Time for Improvement

2018-04-11

I started my Fantasy Cartography career 20 years ago when I started my efforts to map the world of Greyhawk. Since the earliest days its been and still is constant strive to try and get better, to learn more, acquire better tools and find a better approach. Working on a single huge map also forced me to be consistent both in technique and style, so when I had found something that worked for me I stuck with it until my Flanaess map was done. 

This meant the technology used to created are from the mid 90's and ancient by todays standards, and some of my stylistic choices also feel ancient to me now too. Despite all its shortcomings, it is a work of love and I'm still very proud of my Flanaess map. But the time has come to go back and start over again, this time not from the beginning, this time with two decades of fantasy mapping experience, new tools but with the same love of the mission and the setting.

I've not only mapped for two decades I've also read hundreds of pages of text and run hundreds of hours of games in Greyhawk and most importantly I have now a large group of friends equally dedicated to the setting that can guide me even more than last time. With this said its time to go back to the Flanaess, time for my Flanaess 2 adventure!

Last time it took me over a decade thanks to lack of skills, tools and time. This time I'm better prepared so hopefully it can be done in about half the time, but I'm still looking at this as a five years plus project. It will be up to home much time I can devote to my passion, and also how I can overcome some of the hurdles and quagmires I know are lurking on the way, and the many others I'm not yet aware of. Just like last time I have to take a leap of faith, work hard and hope for the best. The known hurdles are many, from the cartographic like how to reverse engineer the Oerth and best place the Flanaess to how to best organize the project.  

The first steps where taken last night and captured in the images in this post. Its not much to brag about yet but it is the first important steps on a long journey. The first encounter on this is the realization that my Patreon setup is in dire need of a rethink. I will give it a few days of consideration while I'm off a few days of travel. I will present my ideas on how to better go forward for discussion next week.

Thank you all for your support and I hope you want to come with me on this quest to map a Game Setting all over again! 

Isometric Map Previews

2018-03-03

Here is a sneak peak at whats coming, and I must say I'm proud of these!

Project Islands - Final maps roll out!

2018-02-20

Its been a long hard struggle to get here but final maps are getting ready. First out will be top down views of the minor islands, with the first one coming later today. The other ones will come in the next two to three days, and the main Island by the end of the week.

This gives a hint at what the final maps will looks like. I'm pretty shure this will be the most detailed fantasy terrain ever created for use in RPG's.

Working on the last details of the island in Area1, the town and its surroundings.

Isometric, detailed 3D views and special maps will come next week. 

The last bits to be added to this projects are a set of landscape images and the how-to videos. The reason for this is two fold, the main reason is that this is the first time I've done a project this complicated with a fully 3D terrain covering an area of this size with forest roads and buildings represented. I wanted to find out what actually worked before trying to convey that knowledge to you guys.

I have learned some hard lessons about limitations, but technical and personal during the roughly 8 weeks of arduous but very interesting work. Me being more than a bit frustrated with progress, quality and deadlines I've set for this progress, have made me more than usually unfit to record How-To videos. It is much easier when you have understood what you need to do.

Now back to Photoshop for a few hours of details....

What I'm up to - January 2018

2018-01-25

Time again for a blog post about what I'm up to for the moment and a look into what is on the horizon. First a huge thank you to all my Patreons who have decided to support me, it means a lot to me!

My second Patreon project - Islands, are moving into the final phase adding settlements, roads and other features of civilization. Which features will make it on the map will be decided by my my Patreons who have backed me at the Adventurer level or above. The results will be a set of seasonal islands mapped i exquisite detail, fully modeled in 3D. Perfect for adventures in need of an group of islands to explore. The poll close in 12 hours and at the moment the leading places are, hidden coves with and without pirate camps, the Inn of Lost Tales, Fortress Refuge and a small trading town.

I also keep a secret part of the list that will make it on for sure, that is a cartographers privilege, making sure my special favorite details make it on to the map. Delivery of the final maps will begin in about a weeks time after a final touch up. First the basic maps for all backers, followed by the advanced content that will take a little bit longer to create.

This is a busy time with a secret project for Kobold Project underway that I'm sure will please fans of Midgard. It will require me to dig deep into the toolbox and think big, really big. The results of this will if everything goes well play a part of launch of the new Midgard hardcover. It is also a first technology test for bringing old "flat maps" into the 3D realm, which will play a major role in a number of projects coming up.

