anahn with their civil war and the immense bloodshed that consumed it awoke Hell in full.
Feast breaks canon because it shows true Undead ships appearing in the inner Anahn galaxies, which should only appear in the later battles. Instead, an Undead Anahn fleet should appear, called the Myrookk fleet, commandeered by Hell when Adashim has a ship destroy one of the neighboring warlord-controlled galaxies in a single event. Making Myrookk ships was possible, but unrealistic at the stage of the project the decision came in. So, I choose to show true Undead ships instead.
The music for this section was difficult. I was originally using Fairy Tail music but eventually settled on some Shiva in Exile butchery and a track from Dark Souls (lol souls). I feel that the recordings and music for the UD section were okay. Not outstanding, but not terrible. My initial recordings were extremely laggy, and this section used to be half of its length before I started revising it.
"To Dance with Devils"
One of the first parts of the composition to be finalized. It features my voice acting and some voices created by lozarian from Team Liquid, who offered his voice freely to any and all takers. Truth be told, if I didn't have him make voices for the project I would have probably dropped it. At several points I wanted to give up, but my obligation to him to make sure his efforts were not in vain kept me going in hard times. I absolutely hate having my time wasted on projects that ask for this or that but don't ever get finished. I felt enormously obligated to him to finish this project so this voice would be heard.
Music for this section was tough but not too difficult. It uses several pieces that sounded relatively similar and mixed very well. One comes from a Witcher 2 gamerip.
Voice acting Adashim took about a year to do. I was unfamiliar with voice acting unedited voices and uncomfortable with talking in the first place. There was one thing I had proved to myself I could do, however - emotion. The question was, could I make Adashim's voice unique AND put in energy? Across six major revisions I achieved satisfactory results. Not good, but satisfactory. The Fear was revoiced when I got my new mic and I stuck with that revision.
Act 2 was composited in record time. I basically made a framework, recorded several times, molded the framework, recorded some more, molded more, then did the Emperor and Worldeater.
Music choices were easy and all voice acting was done entirely on the fly. All dialogue and composition came as I thought of it. I felt Act 2 as a whole was very strong, but the problem was that the Xy`Kranasha race had so few ships compared to the Undead or Anahn. I had reached the limitations of my ability as an artist to portray even shadows of my dreams, and was forced to record and composite before the Xy`Kranasha were ready. Despite this, I entered part 2 with a strong idea of what I wanted to do, and little more. I felt it turned out satisfactory and went with it, polishing as I could.
I wanted the Xy`Kranasha to have a musical theme very different from the Anahn and the Undead, but as the video was entirely from the Anahn perspective, they had to be reasonably Anahn influenced as well. I settled on Theodor Bastard, Xenosaga, and some newer material. Finding the trailer music for HoMM6, which was barely on the shelves when I was compositing the Fortress, was a huge stroke of luck and I personally feel that is one of the strongest parts of the entire video. The Salvation segment isn't perfect, but it's passable. This was comprised of two recordings, because circumstancial events played so well and I didn't feel I could replicate them. The camera work suffered due to less passes and quality control, but I think it's okay as it is.
The ships in this video only loosely reflect their overall visions. Anahn ships, for example, are so massive that their turrets have point defense turrets on them. In a game like sins, which lacks moving turrets or firing arcs past right/left/front/back, no Z-axis, ect, my ship designs fall vastly short of their goals. Add on the 50k triangle limit and I could not even hope to bring the engines of war in my dreams to life.
The Undead appear like black shapes in Black Sun: Salvation, but in reality they should appear similar to the Beast from Shadow Raiders - highly reflective, with distortion and the phantasmal glow. I have yet to encounter a game engine that supports such an appearance. So I had to settle for much less. The Undead thus look too similar to the Shadows from B5 or Shivans from Freespace 2. The latter was made no better by my dependence on FS2 for beam sounds. Undead ships are also incredibly fast and maneuverable, but this wasn't possible to portray ingame.
