View Full Version : Mission Specific Software Question

12-28-2007, 12:47 PM
I am looking for a mapping solution that fits my experience and skill level, as well as my time and particular gaming needs.

To date my mapping experience consists of CC2 (and I think a little CC3) with which I was rather disappointed (more on why in a moment). I have since relied nearly exclusively on hand-drawn maps. Suffice it to say these hand-draws look utterly vomit-worthy. They are functional - but only barely just. They are abstracted to the point of near uselessness, but convey spatial relationships generally. The only exception to this are floorplans I've done on engineering paper, and/or battle maps (which look like tripe anyway but you're done with them in a matter of minutes or hours so who cares...).

I have no background in geology, astrophysics, or anthropology.

My disappointment with CC2 and it's associated Fractal World Generator was the amount of labor that was required to generate useful maps. I would become frustrated and give up when my best efforts produced something that looked only marginally better than the hand-draws I would create, and I'd sunk nearly thirty working hours into it over the course of a month. I run games on a weekly schedule, and simply don't have 60+ hours a week to dedicate to making the map look good. For a while i would simply grab USGS maps and play with zoom until it was unrecognizable to all but the most geographically savvy. This works just fine, assuming I'm okay with earthlike terrain.

My problem with the fractal world generator was simply a matter of output. The ease of use was amazing and I was generally very pleased with the resulting world and its information about ecology an so forth. What was less impressive was the extremely low resolution of the map. Any time I tried to use a portion of it the results were so horribly pixellated that it became hard to distinguish important features like islands as distinct from the coast they were off of and so forth. It makes a great teaser, but not a good map.

So then. What do I need/use maps for in gaming? By far my biggest need for maps comes from running Battletech. I require a program (or multiple programs) that meets these specifications:

- Can create entire planets from scratch, with attention to geologic realism and terrain diversity based upon parameters input by the user.
- Can take those gross-level maps and usefully add cities, towns, and resources to a map, again guided by use parameters.
- Can produce topographical maps (USGS styled being the ideal) at virtually any resolution to cover any size of area the user requires. (I.E. I can produce a topo map of a 100'x100' square, or a 1,000km x 1,000km square with equal ease.
- Can accept map symbols with attached text and arrows such as in these examples:

The purpose of these maps being to facilitate strategic and tactical planning, convey important intelligence data on fictional planets to the players who will then form operational guidelines for their military unit based upon this data.

Barring there being a single program that does this, a compatible collection of programs that can do this with my (very limited) skill level and time is fine. Generally speaking I will require two or three planetary maps a month, as many as four tactical maps per week, and every now and then a detailed street map for urban warfare scenarios.

Floorplans I can continue to do on my own, but anything that makes the process faster than the dozen-hours or so it takes to design a medium-sized bunker complex would be appreciated.

Also, if I'm being entirely too picky that is fair feedback as well.

12-28-2007, 03:07 PM
The guys who are adept at using CC3 would tell you to stick with ProFantasy. Many can produce fast and useful maps using vector software like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, Inkscape or my personal favorite Xara Xtreme. Others use raster applications like Photoshop, PSP, or GIMP.

It really depends on you, the kind of applications you like to work with, there is no one software that is ideal, you really have to experiment and find what you like as many of these applications are "apples and oranges" regarding technique and application.

I dabble in most map making apps, vector apps and photoshop - I use them all. Personally I find using Vector applications the best as you can import PNG map objects and other raster files. Note a vector app is not necessarily a mapping program so presets of map sizes, etc doesn't exist. You must make all the settings, grid, etc. yourself.

I say, download GIMP and Inkscape (both are free), and even download a 30 day free trial of Xara Xtreme, and whatever other free trials exist and experiment with all of them. Try to create your desired map using all applications - surely one of them will prove easiest to use for you, then that software will be ideal for you.

I hope this is not too general an answer. 8)

12-28-2007, 09:08 PM
What your asking for is kinda state of the art. You want very high res maps that have good or at least believable geology but in a package that makes them really easy to create.

What you are looking for depends in what your looking to trade off. I could say that I know of some apps that would get you what you want but need a lot of effort. You can get a simpler, less accurate terrain much easier.

I write a suite of tools called GeoTerSys which could produce great output and do exactly what you want, it is not very easy to use and does require some setup time. Its a scripted app so that when you get your scripts right, its a quick sketch for the initial input, a button push, a long wait for a CPU chug and then out pops what your asking for. I don't think its the app you are looking for because it takes too much effort right now to set it up though it may be that in a while the interface to this sort of thing becomes more intuitive.

There is another app I know which does kinda similar and would probably be suited to your needs. Its pretty easy to use and pumps out large terrain. It is my opinion that it is less geologically accurate and lacks some abilities which is why I chose to pursue my own app but you may find it suites your needs well. It is L3DT (http://www.bundysoft.com/L3DT/).

Now no app that I know of produces cities and towns that have any kind of realism. Its too much of a human guided process.

First of all lets consider the terrain resolution that you would need not to be pixellated. I would suggest about 5m or maybe 10m. For a 1000km map that would be 100000 pixels square which would fill a medium sized harddrive.

So you need terrain that has several levels of detail - what we called LOD's. You need a planet, you need a large scale map, some smaller regional maps and then some town and maybe a battle scale map.

How you create these maps that fit together without the tools I am writing I dont know. Thats my quest to solve that issue. My GeoTerSys suite is a procedural zoom based terrain generator so it can generate small sections of a larger map at progressively higher and higher res. I know thats what you want - its what I want too.

Right now I would suggest you get an app to create the large scale terrain like L3DT and generate your world map based off of that. Also base your regional maps off of the that terrain map too but not in an automatic kind of way, just make the terrain large enough that you can do a half decent job.

For the town, floor plan and battle maps I would suggest you continue with hand drawn maps and scan them in. This is again a trade off between how nice and how much time you want to spend doing it.

To manage all of these scaled maps I can definitely give you a solution. The other mapping program I write is ViewingDale. Its a zoom browser for multi scaled maps. Basically you put all the maps of all different scales into it and it will draw them fast with pan and zoom. When you zoom in from planetary or large terrain onto regional map then that one will fade up and be synchronized to the larger map and you can keep going in right down to characters eyebrows. You can then print out any part at any scale or res. It allows you to put symbols down. You can import your own symbols or use the ones provided. You can also add text, pics, docs, movies, sounds etc to the maps too.

Theres a demo from the link in my sig and if you can wait till March 2008 then there is the iCon 2008 convention which is an online get together for mapping and virtual table top apps. You can always mail me for more info if you feel like it.

12-28-2007, 10:21 PM
That sounds like something I'd be interested in keeping tabs on as your progress continues. I wish that I had ANY useful coding talents to speak of, I'd offer to help. I wonder if there isn't anything that can take an existing planet map at lower resolution, and then use a given segment of it (of known dimensions) to seed a sort of 'refinement' randomization which would fill in the gaps, meaning the master map wouldn't generate consistent output for any given patch you wanted a closer view of, but as long as you saved whatever render you decided to use, that shouldn't be a big deal. You could open the closer-area image that you saved from a previous rendering. The rest of the planet would literally just be there as scenery. (I.E. no 20GB files to keep track of.)

I'll check out L3DT.

12-28-2007, 10:57 PM
There's a software link in this forum category that points to a Random RPG City Generator - now this app only creates "line art" cities and towns, rectangles for buildings, gates and wall towers, lines for roads, city walls, blue for rivers, green for parks.

I wonder, if there's a way to use the random map generator code - which is rather intuitive, with user pre-sets and modifiers to tweak the output, (though the result is not what you're looking for,) altered to create 3D sprites instead of blocks and lines.

I'm not saying hack the program, but perhaps contact the developer and see what could be done to "frankenstein" the code so it works within GeoTerrSys.

It might be a rather awesome way to generate customizeable cities within your system - worth a thought, anyway... 8)

12-29-2007, 09:07 AM
GeoTerSys is a very heavy app and totally geared up for terrain so theres not much room for anything else left in it. It works by running a terrain simulation with a simple fluid dynamics thing on top to do water & ice etc.

Something that I have been thinking about for a long time is a system where you input the terrain including trees and rock areas etc and run another simulation on top where occasionally people are spawned randomly into it. These people have lots of state but their motivation is to raise their wealth and happyness and they have many options to do it. Fish, cut wood etc. All the activities cost a small amount of wealth. So for example a man near trees can take them and cut them for more wealth giving a surplus of lumber. Another can take lumber and convert into carts and houses so that he transfers wealth to the lumberjack etc. Sort of like Civilization but in auto play mode. You also want monsters of various types with their stats and their goals too otherwise you would not get militia, armies and adventurers.

I wondered how complex and how many rules you would need in order to get the system to generate towns & dungeons and also provide a full stat sheet of all the people and monsters living in it.

ViewingDale is a few years old and is very stable. Theres a few more things id like to add to it but its good to go now. Its the viewer, and editor for these places. GTS is in beta and is designed to provide the major terrain and land for ViewingDale. Maybe the next stage will be to try to autogen the stuff thats on top of the land. Its yet another really big project. Each of these take several years to write. ViewingDale is probably 6 years old now. GTS is not finished and is one and a half and counting. This autociv would be done no earlier than 2011. I have seen some people do a similar thing but not on the scale that I would like to do it at.

12-29-2007, 10:16 AM
Redrobes, while I'm about as useful at coding as a TI-85 is for gaming, I'm happy to help out with any beta testing you'd like. :) Supporting your efforts in any way I can sounds like my best bet to get what I need.

The answer to your question about the autociv model and how many rules it would need is this: However many you care to add. Human behavior is, at best present estimates, infinitely complex.

I'm capable of adding cities and whatnot on my own, though. Terrain is a proper focus for your software as that's much harder to believably generate with any degree of speed.

