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Tutorial – Combining Paths in PhotoShop

1.0 Introduction:
I have been using PhotoShop for a number of years, but in the last 12 months as I have been creating custom liveries for Need For Speed – Shift 2 (Link) and Project CARS (Link) I have started to started to make greater use of Paths and Vector Shapes.


However, one area that I have always found difficult to master is combining multiple Paths into a single Path. For some reason it just didn’t work they way I expected it to and sometimes the results appeared to be totally random.

When I mentioned the challenges that I was having when combining paths a fellow member (Ryno917) on the Project CARS forum he recommended that I check out this tutorial (Link). Unfortunately, this tutorial did not answer all my questions about combining paths. However, it did start me thinking in a new direction that ultimately led to me finally getting my head around how to combine Paths in PhotoShop to get the result that I wanted.

2.0 Getting Started
For this tutorial I’m using PhotoShop CS2 on the PC, not the most recent version I know but this tutorial should also work for newer versions of the application and for the Mac. I’m also going to assume that you understand how to create vector shapes and select paths, so that I can focus on the detail of combining paths in PhotoShop.

I’m going to start with the basics of joining two Paths together (Union) and creating a new path from the overlapping area between two paths (Intersection). I will then move on to look at how you can create a new Path by removing the over lapping area between two paths (Exclusion). Removing one path from another (Subtraction) is the function that I have experienced the most difficulty with, so I’ll leave that one to the end.

For each step of this tutorial you need a PhotoShop file with two layers each containing a vector shape. To keep things simple for this tutorial I have created a Red circle on the lower layer and a Blue rectangle on the upper layer as shown below:


You will need to start from this point for each of the 4 exercises in this tutorial, therefore I highly recommend saving this file so you can quickly revert back to this position when you have completed each exercice.

3.0 Union:
This is the most basic and easily understood of the PhotoShop combine functions for Paths and Shapes. You take two Paths and combine them into a new path that defines the same area that the two paths outlined.

Step 1: Select the rectangular path in the upper layer, copy the path and then hide the upper layer
Step 2: Select the lower layer, select the Vector Mask and paste the path
Step 3: Using the Path Selection Tool hold down the shift key and select both paths. You will know that both paths are selected because they will have a small back square on each of their vertexes
Step 4: From the top toolbar select the first icon (Add shape to area) and click the Combine button

You should now have a single shape that defines the same area that the two paths previously outlined.


4.0 Intersection:
This is another straight forward function to understand. Take two paths that overlap and combining them together to create a new path which only includes the area of overlap.

Step 1: Select the rectangular path in the upper layer, copy the path and then hide the upper layer
Step 2: Select the lower layer, select the Vector Mask and paste the path
Step 3: Using the Path Selection Tool hold down the shift key and select both paths
Step 4: From the top toolbar select the third icon (Intersect shape areas) and click the Combine button

You should now have a single shape that defines the same area that was overlapped by the two paths.


5.0 Exclusion:
Now we are starting to get a bit more complex. Exclusion is effectively the inverse of Intersection. So rather than being left with the area that the two paths overlapped, you are left with the area the two paths defined excluding the area that they over lapped. I’m not sure how often you would use this option, but good to know it is there if you need it.

Step 1: Select the rectangular path in the upper layer, copy the path and then hide the upper layer
Step 2: Select the lower layer, select the Vector Mask and paste the path
Step 3: Using the Path Selection Tool hold down the shift key and select both paths
Step 4: From the top toolbar select the fourth icon (Exclude overlapping shape areas) and click the Combine button

You should now have a single shape that defines the same area that was outlined by the two paths, but excluding the area of overlap between the two shapes.


6.0 Subtraction
Now we get to the function that has caused me so many issues in understanding how it works. I’ll begin by sharing the key lesson that I learnt from the tutorial (Link) that I was recommended to look at. In the previous three exercise it does not matter if you copy the circular path to the rectangle layer or the rectangle layer to the circle layer, the end result once you combine the paths will be the same. For the Subtraction function this is NOT the case, and you will get a different result depending which layer you copy from and to.

In the the previous three exercises it was necessary to select both paths once they were on the same layer before clicking the “Combine” button to create the new path. However, for the Subtraction exercises it is important to make sure that only the path that you have pasted into the layer is selected.

6.1 Copying path to a lower layer
In the previous three exercises we have copied the rectangle path from the higher layer to the lower layer containing the circle, so lets see what result that gives when using the Subtraction function.