As should be obvious by the video, I cannot UV or texture, and nor would such a venture be viable in sins. Sins has a 32-bit ram limit and texture entry limit, both of which are already severely hammered by the default assets. Even if I could give each ship unique textures I would run into the same problem every other sins mod eventually has - crashing because the game brute force loads every texture available on startup and soon runs out of memory.
I'll worry more about such things when I move on to the UDK I suppose. I'm not worried about it now.
Sins has a single colossal advantage over Homeworld 2, or even Starcraft 2 if I had wanted to make Black Sun in it. That advantage is the particle editor. Between my eye for detail, my ripping resources for textures, and my love for particles, I felt that the particle effects were one of the only things keeping this project on its feet. I learned a huge amount of valuable information about design and performance during my time with Sins particles, even though they were more limited than Warcraft 3 particles. Sins doesn't even seem to support alpha maps.
The Xy`Kranasha gave me quite a bit of difficulty, though. Sins relies very heavily on textures to make good looking particles due to the limitations of its engine, and I had very few textures suitable for Xy`Kranasha. You'll make note that I tended to use one particular animated texture extensively for the Anahn - I had no equivalents suitable for the Xy`Kranasha, because sins has an arbitrary limit on how many frames it can load for animated textures, how long they can last before they flip out, ect. Sins also commonly breaks animated textures ingame - note the Emperor battle, where you sometimes see squares appearing on the Anahn death explosions. This is a massive bug in the engine, and I am not sure how or why it occurs, but it requires a restart to fix usually. This is why I took two recordings for this fight, even though my first was already very strong.
I felt I let the Xy slip a lot with subpar particle editing, but I didn't have the resources to make them look how I wanted them to look. Most Xy lightning weapons are supposed to fire an arcing beam of lightning. This is not possible in sins, so I made them fire missiles with lightning particles instead. It looks terrible. I wish I could have done more.
Although I have much experience in voice acting and sound engineering, all I know is self-taught. I don't know much about technicalities or obscure techniques, and Black Sun tested my resolve through and through. Most developers, like Blizzard or Relic, rely very heavily on commercial cds for their sfx, and copy/paste as needed. I am in possession of many of these cds, but I found myself relying on older titles' sfx instead. Infinity Engine games (like Baldur's Gate), Conquest: Frontier Wars, Freespace 2, ect. these provided the sound basis I needed to get started.
I made heavy use of Wave Hammer and custom filters to create the sounds I wanted. The smallest Anahn point defense guns shown in the video can devastate planets, and sure you can't hear sound in space, but they needed to sound manly from the start. I went on an epic ripping spree, plunging the depths of dozens of games, some even from consoles, seeking source sound effects to mangle. But the oldies were always the best. I can only dream of being as good as the Baldur's Gate guys. Until then, I use their material and butcher it to my specifications.
Beam weapons in particular were incredibly difficult to make I found. Tabula Rasa had all of one beam sound I used for the Patriarch, the rest came mostly from Freespace 2. This is the biggest regret I had sound-wise in Black Sun - I wasn't able to create more than a few beam sounds on my own skills.
Almost all of the voice acting is my own save a few bits. A gentleman on TL offered his voice services freely and I had him do some voices for the memory sequence. My oldest reader and editor who has been acquainted with the writing forever lended her totally inexperienced voice for the Song of War parts. Another guy did a single line, and Laconius did the UD crusader. Everything else weighed on my shoulders. Having to do so many voices, it's clear my vocal range couldn't support it. On top of this, part-way through the production my mic died and I had to buy a new one. Although superior overall, I wasn't inexperienced in the new mic and how to shape my voice differently for it. Thus many of the random Anahn sounded way too damn similar. I didn't know anyone who could pull off the clarity and emotion that I could for the random lines, though. So I sucked it in and went with what I had.
