I’ve now re-compiled my 3DS Max plug-ins to support 3DS Max 2010. Grab them while they’re hot! 🙂

The only change has been to the SMD exporter where I’ve added support for spline objects after user requests. I left it out on purpose to stop people using splines in place of bones or dummies in model skeletons. The reason being is that they are very quirky and it often results in the animation in Max not matching the rotation on export. They are fine to use to as controllers to influence the rotation of a bone or dummy but don’t use them as bones themselves. You’ll put yourself in a world of pain.

I’ve testing the plug-ins in the 32-bit version of 3DS Max 2010 but I’m assuming that they’ll work fine in the 64-bit version too.

As always, any problems let me know.

I’ve been suffering from insomnia so I decided to finish up some changes to the SMD importer bringing it up to release version 1.0.

Changes in this version from the alpha are fixes to try and handle SMD parsing better, a “pre-parse” option to speed up reading SMDs by skipping data you don’t want and most significantly, support for importing animations.

Nov. 26, 2008 @ 04:18

To say I’m stressed would be an understatement of epic proportions. I seem to have so much going on right now I’m wishing the world had a giant “pause” button I could press now and then just to give myself a chance to catch up with everything I have to do. I’m starting to become a career insomniac and the pay sucks.

Anyway, I’ve managed to scrounge a few hours to look at bugs in the 3DS Max SMD Importer alpha version and I think I’ve nailed the most common one’s that people reported. I’ve also started on support for animation and so far it’s working, I just need to tidy up some code and wrap up some of the user options.

Unfortunately due to my workload I probably won’t be able to get the next update out this week as I hoped but there will be one soon.

It seems as winter draws nearer my freetime gets less and less so a lot of my projects have been pushed onto the back-burner for now. Work and family comes first, sleeping second and Ham and Jam third as I just want to see it done.

Luckily this weekend was quiet so I took some time to do some more work on the 3DS Max SMD Importer plug-in and got the vertex weighting code fleshed out so now the meshes is actually linked to the bones. Now that step is done, the importer actually becomes useful and I can think about making an initial release at least as an alpha version for testing.

Up until now the code has mostly been mostly prototyping so I’ve spent the weekend refining it and adding in error handling as I’m sure in the real world there will be the odd screwed up SMD file it’ll have to deal with. I need to put a nice options dialog and a few other bits and pieces as well before it’s really usable.

So here’s a recap of what you can/can’t do with the importer right now.

Imported TF2 Heavy

TF2 Heavy in 3DS Max 9. Model on the right is posed slightly to show the skin modifier working.

It imports the SMD as a single continuous mesh so you don’t need to weld anything back together (like with the MaxScript importer). It doesn’t yet re-build smoothing groups but you can fix this yourself by just adding an Edit Poly modifier on top and using AutoSmooth or do it manually. Materials and UV’s are imported and assigned to a Multi/Sub material type.

Bones are imported and posed in the reference pose but it doesn’t yet handle importing animations. That shouldn’t be hard to do, I just haven’t got around to it yet. Vertex weights are imported and the mesh attached to the skeleton via a Skin modifier.

There still a long way to go and I’ve a lot of useful idea’s for features for the importer but for now, I’ll just be happy to get something out the door people can use 😀

Feel free to ask any questions.

Aug. 26, 2008 @ 23:42

Blimey. Has it really been two months since I last posted something?

This summer has gone by really quickly and I’ve been extremely busy hence the lack of activity. I got to take a short holiday and went back to England for two weeks for my little sisters wedding. Apart from that I’ve been working like a maniac as we’ve got a product launch due for September at work which means a lot of overtime and late nights getting everything finished. 🙁

As I’m officially and “old fart” I’m afraid that after a hard day at the office I usually fall asleep as soon as I get home which means even less freetime. That said, what freetime I do have is currently spent on some writing projects and Ham and Jam. We’re going from Alpha to Beta soon and starting an aggressive testing programme so that’s going to keep my busy.

I’ve been getting a lot of e-mail asking about the SMD Exporter and Importer plug-ins so I figured I’d make a post here to answer some of the most common questions that people are asking.

For the exporter, I’ve been getting some good feedback from people on a couple of bugs but unfortunately haven’t had chance to address them all yet. The two most common are problems with material types in Max installed in languages other than English and crashes with mirrored bones. The language issue is solved and will be in the next update. The mirrored bones is a more complex problem and may take some time to fix.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again, don’t mirror bones in Max!. The most common mistake people is making is using the Tools->Mirror command in Max. This is the wrong way to do it and simply reverses the axis which is why your getting export problems. If you’re going to mirror bones, use Animation->Bone Tools turn on Bone Edit Mode and use the Mirror button. That will mirror them but keep the axis in the right orientation. For dummies you’ll have to mirror them manually but that doesn’t take too much work.

As for the SMD Importer, again I haven’t had much time to work on it but it’s certainly a lot further ahead that it’s been in a long time. Currently it’ll import meshes, UV, textures and bones although at the moment I haven’t set-up the skin modifier or looked into animation.

I’ll try and post some more updates soon, but in the meantime please be patient! 🙂

What a bloody week.