Step 1: Select the rectangular path in the upper layer, copy the path and then hide the upper layer
Step 2: Select the lower layer, select the Vector Mask and paste the path
Step 3: Select only the path that you just pasted (do NOT select both paths)
Step 4: From the top toolbar select the second icon (Subtract from shape areas) and click the Combine button

You should now have a single shape that defines the same area outlined by the circle, but with the area outlined by the rectangle subtracted from it, which looks a bit like Pac-Man.


6.2 Copying path to a higher layer
But what if that was not the result you are after, and you actually wanted a rectangle with a curve subtracted from the lefthand side? Well lets try copying the circle path form the lower layer to the higher layer containing the rectangle.

Step 1: Select the circule path in the lower layer, copy the path and then hide the lower layer
Step 2: Select the higher layer, select the Vector Mask and paste the path
Step 3: Select only the path that you just pasted (do NOT select both paths)
Step 4: From the top toolbar select the second icon (Subtract from shape areas) and click the Combine button

You should now have a single shape that defines the same area outlined by the rectangle, but with the area outlined by the circle subtracted from it, which looks a bit like a chocolate bar that someone has taken a bite out of.


So in summary, for the Subtract function you create the path that you want to subtract from on one layer and the path you want to subtract on another layer. It does not matter which layer is above or below the other. Then select the path that you want to subtract, copy and paste this into the layer containing the path that you want to subtract from. With only the path to be subtracted select the Subtract function and click the “Combine” button

7.0 Conclusion
Hope fully this tutorial has explained how to combine paths in PhotoShop to get the end result that you are looking for. Initially it may see a bit confusing (especially the subtract function), but with some practice it soon becomes easy to use and understand.

And a final tip, when you have the two paths on the same layer you can preview the final result by clicking the Union, Intersection, Exclusion and Subtraction options before you click the “Combine” and create the new path.

Need For Speed – Shift 2 Gallery: Link
Project CARS Gallery: Link
Tutorial: Link


Shift 2 Unleashed

Like the first game in the Shift series, Shift 2 Unleashed was developed for EA Games by Slightly Mad Studios (SMS). However, unlike the majority of the other Need for Speed games, the Shift series focus on circuit based racing rather than illegal street racing mixed with max power style car modification. The big attraction for me was the beautiful graphics, the great selection of real world circuits and the official licenses for the FIA GT3 and GT1 championships.

Having recently built a gaming HTPC I decided to purchase the PC version of Shift 2 rather than the PS3 version for two key reasons. Firstly the graphics are significantly better, and as was the case with the first Shift game, there was the possibility of community developed mods to extend and enhance the game, but more of that later.

Lets begin with the graphics, and in my opinion Shift 2 is the best looking racing game I have played to date. The car models are highly detailed, and the lighting gives the game a realistic quality that the sterile GT5 cannot get close to. The range of cars available to drive includes all of the GT1 cars and with the exception of Ferrari, all of the GT3 cars as well. In addition to these race cars, there is a good selection of cars available from the Golf GTi through to the new Pagani Huayra, and all of these cars can be race modified if desired.

The cars all feature high quality interior views (take note GT5) and multiple pre-defined liveries that you can choose from. Unfortunately the in game editor that is supposed to enable you to create your own custom liveries, in much the same way as the Forza series does on the XBOX, is frankly unusable, as was the case in the original Shift.

One of the hyped features of Shift 2 was the helmet camera, which was designed to provide a more immersive driving experience. It is a nice idea and well executed, but the amount of movement as you accelerate and brake becomes tiring after a short period of time, so I much prefer to stick with the standard in car view.

Once you turn off the annoying American announcer the sounds are generally very impressive, and each car has distinct engine sound (take note of that again GT5), even if there is too much transmission whine, especially in the road cars.

Early in the game where you are racing road cars like the Golf GTi on tight street courses the AI drivers have a tendency to regularly drive into you from behind in the braking areas, which can be very frustrating. I’m not sure if this was a result of the patches or a combination of the class / tracks that I have been racing on more recently, however this issue appears to have gone away. In fact I have driven several close races in the GT3 class against the AI drivers where they have been very clean. I was also impressed to see them moving off line to defend the inside line into the braking zones for hairpin corners.

But its not all good new, unfortunately as there are a few fundamental issues with Shift 2, even after the release of two patches for the game in 2011. Firstly, it appears that the game was designed to be played on a console with a joypad, and not a PC with a steering wheel. As a result the handling of the cars is inconsistent at best, and for some like the Lotus Exige the car is almost undriveable. By adjusting the suspension settings in the game some of these handling issues can be reduced, but the game should not have been released with cars that handle so badly with the default setups.

