Wednesday, June 5, 2013

DIY Mapmaking

I have seen a number of threads like this recently - inevitably they seem to lead back to me, because I've been mapmaking for ages.  Where someone asks for a hex map of Europe, of the Balkans or such, eventually someone links to my site and I get a deluge of people from that thread.  I can't help noticing.

What astounds me about people proposing maps superimposing hexes over Google Earth or using the extraordinarily crappy Hexographer (yes, I've said it) is the sort of blank incomprehension of a map's purpose.  Once these people, who seem so intellectually stunted that they cannot trace a map onto graph paper using a light table at the local library, have their maps, what then?

A primary purpose, for example, of having any sort of hex or square - or lines of latitude - on a map is so that you can a) measure distance or b) locate where you are in relation to other things.  If the image of GoogleEarth serves your purpose at all, what in hell do you need to cover it with hexes for?  The program itself tells you where you are.  It tells you your elevation, your location, even the distance you mean to travel, simply by allowing you to draw a line of your own making over the surface of the earth.  Hexes are completely superflous given those mapping tools.

Why anyone would need to superimpose hexes over GoogleEarth baffles me.

Suppose, instead, you were looking to create a war game, something like the hundreds of other war games that already exist covering the shape and area of Europe, where there are already hex maps that have been made.  These are available for quite reasonable amounts of money, and if this is what you want - any hex map of any part of Europe, say - I have a suggestion.  After you go to work this week, and when the end of the week has come, and they put a paycheque into your hand, DON'T buy beer.  Or, at least, buy a little less beer.  Go to a hobby shop and buy your map of Europe.

See?  Wasn't that simple?

You're really wasting your time going on line and saying, basically, "I can't use a search engine, and I really want a map of [insert area] without having to pay anything, do anything or even think.  Can you help me?"  But, I suppose, it is your time to waste.  Still, its hard to believe anyone is so stupid that they need to go on a thread with with the question, "Can anyone help me find a hex map of Europe?"

Here is a screenshot of a Google Image search.  Knock yourselves out.

Do not be distracted by the girl.

Not one of these maps would ever be of use to me ... and let me explain why:  the data contained in the maps is inconsistent, undefined and applies only to Europe.  My world does not end at the boundaries of one continent.  It extends everywhere.

There are a few reasons why I chose to map my world in hexes.  First of all, it is a simplification that I could apply to the creation of my trade tables, as I've explained here.  Secondly, because I am plotting the location of things from their latitude and longitude, and further distorting the world in order to fit the plate that works for my depiction of the world, the hexagonal shape is desireable.

But why do I not use GoogleEarth for everything?  Why not use the 18th century GoogleEarth offering that came out months ago?  After all, there's three dimensions and lots of wonderful features, etcetera, etcetera.

I don't use GoogleEarth because it includes:
  • A great many cities, nations, boundaries and so on that don't exist in my world
  • Because while the forests and deserts shown are marvelous and wonderful, these are also forests and deserts as they appear in the present day; in 1650, Virginia is not denuded of trees, and nor are vast other parts of the world; the Sahel has not turned to desert
  • I cannot physically obliterate or graft in any decent reworking of the original GoogleEarth imagery.  I'm not enough of an artist to paint in trees or paint out cities, at at any rate I'd still be left with an image, and not an interactive icon that I can recolor at will.
See, the lovely thing about my maps is not that they look good when I post them as a jpeg on blogger.  The nice thing is that I can go through and change the color of any hex to anything I want; I can slash in a new road, or shift a border, or take something out or put something in without little effort.  I don't have to worry about repainting someone else's image.

Because I've carefully researched all the towns and regions of my world on Wikipedia, nor am I dependent on someone else's research to know if Town X or Village A should be there, or whether its at a point in its history when it was in fact abandoned.  If I prefer to show 'Budapest' as one city for my benefit, and not as 'Buda' and 'Pest,' then that's an option too.  I have 100% control over what's on the map, why it is on the map, how it applies to other things I'm doing and so on.  And I can continue to map parts of the world at my leisure (such as northern Algeria in depth, which no one else has bothered to supply because it is not Europe, I'm free to do so - and have it be in the exact same format as everything else in my world.

The main problem with people who want maps and other stuff given to them 'pre-made' is that inevitably the receiver is dependent upon the giver for whatever is given.  If you're using my map, and you're not in direct contact with me, you're probably going to miss that I've only recently learned of a city that should be there, but wasn't when I originally posted it on my blog.  Or a lake, or some other feature, or of my decision to change the color scheme because the old one was too garish or otherwise problematic.  My maps are alive in that they are continually being modified to fit the new information ... if you buy a map that cannot be modified, or expanded, or developed other than to make it ugly by scratching endless notes on the paper, then you've been taken.

Maps are tools, not wall-hangings.  The information behind the map is something that has been researched, not flung onto the image like poo.  If the research is haphazard and prejudicial, then your map is shit ... and that describes every map that's on the google search page, and pretty much any map you do not make yourself.

Trust me.  There's nothing like making a map of an area, right from reading carefully about that area, to give you a better, stronger, more powerful sense of the location and its reason for being.  You need to get down and greasy with maps the way you would with your ride, if you want to feel the power under your feet.


Vlad Malkav said...

Always good to be reminded of that, and this piece of insight can go a long way.

I think I'm really more interested in all the mecanisms you use to generate your maps, the ideas behind, the processes, than in the end result.

Which doesn't mean I'm not interested in the end result you tease us with, I'm totally dying to get my hands on it.

So imagine my interest for what got you there ...

On a side note : I will watch the Infrastructure video at noon, finally !

Dave said...

I wasn't distracted by the girl... but I WAS intrigued by the basketball sized plushy red die 20 she was holding!

JDJarvis said...

I've done a few maps for text books and it's surprising to discover: that town isn't there, that road wasn't there, that river was over there back then... a wonderful host of details that reveal a living world. Arguing with editors telling them "it wasn't there then" is also interesting. I get a laugh also when I see specs for a map that say "include major rivers and national boundaries".