Styxx's POF Conversion plugin for 3D Studio Max

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Still a work in progress, Styxx has created a FreeSpace 2 model exporter plugin for 3D Studio Max versions 4 through 6. Available here: [[1]] There is no model importing function; to import POFs into 3DS Max for reference or editing, it is necessary to convert them to COBs and then use Truespace or another program to convert them to a 3DS or other file.

Despite being available for well over a year, not many people actually know how to make this plugin work correctly. To that end, the following is intended to be a complete walkthrough of using the plugin to create a simple ship that makes use of all of the plugin's features.

Please note that this is not a tutorial for actually creating models. There are plenty of Max tutorials out there that have far better information in them than what can be provided here. It is, however, a guide to getting a model out of 3ds Max and into the FreeSpace 2 object format, POF, with minimal complications. If this is your first model we recommend you explore the functions of ModelView's POF editor and the various View functions in FRED to get a feel for what goes into a FreeSpace model.

This tutorial is for the current exporter version as of November 13, 2003.

To start off, load all of the components of your model into a single Max scene file, and make sure that everything is unlinked so that you have no hierarchy to start off with. If you have already set up a hierarchy, go back and unlink it, as having things grouped too early may cause trouble later. From here, preparing the model for conversion involves a specific sequence of actions.

Contents

Naming Convention

Ideally, you should be following these conventions while building your model, but before you convert you should double check that all of these are correct. One by one, select each subobject and assign it a conversion name. Most subobjects require specific naming conventions:

LODs

Level of detail (LOD) objects are named "detail-0", "detail-1", etc, where detail-0 is the parent geometry for LOD0, detail-1 is the parent for LOD1, and so on. Do not skip levels.

Debris

Debris chunks are similarly named "debris-0", "debris-1", ... debris-n, where n is one less than the total number of debris chunks. Again, do not skip numbering, as the converter parses these in order and will break if a number is missed.

Turrets

Turrets are named "gunturret-X", where - is a number between 0 and 99 that corresponds to the turret number that this model represents. If you have additional LODs for turrets (for example, the prominant triple-barreled turrets on the Orion) name them "gunturret-Xa" for LOD0, "gunturret-Xb" for LOD1, etc.

  • Turret barrels are named "barrel-X", where gunturret-X is the name of the turret's base. Barrels (and any other object consisting of more than one connected element) should be one object, not several, so attach multiple barrels together with the attach tool.

Shields

The shield mesh should be named "shield" (and similarly, any and all geometry not supposed to be a shield should not be named "shield"). Models should only have one shield.

Other Subobjects

  • Geometry that's acting as a 'standard' FreeSpace subsystem should be named according to the final subsystem name. A physical Comm system would be "communications", a physical hangar would be "fighterbay", and so on.
  • Geometry representing non-standard displaying subsystems should be given the name you want them to appear with. If this subobject geometry is to appear on the lower LODs it should be named "SUBOBJECTa" for LOD0, "SUBOBJECTb" for LOD1, etc. where SUBOBJECT is the desired subobject name.
  • Hidden subobjects should be given a name that's meaningful to their function, such as "hangardoor" for a hangar door.
  • Live debris, the ugly chunks of stuff left over when a turret or other subsystem is destroyed, are specified by naming the subobject for the destroyed component the same as the healthy version but with an added "-destroyed" on the end, like 'gunturret-3a-destroyed'.
  • For all other subsystems, any name is valid as long as FreeSpace can parse it from the POF chunk (so no Cylinder,3) but remember that what you name the subobject will be what it is called in the POF itself. No subobject should ever be converted with its Max-generated default name.

Geometry Preparation

Once your objects are named, you need to set them up so that they appear and behave properly in the game.

