Hello from France and welcome among us.
Your interests are so varied, very interesting.
I'm in a hurry (not sure of the expression ) to see your maps.
What an exciting thing to find this community! I'm not a cartographer, but just the other day I told my wife that if I couldn't be what I am for a living (I'm in the software business), I'd be either a bottom-end tennis pro (I'm not that good, but probably just a little bit over the bell curve), an itinerant musician (a little further along the bell curve), or an amateur cartographer (I could spend all day looking at maps). I love all three pursuits. I imagine they'd all pay about the same, and I'd be equally spiritually fulfilled in any of the professions.
In any case, I'm recently thinking deeply about maps because I am working on a special project that concerns mapping; more specifically, I've decided that fractal mapping generation software sucks. Sorry to break it to any fractal terrain generation enthusiasts. But I have driven through, wandered around, and flown over (staring out the window) large portions of three continents, and fractal map generation is only believable at a very small scale.
The problem as I see it is roughness vs. smoothness. The roughness and smoothness of natural terrains is based on more factors than any algorithms out there yet can believably approximate. Some of these factors include plate tectonics, weather patterns leading to erosion, and of course human impact which starts at least ten thousand years ago...possibly more (as an example, native americans on the eastern coast of north america were burning large tracts of forest as part of their hunting strategy long before europeans arrived).
So I believe the best generation of fantasy maps is still the province of the artist/scientist, not the algorithm. And the only level at which fractal terrain generation is believable is the local - I have yet to see an algorithmically-generated world or continent map that stands up to scrutiny...Usually within three seconds you can say "That is computer-generated!" Of course if you want a very low level first-person view from within - let's say - a fjord, you can probably tweak your generator to give you one...but it won't include the cobblestone beaches, or the strand-line of dried tree trunks washed up after the earthquake-generated tsunami years ago...
I'm also interested in the human side of it: mapping of hamlets, towns, cities, city-states, nations. And again there's a level of believability in the visual depiction of these polities that can't be achieved without the consideration of multiple factors: how and why would people have settled there in that way....how did that settlement develop into that thriving metropolis, and why? Was there a natural deep-water port? Was there a natural barrier against invasion? A large amount of natural resources? Answering these questions makes for a more believable map than just painting a large settlement onto a piece of coastline.
A good cartographer is an intuitive geologist, natural scientist, ecologist, anthropologist. I have a hunch that most of you are most of that. I look forward to sharing maps, giving and receiving feedback, and learning from you!
-J. Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atom bomb) alluding to The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11, Verse 32)
My Maps ~ My Brushes ~ My Tutorials ~ My Challenge Maps
Great to have you here. Waldronate, who is a member and regular here is the author of 'Fractal Terrains' and 'Wilbur', both fractal mapping software. It sounds like your interests reflect those of many of us here, so I'm sure you'll fit right in.
Unless otherwise stated by me in the post, all work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Yes a number of us make terrain apps. From your statement I should add that these terrains are not merely random. The initial generation might be but then more algorithms are applied to generate more and more things. Your right in that the real world is so infinitely complex that its impossible to generate them in a computer however I also believe that they are also too complex to be artistically drawn too and that a computer can do a better job of getting closer than a person can - certainly in a given small amount of time anyways.
So we apply algorithms to approximate climate so that mountains are colder and then apply more to simulate frost erosion and also the movement of rock down sides of hills. We do water and glacial erosion too which makes U shaped valleys and rivers cut into them at the bottom. We model vegetation based on climate and a few other factors and try to model the overall look of the terrain and then after all of that we texture them. Usually thats done procedurally so that beaches can have pebbles. My GTS has some parameters about high tide which causes the sea to smooth out those areas and the texturer then shades different types of sand and beach flotsam.
Of the image below not a single factor of it was hand made. The terrain, the flow, veg and texturing is all computer generated and not at all directed manually. It could keep making these endlessly. Your right tho its still not enough to make it look real. It still looks computer generated.
Welcome to the Guild!