Building the Dwemer Tileset
by Erik Christensen
Over the past couple of months I planned, designed, modeled and textured a large set of models to replace the existing Dwemer tileset from Morrowind. now I feel I should explain a ‘tileset’ before we get any further: a tileset is a set of models, that can be snapped together to create a variety of different models/environments. They are modular 3d models that are simple enough to not be ‘heavy’ on a person's computer and yet still look amazing when repeated many times.
When I started the Dwemer tileset in August my initial goal was to stick to the original Morrowind Dwemer sets like glue, basically only change it in small ways to make it more detailed like what I did with the Hlaalu tileset with a higher polygon count to smooth out areas. This obviously would not work with the Skywind Dwemer though, as it is very tough to get the simple walls and featureless rooms of the original sets to properly hold up to the detail of Skywind, So I went back to the drawing board.
I was lost, I had no real end goal and was just concepting in 3d. This does not really help when trying to make something so many people are passionate about. So I sat down for a few hours and wrote out this document:
I never type anything really and that just kind of happened. It is a good example of the amount of work that goes into creating a tileset for a game, and also the reason why many back out of tileset jobs after a while.
So I ended up with a (partially) complete design doc which outlined most of the tricky parts of this project and allowed me to get things like color palettes and asset lists outlined.
Building the Corridors
I started working on the corridors not long after I completed the design doc, it didn’t take very long to get something together considering how much concept art we have on the subject. So getting it all nailed down was simple. At this time I also started work on the textures, which ended up being quite easy to produce due to the fantastic color reference Smitehammer found me.
For the textures I used a program called dDo, although I used a lot of custom texture maps to get the look I wanted, and I was able to quickly produce the 7 2048x2048 texture maps in a few days since dDo allows you to save ‘Smart Materials’ which I could use over multiple textures.
The actual design for the corridors went fairly quickly, and what you see in the final images is pretty much what I built on the first day. Although we did go through some iterations of roof designs to see if we could fit the large centurions in them, however it would mean we wouldn’t be able to follow Morrowind's dungeon layouts so they were quickly scrapped.
Rough roof concepts for the Dwemer Centurion
Building the Hallways
Now the corridors were easy, they took just a few days to get fully concepted and produced, this is due to there being a complete set of assets from Morrowind for me to follow and base my set off of.
the corridors are ‘Replacers’ which means we can directly replace all instances of the Morrowind assets with the new Skywind versions.
Hallways are different, these are unique to Skywind. Morrowind did have some double high room sections however these were very limited in what you could do with them. and always up ended looking the same in-game, So i took inspiration from Skyrim in the layout of their Dwemer hallways and how they got them to snap together. sped up the modeling process and soon I had some basic ideas about what I wanted these pieces to look like. So i started modeling and came up with a number of concepts, none of which made it into the final piece.
Some of the early screenshots I linked to the dev team for critique
Once I got the basic shape down I started realising that I needed to have the top be a lot simpler than the bottom segment in terms of detail, however it needed to hold up since we were also having a door section that would go in this top half to give the dungeon designer a bit more creative freedom in the Y axis.
Top down view of the various pieces (excluding the door variants)
Now the ‘doorways’ were tricky because this is the point where the Hallways connect to the Corridor sections. Of course this means if we have a door section on the bottom, we still have 16 combinations for doors to go in. So we just went for the main ones, and the doors are easy enough to set up so that they can be done based on the designers request, rather than flooding the game files with assets which will never be used.
Example of a hallway section with a doorway
In the end the hallways came to light, with flat ceilings with a curved tubular pipe space, which looks grand.
I went with stone for the ground, because I felt that the metal flooring of Morrowind did not offer enough contrast to look good. However the stone texture is super generic so I made a metal plating texture which works in the place of the stone.
There is still a lot to do. We still have plans to make a ‘Caverns’ tileset which will be a mix of Dwemer and Cave, along with sets of Clutter assets which will slowly be made as the team gets the time.
Some of the clutter we have planned is living quarters items, Construction materials, Ventilation shafts and fans, Destroyed objects, Large murals depicting times gone by, Statues and of course, Animated machinery. Expect to see either a feature video or image gallery posted at some point in the future, however for now sit down and look at some wicked images and videos!
So that's about it for the Dwemer, We are busy working on the Clutter assets and exterior buildings. the doorways were also recently completed on a livestream which you can watch here: