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Thread: Using tools in unconventional ways to make good art (or music).

  1. #1
      ravells is offline
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    Default Using tools in unconventional ways to make good art (or music).

    We have a daughter who is about 20 months old. She's got all these 'educational' toys (put the square block in the square hole etc), but she actually has more fun with a bunch of clothes pegs and a tea towel. These items do more than one thing and there is no 'right' way to play with the object....I really like that. Then I saw this guy playing a guitar on boing boing. He plays the guitar in a most unconventional way - it's his own way, but makes good music.

    All of this makes me wonder whether we're producing too many 'cookie cutter' maps, the tools we have are virtually limitless in what they can do, but we tend to produce variations of the same maps over and over again.

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      Jaxilon is offline
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    You may have a point Rav. I enjoy the tutorials because they show me what is possible and teach me some techniques however I do try to be careful not to get sucked into this is the only or best way to do it. I subscribe to the school of if you don't try something different then you will be just like everyone else.

    "Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something." - Thomas A. Edison

    It's interesting if you walk into a children's classroom and ask them to draw a flower you will get all sorts of wild and interesting interpretations of a flower....that is until the teacher walks to the chalkboard and says, "This is a flower" and draws a stem with 2 leaves and a bud on the end....from that point on all those children will draw that same flower.

    So basically, don't let education limit what you can imagine. Instead, open up and blow the doors off!
    “When it’s over and you look in the mirror, did you do the best that you were capable of? If so, the score does not matter. But if you find that you did your best you were capable of, you will find it to your liking.” -John Wooden

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      Ascension is offline
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    That lil tune is very infectious and fun, good stuff. As for the rest, I find it hard to be awed by the thousandth iteration of something I've already seen. I'm not saying that everyone needs to reinvent the wheel with each new map either. For the new folks, the tuts are invaluable as teaching aides and I genuinely feel happy for them when they complete their first "magnum opus". I can remember how I felt when I completed my first. That feeling stayed there for years and lead me to be quite prolific and experimental. That's why I try different techniques and styles in my underground lab all the time. After 5 years, though, my maps bore me cuz I've seen them before...twisted this knob every which way, fiddled with this slider every possible way, tried this or that style. So I've sort of hit "artist's block" and feel stale and when I feel stale everything else feels stale as well. So maybe the problem lies with us and we need to rekindle our inner fires so that we can rise anew...all on fire n stuff like that bird thingy that I used to use as my avatar, like DJ has. I did have a major breakthrough at work today, stained glass, so I'm starting to feel that spark coming back (at least in that area) and hopefully I'll be all on fire n stuff in the coming months. Ya know, maybe it's all just a low cycle in circadian rhythms, shrug.

    On the flip side there are guys like Coyote and Immolate who started with something in the tuts and have now gone on to blaze their own trails. And fresh new styles like Ramah and DJ. Remember when every town was a Pyrandon town or a Zombie Nirvana clone? It's all trendy. Ya don't see too many of my satellite or atlas maps anymore, those were replaced by Pasis who was replaced by Tear and a year from now something else with be the next new "it" style. Just hang in there, bro, it'll come around. For what it's worth, your tut is vastly under-rated and one of these days I'm going to force myself to try other folks' tuts and I'm starting with yours...then I'm hittin Jezelf's.
    If the radiance of a thousand suns was to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One...I am become Death, the Shatterer of worlds.
    -J. Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atom bomb) alluding to The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11, Verse 32)


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    Default I never stop experimenting

    Even though it may be true that in the last few months, I've been working with a specific style of hand-drawn merged with digital enhancements and a softer color palatte for many of my maps - right now I'm trying every possible experiment within that particular style. However, everybody except the newbies, know that I sometimes do photo-realistic maps using photo textures, sometimes I play with 3D elements that I model/texture/render for a specific map, and rarely I play with the "satelite style map" so popular here. I seldom stick to one regimen, and while I generally stick to using Xara Xtreme, I accompany its use with many other apps.

    I admire many of the specific styles done by CoyoteMax, Immolate, Djekspek, Pasis, Tear, and all the other "stars" of the Guild, but seldom try to copy them - I prefer developing my own.

    I do think that anyone familiar with my varying styles, would recognize the work even if they didn't see my name on it, still, I don't think I would ever call my maps "cookie cutter."

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  5. #5
      Mark Oliva is offline
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    Default Open the can of worms

    Ascension's comments about how he's getting bored with his own maps led to my reaction here, although the reaction is general rather than having anything to do with Ascension's work.