  • All faces on all geometry except the shield must have a texture assigned to them. Missing this on as little as a single face will cause the plugin to crash. Shields never have textures assigned to them.
  • Scale your scene to the size you want it to appear in-game. This may vary depending on your current Units settings, so once you do a test export, a little math should help you find the desired scale.
  • Orient everything so that the front of the ship points towards the top of the screen in 'top' view mode. If you're having trouble keeping everything centered, try Grouping everything, setting the pivot point to the origin, rotating the group then un-grouping.
  • Change all your model geometry to 'Editable Poly' mode, as the converter seems to work best with poly models.

Pivots

  • Position the primary model where it is supposed to be in the converted file so that its pivot point is at the origin. If you were converting the Colossus, you would put the model in such a location that the middle of its rear engines, the point about which it rotates in-game, at (0,0,0).
  • When the ship is in the exact place you want it, select the 'Hierarchy' tab, click 'Affect Pivot Only' and make sure that the pivot is at location 0,0,0. The location of the pivot on the root geometry for a level of detail MUST be at the origin, and this is important, so do not skip this step.
  • Position all turrets and other subobjects where you want them in relation to the detail-X object that they will be attached to (this will usually be detail-0), making sure to follow FreeSpace conventions in terms of turret orientation. Topside multipart turrets should face forward with their barrels pointing straight up, multipart turrets on the bottom of the ship should face towards the ship's rear and their barrels should point straight down. Default resting positions can be assigned in tables, so don't try to do anything fancy with these in the model.
  • When these subobjects are in the positions you want them, one by one select your debris clumps and rotating subobjects (turret bases, turret arms, radar dishes etc.), select the 'Hierarchy' tab, click 'Affect Pivot Only' and move the pivots to their rotation points. Turret arms should pivot at their bases.

Transparent Faces

Glass, transparency-blended nameplates, and other transparent textures should come last in the model. An easy way to accomplish this is to select all faces that use the material of your glass texture, detach them from the model, re-attach them with the attach tool, select the faces near the edge (all faces in the model may be appropriate) and perform a vertex weld with a threshold of 0.01. This will move the transparent faces to the end of the model's face list and will ensure proper rendering in-game.

  • If you have a single map that is partially transparent, do this on the specific faces that will end up transparent.
  • All transparent textures should be part of the root geometry (detail-0), without exception. Faces behind transparent textures, such as a pilot, are more likely to work correctly when these faces are a separate subobject.

Properties

Assign properties to physical subobjects. Turrets are the most common case, but rotating subobjects like radar dishes and geometry representing a game subsystem like engines also need some extra data. To assign text properties to an object, open the object properties dialogue (right-click on the object, and select properties) and go to the 'User Defined' tab.

  • All objects that will be subsystems will need "$special=subsystem" added to their user-defined properties tabs.
  • Turrets (turret bases) should have "$fov=XXX" where XXX is the field of view for the turret and "$name=gunturret" added at the end. (Field of view is like a cone extending out from the turret's firing point normal, between 0 and 360 degrees. Most button turrets have a FOV between 100 and 180.)
  • Other subsystems also need the "$name=somename" field, but only turrets require "gunturret". Rotating objects need "$rotate=X" where X is rotation time in seconds. Negative values indicate reverse rotation.

Reset X-Form

This is the step that has given people the most trouble. Now would be a good time to make a backup of the scene, so that you can restore to the un-rigged state if something goes wrong.

  • Select all objects in the scene and open the Utilities tab. Select the "Reset X-Form" tool in the rollout that appears. Click the button of the same name to reset the transforms on all objects in the scene.
  • If something in the scene moves in a strange way when you perform this action, there was still hierarchy set up in the scene so load up the backup and unlink the object(s) that moved from whatever they are attached to with the schematic editor. Then update the backup and try Reset X-form again, repeating as necessary.
  • If you're having difficulty using the Reset X-Form tool, there is an alternate way to reset the pivot. Create a sphere with its pivot point where you want the subobject's pivot to be, Attach your subobject to it, delete the sphere's geometry and rename the resulting object appropriately.

Test Exporting

At this point it is recommended that you attempt an export with only "detail levels", "debris objects", and "glows" checked. "Glows" won't do anything yet, but the converter crashes if it is not selected. If it converts and everything is in the right place afterwards, then the geometry is sound and you can be sure that later errors were not caused by geometry issues. See the converting section for details and debugging info.