Made an appearance a few days ago on Twitch Channel Return to Greyhawk run by DM Shane, you can see the interview here. 

Next commission project coming up is the Curse of the Lost Memories by Griffon Lore Games. The Kickstarter just reached the funding goal, and the first stretch goal is to have me mapping the Wailmoor area. Please consider backing this Kickstarter, the gaming community needs more cool sandbox areas to adventure in made by dedicated gamers! If the Gryffon Lore Kickstarter continues to be successful it will include more cartography and interior art by Tad Davis cover art by Oliver Wetter. The top stretch goal listed is the Regional Campaign Guide to Kingdom of Lothmar. I might be more or much more busy later this spring depending on the success of the Griffon Lore Games Kickstarter! 

This year mark the 20th year anniversary of my fantasy mapping endeavors that started with my work on a map of the Flanaess. The oldest part of that map are from September 1998, so its time to go back and revisit Greyhawk where it all started for me. This will happen in several ways, most of it done through my Patreon. First out is a new look at the Lendore Isle with the help of Len Lakofka, which will be my next Patreon Project beginning in February.

Darlene have graciously accepted to be a Guest Creator on my Patreon, her artistic talent and expertise will bring some unique possibilities to work on projects loved by Greyhawk fans. This will be a great addition to the other Greyhawk themed projects I'm planning later this year. If my Patreon continues to be this successful I plan to dedicate a whole year to Patreon starting this fall and concentrate on my passion with the Flanaess and its surroundings as a way to both recharge my creative ability and to give back to all of you who are supporting me.

Thank you again for all your support!

Island troubles

2018-01-17

Don't let the absence of posts here lull you into a sense that I'm slacking off. Its been busy times here with three different projects going in parallel, two commissions and the Island project. 

Our islands have had a difficult time to come out of what can best be described as render mayhem. The size, complexity and my determination to get the details out, seems to hit both hardware software and every other limitation my poor computers can conjure. So now I have a fairly good idea of the limits of current technology. 

After a week of trials and errors the results are very much to my liking and well worth the day or so of rendering it took me once I figured out how to do the setup.  

Left to do on the islands are settlements and roads, which will be determined in a poll coming up shortly. Then a little bit of world Machine work and export of all the data, final Photoshop touch up and Vue renders. 

My plan is still to have this project ready by the end of the month, so you can get to used it in your adventures soon. If all the troubles getting this project done is any indications, there will be plenty of great stories to be played out here!

Thank you all for joining me in this quest, and welcome to the new ones to arrive!

Why didn't I think of that before?

2018-01-01

Figuring out a better way of doing things can sometimes take a surprisingly long time, and then all of a sudden strike you. I've worked with 3D terrain tools for over twenty years now and one of the main frustrations for me have been to try and create believable lakes and rivers.

The situation have always been like this: I have managed to make a great looking landscape. Then when I'm trying to place rivers and lakes they need to shape the landscape around them in order to fit in properly, but this inevitably messed up the geometry and required erosion to be applied again which had to be basked and so on. this It became a vicious cycle of refinement and masking over and over in order to create believable lake and river systems.

Over the years I've refined this five major times and made significant improvements, but to the price of more and more recalculations and masking, which take  time to render. Two days ago when I was working in Photoshop listening to music it just struck me to reverse how I did things.

Up until now I've always assumed it was best to mimic nature an have lakes and rivers affecting the landscape, but what if you instead started with the lakes and rivers and then let them shape the landscape around them. My idea was that this way you create a single set of elevation data and masks that can then be used throughout the rest of the landscape build.

I did a simple test build which kept me up much later than New Years, so now you know my priorities! It turned out really well so now I'm reworking my islands project to take advantage of this way of doing things.

So far my impression is that the results are better than anything I've achieved before and much improved performance, so it is a win win. Note that this only affects in which order the data are generated and processed, so nothing stops you from first creating the landscape and then adding lakes and rivers. World Machine will adjust the landscape will readjust to the added water.

One of the most striking benefits are the fast response you get when you edit river and lake shapes. The other is that now you can create both lakes and rivers using the same Layout Generator which means that rivers now are properly attached to lakes automatically, in most cases. You still have to make sure they are properly welded and on the same elevation.

I haven't extracted data and applied it to texturing yet, so there might be a snafu or two still to be worked out, but I can't see any reason why that should work. That is my mission of the day to put all that back together again using the new lakes and rivers.