    I've been making and publishing RPG maps for a long time, but I'm still in my first year in the Cartographers Guild. I like being here, but when I look at some of the maps people post, I often wonder why they made the map to begin with. Cities, towns, villages, settlements, castles, monster lairs, etc., etc., all come to be for a reason. Something caused someone to start building there or settling in there, and once the site was claimed, things were built or refurbished to fulfill and satisfy the needs and goals of those who dropped their anchor there.

    When I look at many although certainly not all of the graphically impressive maps posted and discussed here, I am left with the distinct impression that I'm seeing a generic object that the creator intended to be able to drop in anywhere. That's doubtless unfair to the makers of many of the maps that leave me with this impression, but the information that I would need to take my impression of a map from being purposeless to purposeful simply is missing. In some cases, quite frankly, I feel rather certainly that what I'm seeing is indeed a generic map. I wouldn't know what to do with one of them in our RPG material.

    Other maps of cities and villages are unreal. Certain facilities are necessary for a city or village to function. Grain mills, sawmills, wainwrights and other artisans facilities are necessary, not just inns. Many otherwise fine-looking maps show no trace of most of these things.

    Another problem is that people get too tied to their software's tools. Our project group's work in the Northern Journey adventure several years back suffered severely under that problem. We mapped NJ with CC2 and CC2 Pro. When I look back at those maps now, I'm embarrassed at the straight-jacketed generic CC2 look all of them have. I have the same reaction to most of the CC3 maps I see here. Many CC3 users seem to have great difficulty using symbols (objects) and fills (textures) from sources other than ProFantasy. Most CC3 maps I see here have a ProFantasy assembly line look to them. CC3 can do more than that. A lot of CC3 mappers need to go on a symbol-and-fill mining expedition in the Dundjinni forums, at RPG Map Share, etc. One needs to work with a palette of tools that one has assembled rather than just one manufacturer's stock graphics.

    Dundjinni maps suffer less than those of CC3 users, mostly because the DJ community itself has made such an incredible number of mapping tools and shared them with one another. But there is a DJ pitfall that sometimes betrays which program was used to make these maps too. DJ despite all of its other qualities remains a tile stamper. Some DJ maps suffer from the use of textures with too little variety, creating fill pattern redundancies that identify the map as DJ work.

    The best quality maps on this site in terms of being individual artistic creations seem to be those made with Photoshop and The GIMP. I haven't found anything that betrays to me which program was used to make these maps.

    Our project group is not at all immune to the problems I'm mentioning. After finishing Northern Journey, we switched from CC2 Pro and (briefly) CC3 to Fractal Mapper 8. At the time of the switch we also decided to try to escape falling into the trap of our maps having an FM8 look in several ways, the most obvious of them being by seldom if ever using the symbols and fills created by NBOS. Instead, our maps work largely with objects and textures that we've created, supplemented by those we've found on our symbol-and-fill mining expeditions.

    This attempt has not been entirely successful. We're now finding that our work is coming out of the mill with too much of a generic Vintyri Project look, which leads us to send things back for more work much more often than we would like. Thus is a disadvantage, because we really need to spend more time developing our gaming material and less time mapping. On the other hand, we don't want to worry about looking back after five to 10 years, as we did with our Northern Journey maps, and being embarrassed with what we see in retrospect.

    I also see a bit of a problem within the Cartographers Guild itself. I have to try to avoid speaking with a forked tongue here, because our own tutorial material strongly recommends using elements of the real world as mapping prototypes. We think one should do this but not overdo it.

    I have the impression that real world rules sometimes are overemphasized here. We also need to remember what we're mapping, why we're doing it and what the roots of our material are. Some maps on this site are from the science fiction realm and others deal with modern or early 20th century environments, but the great majority of the works I see here are pure fantasy RPG material.

    Most non-cartographic fantasy RPG material grew out of the work of novelists - Professor Tolkien being the ultimate example - and most novelists' creations had their roots to some extent in the various mythologies of the real world - Professor Tolkien again providing an excellent example.

    A great many of the mythologies describe a world that defies the real world mapping laws of the Cartographers Guild on one level after another. Our Jörđgarđ setting, for example, has a huge area based upon the Icelandic Elder Edda, in which the world's 11 great rivers all flow from the spring Hvergelmir atop Upphaffjall Mountain. A trip to Hvergelmir would drive the river police insane. Fortunately, the river police have no jurisdiction in our setting.

    The mountain police, if they exist, also would go up the wall (literally, perhaps) if they were to encounter Prof. Tolkien's Mountains of Mordor. Nonetheless, these mountains are a fantastically good element of Middle Earth.

