Reading some random forum, I came across this post:
Isn’t the 707 or KC-135 shape color-able in Airbrush? Color the entire shape in Airbrush and then it will be the correct color on the nose, and from far distances. And you can change the green KC-135 texture to gray in one fell swoop.
Then I thought, “hang on, are they referring to that ancient tool I wrote to recolor the Fighters Anthology shapes?” and after digging a little more, yes that was it. But the amazing thing is the post was made in 2007, eight years after I published the tool. And apparently people are still messing with it.
The tool came about as a result of my wanting to edit the FA models. I had sent an email to Brent Iverson who was a dev with EA on that project asking for information on the models (which were of course all binaries, called .SH files). Turns out the way the binaries were done was by creating an ASM file (yes, x86 assembler source code), and then assembling them into the actual shapes; so the shapes held data (the vertices, polygons and stuff), and some code too, for things like animation, visibility nodes, and so on. This meant that creating new shapes from scratch was a bit of a no-go, but modifying existing shapes was possible – so Airbrush was born; all it let you do was change the colours of the textures (which were saved in some ungodly RAW format), and change the colours of the polygons. I believe future plans included moving vertices around too (I recall I turned the Oscar sub model in the game into a Typhoon sub by moving the sail back).
Although being able to read the binary .SH files and display them was quite hard (I had to decode the file structure with a hex editor, and I believe I was the first to do it), Airbrush’s best feature was the ‘smart remapping’ of colours. You said, ‘make all the greens into blues’ and Airbrush did that for polygon colours and textures. It was made easy by the fact that this was all using an 8 bit paletted graphics mode, but still, it’s a nice feature. Oh, and both version had pretty nice docs too.
Wow, you never really know how much life a piece of code is going to have. Airbrush came out in September 1999 (says the readme file), and it was compiled for DOS 6 using the 16 bit GCC compiler (running CWSDPMI for memory), and a very, very old version of the Allegro library. I had to install DosBox just to be able to look at it again (Win 7 64 does not run 16 bit apps). Turns out I had two versions too – 0.1A which was very primitive, and then an improved 0.8B. Apparently 0.1A is able to open more shapes than 0.8B. I’ll take their word for it, it has been 11 years. Fun fact: FSDSxTweak still uses the Allegro library (a more modern version) for some internal stuff.
If you are bored, give them a try – the 08B version has some shapes and textures to play with (which will work under 01A also). I have put them in my Skydrive for posterity