The two other main issues are the gravel traps and magnetic attraction to other cars. If you so much as put a wheel wide into a gravel trap the car is unrealistically and violently sucked in, irrespective of the amount of steering lock applied. Similarly if you make contact with another car, the two cars become locked together and there is very little you can do as both cars head towards the nearest barrier.

Overall Shift 2 has the feel of a great game that was rushed, not finished or probably both. For example, it was discovered that Shift 2 has 5 hidden cars (Alfa Romeo 8C Spider, Aston Martin DBS Volante, Audi R8 Spyder, Koenigsegg Agera and Pagani Cinque Roadster) already in the game that were intended to be part of a 3rd Down Loadable Content (DLC) pack. Unfortunately, following an announcement by EA Games on 3rd July 2011 that development and support for Shift 2 had come to an end, it looks as though these cars will never be available to drive in the game.

However, all is not lost thanks to the enterprising modders out there in the sim racing community. While surfing the NoGripRacing forum I came across the “Unofficial Community Patch” which has dramatically improved my enjoyment of this game. The handling of the cars when using a steering wheel has been significantly improved. Apparently the location of the fuel tank was in some cases up to 2m behind the rear of the car, and as you can imaging this would have a detrimental effect on the cars handling.

Similarly the quick sand nature of the gravel traps and magnetic effect of making contact with other cars have both been reduced, but not eliminated. This patch also added several new levels to the career structure that enables the player to unlock the cars that would have been available as part of the 3rd DLC pack.

With the PC version of the game it is also possible to create your own custom liveries in PhotoShop and import them into the game, thus circumventing the terrible in game livery editor. Creating a realistic livery takes time and the import process is far from straight forward, however I have successfully created several custom liveries and published a step-by-step guide to help others in creating their own custom liveries on the NoGripRacing forum.

So where does that leave Shift 2, well the various community mods have transformed an unfinished game into one that is highly enjoyable and one that has provided some of my best sim racing experiences. So if you have a PC that is powerful enough to run the game with the graphics maxed out, a steering wheel and pedals, and you are happy to install some community mods to improve the game, then Shift 2 comes highly recommended.

If you would like to see what SMS can do when they are able to create a game that is designed from the ground up to be played on a PC with a steering wheel (and without the interface of a major studio), take a look at projectCARS which is currently in development and is expected to be released in late 2012 or early 2013. I have already invested in this community supported initiative and will share my thoughts on the game as it progressed over the next 12-18 months in future posts.

Related links:

Split Second (PS3)

Split Second is a racing game from Black Rock Studio which is very much in the spirit of the Burnout and Need for Speed series of games. However, what makes Split Second unique is the highly destructible environments that can be used to wreck your opponents or completely change the circuit opening up new routes and short cuts.

As you slipstream other cars, jump and drift around corners you build up power which can be used to trigger “Power Play” events. These range from blowing up a petrol tanker parked on the edge of the track and dropping bombs from helicopters hovering over the track to crashing a 747 jumbo jet onto the runway or blowing up a hydro-electric dam. I was initially worried that these large set pieces might become repetitive and lose their impact, but as they are not that easy to unlock this has not been the case so far.

Most driving games clutter the screen with a Heads-Up-Display (HUD) that includes a rev counter, speed, lap times and track map. However, Split Second displays only the minimum on screen information, and this is positioned directly behind your car. This enables you to enjoy the full visual spender of the graphics, and it certainly looks stunning. Although, it must be said that the graphics were initially a bit of a disappointment based on the original rendered previews, but once you start playing everything moves at such a fast pace this doesn’t impact the enjoyment of the game.

Unlike GT5 and the Need for Speed series of games Split Second does not feature licensed cars. However, it is clear that many of the cars in the game have been “inspired” by current production vehicles including the Nissan GTR, Ferrari F430 and Bugatti Veyron. A good example is the Cobretti Vortex which looks rather similar to a Lamborghini Gallardo in my opinion.

The core of the single player mode is based around participating in 12 seasons of a television show. If you are thinking of “The Running Man” movie starring Arnold Swarchenegger or “The Killing Game Show” video game by Psygnosis on the Amiga 500, you will get the idea. In addition to the standard races where you incrementally unlock faster cars and more challenging circuits, Split Second also features a number of unusual games modes.

These include “Elimination” where the last car is eliminated at periodic intervals during the race until only the leader is left, “Air Attack” where you have to dodge missiles being fired at you from a helicopter gunship, and “Survival” where you have to overtake trucks which are dropping explosive canisters on the road in front of you. These additional modes provide some variation to the game play and can be a fun diversion from the full on racing.