    The real-world-rooted rules set down here and the river police are both good and bad things. Both are excellent to the extent that they help a cartographer design a logically functioning area. They are bad in that they tend to constrain one's own fantasy in designing things for an unreal world that is, in the most literal sense, fantasy. These rules are a good starting point, but for some mappers, cartographic burnout might come less often if one established and clearly understood the logic of his or her own fantasy RPG world rather than trying to shape it according to the logic of the real world.
    Mark Oliva
    The Vintyri (TM) Project

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      RobA is offline
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    Mark - these are some good points. I hope you won't mind if we a pinch a few for the developing FAQ!

    -Rob A>

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      Redrobes is offline
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    Its possible that the person playing that guitar was completely self taught without access to any books or video footage to work from much less a tutor showing 'proper' finger positions etc. In that sense they are playing with a unique style driven from a need to get the best sound out not to pass the next grade. I think thats important.

    In terms of purpose I see that lacking a lot in many of the maps here. Sometimes you just have to go wild cos there really would be no reason at all for dwarves / goblins or whatever to drive 90 degree 5ft passages through solid rock with no purpose other than to confuse adventurers but in that same vein its what people expect and enjoy from a gaming session so thats whats driving them to make them like it.

    The tutorials are great mainly because many of the people who arrive here cant make a map at all and want one. For those people the tutorials are great. Ok its a cookie cutter - pick your cutter ! But its that or nothing. For those here who are great artists or virtuosos with their apps maybe they should try hard to push themselves out of the comfort zone.

    With the rivers and stuff - we always say that these only apply when your trying to get your rivers looking like real physical rivers. Theres a special get out clause for magic in all the policing ! If you want to have a mountain with multiple rivers all flowing down then thats great but its not realistic and maybe that's exactly what your aiming for. We have had maps here of lands floating in space with waterfalls off into nothingness etc. I think its just that many people come here wanting a realistic campaign world to run in.

    Also I don't think its just Mordor thats crazy. Andiun rolls about 3000km all down the map with mountains at the top of the map and the Mistys down the middle. It implies that if the water is falling in height then the northerly mountains would be absurdly high. The misty mountains are there purely to get Bilbo underground by necessity and therefore find the ring. Otherwise he would have gone around them, lived a quiet normal life and not had any books written about him.

    With apps the problem is pretty simple. Were all too lazy to make up lots and lots and lots of tokens to use so we use the ones that come with the map. The real artists here have the advantage of being able to whoop up with quality whatever they want but though I can by tedium strain out something that's at best a bit naff those are my options. The Dundjinni forums have helped loads of people out there its true and you see some tokens popping up a lot cos they are good. What can we do there - dunno really. But again, most people want some battle maps to run their next session with and will reuse the same tokens for convenience.

    The only answer I can give to some of these problems is to use some software that does not draw the map for you but suggests things that you could put in based on realism and maybe to somehow AI up some tokens for required items. But how to do that generally I have no idea at this point. We might be able to do something where the scope is more limited like cities and we have been doing that to some degree with terrain but its not an easy task.

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      Mark Oliva is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by RobA View Post
    Mark - these are some good points. I hope you won't mind if we a pinch a few for the developing FAQ!

    -Rob A>
    Of course I don't mind! But I am looking forward to seeing the FAQ. Happy weekend!
    Mark Oliva
    The Vintyri (TM) Project

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      Mark Oliva is offline
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    I think we're in complete agreement on most points. I'd like to underscore though that it wasn't my intention to complain about the way that folks do things but rather to throw up some ideas on what might lead to the kind of burnout that Ascension was describing, a kind of burnout that I've experienced at times too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redrobes View Post
    In terms of purpose I see that lacking a lot in many of the maps here. Sometimes you just have to go wild cos there really would be no reason at all for dwarves / goblins or whatever to drive 90 degree 5ft passages through solid rock with no purpose other than to confuse adventurers but in that same vein its what people expect and enjoy from a gaming session so thats whats driving them to make them like it.
    I agree, but I've also found that it can be rewarding to give a gaming party more than just what it wants. This may be what "people expect and enjoy from a gaming session," but it also often ends up being the same thing in effect as Ascension's realization that it's the same map over and over again. In this case, it ends up being the same routine of go in, whack 'em out, steal their treasure and get out again. People do enjoy that, as you say, but only for awhile. Then the excitement evolves into ho-hums and they get out of fantasy RPGing and into something else.

