Ask a cartographer and the map making process

Lux maps won't make themselves.
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Ask a cartographer and the map making process

Post by mbauer » Fri Mar 06, 2009 3:30 pm

Pars questions inspired me to create this thread I hope will catch on and help others who wish to venture into the world of Lux cartography.

What I hope to obtain from this thread is a place where new map makers can see the map making process from some veteran cartographers. I want it to be a welcome place for new comers to ask questions, learn the ropes, and hopefully avoid common map making pitfalls.

I do NOT intend this to be a map-making tutorial. In fact, I am assuming that interrestred parties have already read through and understand the Map Tutorial, Theme Tutorial, and the Tips and Tricks. If you are a interrested new comer and you haven't read through those, then please do so now.

What this should be is a fairly quick run through of the steps we veterans take in making a map for Lux, so that newcomers can see the evolution of the map through each step. I really encourage you other seasoned cartographers to post the steps you take and why. What has worked for you and what you tend to avoid.

So, to share with all those who are interrested, below is the typical process I go through when making a map for Lux. Please keep in mind that my way is NOT the only way, nor is it the best way. There are many different ways to make a map, all of them are correct.


What I do when I start a map is brainstorm by drawing out the map in photoshop (or any other graphic program) very crudely. This way I can easily fine-tune the countries and continents. Whether the map is a real geographic location or a made up one, I still start with this step. If I am making a map based on a real place, then I rarely use actual politcal borders, the resaon being is that most political boundries were not made with a game in mind. So they typically need a little re-tooling in order to be comaptibale and enjoyable in a game. For example, this was an early draft of Castle MP (reduced screenshot from photoshop):


As you can see, it's pretty ugly, but at this point in the map, I don't really care about that. At this stage I'm more concerned with the flow of the map, the balancing, and the clarity of the connections. A lot of knowing what to do to balance a map comes with experience and testing a lot of maps and seeing what works and what doesn't. Some of the balancing can usually be done by altering the continent values after the map has been programmed, but that's only half of the balancing equation. At this stage of the map, before programming, you should be able to tell which continents will be easy to hold and which continents won't. If there are too many border countries to a continent and if the "choke points" are evenly distributed and fair. All of which goes hand in hand with balancing. As for the "flow" of the map, I sort of try and think like a player. What I mean by that is that I try and imagine what the player will do if they start at a certain spot on the map. This helps me to place strategic choke points and border countries and to generally help guide how the map will be played.

I usually use broad colors and shapes to "box in" and explore my ideas. In this example the dark green color represents impassable areas, the blue is water (also impassable) the grey circles are 1 country continents, the white square boxes are the castles, the brown squares make up the bridge, and the different colored regions are the continents. Also notice that I have a copy of the PI window and a standard 10 army graphic. Doing this allows me to ensure that countries are big enough to fit the army indicator and that there is enough room for the PI window and that it doesn't overlap any countries too much.

I wasn't completely happy with this version for a few reasons. The top circle on the left side, seemed to unbalance everything, but simply removing it made the left most castle weaker. So I had to do some tweaking. So that led me to the 2nd draft (reduced screenshot from photoshop):


If I had programmed first, then this tweaking would be a really big headache because I would have to delete countries, move countries, alter connections, create new countries, etc. All of that is not easy to do on a massive scale to a map that has already been programmed. That's why I see it as very important to "sketch out" the map BEFORE you program it. This also helps in theme creation later because you pretty much have everything placed and ready for "prettifying."

So, I was happy with this version of the map and at this point you could start programming if you so choose. But I like to wait to program until I'm sure of everything. So I start placing theme elements, which leads to draft 3 (reduced screenshot from photoshop):


As you can see, at the last minute, I decided to go with just a 1-country continent in the bottom left instead of a 3-country region. Waiting to program until this step helps me to be positive I have the map correct and it also helps me place my country lines as accurately as possible. If I have the theme this close to done before I program, then I know where my country lines will be hidden and where they won't, which allows me to draw them more accurately than if I had started in stage 2. It also saves me a lot of headache trying to get either the theme or the country lines just right after everything is set. This way I can get most everything right the first try. So I go ahead and program after this stage and create my map (.luxb) file. Then I launch the map over a blank, or white theme. (reduced screenshot from Lux)


This is when I will fine tune the continent colors, names, scenario, and take a first stab at the continent value balancing. When I am done with that I launch the map as if I am goign to play it, take a screenshot of the map in Lux and copy and paste it into my original file in photoshop. Doing it over white allows me to easily isolate the Lux countries in Photoshop so that I can ensure that everything is aligned perfectly and I can proceed to finalize the theme. (reduced screenshot from photoshop)


At this point I put that last bits of eye candy. As you can see I wasn't happy with the marshland just to the left of the right most castle, so I replaced it with a rocky cliff. This illustrates the fact that the map is constantly changing for me, even when I think it's done. I then save the final theme in the proper folder and then adjust the map info panel of the map to point to the newly created theme instead of the blank white one. Now I'm ready for play testing and jiggering the continent values to finalize the balancing as well as the scenario.

The end


So that's my process, feel free to ask any questions. And you other map makers, I encourage you to please post your process as well.


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Post by Naraku » Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:04 pm

that really helps me a lot in the creation of future maps. I really wish I would have noticed this thread sooner! I've read all the tutorials and tips & tricks and still felt that something was lacking. This really helps to show the evolution of the map & how to make good maps for lux.

All hail Mbauer Master cartographer!

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Post by Kruelgor » Wed Dec 30, 2009 11:44 am

Yeah, this is a pretty good scenario map. I like it.

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Post by Behemoth » Mon May 17, 2010 7:00 pm

I have a question.

I'm still not entirely satisfied with the way I'm making polys. I'm using Map spinner and the process discussed by MB in this forum. While Mapspinner works well as does the process I'd like to move onto software that's a bit more robust.

I was going to test out using Illustrator on my last map but decided to hold off and seek out some more info first...

Firstly - Is illustrator a good tool for this job? I believe Photoshop is not. I do have Dreamweaver also.

Here's what I planned to do in AI.

1) SET Project Preferences /

-- Units & Display Performance

Select Button : Identify Objects by XML ID

2)Be sure that AI Artboards are the same size and measurementss as original.

3)Ensure all polys drawn are closed.

4)Flip finished construction vertically ( or vertically flip artboard before drawing polys...?)

5) To Output XML information,

Save a Copy with "SVG" extention i.e. - babylon01.svg

To view SVG details, open with Text Edit Application.

If there's another program anyone would like to suggest i'm all ears. If AI is the way to go I'd love to hear any reports about the process, especially on the subject of avoiding pitfalls that will ruin my day - and of course if my process above will get me there.



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Post by SunTzu » Tue May 18, 2010 6:04 pm

I've been using Fireworks lately with good success.

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Post by Behemoth » Tue May 25, 2010 9:21 am

Thanks Sun, I've just got a hold of this as a demo and am about to try it out.

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