Here is a link to my basic test file so toy can try it out:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/1cvqawlc2k71iuo/Rivers%20First%20-2.tmd?dl=0

Here is my new version of the Island Project using the new rivers:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/amknb5d11it2s8k/Islands%20Low-121%20Rivers%20Before.tmd?dl=0

I have to issue a warning for this file. The regular Views are no longer functioning. I've created temporary view here:

You can use this one until the textures are back in play again, which I hope to have fixed today.

How to best celebrate Needfest?

2017-12-31

As all us Greyhawk fans I'm getting ready to celebrate Needfest and the new year soon to be upon us, and what better way of doing it that to spend a day working on Lendore Isle!

In a burst of creative ideas I just needed to test a new approach to reuse my Flanaess map as a direct base for a 3D version. This involves (as so much of mapping work) masking, so today have been mostly spent in Photoshop painting white to mask the ocean.

As a source I'm using a 600 dpi version of my Flanaess terrain, instead of the 200 dpi version used in the final map. I which I could have used it for the final Flanaess map but it is a hefty 15.3 GB in size, and with symbols and text it would bring almost any knows PC (personal computer that is) to its knees. So I had to cut it down to a third of the resolution.

As a special Needfest gift I'm going to share the high resolution terrain file with all the Cartographer Level backers for their personal projects.

Patreon Project 2 - Islands are also progressing, did all the forests yesterday and will dig into beaches and water texture in a day or two, after I have made a couple of videos that will be posted here for various backer levels.

How to best celebrate Needfest, well I leave that up to you with a which that your New Year festivities will be wonderful!

I also want to say a special welcome to all our new backers, welcome aboard and thank you so much for your support! 

A dark horse comeback?

2017-12-29

I can't keep this a secret any longer. In my job you constantly have to try and do the impossible and even worse, invent better ways of doing the impossible in order to get better results with less work. The main constraint are either technical or not enough time or both.

Back in the 1990's when I laid down the foundations for my Flanaess map the only real option was Bryce 3D, and the 3D is in my case more of a misnomer, I couldn't really create 3D maps. To get something that looks cool and could be done in a reasonable amount of time I had to settle for a top down view of a "Fake 3D" world. 

Now it is 25 years later and maybe even a garage opener are way more powerful than the Pentium I used back then. The same goes for software which can now handle thousands if not even many millions times more data effectively, that is the main reason I started to use World Machine.

What World Machine couldn't do very effectively (and believe when I say I've tried) to create 3D terrain that accurately match the top down images of my Flanaess map. To do that effectively you need a more artistic approach that are highly controllable. That artistic control are now becoming a reality!

The latest version of Vue have support for using your Wacom Pen to sculpt or paint terrain elevation, and Gaea are set to have that support as well. This makes me confident enough to say that it is time to look into a fully 3D version of my Flanaess map!

This also opens up another of my Holy Grail's of mapping (been watching Knightfall too much), start big and then detail certain areas as desired. I've already started to work on a World Machine template to create new terrain that will closely match my old Bryce terrain.

This is created in one tench the scale which means it can be done many times faster. This terrain can then be imported into Gaea and Vue for refinement and rendering of small area maps in much more detail.  

There are still some kinks to work out, but I'm confident enough to say it will work and work well. To combine the power of fractals with an artistic flair is what made me a mapper in the first place, and now is the time to bring that combination into the 21st century.

To celebrate my 20th year Flanaess anniversary with a renewal of the old in a new way have me really stoked for next year, and I wanted to share that with you guys before going public with this. there are some more experimentation to do, and I need to spend around $1600 on a Vue upgrade, but its looking very promising indeed! 

Back to work again!

2017-12-28

I hope you all had a great Christmas and got a chance to catch up with family and friends. I had a great couple of days with family and also finally took the time to replace my 14 year old car with a new one. It was out of necessity, the old one was falling apart, and as you well know I've had enough of things falling apart lately!


Today I'm back at my  (still sit down only) desk again working on the Island Project making good progress. Ground texturing pretty much done and a good part of vegetation as well. Water and beaches still need a work over.

The forest is still only conifers the leafy trees are still to be added into the mix. First a look at the texture:

and then the shading:

These two will be properly rendered and then imported into Photoshop for the final touch up and top down map. There will be special posts and videos about that part when I get there in a week or so. Before then there will be basic and advanced posts and videos explaining texturing and forests in World Machine, expect them in a day or two.   