It seems the “United Servers Against Jed” had their annual meeting this week and decided to sacrifice one of themselves in protest. A database server decided to crash and burn which meant I spent a lot of overtime this week trying to get the damn thing up and running again. It took until Friday to actually get the server back on-line but I’m still working on the database recovery. Luckily it wasn’t the primary database but it’s still a pain in the arse.

Ironically enough, a few days before we’d put in an order for the new back-up storage solution which hopefully will stop this sort of thing happening again but I guessed USAJ heard about it and felt immediate action was required. So this weeks been nothing but late nights and coffee trying to fix servers so little attention to much else.

On a positive note, I slapped the Max SDK a bit and it’s now dancing to my tune. I sucessfully to the bone import sorted on the SMD importer and am happy to say everything is working as it should be. Current status is that it will import meshes, uv-coords and textures and the reference bose pose so far. Next stage is to glue the mesh to the bones with the weighting and then tackle animation.

May. 29, 2008 @ 23:36

I’ve not had a lot of free time this week but I’ve managed to make a bit more progress with my Max SMD importer. Mesh import seems to work fine and it now imports the materials and UV mapping too which is nice.

I did have one colossal panic when suddenly Max would start crashing when you tried to add a modifier to the mesh or when you actually exited. Lots of error messages about corrupt heap which is never good for your heart pressure. After much debugging it was down to an out of range index which wasn’t my fault. A rather vague description in the SDK docs had me putting the wrong value somewhere. Doh!

So Sunday afternoon I decided it was time to tackle the part I’d been dreading – importing the bones and animation into Max. There’s very little decent information on making bones in the Max SDK and I don’t know many people who’ve found it easy.

My first task was just to template out some code to actually just create a bone in 3DS Max. I think having my teeth pulled is less painful. To illustrate, lets imagine a conversation between MaxScript and I…

Me: Hello. I’d like to make a bone please.
MaxScript: Sure, here you go.
Me: Great! Can I move it over there?
MaxScript: No problem. *moves*
Me: And rotate it a little to the left?
MaxScript: Anything you want! *turns*
Me: Fantastic!

Now, lets re-enact that little scene as it went for most of Sunday afternoon between myself and the MaxSDK:

Me: Hello. I’d like to make a bone please.
MaxSDK: What sort of bone? *shifty eyes*
Me: Well you know. Regular bone in Max that you make skeletons with.
MaxSDK: Like a helper?
Me: Err I guess, if that’s what it is.
MaxSDK: Ok. *creates*
Me: That’s not a bone! It’s just an object!
MaxSDK: That’s what you asked for a helper object bone!
Me: No, I meant a blue normal bone in Max.
MaxSDK: Oh you want a geometric object derived bone.
Me: Err yeah, whatever. Just make one please.
MaxSDK: Well you’ll have to tell me it’s class and super class.
Me: What? How the hell do I know that? Don’t you?
MaxSDK: Oh yes, but I just like to hear it. *sniggers*
Me: Oh FFS. *looks in SDK docs* I can’t find anything about that class!
MaxSDK: Well try harder!
Me: A clue? Nothing’s coming up when I search for “bone” or “bones”.
MaxSDK: Maybe I put it somewhere else…

Later that same afternoon…

Me: Ha! Found it! Make me a bone please.
MaxSDK: Oh very well….
Me: Can you move it over there?
MaxSDK: If you wish.
Me: And turn it a bit?
MaxSDK: Ok.
Me: What the hell? Why did you move it again?
MaxSDK: I didn’t!
Me: Yes you did it’s over there now!
MaxSDK: Oh yeah. Well I decided to reset the translation component of the matrix.
Me: Why you do that?
Me: I f***ing hate you MaxSDK…
MaxSDK: What? Oh sorry I wasn’t listening, I was just over there eating some more memory.
Me: Sod this, I’m going to the pub…
MaxSDK: Can you get me some chips on the way back?

The above was then followed by two more hours of wondering why I wasn’t allowed to alter the appearance of the bone. Oh I’m sorry MaxSDK, you said when I made the bone you would make it as an Object. You didn’t tell me that you wanted to make ita SimpleObject2. See I thought a SimpleObject would be somewhat LESS than a normal Object but no, in fact it’s more. Well bugger me. You are a tease!

I think you understand my frustrations thus far.

Been a while since I made any posts about what I’m up to these days so I thought it was about time I did. Not that I made many before but anyway…

In what little free time I’ve had over the past three months I’ve been hitting the Ham and Jam code pretty hard, doing what feels like a huge amount of coding to try and nail all the bugs we found in our last play test. There’s still some small niggles but if the hlcoders mailing list is to be believed, their inherent SDK bugs and hard to fix and not likely to go away.

Anyway, of the new thing to add was the deploy system for weapons with a bi-pod which, after two false starts, actually works now. The process of doing the deployment and swapping animations wasn’t too hard – it’s just all the other crap you have to deal with like the logic to check if you should be allowed to deploy and limiting player movement, preventing weapon selection, etc.

TF2 Heavy imported into 3DS Max 9

Still, apart from the art asset side of things, game play wise Ham and Jam is really starting to come together and resemble a proper game now.