Points, Lines and Dummies

If you prefer editing all subsystem, turret, gun/missile point, dockpoint, engine glow, and glowpoint data in PCS, you can safely skip this section. However, as this is perhaps the greatest strength of the MAX converter, it is strongly recommended that you actually use these features. (Insignias don't work properly, so this tutorial will not address them.) Here you will create invisible objects that will define the model's in-game properties.

Turrets and Weapons

  • To define a turret's firing points, place Point helper objects in the scene at the desired location for these points. It's a good idea to name these points something meaningful (if it's a firepoint for gunturret-3, perhaps call it "turret3fp") so that you can figure out what goes where when rigging.
  • To define a weapon bank, create a container dummy object. The dummy must take the name "gunbank-X", if it is to be a gun bank, or "missilebank-X" if it is to be a missile bank. X in both of these is the number of the bank, so start with zero and work your way up for both. The count of gunbanks is not related to the count of missilebanks, so start both at 0 and don't skip numbers. The location of the container dummy does not matter, so it can be dropped down anywhere. However, to prevent serious oddities in conversion, it is strongly recommended to define all dummy objects in either a top-down or perspective view. That rule applies to more than just weapon banks as well.
  • To define a weapon bank's firing points, create point helper objects where each specific firepoint should be. Naming them something representative of their bank is helpful if you do multiple banks at a time.

Subsystems

  • To define the standard subsystems used in FS2, create a dummy object at the location and with the size of the special point you want to create. This point should have a name starting with '$' and should be named what you want the point to display as otherwise.
  • To define an engine glow, place dummies centered where the engine glows should be and set their size to the size of the glow.

Paths and Docks

Create your paths using the create line tool and modify the editable splines to suit each path you want in the model. Paths are always defined TOWARD the ship, so the first point (where you first click when you start an editable spline with the create line tool) should be the most distant from the ship, and the last the closest. All editable splines will become paths on conversion, but name them according to the FreeSpace convention anyway. Typically, the paths needed for a 'complete' model are paths for each subsystem (main subsystems and turret subobjects) so it's usually a good idea to know in advance where things like the weapons subsystem will be defined.

  • Turret and subsystem paths are fine with just two points. These paths should be named "$pathXX" where XX is a number.
  • Fighterbay paths normally have 3, 4, or more points. Fighterbay paths should be named "$bayXX" where XX is a number.
  • Dock paths should have at least 4 points. Dock paths must have "dock" in the name, so "$dockXX" is preferable. Dock paths should also have "$name=somename", where somename is the display name of the dock in FRED, added to their user-defined properties tab. The final point of a docking path should come very close to the first dockpoint.
  • To define a docking point, place one point helper where you want the dockpoint, and place a second point helper a short distance away towards the 'top' of the dock. If you want an Argo to dock in a certain alignment, the second point should be above the first from the orientation of the Argo.

Glowpoints

Glowpoints are very similar to gun/missile banks in setup, except that instead of point helpers for each point, they use dummys. The size of each individual dummy will determine the size of the glowpoint it creates.

  • Glow banks are specified with a container dummy helper (which has multiple dummy helpers attached to it as children) with the name "glow-X" where X is the number of the glow bank (start with 0 and don't skip numbers).
  • The string "$glow_texture=texturename" should be placed into the user properties tab for the parent helper.

Rigging the Scene

Now that all geometry and paths are set up properly, it's time to start putting things together. Setting up the hierarchy can be done in two ways: through the Schematic view, or in the scene itself.

  • If you're using the Schematic view and you can't make out anything, try zooming in; Max does a particularly poor job of initially displaying a large number of objects in this view. Objects are connected in a hierarchy with the Link tool. To link one object to another, select the link tool, click on the to-be child object and drag to the intended parent.
  • If you're linking objects together in the main scene, be sure to Hide whatever objects you're not working on. To link units together, select the Link tool, click on the to-be child object and drag to the intended parent geometry. You can also select the child geometry, select the Link tool, then use the Select By Name tool to link to an object. Select By Name also has an option to 'Display Subtree' showing you your hierarchy at a glance.

