Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mercurian Mapping

I mentioned earlier that I was going to experiment with Campaign Cartographer 2 to see if I can generate the maps I need for my novel. I thought I'd report on my progress. First of all, without any further ado, here is the portion of Mercury where most of my story takes place, as imaged by the Mariner 10 spacecraft:

And here is my first attempt to render it Campaign Cartographer 2:

The symbol in the middle is a bit hard to see, but it's the spaceport landing pad. There are then roads that lead to the three main mines (Alpha is the center mine, Beta is above that, and Gamma -- a newly started titanium mine -- is to the south). My attempt is admittedly amateurish, but I think it does capture the most important features on the surface that might affect the story. When writing the story itself, I will probably still refer back to the original Mariner 10 image, just because I think it gives a clearer view of what the surface of the planet actually looks like in this region.

The learning curve for CC2 is very steep. This is not because of many powerful features (although it does have them), it's because this is essentially a DOS program with a graphical user interface imposed over the top of it. Orginally, CC2 used nothing but command lines and macros, whicih would have made creating maps a devilishly involved process. The current version is still very difficult to use. The authors claim that their interface is much faster and more efficient than the standard Windows interface, and that may well be true -- if you wrote the program and know where all the commands are. But it is not faster or more efficient when I have nearly 20 years of experience with the "rules" of the Windows interface. I speak fluent Adobe Illustrator, so I'm not intimidated by using "objects" instead of pixel drawings (which the authors seem to think is the source of most of the difficulties in learning CC2). So far, I haven't found much that CC2 can do that Illustrator can't, assuming I were to export CC2's symbol library to PDF format so that Illustrator can read it (for the record, the fractal polygon ability of CC2 is not in Illustrator, but you can simulate randomness in Illustrator fairly easily). The biggest problem I have with CC2 so far is that once I put something down on the map, I have a terrible time editing it. For example, I discovered that the map above is in the wrong scale (feet instead of km -- oops). I can't seem to find any way to select all the objects on this map, copy them, and paste them onto a new map. I also can't find where to edit the template at all. Finally, objects can only be selected by their edges -- but what if two objects, say a floor and its outlined walls, share an outline? I can't find any way to select one and not the other. The program has crashed on me a couple of times (which must never happen with artwork), but I think that was because I was using a large bitmap as a background. Still, Illustrator has no problem handling multiple large bitmaps.

That said, CC2 does have some specialized features that might make mapping go a bit faster. Roads can be laid down with simple clicks instead of having to position each segment in Illustrator. If you buy the City Designer Pro add-on (all the add-ons cost as much as the program itself -- $40 each), you can draw a line and have CD Pro lay down a street full of random houses. That's a huge boon -- but is it worth $40? So far Cosmographer seems to be little more than a symbol library, although it's a very good library (much better than I could do myself). There doesn't seem to be much in the way of automation as CD Pro has. I think CC2 will do what I want, but I'm really wishing that the designer had gone back and re-wrote it as a true Windows application instead of a DOS/GUI hybrid. I've put out questions to the designers' mailing list, so we'll see if I get a response. I think if I learn the program, it might in fact be more efficient that trying to do everything in Illustrator, but the time spent learning the program may far, far exceed the time it would have taken me to do it in Illustrator in the first place. Illustrator is expensive, but it's not that much more than CC2 with two or three add-ons.

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