    But I also have seen alternatives. The most fantastic is a group of five accountants (one female) at a German nuclear power plant company who have been playing red box D&D (vintage 198X) for nearly 30 years. All five are on or over the threshold of age 60 now, and they still play regularly. Who could imagine German nuclear power plant accountants playing D&D at all, much less for 30 years? I've seen their gaming material, and I understand why they keep going. They write all their own material, with each taking turns being DM and author. Their challenge is to make each new adventure more intriguing, surprising and interesting than the last. Their maps all are handmade sketches, most graphically dull but all with a logic of their own that even an accountant can relate to.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redrobes View Post
    The tutorials are great mainly because many of the people who arrive here cant make a map at all and want one. For those people the tutorials are great. Ok its a cookie cutter - pick your cutter !
    Agreed on all points.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redrobes View Post
    With the rivers and stuff - we always say that these only apply when your trying to get your rivers looking like real physical rivers. Theres a special get out clause for magic in all the policing ! If you want to have a mountain with multiple rivers all flowing down then thats great but its not realistic and maybe that's exactly what your aiming for. We have had maps here of lands floating in space with waterfalls off into nothingness etc.
    The get-out clause for magic is too easy an out too often. The point I was trying to make (and didn't very clearly) is that the world, region or whatever that you're mapping needs to have its own logic if it veers from the logic of the real world. In our case with Jörđgarđ (TM), our original goal - a challenge from our own viewpoint - was to start out with some of the really wild world logic found in mythology and to try to make a sensible, logical fantasy RPG setting out of it.

    If you read the Eddas, you learn that at the top of the world near Ásgarđ stands the great ash tree of life. The squirrel Ratatosk is busy gnawing away at it, and the hart Eikthyrnir is eating its branches. A huge stream of water flows out of Eikthyrnir's antlers into Hvergelmir, feeding the spring, which overflows at 11 different points forming the 11 great rivers. Making a river flow upstream is nothing in comparison to trying to make something sensible and usable out of this. To sum things up, we dropped Ratatosk and Eikthyrnir but decided to keep Hvergelmir and the 11 great rivers.

    To make something with its own logic out of this, we need to make clear to our users that this world was made in a different manner from our own real world and that some things function differently but according to their own rules with their own logic. So it goes somewhat beyond the question of whether we just want a mountain with 11 rivers flowing from a single mountain spring. Your reaction that it's "not realistic" is not quite correct. It's very realistic in terms of its own realities, just like halflings and dwarves and elves are very realistic in terms of the virtual realities of most fantasy RPGs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redrobes View Post
    I think its just that many people come here wanting a realistic campaign world to run in.
    I agree with you, but in the more extended sense of realistic being logical rather then only a replica of the real world. I think most folks will accept alternate virtual realities if they make a sense of their own. After all, that's what they already are doing in accepting the real-world-unreal realities of their fantasy RPGs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redrobes View Post
    Also I don't think its just Mordor thats crazy. Andiun rolls about 3000km all down the map with mountains at the top of the map and the Mistys down the middle. It implies that if the water is falling in height then the northerly mountains would be absurdly high. The misty mountains are there purely to get Bilbo underground by necessity and therefore find the ring. Otherwise he would have gone around them, lived a quiet normal life and not had any books written about him.
    Agreed and agreed again. However, I think this underlines my point about the willingness of most people in our field to accept other realities. I don't think any worlds that any of us here might create ever will have the faithful following that Prof. Tolkien's Middle Earth has. Nor will any of our maps ever be so absolutely adored as his simple handmade maps of Middle Earth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redrobes View Post
    With apps the problem is pretty simple. Were all too lazy to make up lots and lots and lots of tokens to use so we use the ones that come with the map. The real artists here have the advantage of being able to whoop up with quality whatever they want but though I can by tedium strain out something that's at best a bit naff those are my options. The Dundjinni forums have helped loads of people out there its true and you see some tokens popping up a lot cos they are good. What can we do there - dunno really. But again, most people want some battle maps to run their next session with and will reuse the same tokens for convenience.
    Well, sure, laziness can be one of the causes of the kind of burnout that Ascension was describing. Laziness is the main reason why I end up having to redo things at times that I had checked off as being done. But it really isn't necessary to make one's own graphical objects. The three members of our projects group all have hundreds of textures available on our machines and a library of symbols (objects) the topples the 15,000 mark. We made only about 1,000 of them ourselves. Our objects and all of the others available to us are available to everyone for free downloading and are okayed for personal and commercial use. I consider many of them to be of much better graphical quality than the symbols (objects) that one gets with CC3, Fractal Mapper 8 or Dundjinni, and I also consider them to be of much better graphical quality than the add-on symbols and art packs that one can buy from the manufacturers of Dundjinni, Fractal Mapper 8 or CC3. The material is there. It's the laziness that leads to the problems.

    Happy weekend!
    Mark Oliva
    The Vintyri (TM) Project

  10. #10
      Mark Oliva is offline
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    I thought it might be a good idea to show the current draft [WIP] of the hemisphere map that includes Hvergelmir, the well that spouts the 11 great rivers, which I mentioned above. The current version, Build 318, can be viewed in the maps forum at:

    http://www.cartographersguild.com/sh...642#post105642
    Mark Oliva
    The Vintyri (TM) Project

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