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View Full Version : How do you map very large cities?



Jürgen Hubert
12-12-2010, 05:11 PM
I'm currently getting a lot of work done for Urbis (http://urbis.wikidot.com/), and one of my higher priorities is fleshing out the cities in a particular region (http://urbis.wikidot.com/flannish-cities) - which eventually means mapping them out.

So far, I've only down two very rough sketches of two of these cities which don't show much beyond the basic geography and the layout of the city districts relative to each other (see attachments). However, eventually - once I've come up with sufficient individual locations for these cities to make it worth the effort - I want to create better maps with more detail.

Yet compared to most fantasy cities, these cities are huge - on average, they have about a million inhabitants. So obviously, mapping every street is right out - for one thing, it would take me forever, and for another my computer's RAM would die screaming in agony (though maybe I will get a better one next year...).

So the trick is finding the right level of abstraction - and that's where I could use your help. How did you map cities this large and provide enough detail without getting bogged down in those same details too much?

jtougas
12-12-2010, 05:26 PM
I think it's important to decide how much you actually want to depict. In my case I have a city (Riverhewn) that is the capital of a large kingdom the city is home to about 150,000 which as fantasy cities goes is pretty large. I went with a "city block" technique that emulates "blocks" of buildings with the negative space in between being streets. It's a process to be sure but it is much quicker than trying to draw each building by hand.. Good luck I look forward to seeing what you come up with .. :)

Ascension
12-12-2010, 06:29 PM
I find it hard to plan everything out beforehand so I start with a very simple idea and then constantly refine it until I'm happy with it. The easiest way that I find to do this is to start with the outer wall and then lay out broad sections of color and use a big eraser to make the streets. Then I go back with a tiny eraser and and erase color to make tiny avenues. After a bit I get some new ideas so I start over and take my base color sections and apply my new thoughts thus refining the streets - the colored areas will become the houses or city blocks of houses. It's a very organic evolution and usually takes me a day or three to get my base set up. Next I double-check to make sure that my scale is correct...I usually start with some idea but halfway through I notice that I got sidetracked somewhere so I may have a castle where the scale is 1 pixel = 1 foot but my streets are 1 pixel = 3 feet. So I have to go back and fix everything but that's mostly me just getting stupid but I do it every single time so maybe others do it as well. Then I start adding special buildings like castles and churches and arenas and thus have to tweak everything again. Then I start stratifying the populace and this requires more tweaks and walls and parks to separate the commoners from the merchants from the nobility. Once I've got that done I go back and start with the basics of needs and put in places for food management (farms, mills, bakeries, wharfs, etc). They need not actually be their own special shape but just colored sections like the housing areas. Then comes commerce so I put some areas for markets in and this leads to refined goods like chairs and jewelry so those jobs need a place to be. Then I put in the military - they function both as police and as guards on the wall. Once I've got about as many areas detailed as I think is needed then I start the pretty work but this part is optional if you're going for a straight-forward functional map. So the process is pretty simple - chunks of color, make streets, check the scale, think think think refine refine refine, pretty work. That takes me about a month of evenings to do but one of those weeks is just pretty work.

jtougas
12-12-2010, 06:55 PM
I find it hard to plan everything out beforehand so I start with a very simple idea and then constantly refine it until I'm happy with it. The easiest way that I find to do this is to start with the outer wall and then lay out broad sections of color and use a big eraser to make the streets. Then I go back with a tiny eraser and and erase color to make tiny avenues. After a bit I get some new ideas so I start over and take my base color sections and apply my new thoughts thus refining the streets - the colored areas will become the houses or city blocks of houses. It's a very organic evolution and usually takes me a day or three to get my base set up. Next I double-check to make sure that my scale is correct...I usually start with some idea but halfway through I notice that I got sidetracked somewhere so I may have a castle where the scale is 1 pixel = 1 foot but my streets are 1 pixel = 3 feet. So I have to go back and fix everything but that's mostly me just getting stupid but I do it every single time so maybe others do it as well. Then I start adding special buildings like castles and churches and arenas and thus have to tweak everything again. Then I start stratifying the populace and this requires more tweaks and walls and parks to separate the commoners from the merchants from the nobility. Once I've got that done I go back and start with the basics of needs and put in places for food management (farms, mills, bakeries, wharfs, etc). They need not actually be their own special shape but just colored sections like the housing areas. Then comes commerce so I put some areas for markets in and this leads to refined goods like chairs and jewelry so those jobs need a place to be. Then I put in the military - they function both as police and as guards on the wall. Once I've got about as many areas detailed as I think is needed then I start the pretty work but this part is optional if you're going for a straight-forward functional map. So the process is pretty simple - chunks of color, make streets, check the scale, think think think refine refine refine, pretty work. That takes me about a month of evenings to do but one of those weeks is just pretty work.

Yep what he said.. :)

Redrobes
12-13-2010, 10:46 AM
I write ViewingDale which is a zoom browser. The idea there is to map the whole city very coarse and then you zoom into specific areas which you can then optionally map at a larger scale. In this way you do as much of the map in large scale as you need or can be bothered with. A kind of progressive refinement procedure instead of a uniformly high level of detail which involves an appropriately high amount of work to make. Clips of it on youtube should show you the idea.