Coming into Black Sun, my experience with voice acting was limited mostly to villainous voices or comical voices, the former of which were almost always heavily filtered. I don't talk very much in my day to day life except over ventrilo, so my regular speech is actually very poor and unkept, made worse by the decay of my motor skills. Bringing that into what would have to be very demanding unedited voice acting was a challenge. Adashim's lines took 5-6 major takes to get even remotely similar to what I wanted, but I still wish I could do the accents better.
Many Anahn voices were recorded with background audio, like my giant fan, or edited with SPACEMAN or another form of distortion, or a combination of both, to simulate communication static on various levels. Anahn space is flooded with intense radiation and geological features, making traditional long-ranged communication outside of psionics a challenge.
The composition was a bloody nightmare. I wasn't aiming to tell a story, but I wanted to give my readers something to "hear", so to say. I don't have many readers, so the content I put in probably doesn't make much sense to other people in that regard. If that is the case, see the video more as a reflection of my inner struggles against my own demons. That is ultimately what Black Sun boils down to. Though Black Sun's plot isn't actually a part of my novel, so it probably doesn't make any sense to the readers, either. LOL SO RANDOM XD
Choosing music, dialogue, and other things was very difficult indeed, but music was the hardest. I dumped terabytes into any given recording session only to scrap it and re-record, but music took months to get just right.
I think I lost sight of anything cohesive in making the composition. I predict that the video as a whole, if taken literally, will be too confusing and random. But I don't mind. I never intended to tell the story of Black Sun, only create something loosely based on it. It is beyond my ability to tell the real thing. Maybe if I ever get good at modeling...
Although parts of the video had a script, the strongest parts of the video in my opinion are those that were just done on the fly. I find that planning things always ends in a disaster I can't keep control of. It's best I just jump in and swing my penis around, striking as many faces as I can before settling down and polishing up the remains. I'm just not good at sticking to a plan. So, most of the dialogue and such was done entirely on the spot with no script or whatever.
As controlling the camera and game was so difficult, most of the recordings of combat were taken observing computers killing each other. I found that getting the camera to function smoothly was impossible. I even altered my mouse to use extremely low DPI, but the camera was always incredibly jerky. The zoom to object was necessary to navigate between fights, but during fights it often hooked onto objects in the far distance and completely screwed an entire recording. I absolutely despised the camera in this game, but Homeworld 2 wasn't any better.
The Long Haul Home...
During the process of compositing inside Vegas I regularly encountered a widely-reported bug in which the application complains about the fraps codec and then arbitrarily chooses files to stop loading. This is an annoyance in my compilation-related productions, which sometimes needed 4-5 encodes to successfully encode without missing video, but for a 50 minute long video this threatened the entire project.
A supposed fix was to load an old 32-bit dll in place of the existing avi plugin, which worked for editing, but caused the save dialogue to instantly crash. I tried many extremely lengthy encodes to various mp4 and mov settins but as it turns out they're all garbage and I wasted an entire night of encoding. I was forced to upgrade to Vegas 11 32-bit, which so far seemed to handle fraps files fine (maybe it's just a bug with 64-bit versions). My anguish did not end.
Vegas handles aspect ratios in a format differently than everything else I'm familiar with. So, I wasn't sure how to get 1080p's aspect ratio to work in Vegas. The reported setting of 1.0 always resulted in letterboxing. I discovered this at the tail end of a 10 hour encode. There goes half a day. Upon fixing this, I undertook yet another encode, this time allowing it to finish. Of course, I can't use the 70gb lagarith encode for release, and I couldn't even watch it off the external due to read speeds, so I continued on to the final encode through megui. But the final file was incredibly dark for some reason. Half the scenes were unwatchable.
Ah, yes. Vegas defaulted back to 8-bit. Awesome. 14 hours down the drain. I set it to 32 and re-encoded yet again. During this period I had not been idle, checking the final waveform of the audio and making sure I had evened out the volumes as best I could. I didn't want to compress the entire stream as it would distort the music very heavily, so I opted for manual rebalancing. I am not 100% certain it's good, but it's bearable to my ears at least, and they hurt a lot from continual SFX editing abuse.