The connection hierarchy is essential to making the game display your model correctly. Child objects cannot be rendered if their parent is not rendered, so keep this in mind when setting up your hierarchy groupings. Child objects also rotate with their parents, so if you are setting up an animated model you must keep this in mind. In general, all subobjects that the game can access as a submodel get assigned as direct children of detail-0, with the possible exception of some weird model animations you might want to do. Turret barrels, however, are always children of their base, even if you don't intend to use autogeneration to set the turret up for you. It's usually a good idea to link subobjects like turrets together before linking the object itself to the main LOD.

Subassemblies

  • The standard button turrets consist of the turret geometry, with the turret path and the firepoint(s) attached as children.
  • Multipart turrets are assembled with the turret base as the parent and with the firepoint(s), path, and barrels all attached as children.
  • Multipart turrets on LODs consist of the turret base with the barrels attached as a child.
  • Attach all firepoints for a particular weapon bank to the container dummy helper as children.
  • Glows associated with an engine subsystem should be linked to that subsystem as children.
  • For docking points, attach the two dockpoints, in their creation order, to the dock path as children. The dock point normals will be set as the direction from the dockpoints to the first point in the path, which is often wrong, but this must be corrected after conversion using an external POF editor such as PCS.

Final Assembly

  • Attach each turret base, physical subsystem, and extra subobjects intended to be direct subobjects of detail-0 to their parent LOD.
  • Additional LODs should be set up the same way. Low-detail turret or subobject counterparts should be linked to their appropriate LOD. LODs should themselves be at the top level of the scene, not attached to any other piece of geometry or helper.
  • All paths not assigned to a turret or subobject (subsystem paths for non-geometry subsystems, fighterbay paths, and dock paths) should be at the root level of the scene.
  • Debris pieces be at the scene root as well, not attached to any parent object.
  • The shield mesh (if one is being used) should also be at the top level of the scene.

Converting

Converting is a relatively simple process in comparison to actually setting everything up. It is, however, not foolproof and actually quite failure prone. It should be as simple as doing a file->export, choosing FreeSpace 2 POF as your export filetype, and selecting only the components that you actually have in your scene. The only exception is the glows box, which must ALWAYS be checked or a crash will result.

What can go wrong

The simple answer is a lot. The usual result is that 3DS Max will crash while exporting, sometimes leaving behind a half-finished POF. By looking at this POF you may be able to narrow down the problem area.

  • Did you skip a number in any sequence that requires a -X at the end? Debris is the most common place for this to occur now, though there are other places that it may also come up.
  • Does your model have polygons on any mesh other than the shield that have no texture?
  • Did you try to convert with the glow box is unchecked? There isn't any good reason why this happens.

Finally, the converter will occasionally crash for no reason whatsoever, so always save before you convert and load it up and try again if it fails once. Failing twice in a row is usually indicative of a real problem.

If the converter doesn't crash but your model is behaving incorrectly, go thorough this tutorial again and ensure that all the steps have been followed.

Known issues

There are still some things that the POF converter cannot do properly.

  • It makes a mess out of the header; the mass values are about two orders of magnitude higher than they would be for an equivalent stock model. The Moment of Inertia is also a complete mess and doesn't output anything useful. Both of these values should be changed before the model is used in game. Unfortunately, if glowpoints were used, there is not a good mainstream way to correct the MoI data without losing the glow chunk, and PCS won't import glows, so you're sort of stuck unless you are willing to copy it by hand.
  • The converter miscalculates the radius of the model by approximately a factor of 2, which creates some strange behavior during subspace warps and when viewing externally from the model. Again, there is not a good way to correct this, so it may just be something you have to live with.

If these problems become issues, please contact the user StratComm through the HLP PM system for assistance.

Note: A new version of the exporter is in development.

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