UNCLE MUGEN’S BACKGROUND STUDIES – The City/Town Commercial District… probably THE most difficult but often necessary background graphics to make

November 2, 2011

First… I’ll post an unrelated image of Uncle Mugen to attract your attention…

In a visual novel… there are two very important things that stand out… the NOVEL part and the VISUAL part… unfortunately I Uncle Mugen is not a very talented writer so we concentrate, refine and master what we are good at and that is Backgrounds… In a typical Visual Novel you got at least a set of WHAT HAVE’s like the protagonist room, school corridor, the classroom and so forth… it is very understandable why there are so few people who are even willing to do BG’s especially for Visual Novels… it’s not gratifying enough… in case of a character sprite or let’s say an event scene… all you need to do is to draw something decent… not good but decent in order for your work to sell (in case you’re into commercial VN) or get recognition, fame and bragging rights (if you’re doing it for free) but that’s not the case for people who do backgrounds for OELVN’s (Visual Novels)… Nope!… In order for you to be EVEN slightly recognized, you’ve got to be really good as in godly good like Makoto Shinkai or that other Guy who based his backgrounds on real photos and paint them post apocalyptic style or this other guy who draw very large, very detailed BG’s where you can see the tiniest minute detail but for the rest of us mere mortals… our works will be no different from the next guy… OK so there are still various shades of gray in between regarding detail and skill level but still…

Here is a typical example of Godlike background is… very detailed, very beautiful as if you wanted to get inside the game and simply stroll there…

Anyway, another thing to consider besides the fact that people who draw BG’s don’t receive much love ( ;_; ) unlike people who draw characters or sprites or event CG… is that… you’ve got to draw several variations of the same BG’s like Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Rain, Lights off and so forth… so. While I agree that in the typical VN… sprite still outnumbers BG’s… BG’s are by far much more harder to make… yes… hard to make and extremely boring and more so if you’re doing several variations of it…

Here is a rather extreme example of what I mentioned earlier about having several variations of the same BG… unlike sprites where you can use the same body base and simply change the facial expression, in BG’s… you actually have to edit quite a lot… simply turning off the lights also means you have to adjust each and every single component of the BG to make it look appropriately 

That’s why I UNCLE MUGEN is searching, developing and streamlining techniques that will speed up and make it less stressful to create BG’s and if possible, recycle it for future use that looked Good Enough to be paired with the typical hand drawn BG and of course share it with everyone here… CLICK HERE TO SEE TUTORIAL ON HOW TO CREATE EXTERNAL BACKGROUND USING SKETCHUP AND PHOTOSHOP … In all seriosuness, who wants to draw manually all those BG’s for free… certainly not me… but you can’t have a visual novel without visuals and that means you’ll have to deal with BG’s sooner or later…

So here we are again asking myself the question… what is THE most difficult BG to do for OELVN’s? (Visual Novels)

Classroom?… Nope
Protagonist Room?… Nope
Bathroom?… Nope

The answer is… The City/Town Commercial District… and for obvious reasons… unlike the previous backgrounds mentioned… everyone who plays a VN definitely knows what a typical City/Town Commercial District looks like… it’s this place filled with commercial buildings big and small with lot’s of details like signages, ads, electrical distribution systems and such… and you’ll have to draw it… manually… which kinda sucked considering that most people will look at the character sprites anyway without even giving a single thought about the gargantuan amount of effort taken to get that BG out… so let’s see how the professionals deal with this difficult subject


Fog of War approach
OK so this isn’t exactly a City/Town Commercial District scene but let’s use this for now and focus on how this artist used fog to obscure the details in the far away parts saving time and effort, perfectly suited for large and wide scenes. Probably took about maybe a few hours to make and maybe a day or two if variations of time are included.


The I cover the Horizon and Vanishing point approach
In this example, the artist visibly put quite some effort into detailing and such but obstructed the horizon with we’ll some structures. This technique makes it possible to save time and effort by preventing the need to draw objects farther out into the horizon since well… we can’t see the horizon… I too use this approach very VERY often. same as the previous method mentioned… Probably took about maybe a few hours to make and maybe a day or two if variations of time are included.