When this encode finished I successfully turned it into an x264 file and the colors were fixed. Awesome. The video looked messy as fuck and unfinished, but that's because that's what it is. I decided to start uploading. I made it to the end of the video before something very wrong was apparent. A part of the final battle was entirely black. It had audio, but no video. I checked in vegas - no video displayed for several fraps videos.
The fraps incompatibility remained. Even now. 3 major revisions down the line of the program, with countless subversions, and the bug still remained. Now it just silently failed, with no errors or crashes, and caused video to randomly disappear. This, coupled with the insane render times, the ugliness of the production as a whole, made my heart sink. My will to see this through to the bloody, bitter end was quickly evaporating. I screamed for a while, and swore at interns, and rallied my strength for one more re-encoded. I opted to fix the biggest issues that bothered me the most - the Xy dream segments were using a film effects that looked fine in preview but was fucking murder on the eyes in full FPS/fullscreen. I was using the film effects to tint as well, but I couldn't remove the flickering effect because it's hardcoded into the plugin. I tried to mimic the tinting with other effects as best I could, but the segments don't look as good as they used to, minus the eye-melting flashing.
Several parts of the video were black for an extended period of time for I simply had no content to put in them. I tried to scrape the biggest ones together, and found yet another track for the UD Hell segment. Even now I still wasn't happy with that part! And that part I hate the most, for it shows nothing of the Undead and almost serves no point at all. Really, the entire video comes off to me as a total disaster. I couldn't have fucked it up more if I tried. The ingame camera, the lack of CGI, the lack of direction... in the end all I served to do was humiliate myself one last time. But I could do no more with what I had available. I had to stomach the pain of defeat.
Yet this encode, too, would fail. I counted at least 3 major instances of the video blacking out randomly in parts that should have worked. The areas were spread out enough that selectively re-encoding and frame-perfect splicing seemed unrealistic as I am totally unexperienced in surgically removing junk. On top of this, the video still bothered me. There's a lot of camera fail and still some blank spots I wish I could get rid of. Above all, though, I needed to fix the fraps files. There's just no other option.
This meant re-encoding each and every single one of my terabyte+ of source files. Hundreds and hundreds. My plan involves using the job function of virtualdub, but currently I only had around 100gb free of HD space on the internal drives. Yes. I must delete all of the source footage I was holding onto for XXE. The cost of this will be immense. I have no replacement footage. This will set the next XXE behind by a colossal amount of time. There is also LP footage for God of War, but I believed I could hide it away on the last of my external drive space. The limitations of my hardware were quickly becoming apparent. Now, more than ever, I wish I had that e-sata port working properly so I could get another external, or an internal coupling to use my last internal slot. But these options are simply not available.
I took this opportunity to step back, re-assess the project, and do what I could to bring it up a little higher towards my bar in quality. While I couldn't fix everything that irked me, I eventually took re-recordings. A day passed, and Operation: 69 completed. I re-recorded some parts, pieced it together, and set the next chapter of this legacy in motion.
And it failed.
Vegas was crashing instead. Just up and crashing 6-10% into the video. I would later discover this was because the GPU rendering Sony added is disgustingly bad. As in, it's slower than the CPU and crashes the bloody program. In my random flailing I turned this off and squeezed out a successful encode. The random black spots remained.
My spirit was shattered. Over a week had passed, just fucking with the encode. Every hour of the day had been spent sitting there, watching numbers tick by, waiting, hoping that this would be the time it worked. But, it never worked. What had once been just an annoyance was now going to be the death of my project. I had even taken fraps and its weird codec out of the equation, and still I was at odds with my software.
This hinted at one of two problems.
1 - Vegas seriously hosed something in their AVI plugin.
2 - My windows installation, which had been eaten by driver sweeper several times in the past, was mangled.