New Horizons and Old Turfs

2017-12-24

Thank you all for joining my Patreon, its been a goal of mine for years to do this and now its finally coming true. Only one small project done so far, but its only been a couple of months, and the there are more to come, much more. This time of year despite all the hectic preparations for festivities and family gatherings, it is still important for me to try and sum up my efforts and to set up my future goals.

This year has been mainly about Midgard, a huge undertaking that have keep me busy for over a year. Midgard have been the second biggest project of my career weighing in just after my Flanaess map. If you include the Southlands it is in many respects my biggest project to date that have spanned over the last three years. This year I've also managed to do about a dozen other small projects for novels, the computer screen, a number of adventures and a map of a real world resort!

Next year its time to leave Midgard, at least for a time, and come back to old familiar turfs. There is a special reason for this, my career as a fantasy cartographer started. It began very humbly when in 1996 I lay my hands on Bryce 3D and decided to try and learn to use it and create a map for my Greyhawk campaign. I struggled for a few years and started to get result I liked, something called the Internet came along and I decided to share my work some years later and the rest you know!

Below is what my first mapped bits that are still part of the final Flanaess map looks like. It is a piece of the Wild Coast that I cherish not for the quality but for the memories of all the struggle it took to create it. It dates from October 1998. 

After twenty years it is time to return to my roots and recharge my creativity byt doing what I love the most, mapping my campaign. Starting next fall my goal is to dedicate a whole year to Greyhawk mapping, and Patreon will be the place where things will be around with previews and decisions of what should be done!

Technically 2018 will probably be a year of big change, maybe not in the end result but in how to get there. New tools that are harnessing the capabilities of modern computer graphics are finally starting to arrive, and instead of gazing at small fuzzy preview ports that takes forever to update you can see things in almost full glory instantly. This will cut most of the wait and most of the guess work out of the equation, and I will not miss the minutes of waiting every time I make a change, just too see that the results are not what I intended.

The now old World Machine will get some needed competition in the race for best high quality terrain generation software. There are a number of contenders including World Machine itself, but I doubt that Stephen Schmitt will be able to ramp up his development to keep up with the others. Two new hot contenders are Gaea and Instant Terra, both make extensive use of GPU power and have a modern flexible UI. Terragen and Vue are still in the race for the best tool for CG terrain as well. A dark horse in this race are the game engine tools like World Creator for Unity. 

I work with large worlds which means I have special needs that are not what most users who create for computer games or illustrations have. This is one of the main reasons I like World Machine so much and have stuck with it despite a lackluster development progress. Both Instant Terra and Gaea seem to be able to match or surpass World Machine in this critical aspect and they also have the fractal and advanced erosive pluming needed to create great looking landscapes. Gaea promises to take things further in a a way that I have always dreamt of, an artistic driven approach. Applied on top of the fractal mess and technical pluming that are needed, but throws me off target way too often, it can do wonders for my creative focus.

The other side of my work is the gaming side of things, to make the result more useful and inspiring. This is something that will be my main focus moving forward. In order to try and accomplish this I pledge to game more and regularly, as a player in others games but also to run my own games. My Greyhawk gaming have been on a three year hiatus and to start again as a part of mapping the world of Greyhawk again will go hand in hand. The first project will be Lendore Isle early next year. 

The other goal for next year it to learn new tools, and advance my skills in a few of the ones I'm already using. When it comes to old tools Vue is highest on my list, its been in my inventory for eight years and still my skills are only basic. By the end of next year I want to bring my Vue mojo up to a professional level. The latest version of Vue also have better terrain generating capabilities which makes it even more interesting, and the rendering features are second to none. This has been my main reason to use Vue so far, but I want to expand the use as a foundation for future endeavors into more close up mapping. Things like locations, cities and battle maps are tasks that Vue can be a superb tool for. 

Realm Works and Hero Lab deserves a special mention here since I have been using them a lot for several years as a player and in the background. Next year I will bring forth that work in the public light as a part of both my own games and how to use my maps. 

New tools topping my list to learn are Gaea and Other World Mapper. Tools I will start to look into next year are Geographical Information Systems (GIS) both Open Source and commercial tools. My time and capacity to learn will probably be met and exceeded with this, but just in case there are more inspiration the game engine Unity have been in my sights for several years.

I love to keep myself busy, creating and pushing new boundaries. I need your help in this. both to make it possible to set other things aside and to keep me focused and inspired. Thank you again for all your help and support, I could not do this without you!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years, together we can visit the most amazing places.

Anna