12-29-2007, 01:13 PM
GTS is not easy to use and is command line driven. Its using make files, some Perl and scripting so its not a neat and easy UI. Its very flexible and none of us at MeDem know exactly what we need from it yet so I think if there is a GUI then that will come later in the day. Maybe it will drive it to select preset scripts that work well. I don't know yet but it is a kinda programmers interface.

ViewingDale is all GUI based and mouse / keyboard driven so its much better for what you need in 2D.

I would use Google maps in their new terrain mode and find some Siberian outback areas and use that for your gaming. This isn't published material here is it ? L3DT will be able to create that kind of stuff too in any case.

Human behavior is complex - maybe infinitely so in detail but its predictable to a certain degree or else nobody on this forum could make any kind of map. What meal a character eats for tea is not relevant to whether he builds a farm close to the river or in the hills. Its complex alright but I don't think infinitely so that the rules could not be captured enough to determine where a computer generated peasant would build his farm. Playing RPGs, the GM makes those kinds of assessment all the time and there are tutorials on this site detailing some of those rules. A GM would naturally balance them - a small village on the side of Orc metropolis isn't going to work. Getting the computer to balance the rules is what I think would be the hard part. For example, say your woodcutter became fabulously rich. Would he still cut wood ? If you don't program robbers & thieves, kidnappers and taxation then it could get that way. For sure, real people are infinitely cunning ! Perhaps it is this aspect that would be too difficult to program. Theres always somebody trying to exploit a loophole. Maybe programming something to search for loopholes is the key to generating that correctly balanced universe. Maybe every NPC should be born a hacker and their chosen profession is merely the result of the exploit search. Crazy !

12-29-2007, 05:26 PM
Heh. I think you'd have some AI researchers knocking on your door if you managed to accomplish that!

01-03-2008, 02:33 PM
I wonder if there isn't anything that can take an existing planet map at lower resolution, and then use a given segment of it (of known dimensions) to seed a sort of 'refinement' randomization which would fill in the gaps
That is possibly the holy grail of 3d modeling for gamers. Search for thing like "procedural terrain generation"

also look for the paper "Generation of planetary models by means of fractal algorithms" by Ondrej Linda (CTU in Prague, August 2007).

-Rob A>

01-03-2008, 06:46 PM
Check out this thread at RPTools:

I think they would like to see what GeoTerSys can do as well.

01-03-2008, 08:56 PM
Crysis engine is pretty awesome isn't it !

We have a discussion about 3D over and over tho. The salient points are that its great but unless you can generate the 3D stuff your limited to what your given. This is what I think limits the WotC 4th ed thing that they have coming out - we shall see of course but the only people to have even partially fixed that is Google with their sketchup and the gallery of stuff that I have seen with that has been real poor unless its buildings which are not too bad.

Terrain is something that you can in theory calculate because its made by physics. So thats what GeoTerSys (GTS) is all about. ViewingDale is a 2D browser and is going to stay mainly 2D because people can draw on a bit of paper, photo it or scan it, or like us, use some paint packages to get a map. Very few people do 3D modeling so effectively at the sort of quality that we do 2D.

Crysis and the games boyz are numerous, paid, working real hard and are experts and can generate that content. So what I believe is required is a realistic high res 2D world with 2D mapping on top. The easiest way to get really high res 2D terrain is to calculate it in 3D and do what those guys at RP are doing and snap shot it from above.

Fractals can take you so far but ultimately they are kinda random and the world isn't. After a point it shows badly. If your relying on Crysis then your limited to what they come up with.

Part of my December challenge was messin about dropping rock height maps about and seeing what they look like rendered. The idea might be to provide 2D icons with associated height maps. Sure the height maps might be rough, cant have lateral holes in them and so on but may provide a way to get 2.5D mapping. Maybe you drop a castle tower onto 3D terrain using a 2D program like ViewingDale, view that in 3D and it gets you 3D terrain + rough 3D castle tower. Its too early to say whether thats a going option which is why I was trying it out.

Presumably the RP in your handle is not initials ! RPTools is a great VTT. It has some zoom in it but I believe that its limited /x10 or so last I knew ? (I dont follow it closely). I know Trevor keeps saying that he will update it but I don't think its built with that sort of architecture. Google Earth / WorldWind has excellent zoom but does not have much editing capability. Its not really built with the architecture required for complex 2D mapping.

My personal opinion is that its going to get larger terrain as time goes on. HandsomeRob has fantastic maps up on google earth today, Anna has that great atlas coming along, Im sure there are many more and then there is myself + MeDem doing the Tolkien one too. Once you have extensive terrain in high detail you are going to have to rethink how you handle these large areas in a VTT if you haven't planned for it. RP has gone for ease of use, auto visual reveal and fog of war, numerous other stuff but I am squarely heading down the massive campaign world mapped out, go anywhere at any scale, editable with mapping ability etc.

You should join up to this iCon 2008 thing and see them all and have a play with the whole lot. You just need broadband and a microphone headset.