I asked myself, "How far are you willing to go to see your dreams in motion, if only for but a moment?" To me, it felt like I had no choice. I had no assurances this gamble would pay off. I only knew that if I stopped here, now, I would never forgive myself. Black Sun was finished. But it wasn't finished.
I would be setting myself back a massive amount of time in terms of programs and settings, but I didn't care in the end. Would I spit on the time and energy I had put into the last four years? No. I would fight unto the bitter end, even if it meant encoding the video a minute at a time and stitching it back together.
You are sons of Bloodstone, you will stand your ground.
Operation: 42 -
And so I reinstalled windows. A day later, I was ready to encode again. This encode was successful, but in my efforts to fix several areas I had broken them even further. I hadn't run my quality control pass, for I had lost hope in recovering from this disaster. I went back and fixed it all, and sat down for one last encode. I felt as though the weight of everything I had ever done ticked by every % of the video's progress. Indeed, being powerless and completely at the mercy of some arbitrary software was a hideous castration of my struggle to finish the project thus far. It had all come down to this. This one moment. All I could do was sit and watch. I decided to install the UDK. As if to piss on me one last time, Murphy instructed .net 4.0 to restart without any option to delay. 2 hours wasted. My swearing drowned Davey Jones.
The encode reaches 82% and then crashes. Again. This is beyond the breaking point. This is rage boundless.
Deleting the XXE footage? In vain.
Reinstalling windows? In vain.
All I have done. All I have sacrificed. It means nothing. I have achieved nothing but the destruction of my resources and time.
It is time then to divide the video into parts, and render each part individually. I will go by thirds first. If this fails, eights. Each part will be individually verified.
This fails really fast. As it turns out, the smaller the clip I attempted to render, the faster it crashed. It's like Murphy was pissing all over me. I literally could not get a 5 minute clip anywhere past 50%. It didn't work. Period.
A friend suggested to get rid of any multithreading options. It was hard to believe Vegas was multithreaded in the slightest with how despicably slow it was, but the Lagarith codec and Vegas options claimed to have multithreading that I disabled. Unbelievably, the render was indeed slower, but not by much. 23 hours passed. Twenty-three hours. That's enough for me to start the encode, go to sleep, wake up, watch half of Trigun, eat supper, and become really tired and ready to sleep again before the thing fucking finished.
And I discovered it, too, was broken. You guessed it - more random black spots. It was clear that vegas was just, by nature, awful in every sense of the term. Whether it's fraps, Lagarith, avis in general, or some deeply-seeded, obscure-yet-stupid bullshit, Vegas was simply incapable of making a proper video.
Now I had in my possession two, full-length Black Sun encodes. The first, for all intents and purposes, had functional battle footage but everything else was messy. The second had corrected dialogue and cinematics scenes, but the battles were littered with everything from half-rendered video clips to angry, seizure-inducing random black frames. Yeah, it was a mess.
But one I could potentially fuse into a Frankenstein of ultimate power. I set out with a goal in mind, one I had been tossing around in my head since I began this great crusade - what if I ended up with two half-broken encodes. Could I merge them into a single, functional encode? Re-encoding them in vegas was out of the question - Vegas was significantly dropping the video quality in lossless encodes, if I re-encoded them and succeeded the already questionable quality would surely take another hit. Virtualdub? I entertained trying frame-perfect cuts in the unfriendly interface. Probably possible, but very difficult. My attention turned to AVS. What I usually used as merely a means to get my Starcraft casts into x264 had a lot more power to it than just being a front. It was a scripting language, after all.
I would dub this Operation: ROPARGEDDON. A hack worthy of lard that which rolls uphill.
I placed my two files into Vegas and cut them apart accordingly. I then looked for the frames which parts would begin or end, and wrote a simple script with these numbers.