I’ve been working quite a bit with 3DS Max plug-ins over the past week too and finally found a couple of hours to do some more work on the SMD importer I’m writing for Max 9, 2008 and 2009. I made a bit of a breakthrough today in that I made the first successful test run of the mesh re-construction code and apart from a small few snags at first, it actually works!

TF2 Heavy imported into 3DS Max 9

This may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider how an SMD file stores data it’s actually pretty cool. SMD files store each polygon in your model as a separate un-joined triangle. The problem with importing data like that is you get a huge number of duplicate vertices and your polygons aren’t actually connected together. As a result, you can’t smooth them out or set the normals properly as anyone who’s tried to use the MaxScript importer will know. The code I wrote analyses the data coming in from the SMD and uses some logic to reconstruct the mesh as one continuous mesh rather than separate triangles.

Lastly, you’ll probably of noticed over the last month or so I updated all my VTF tools to support the 7.4 texture version which started shipping with the Orange Box games. It took a while to do, mainly due to VTFLib which they rely on being a bit out of date. Nem usually handles the releases and while the code was there, he’d got really busy and didn’t have a chance to get it out as quickly as usual. Still, not biggy, it’s done now so hopefully everything should handle EP2/TF2 textures just fine now.

That’s all for now. Back to work…

Since the end of February things have been absolutely crazy around here to the point I’ve forgotten which was is up a few times. The word “busy” doesn’t adequately describe it.

I’ve been frantically working on a new project at work involving trying to re-build a web application platfom on newer hardware and with more recent software. It’s Java based (not my area of expertise) and involves moving from a very old version of NetBSD to Linux and in the process upgrading the Java VM, Apache, Tomcat and Cocoon. Sadly the old system doesn’t come with a lot of documentation and finding the source code has been tricky at times so theres been a lot of frustration. Of course the fact I only get to work on it part time isn’t helping much.

Evenings have pretty much been taken up with work on Ham and Jam and we’ve had a massive surge of development this month. John noted that this month has seen the
largest volume of commits to our SVN repository since the project began. We recently re-organised our team structure and things have definately improved and I’m really proud of what the teams achieved this month. Thanks to our Wiki and bug-tracking system development has got much more streamlined.

Regarding this blog entry’s title, I came across it on a story at Fox news. In the tired, stress addled state of my mind, it almost describes the Ham and Jam development process at times. 😀

Other stuff. I’ve been getting a lot of e-mail regarding some my other projects so I thought I’d address them here.

The 3DS Max SMD import plug-in has been put to one side for a while so that I can get some fairly important stuff done on Ham and Jam. With the project having this much momentum at the moment, it would be foolish not to take full advantage of it. That said, the SMD importer isn’t “abandoned” and I fully intend to get back into it in a week or so. As for a when it will be finished, that depends on how development goes.

I’ve also been asked about making my VTF tools 7.4 format compatible. The answer is yes, I fully intend to support 7.4 format and in fact I have versions sat on my hard disk now that do. There has been a slight hiccup though that I’m currently not able to fix in that Nem, who maintains the VTFLib library that my tools use, has sort of “vanished” into thin air. He sent me a pre-release of the next VTFLib update with 7.4 support but then disappeared and all attempts to contact him have failed.

I could release my tools with the version of the library he sent me, but apart from the risk of version “clash” of the DLLs, I’d rather not do it out of respect for Nem and the work he does. Nem, if you’re out there man get in touch just to let me know you’re O.K.

Lastly I got asked about making my GUIStudioMDL2 compiler compatible with the Orange Box SDK beta. The answer is no, i’m not planning to. I only support official “releases” of their toolchain as it’s too much work trying to update my tools to work with something that Valve themselves are constantly changing.

Vertex Cloud

It’s not much, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Well I’ve been saying for ages that I’m going to write a SMD importer plug-in for 3DS Max 9 & 2008 and this week I finally took some serious steps to get it from the paper planning stage into actual code.

The SMD format is pretty awful for storing 3D mesh data as it explodes the whole thing into seperate triangles instead of nice index linked lists as in say OBJ format (or the mythical MRM format StudioMDL supports…). To be honest, I’ve no idea why Valve still uses this format but I guess it’s just a legacy that no-ones seen the need, or has the time, to change.

Anyway, one of the big problems with handling SMD files istaking all those seperate triangles and intelligently joining them back together into one continuous mesh. I’ve spent quite some time trying to figure out how to do it and more importantly, how to do it quickly. I think I’ve got it figured now, more or less, and the proof-of-concept code seems to do it’s job.

You can see the fruit of experiements over the past couple of evenings. It’s not much more than a snazzy looking point cloud but it’s something at least. It’s quick too – at least when not running in debug mode. The picture on the left is from a SMD file containing 18000 lines of text. It read in 3600 individual vertices and filtered them down to just 2600 by removing duplicates – and it did it all in under 0.02 seconds.

The next stage is to write similar sorting and filtering code to handle the normal, UV and face data and then the logic to stitch it all together into a single mesh.

As usualy, no ETA as I’m working on this when I have the odd bit of spare time from other things, but hey – progress!