Unfortunately, there are two faults with Split Second. For some unexplainable reason the developers have decided that you can only use the right should button as the accelerator. This is fine for a short period of time, but after an extended session this can become tiring. And its not as though Split Second is at the more simulation end of the spectrum like GT5, where the extra proportional control of the shoulder button might have come in useful. To make matters worse, there isn’t even an option to change the button mapping so that you can use the “X” button as the accelerator, as has been the norm since Ridge Racer was the launch game on the original PlayStation in 1994.

Secondly there is the Down Loadable Content (DLC). If you can’t be bothered, or don’t have the skill to complete the game in single player mode and unlock all the cars, tracks and modes, you can simply buy the “Time Savers” DLC pack with them all in. I call this cheating! The developers have subsequently made a couple of other DLC packs available that include an extra track or car and additional game play modes. However, these were seriously over priced for what the offered over the original game.

Not with standing these two issues, Split Second is one of the fastest, most visually stunning and enjoyable racing game I have played in a long time, and comes highly recommended if you are in need of some exciting arcade racing thrills.

Related links:

geoDefense (iPhone)

geoDefense is a tower defense game for the iPod and iPhone from Critical Thought Games. As with all Tower Defense style games the objective is to prevent your enemy from reaching your base using the weapons available to you. What really makes geoDefense stand out is the retro inspired neon graphics, and it’s certainly one of the most stylish and best looking games currently available on the iPod and iPhone.

geoDefense 001

But don’t think for one minute that geoDefense is an easy tower defense game like Plants Vs Zombies. Even the medium difficulty levels present a serious challenge which will require multiple attempts to complete. However, the game never becomes frustrating, and you keep coming back for just one more go to beat that level.

My only reservation is that geoDefense only gives the player a choice of 5 different units with which to defeat your enemy. This keeps the game simple, but a wider selection of units, as per Plants Vs Zombies which has over 40 different plants, would have provided more variety.

geoDefense 002

Critical Thought Games have already relesed a sequel to geoDefense, called geoDefense Swarm. The main change being that geoDefense Swarm features open areas rather than pre-defined routes, adding a new element to the game play. A HD version of geoDefense is in development for the iPad and is expected to be released to coincide with the launch of the Apple iPad 2 in spring 2011.

A stylish and challenging game that no iPod or iPhone owner should be without.

Related links:

Gran Turismo 5: Initial Impressions

After 5 years of development and two high profile delays Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) was finally released on Wednesday 24th November 2010. I purchased the GT5 Collector’s edition which includes the Apex driving book and 5 special edition chrome line cars.
GT5 Collectors Edition

I’ve only spent a couple of hours with GT5 so far, but the graphics are amazing (bar the well publicised issues with the pixelated shadows) and the way the cars drive is much more realistic and demanding than previous entries in the Gran Turismo series. However, after such a long development cycle it is disappointing that GT5 falls short in several key areas.


Firstly when Sony announced that GT5 would include Ferrari and Lamborghini for the first time, I was expecting that a complete range of cars would be available from both manufacturers. However, this is not the case, and there are only 12 Ferraris and 7 Lamborghinis included in the game. To put this in context there are 22 versions of the Mazda MX-5 in GT5. I have a feeling that a lot of paid for DownLoadable Content (DLC) will be released in the coming weeks and months.

Secondly it also appears that the developers have not made the most of the official license for the TopGear television show. While the track is accurately modelled, none of the reasonably priced cars (Suzuki Liana, Chevrolet Lacetti, Kia Cee’d) used in the show are available, and the track is only available for a number of pre-defined challenges. Hopefully the cars and the TopGear track will be unlocked as you complete these challenges.


Finally there are the loading times between races. I can’t remember playing a game in the last couple of years which takes as long to load a race as GT5. I have a feeling that the loading progress bar is going to become a point of annoyance as I spend more time playing GT5.

Related links:

Pure Tech Racing

Today I went Pure Tech Racing close to Gatwick in the UK to try out their Formula 1 simulators with a couple of friends.

Pure Tech Racing

I managed to qualify in pole position for both races, but was taken out by the pack at the hairpin on the first lap in both races.  My fastest lap at 1:05:394 was just 4 seconds off the lap record, which is not too bad after just 60 laps in the car.

When driving the cars on track the motion of the simulators was not as forceful as I was expecting and the driving experience was very arcade biased.  An enjoyable day and I’m sure I’ll be back to try and improve my lap time.

Related Links