Code: Select all
DAR = 1.7778 AVISource("E:\BLACKSUN-ALPHAPHASE2.avi")Trim(0,16223)+AVISource("C:\BLACKSUNNEW-reMANGLE.avi")Trim(16224,19009)+AVISource("E:\BLACKSUN-ALPHAPHASE2.avi")Trim(19010,30428)+AVISource("C:\BLACKSUNNEW-reMANGLE.avi")Trim(30429,45282)+AVISource("E:\BLACKSUN-ALPHAPHASE2.avi")Trim(45283,92837) ConvertToYV12()
Unfortunately, it seems the trim command doesn't work in the way I was hoping and megui sees extremely weird (and much less than desired) times for the video encode. I aim for a less graceful, but still effective method of rendering each part to x264 independently, then merge them through mkvmerge like I do some larger productions.
All goes well. My first test shows that the timings of the video are appropriate according to vegas. There is the possibility that this won't be a frame-perfect split, so I must pay very close attention to the audio sync as the video finishes.
My head is pounding from sleep deprivation. My hands sear from years of abuse. Yes, I rendered that goddamn audio to flac, because AAC wasn't in the list and ac3 wouldn't let me customize its settings. Suck it, Shaw.
Time passes. My headache worsens, and I become more exhausted, but I fight on. The last video chunk completes. MKVmerge says sampling the flac file or something will take a, and I quote, "LONG" time. It takes 5 seconds. The video muxes, no problem. I sit down and watch. My eyes are glued to the screen as four years passes by in a heartbeat.
Other than the camera fail near the end of the Emperor, the single part of the video that is broken in both encodes (in the second it failed to render), which I intentionally let slide, Operation: ROPARGEDDON is a 100% success. I think it's an entire frame-perfect sync.
Finally. Four years... a week of encoding... so much energy... so much emotion... it is over. I could not help but feel empty, for I always feel empty at times like this. There is no moment of gratification. There is only the one question I ask myself...
For now, it is to catch up on my casting and LP work. I have much I have neglected over the months, and it's time to start going through it.
My time here in the Starcraft community has not been that great. I'm an angsty asshole and I haven't contributed anything meaningful in my time here. I hope that, at least in part, Black Sun shows I have greater aspirations within me. I will be trying to reduce my public internet presence down to only my casts (podcast included) and my work, though I already left a lot of communities behind a long time ago. I just really don't ever have anything pleasant to say about anything. I want to be like I was 10 years ago. Black Sun has humbled me, and made me realize that I belong at the smithy, not the tavern.
But in doing this, Adashim attracted a lot of not very nice guys who wanted to touch him all over until the cows came home. Because Adashim is sensitive to psionics, one in particular, a Big Bad known as the Fear, harasses him incessantly. All of the memories and echoes - the voices with reverb - is the Fear letting Adashim see everything from memories of the dead to echoes of the future. Including his own. Which he can also see because, hello, he's a goddamn prince and he said so.
I picked and chose the dialogue in the video to be vague but revealing if taken in a specific way. It's a bit of a puzzle. LOL PUZZLES
The "Song of War" is actually a weapon the Big Bad uses to make Adashim's children, the Anahn, go apeshit and kill each other circa 4000 years ago. Adashim lost most of his power as a person and as a political figure and then became obscured in the noise of a thousand Warlords clubbing each other with their dicks. Black Sun: Salvation as a video begins at the end of his crusade with his Royal Family, a huge legion of loyalists (mostly genetic copies, like all Anahn, but a few purebloods too) descend upon the second galaxy with a lot of crazy tech and stab everyone in the face.
As the civil war winds down, the Big Bad's memories become way more frequent and intense. It makes mention of the Song of War once more - Adashim has been preparing for whatever dastardly evil awaits him in the sticky depths of heck. But, as it turns out, he didn't prepare well enough. His contributions to Hell allowed it to become so fat that the lard spills out and across Creation, killing everything that wasn't already dead when the SECOND BIG BAD poked them with a sharp object.
The rest, as they say, is history...
Honor the Prince,
Remember the Jordan,
The Black Sun shines eternally!