The I cover it with Trees and Plants approach
Instead of using structures you use trees to obscure and hide the horizon… this is actually a very common tactic used by BG artists to save time and effort and still convey some sense of depth if arranged correctly like in this example, the trees are arranged in a way that suggests the street goes farther down… even though we actually can’t see what’s beyond… or perhaps show a bit of the farthest parts but no longer draw them in detail


The Why even bother drawing beautiful backgrounds when you have the best elite artist drawing sprites for you approach
OK… now this is… how should I say it… I certainly wanted to bash whoever made this especially considering that this is a COMMERCIAL GAME but then again we don’t know the circumstances the person who did this BG was under when he made this… perhaps he was tired or underpaid… maybe this was outsourced from China (like what happened to Nobilis when they outsourced it to China… it was a… disaster) but if he/she is indeed underpaid and being paid per piece then I can fully understand and forgive why this BG turned out like this… you get what you pay for…


The I won’t compromise anything and will make the most epic background to blow away the competition approach
Beautiful fit the sprite uncompromising perfect BG that may or may not use a mixture of the previous methods (sans the previous method mentioned) at the expense of time and effort…


Use 3D Pig Disgusting approach
Well uh… what can I say…  🙂


So now that we’ve seen what common methods the BG artists resort to… let’s now move on to how I will approach and tackle this problem… question is… is there a way to create a detailed City/Town Commercial District scenery without exerting too much effort? The answer is both YES and NO…

You may want to view this tutorial HERE… Just fire up Google Sketchup, Download components, place them here and there and BAM!!!… quick cheap and easy way to create the typical city scene. It’s quick, dirty, cheap and very much frown upon but who cares… as long as we got our BG… right?


While there are several models available that fit’s the description of commercial district… most of them are either very low detail and pretty much unusable or unsuitable for OELVN use which leaves us with one viable option in case you don’t want to draw them manually… you have to create the model yourself…

Which is exactly the case for DarkSpartan’s (KageSpartan) background (see above)… while this already defeats my main objective to create cheap and quick bg’s (this one took almost 4 hours to model… from scratch to finish) and another 10 to 15 minutes or so for the render and at least 30 minutes more if the night version is included… So OK for something that isn’t hand drawn this kinda looked good… except there is one problem… this particular BG is specifically tailored for DarkSpartan’s use meaning I can’t recycle it… actually I can but it will still look pretty much the same… just different angle… and there are 6 other people in my query list requesting City/Town Commercial District scene… and we obviously cannot use this background which now belongs to DarkSpartan…

Now I won’t mention names but let’s make clear a few things… I am not getting paid, nor am I getting “much” bragging rights for these since I’m just a collaborator/contributor and it should be understandable that I won’t draw them manually nor will I model new scenes to cater to specific needs… so you ask, what IS your solution?…

To create a recyclable City/Town Commercial District scene… uh what?…

OK let’s repeat it again this time in a much more clearer easy to understand fashion… I Uncle Mugen will create a large 4 block detailed City/Town Commercial District scene where you can simply use and re-use the same scenery for different requests and needs… the buildings can repeat to save effort but they have to be spaced in a way that the duplicate building is not within the view of the other…

What you see here is a very early WIP scene consisting of only three (3) building types and cloned to create a scene… while it is certainly repetitious… it kinda looked good. I calculated that I need at least 28 different buildings to create a mega 4 block City/Town Commercial District scene without repetition where I can simply move the camera anywhere point, shoot and repeat the process for a different requester while still making it entirely different from the previous BG… so as of writing, I have three buildings all uploaded to Google 3D warehouse… 25 building to go…

Of course knowing me… there will guaranteed double intendres and things here and there that I might insert… this is my way of having fun and as a sort of compensation by me having a few quick lulz…

I mean, if I don’t enjoy it then why do it? but don’t worry, the models are available in 3D warehouse so you can change them anytime…

More to come… now… let me have some fun…

Whew!… So what do you think?… Any comments and suggestions… I dunno… maybe I missed something?

To the people who requested BG’s… please rest assure I’m doing your BG’s… just a lot slower than the usual are since this is peak season / Christmas season…

“POOF” (Disappears)



  1. i say you need to stop doing those contributions and concentrate on your own projects

  2. You don’t give a crap, but I actually usually stare more at the BGs nowadays than the characters…

    Anyway: how do you calculate how many different buildings you need for a city to not have too much repetition? How did you come up with that number?

    • Simple, by actually cloning the existing buildings and spread them across my current street layout which is a typical 4 block city street. Then I place the camera on 10 randomly placed points and count how many buildings are visible at a time… calculate the average and you get your number… of course this will vary if you have a different street layout… you can also recycle the same building and change the logos and colors but recommended you space clone buildings as far as possible…

  3. These are really interesting. Any chance of tutorial for indoors coming up soon?

  4. Hey, I was just wondering if I could use some of your backgrounds for some ‘for fun comics’, I’d give you and your website credit, of course.

    • Of course!… I’m even giving you permission to use them for commercial purposes at no charge at all…

      But I am gonna need your help on how to change the mouse pointer icon in the near future…

  5. Just to note that the “3D Pig Disgusting approach” screenshot is actually hand-drawn. It’s just that the artist used textures for most of the material. It can be noticed by some imperfections at some parts.

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